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Thursday, August 09, 2012

Law Schools and Little Ones...

Sticking with the same theme of my last post--how tenure-track professors try to juggle family and career to "have it all"--how comfortable do we feel bringing our children into our office with us?  (Not just a posed picture, but the actual child, that same force of nature that can make loud noise, cause mayhem, and clamber onto colleagues.) 

Do we often bring babies to (or see babies in) our offices?  Classes?  Faculty meetings?  Does it depend on the time of year?  On the child him or herself?  Do we make these arrangements part of our child care routines, or do they tend to result from the inevitable child care fiascos?   What are customary colleague reactions? How do our decisions change the culture of our law schools?  

Posted by Jody Madeira on August 9, 2012 at 12:06 AM | Permalink

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A tiny bit off topic, but one of my fellow students often brought her small daughter to Gerald Guenther's con-law class at Stanford. Professor Guenther never failed to say hi to her and seemed delighted to have her around. One of my fondest memories of law school.

Posted by: Kevin Jon Heller | Aug 9, 2012 12:14:17 AM

Yes, but that will vary SIGNIFICANTLY among children (and professors). I say this as a former law student (and now lawyer) and a parent of two young children: No!

Every working parent has child care challenges that must be dealt with. It is disrespectful is of the students for a professor to do so and of a student that would do so to the professor and other students.

Unless you have the most obedient child - as measured by parties other than the parents themselves whose opinions are biased - having the child in the classroom is disruptive.

Posted by: Adam | Aug 9, 2012 12:31:53 AM

My son is not especially obedient, but his "screen time" is severely limited. A couple of times when his school was closed because it was maybe going to snow a little bit (this was in Tennessee) and my spouse was out of town, I offered him games on my laptop. He sat in the back of the class without making a peep. When he was a little older, he could do the same thing in my office while I was in class, usually in the company of a colleague's daughter who went to the same school.

At the age of three weeks, the same child attended an out-of-town settlement conference in front of a federal magistrate judge. [Yes, I took parental leave, but I worked at a two-lawyer firm, and this was a sexual harassment case in which the client knew and trusted me.] The judge later recounted the event (very positively) in a speech to the bar about work and family.

One of my favorite memories from law school is of Martha Minow teaching Family Law while holding the newborn baby of one of my classmates.

Posted by: Jennifer Hendricks | Aug 9, 2012 1:47:05 AM

When my daughter was 6, there was a day when she was sick (enough not to go to her school, not enough to be quarantined at home) and we had no child care. I brought her into the class I was teaching that day (first-year con law), and she was perfectly behaved. The case I taught that day was Clinton v. Jones, which caused me some embarrassment.

Posted by: Sam Bagenstos | Aug 9, 2012 10:17:54 AM

"Ms Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passing."

Posted by: b | Aug 9, 2012 11:06:05 AM

I have found our school to be very receptive to our having kids around. Although I never had to take my daughter to class, both my wife (who teaches in a different department at the university) and I have brought her to school to hang out for some of the time, join faculty for lunch, etc. One semester of child care involved a hand-off at the law school one day per week. I also know a lot of colleagues (male and female) who would happily keep an eye on my daughter for 75 minutes while I went to teach.

Mind you, all of this is unofficial--I don't know if the university would approve, but the people on the ground are OK with it.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Aug 9, 2012 11:10:26 AM

A few years ago, I needed to have the kids sit in my first-year Constitutional Law class. They behaved well. On the way out, after class, one of my students said to my (then 8-ish) son, "how did you like the class?" Tommy said, "I understood the words my dad was saying, but I don't know what he was talking about." The student said, "I know how you feel."

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Aug 9, 2012 11:47:13 AM

This is a great question. I have had students who brought their children to class, and I think the school was quite receptive to that. Colleagues have always been very friendly when I bring my own children to the office, but I always feel slightly uneasy when doing so, or when talking about my children. At what point (if any) do people take you less seriously if you discuss family matters or make other "small talk" at professional functions? Anne Marie Slaughter raised this point in her recent Atlantic article, saying that some female colleagues approached her because they felt that her talking about her family was, in a sense, reducing her "gravitas." I'm not sure it does, but I am also wary of being the test case. (Slaughter had deliberately set herself the task of transforming this faculty culture since she was in a leadership role).

Posted by: Cynthia Godsoe | Aug 9, 2012 3:20:02 PM

Bringing my adorable (I'm not biased at all) boys with me to collect exams from my 1Ls resulted in several babysitting offers! I can't even imagine administrators, colleagues or students complaining about the occasional presence of children.

Posted by: Ben Cooper | Aug 9, 2012 3:27:51 PM

Thanks for the wonderful responses, all. To date none of my students have brought a child into class, but I don't think I would have any objections to this (assuming of course that the child was not disruptive, or that the student would take the child out of the class if there was a disruption).

