This statement was written by the Women’s Studies Advisory Board and endorsed by a number of faculty members. We are posting it here because the Board was told that they had to remove it from the university website unless they first got permission.
WGSS Statement on FSU proposed change to remote working policy whilst caring for dependents.
COVID-19 has laid bare existing social, economic and racial inequities and injustices in the United States, and in our institutions of Higher Education. Grave gender disparities in the average distribution of caregiving work have been documented, while job security and the right to work remotely, ensuring safety and convenience, are opportunities afforded only to the most privileged. FSU’s recent announcement that “effective August 7, 2020, the University will return to normal policy and no longer allow employees to care for children while working remotely” presents a threat to the physical, emotional and job security of the university’s employees. This threat will be felt most urgently by the lowest-paid members of staff, who are disproportionately female-identifying and/or BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). As a result, it will compound existing inequities. Unpaid FMLA is not a viable option for many, and especially not for the lowest-paid employees. The policy is sexist, heterosexist, racist, and ableist. FSU must now do the right thing and reinstate the right to work remotely whilst caring for dependents (children or otherwise) for all FSU employees, staff, faculty and graduate students, until the end of the global pandemic. In a university, where we are guided by science, medicine, and expertise, we must acknowledge that the pandemic is not under control, and act with both wisdom and humanity.
BIPOC have contracted and died from COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates. BIPOC and women disproportionately occupy contingent positions in the labor market and in academia. These disparities are obvious in academia generally and at FSU specifically. During the pandemic, scholars identifying as women and scholars with caring roles have seen their workloads increase and their academic output decrease; racial injustices and racist policies serve to exacerbate this situation for BIPOC women scholars. Staff positions are even more disproportionately held by women and BIPOC. Pre-tenure and specialized faculty, and graduate teaching and grading assistants are particularly at risk amongst faculty. As an institution committed to diversity and inclusion, FSU should be working to support employees with dependents, not forcing them into making impossible choices which may have dire consequences for their financial situations, as well as their mental and physical health. The policy clarification sent on June 29 seems to indicate that faculty are exempt from the policy, but even if this is the case, we must still be concerned for staff, many of whom can work very effectively from home, and who have been doing so very productively in an emergency situation since mid-March. This alone, surely, is evidence that remote work while caregiving for children or other dependents is a workable model that supports families and the work of the university.
It is insufficient and iniquitous to argue that the policy of dispensation for high-risk employees or those with high-risk children addresses these gender, financial, and racial disparities.
Children are not the only dependents FSU employees are caring for at home during the global pandemic, but we will address this issue first as these are the dependents singled out by the wording of the FSU policy. Before COVID-19 cases began to spike in Florida, Leon County Schools announced that there will be a Face-to-Face option for the 2020-21 school year, starting August 10, alongside two virtual options, but as yet, there is no information available to caregivers about what these options will look like in practice. The superintendent has said that masks are political and will not be mandated in schools, contrary to Leon County’s mask-wearing mandate and FSU’s own stance on mask-wearing upon return to campus. As we know, children can and do contract COVID-19, and they can also pass it to their families and others. Many FSU employees with dependent children may not be comfortable sending their children back to school with infection rates rising precipitously locally and state-wide, regardless of whether those employees qualify for high-risk dispensations. Many faculty, staff, and students will rightly fear risking their families’ safety by sending children to school or daycare, and childcare is likely to become increasingly difficult to find. The potential loss of ‘efficiency’ or ‘productivity’ by employees who are parents with children at home is greatly outweighed by the risk of lost work if they or one of their dependents contracts COVID-19 because they were forced to put their children back in school.
When classes resume in the Fall, many students will also find themselves in caregiving roles, whether tending to younger siblings, to children of their own, or to relatives. In order to provide a good model for our students, to maintain employee morale, and to act justly, the university must develop a coherent and humane policy regarding childcare and dependent care and remote work. The university has had no cause, up until now, to doubt the loyalty or effectiveness of its employees, and it must continue to accord those members of the community who are parents and caretakers the bare respect they deserve by trusting that they will continue their admirable contributions to the mission of the university while parenting.
The undersigned faculty of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies appreciate your attention.
The Advisory Board of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies:
Rhea Estelle Lathan
Shantel Gabrieal Buggs
David F. Johnson
Donna Marie Nudd
Daniel K. Okamoto
Matthew E. Hunter
Kimberly A. Hughes
James E. Wright II
Melinda Gonzales Backen
John Mac Kilgore
(6.55pm ET – Wednesday July 1)