Motherhood in Academe (A Provost Leaves Academia, Part III) – A #Postac Guest Post Series

This is number three in the #Postac series, A Provost Leaves Academia,” by Dr. Terri Givens.

Dr. Terri Givens is a consultant in higher ed, and soon to be former provost at Menlo College. She has been a professor at the University of Washington and University of Texas at Austin, and is the proud mother of two teenage boys.

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KK:  I encountered Dr. Givens’ story of imminent #postac departure on social media and immediately asked her if she’d be willing to share thoughts of her transition with us. She generously agreed, and this is her first of several posts. I encourage you to click through all of her links, especially on the theme of mental illness and higher ed.

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It was never a question of “if” my husband and I would have kids, it was a matter of when. I knew that being an academic and having kids could be a challenge, but I was determined to make it work, and I knew I had a partner who would play an active role in the life of his children. It took us several years to have a successful pregnancy, and we were thrilled when our son Andrew entered our lives in September of my second year as a professor at the University of Washington. We were fortunate to have lots of family in the area, and my sister offered to help take care of Andrew part-time when I went back to teaching, so we didn’t have to put him into daycare right away. We were also able to travel to Europe the first summer after he was born, so I could conduct research on my book project. Andrew celebrated his first birthday in Cologne, Germany, right before 9/11/2001.

When we returned to Seattle, we were able to find a good daycare for him near campus. So far, so good; I was making progress on my writing, my husband and I had found a good balance in our parenting, and he was doing well in his job as an engineer.

Then in the spring of 2002, the dot-com bust hit. Mike lost his job, and there weren’t many options for a hardware engineer in a software town. I knew that our days in Seattle were numbered. I was fortunate to get a Ford post-doctoral fellowship, so we moved temporarily to Silicon Valley where he had a job offer and I went on the job market. I interviewed at UT Austin in the winter of 2003, and promptly got pregnant a week later. Surprise! We knew we wanted a second child, but we weren’t expecting him in the middle of a major life change.

The move to Austin that summer was not the smoothest…lots of stress with buying a house and the move, the mover left a bunch of our stuff in Seattle, my car got hit by a drunk driver when I was 8 months pregnant, etc. Brandon was born a month early, luckily very healthy. I had asked for my first semester off, which was helpful, given that UT didn’t have a maternity leave policy at the time. Once again, I was blessed with a sister who agreed to come and be a live-in nanny until Brandon was a year old and could transition to daycare. Brandon got to spend his first summer in Paris, although we were back home by the time he turned 1.

So now we had two boys. We had daycare near campus, and eventually on campus. We transitioned into a routine that allowed me to get my book done, and tenure! But within a year, everything would change. I had started a Center for European Studies on campus and gotten on the radar screen of the administration. A new president had started in January of 2006 and the provost had resigned that summer. One day in early September, the interim provost called me into his office. I had no idea I was about to be offered the job of vice provost of undergraduate curriculum. How would a new in rank associate professor with two kids manage that kind of job?

Never one to turn down a challenge, I agreed to take on the job. However, I made it clear that I had to leave every day in time to pick my kids up from daycare. I also didn’t work weekends, and evenings would have to be negotiated. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was probably the easiest time for me to take on this kind of job. My kids were in school and then aftercare until 5:30 most days, so I didn’t have to worry about leaving work early. They had soccer a couple of times per week, but that didn’t impinge much on my work time, either.

Now jump to the teen-age years. I call myself the mom-shuttle. I have indeed been a soccer mom, with a Honda Odyssey mini-van and all the trappings. However, I didn’t run into much trouble with the job and the shuttling until my boys got into middle and high school. I had left the provost’s office at UT in 2009, when Andrew was 9 and Brandon was 6, so as a faculty member my time was pretty flexible, and I could handle their activities. When I became provost at Menlo College, Andrew was 14 and Brandon was 11.  Andrew immediately joined a soccer team, and Brandon started taekwondo that fall. The mom-shuttle life began in earnest, which made any meetings after 5 difficult. For some reason, the faculty at Menlo College like to have meetings in the evenings. Faculty Senate meetings were at 5, some committee meetings were at 5, etc. I would stay as long as I could and then head out to take my kids to their events. Mike was able to pick them up when they were done, but he generally couldn’t drop them off, work for him (and engineers in general) tends to start around 10am, so leaving at 5 wasn’t possible.

I know it raised eyebrows that I couldn’t stay for meetings, but frankly I didn’t care. I wasn’t the only person who had childcare duties in the evenings, and the faculty didn’t seem interested in moving the meetings to make it more convenient for those of us who had to leave before 6. I could have made a fuss, but I disliked the meetings, anyway.

In the end, I would always put my family first. Meetings can be important, and when necessary, I would try to make other arrangements, but I also wasn’t going to miss out on my kids’ activities for something as silly as a meeting. I think that it’s against common sense (and potentially discriminatory) to have meetings that run past 5pm. But I’m done with all of that now. Up next – the big transition!

About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.

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