I am happy to discuss my family if people ask, but usually don't bring it up unless it somehow is relevant. I'm somewhat notorious at IU because we have five children (including a set of triplets). I think that my own experience is fortunately very different from Slaughter's--no one to date has asked me to refrain from speaking about my family to enhance my own professional reputation. I know that my colleagues see work and family as going hand-in-hand, inevitably interdependent. I am very fortunate to enjoy such an environment, and I think that as a result I am more willing to integrate family and work than I believed than I had expected when I first began to teach at Indiana. My discomfort is highest when family issues are brought up in more formal, professional conversations (e.g., introductions at faculty talks) and lowest in informal conversation (e.g., chats in between sessions at conferences, or at dinner). Like you, Cynthia, I'm afraid of being the test case--and I think that some individuals are more receptive to such topics, while others are much less so.

Interestingly enough, when I blogged at Prawfsblawg a few years ago, I remember posting a piece about Jon & Kate Plus 8 and child labor law violations in Pennsylvania. I began the piece by talking about the fact that people would stop me on the street when we were out in public with the triplets and ask several types of questions, including whether I watched that reality show. One or two responses to the post were very hostile, suggesting that I blogged about the triplets to get attention or that this was somehow inappropriate. Yet I remember that other bloggers had posted information about their families without getting such a negative response. That's always stuck with me.

Posted by: Jody Madeira | Aug 9, 2012 3:38:52 PM

Ooo Ben, that's an excellent strategy :D I'll have to remember that one!

Posted by: Jody Madeira | Aug 9, 2012 3:39:55 PM

I actually took Anne-Marie's younger son to class with me once, while I was babysitting. (It was a make-up class, and I'd already committed to babysitting when the make-up was scheduled.) But where are the students who want to babysit my kid?

Posted by: Elizabeth Bangs | Aug 9, 2012 4:13:00 PM

Just show them a picture, Elizabeth--that will have them signing up in droves. Who could resist?

Posted by: Jody Madeira | Aug 9, 2012 4:15:31 PM

I would have to say that the line between my off-campus and on-campus life gets fairly fuzzy, mostly because we have students at our house so often, our oldest goes to high school on campus, etc. I have yet to bring a child to class, but wouldn't be too shy about it if it was necessary, the child had the temperament to sit still and read, color, etc. I think I took Carter to two panels I was on at Law & Society Montreal when she was 8, I think, and she just read (and increased attendance by 10%). Definitely the older kids have stayed in my office while I went to class before. When Luke was 2, Andrea Schneider entertained him in her office while I taught class when his preschool was closed. I also remember being on a panel at orientation 8 months pregnant and with Luke (5) in tow because his hockey camp was cancelled. I think these things go with the territory.

Posted by: Christine Hurt | Aug 9, 2012 4:28:29 PM

I suspect law schools are fairly welcoming but don't want kids hanging out in lounges and rooms unsupervised. Despite having been warned not to by someone who is no longer on the faculty, my kid comes to campus once per month or so. This is usually when I have a 12-14 hour day on campus and my husband brings him so we can have dinner together snd spend a little time together. He hasn't had to sit through a class yet. We have an evening division with many single parents. I invite students to bring their kids as the need arises. No one has abused the invitation, and no kid has been disruptive. I feel like its the least I can do to support these hard-working students. I wish we still had child care on campus, but we don't. I want to model what I believe is a healthy accommodation of family life by someone with the power to do so.

Posted by: Jen Kreder | Aug 9, 2012 9:00:59 PM

The two law schools I have taught at are both welcoming of kids. My colleagues have watched my kids grow up and I've watched theirs -- most folks are glad to see a young one around the office. Like Jen, I also make a point every year of mentioning to my classes as winter begins that (1) Nashville closes schools if there's even a hint of snow; and (2) well-behaved children are welcome in my class. Having had the experience of closed schools or day care and a full schedule, I feel obligated to ease the burden for my students if I can. Every year I get a child or children in my class at least once. It's never been a problem (although it was a bit awkward when a student brought her 2 and 4 year-olds the day I taught Cohen v. California -- she told me later they already knew all those words). And I once taught class with my 6-month-old in my arms and my 2-1/2 year-old hanging on my leg. It happens. The students thought they were cute.

Posted by: Suzanna Sherry | Aug 10, 2012 3:57:07 PM

Yay for all the family friendliness! I began teaching when my first daughter was 3 months old (she is now 3). When my husband was out job hunting, I would sometime bring her to my office. Sometimes this was during my office hours. I truly believe that I got more students coming to office hours than normal because they wanted to see the baby. However, one of my deans told me that I needed to stop bringing her to the office with me because it deterred students from coming to my office hours. *sigh*

At my current institution, daughter #2 (now 6 months old) has been in my office often and welcomed by all. I have held meetings with colleagues and students while she was in attendance. I even taught one day while wearing her in a sling. Everyone here seems to think is great and they ask me to bring her around more often, not less.

