December 15, 2020
In the midst of a global pandemic that grows more deadly by the day, we are facing a crisis of care. In its breadth and scope, it has been unprecedented. Those who have elder relatives and friends have faced serious concerns about the safety of care facilities, and many have chosen to bring an elder into their homes, taking on the specialized care that often involves. Parents, particularly those with the youngest children, have found their usual care arrangements nonexistent or inconsistent, as child care workers, centers, and schools have frantically tried to parse the developing science and often-contradictory instructions coming from our government. The Monroe County Public Schools have closed, something that has never occurred in my time here in Bloomington, causing untold disruption for the families of school-aged children. This disruption also hit IU Bloomington’s three nationally-accredited child care centers, which had been expanded less than two years ago, causing classrooms to open and close for the past month.
Simply put, the entire public infrastructure that supports work for people with caregiving responsibilities has been on the verge of, or in actual, collapse as the pandemic has proceeded. All of this was exacerbated, of course, by the question of how long the pandemic would continue, by the increased needs of our own students as they struggled with the pandemic, and by the need of the campus to focus an enormous amount of attention and time on the basic questions of safety for our community. The upshot of the past nine months has been that, while our community got through the fall with great resilience and courage, many of our community members—especially those who have been shouldering unexpected care responsibilities—are exhausted and discouraged. In its depth and duration, the crisis of care presents an extraordinary challenge to IU Bloomington and to the staff and faculty in whose success this campus and university have made substantial investments who now find that success threatened.
With the beginning of vaccine distribution, we now have reason to hope that next semester will be the last when the most extreme public health measures will be required. I write today to discuss steps the campus has taken, and plans to take, to help alleviate the particular burdens and stresses our community members are facing from the care crisis. In doing so, I’d like to express my thanks to the IU Care Caucus, whose members include experts in issues of work and care and whose research has been invaluable. After receiving a statement from the Care Caucus, I consulted with its members and solicited help from its experts to compile a list of immediate ways IU can address this situation. The Care Caucus provided many recommendations in this area, all of which have been closely considered by multiple parts of the campus, and many of which have been adopted.
I will begin with what has happened this fall to ensure that everyone is aware of help that is available now, and will move to additional measures we are adopting for the spring.
Early on, recognizing that the pandemic and its constellation of disruptions would wreak havoc on some large part of our faculty’s and graduate students’ progress towards tenure and degrees, the campus worked with the Bloomington Faculty Council and the Graduate School to adopt emergency measures to permit untenured faculty members, lecturers, and assistant clinical professors to take an automatic tenure or promotion clock extension and to permit graduate students to have additional flexibility in degree completion requirements. We honored faculty and graduate student preferences for teaching modality, and granted every request that was possible.
The Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs led workshops and provided individual faculty consultations on the multiple paths to tenure and promotion, including the balanced case, and led dossier discussions to work through faculty concerns. I encouraged schools and departments to put aside lower-priority projects and to think carefully about whether routine meetings were necessary to reduce the service burden for everyone, and there was widespread appreciation of the need to preserve time for the highest priority needs.
We provided flexibility for schools and the College, if they were not in an accreditation year, to submit their annual review reports on DMAI at later dates, and discussed timing these so that clerical support could be available. I met multiple times with deans and vice provosts to identify administrative requirements we could waive this year. For instance, the Office of the Vice Provost for Research and the Graduate School, and all of the academic units have agreed to waive letters of recommendation for small internal grants, and OVPR is developing a system of check-offs that can substitute for those recommendations when needed. OVPFAA is conducting a campus-wide audit of internal awards to determine what is absolutely necessary in terms of support letters. The College last spring suspended its curriculum and assessment mapping work, and it has kept that suspension in place. Many more of these creative and on-the-spot arrangements were made across the campus.
IU Human Resources, in the meantime, coordinated a number of important and practical resources for faculty, staff, and graduate students. It put in place a website for COVID-19 Related Leaves, both those related to the COVID-specific legislation passed by Congress, and others that could be relevant. It augmented the resources available through the Healthy IU program which includes help for navigating personal and work life, including information about child care, elder and adult care, alternative work schedules, and mental health. IU also offers the benefit of membership in care.com, which helps employees find caregivers and arrange for backup care when care falls through. This benefit also provides a significant financial subsidy for backup care for 15 days each year. About 2,400 employees have created a website account for the premium membership. Of that, 823 employees have used the website in 2020, and employees have used around 430 days of backup care.
Every extant study demonstrates that despite progress, disproportionate care burdens fall on women and people of color, and early reports from the pandemic have strongly suggested that it has only exacerbated this disproportionate burden. Concerned by these reports, the university and campus undertook two major initiatives. First, in response to growing and documented concerns about the effects of the pandemic on women’s ability to conduct research, the Vice President for Research convened a university-wide Gender Equity in Research Task Force to look at short-term and long-term approaches to combating research equity issues that are exacerbated by COVID. This group is recommending, among other things, the establishment of an emergency fund for researchers, and a survey and focus groups to determine how IU compares to other institutions on these issues. Recognizing as well the intersectional effects of these concerns, it is also working with the Racial Justice Fund, a joint initiative convened by the Vice Presidents for Research and for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs.
Second, the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs accelerated its plans for an initiative for the advancement of women faculty. Associate Vice Provost Kim Geeslin leads this initiative, and will serve as a visible point of contact for women and faculty as they navigate challenges and opportunities in their careers. The Initiative for the Advancement of Women Faculty will support new opportunities for leadership development, consultation, grant-writing targeting support for inclusion, and efforts to maintain an inclusive and productive climate for all faculty.
As we successfully completed the fall semester, deans and vice provosts have discussed additional kinds of relief for what we hope will be the remaining months of this national emergency.
- While we never froze faculty hiring, especially to meet instructional needs, we have continued in place a freeze on staff hiring. My office is working carefully with units to help identify places where we can no longer defer hiring, and to replace those mission-critical staff members to help reduce the burden on continuing staff.
- The deans have also agreed to give people with care responsibilities priority for their preferred times for classes in the spring, and can make adjustments even now for those preferences, in order to help coordinate care.
- We recognize that being able to defer instructional responsibilities until care support reappears would be ideal. Some academic units could do this, allowing faculty to bank their deferred courses and repay them later; others are too small and are unable to do so while still meeting the curricular needs of our students. But all expressed a willingness to work individually with faculty with care responsibilities to determine what is possible, be it deferral, or team-teaching, or other creative arrangements. Because we have a lengthy period without students here, we can still make changes to the spring calendar.
- We continue to hope that Congress will step forward with additional relief, but recognize that the federal Emergency Paid Sick Leave and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act provisions expire on December 31 without further Congressional action. Our IU Keep Indiana Healthy initiative, which provides paid leave for periods of isolation and quarantine due to COVID, will continue, and we are exploring ways to broaden it.
I want to thank those faculty and staff members who have contributed to IU’s culture of care, providing support and mentoring to students and colleagues who have faced loss, hardship, and uncertainty in the wake of the pandemic. It is a tribute to our community that you have done so and is deeply appreciated.
I am grateful to everyone who worked with such grit and professionalism throughout the semester.
Executive Vice President and Provost