Posted by: Anon Jr. Mom | Aug 10, 2012 8:50:11 PM

No! Please don't! Children ARE very disruptive. Even if they are perfectly behaved, adorable, etc. The people who commented here are mostly parents of young kids who are largely immune to child-caused disruptions, but most students aren't parents, and ARE very frustrated. No, they won't complain because they don't want to earn the ire of a child-loving prof, and don't want to sound mean, or, god forbid, sexist. Student silence is NOT the silence of approval. Just ask them to write their views on child presence anonymously in student evals!

When I was a student, a classmate routinely brought her toddler to a small class, and another student occasionally followed. The prof was pregnant and welcomed it. The rest of us were HUGELY annoyed -- this made it hard to concentrate. Even if the kids were quiet, we knew they could become un-quiet any minute. It was like waiting for a shoe to drop. A constant low-grade pressure. We bitched about it to each other, but were afraid to voice it to the prof for the fear of repercussions.

Just STOP. Nobody wants to see your kids at school. It's a place of work. Get a sitter or reschedule a class.

Oh, and Anon Jr. Mom: the reason your dean told you to stop bringing your baby to office is because students must have complained about it! More than once. That's why deans do things. Yes, a small kid in the office deters childless students (especially males) from attending office hours. Wake up, your office is not your little private bedroom. This is a public place where people are supposed to be coming on a regular basis for help with their schoolwork. Children are NOT "welcome by all" there. No, everyone does NOT think you should bring them there often. People are just afraid of raising hell in a politically-charged environment. But the tension will be building.

And I am saying this as a working mother of preschool-age children. I never bring them to work, and neither should you. STOP! You may not hear open pushback, but trust me, people ARE pissed.

Posted by: no | Aug 11, 2012 10:54:07 AM

A student in my class once brought her two kids. I was definitely miffed that she never sent me an email beforehand to say I hope it is okay if I bring my kids today, I had X emergency come up. She also didn't say anything at all to me about it in class. I definitely would have said it was fine, I just thought it was extremely presumptuous. I was concerned about them being disruptive (as the class ran from 7-10pm). So while my views aren't as strong as those of "no", I would definitely agree with the point that although you have received some positive reinforcement, there may be other unspoken negative opinions. I would say that it is fine, maybe once per semester if you have something come up, but to otherwise avoid kids in class/office hours. However, if your child is just there to eat lunch with you in the cafeteria (which I do about once a month because the school I teach at has a daycare on campus) or to pick something up from the office, I think that their brief presence is totally fine.

Posted by: anonprof | Aug 11, 2012 11:55:45 AM

Wow. I think it would be hard to go through life (without an ample Xanax prescription) if the presence of well-behaved kids caused me a "constant low-grade pressure" with "tension . . . building" just because I worried that they "could become un-quiet any minute"! Your school's facilities management people could start blowing the leaves outside of your classroom any minute, too! Sorry to be so harsh, but "no"'s comments strike me as extremely intolerant and wrongheaded.

Posted by: Sam Bagenstos | Aug 11, 2012 3:00:15 PM

Sam Bagenstos: no, it's the reaction like yours that's intolerant and wrongheaded -- bizarre hints about your interlocutor's mental problems, "go get your meds" kinda language, etc. Very obnoxious, intolerant, and inappropriate. Most people find children distracting. This is why most workplaces don't allow children during work hours. It doesn't mean we all need to be on meds. Just wow. And I thought the casual, everyday, no-excuse-needed imposition of one's children on colleagues and students that's been trumpeted here was bad enough -- but apparently, even voicing an objection to this obnoxious practice is now being ridiculed as a sign of a mental problem. Yikes.

Posted by: no | Aug 11, 2012 5:07:49 PM

I have to agree with "no," though for obvious reasons I will remain anonymous. I also feel that the presence of children in the classroom is disruptive. Kids in one's office is another matter, if it's not during office hours and they are not disruptive at all. And I say this as a parent of two kids. Yes, of course some people will think it is adorable, etc. But even if half the students are bothered, that is enough. Students, reasonably, want professors' undivided attention when we are teaching or dealing with them in office hours. We should give it to them. And to suggest that not liking kids in the workplace is a sign of being hypersensitive and perhaps mentally ill-- I don't even know what to say to that. Of course the presence of well behaved kids doesn't generally bother me--in the grocery store, the park, my home, etc. Is it really insane to want there to be some kid-free spaces? Is it really insane to want the office to be a quiet place where one can work?

Posted by: Anon | Aug 11, 2012 6:12:35 PM

I'm very sorry to offend, and the Xanax comment was clearly over the top. But "no" and "Anon," think about what you're saying for a second. If a child is disruptive, that's one thing. But to say that a place should be "child-free" just because you're afraid that a child who is well behaved might become disruptive is ridiculous. Why do you think profs or students bring their kids to class (or anyone else brings their kids to work)? More often than not, it's not because they want to look cute. It's because they had child care fall through for one reason or another. In a world where one parent worked outside of the home and one parent managed the household, that wouldn't happen. But that's not our world anymore, and lots of us are pretty happy that it's not. Women have a lot more opportunities than they did in the former world, just for starters. Yet even today, in heterosexual marriages in which both parents work outside of the home it's usually the woman who has to deal with the kid(s) when child care falls through. To have a norm in which it is outrageous to bring one's kid to work in such situations is to impose a pretty serious cost on parents, and particularly women, in the workplace. If there is real disruption, I get it, but if the only harm is to someone's preconception that the workplace is a kid-free space, I think you should get over it.

This is, of course, a much bigger problem for the working poor, whose ability to stay in the workforce is often at stake when their child care falls through. But those of us in more comfortable conditions can set an example and show that the reflexive notion that work should always be child-free is not necessary to ensure that the office is "a quiet place where one can work" -- and that holding to that notion even where kids aren't disruptive needlessly harms lots of workers, women especially. In every job in which I've supervised people, I've had absolutely no problem with the folks I've supervised bringing their kids into work in cases of child care emergencies, so long as they were nondisruptive. To simply declare that workplaces should always be child free *is*, I think, intolerant and wrongheaded.

Posted by: Sam Bagenstos | Aug 11, 2012 8:29:21 PM

Sam: it's quite amusing to see you preaching tolerance while being wildly intolerant to people who need calm and quiet to be productive at work. You may think of us as mental all you want, but great many people absolutely need peace to concentrate. The presence of a child, even seemingly well-behaved child, is *always* a disruption because we don't know whether that child will start acting out any time soon -- and we don't want to know! We have plenty on our plates already, and we don't want to learn behavioral patterns of random children. It is not appropriate to impose disruptions on the entire class to accommodate a single person. If a student-parent can't find a sitter, they should miss a class, rather than disrupt everyone else for their own convenience.

If the parent is a prof... well, they need to turn into a pretzel to make sure child care disasters aren't happening during class time. We all understand and sympathize with an extremely rare case when all childcare defenses fall through. But when a prof simply thinks of her class and office hours as the "mommy and me" time, as "Anon Jr. Mom" cheerfully reported, then, this isn't about rare accidental mishaps. This is a lifestyle -- to impose on others.

And please stop turning this conversation to some other hypothetical world -- working poor, single mothers, etc etc. We aren't talking about single mothers of five working back-breaking blue collar jobs 60 hours a week. We are talking about law profs who must be in class only a few hours a week, plus a couple of hours of office meetings. "Anon Jr. Mom" types aren't separated from their offspring for 10 hours a day. They are paid handsomely and can easily afford a sitter. This isn't about sexism, classism, intolerance, etc etc. This is about self-absorbed people who live in the "me me me dearest" world, do not respect others, happily impose on everyone around them, and are so thoroughly clueless that they actually believe everyone enjoys their antics!

Posted by: no | Aug 11, 2012 10:02:11 PM

Although I thought no's comments were perhaps a bit extreme, I do agree that it should be for emergencies only. That way you can maintain a semblence of professionalism by saying "I'm very sorry and I wouldn't normally bring my child to class but our babysitter got sick at the last minute and I wasn't able to arrange another sitter." I am very young though, so perhaps I try to err on the side of being extremely professional so the students take me seriously. I once remember being mortified that I had to wear jeans to class (an evening class) because I had to see someone in the hospital before class and didn't have a chance to go home and change.

Posted by: anon prof 2.0 | Aug 11, 2012 10:24:44 PM

I tend to bring my children in in a few different contexts. The vast majority are in-out visits. The usual one was when I was fortunate to have my mother bring my infant in so that I could breastfeed him between back-to-back classes. Sometimes I will bring one or two in on days that I do not teach when I have to pick up a book from the office or perform some other quick task. I have brought extremely little babies into my office when they were too young to really make a peep. After about 3 months, I learned that bringing one of them in seemed to imply a uncharacteristic parade of a) tragically noxious diapers that necessitated b) several changes of clothes and c) much wailing. Rightly or wrongly, I found this mortifying so I only did this once or twice. I will bring a child old enough to sit and color in with me on a weekend if I need to tidy my office or some such thing.

Posted by: Jody Madeira | Aug 11, 2012 11:25:40 PM

With modern technology, there is no reason for students to bring their kids in. My law school records classes and professors can give students access to those recordings (most only do for students who were ill or have another emergency). I also skyped in a student once who had to go to a funeral.

Posted by: anon | Aug 11, 2012 11:40:12 PM

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