Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Historical Context Of Tanaina, Equality For Women, And Title IX

I arrived at UAA as a new faculty member in 1977 with a wife, a three year old and a six week old baby.  My wife quickly got a part time job in her technical specialty and we needed child care.  At first our daughter was in a private home where a very nice lady took care of about five babies.  But when I picked my daughter up on the third day, I told the caregiver that we would have to take our daughter out.  The place smelled of cigarets in the afternoon.  To the caregiver's credit, she told me she'd been thinking that was a problem and said there would be no more smoking. 

There was talk at the university about a place called Tanaina - a day care center on campus and also a place where the education department could do research and have student teaching experience in early childhood development.  I remember well that my dean at the time was strongly opposed to $10,000 of university funds that was proposed to go to Tanaina.  I asked him, "If a private donor offered to pay the $10,000 instead of the university, would you stop protesting?" At least he was an honest man, and he said no.  Young children belong at home with their mothers, not in day care centers.  "But," I repsonded, "you told me that I couldn't afford to live here on my salary alone, that my wife would have to work too.  So what are we supposed to do with the kids?"  "Steve, you and your wife are different, you take great care about your kids education and development." 

You can see where that discussion was going.  Round in circles.  So, the ones who take good care of their kids can use child care, but the ones who don't - the ones whose kids need it most - shouldn't?  My dean's religious background made him adamantly opposed to day care, even if it conflicted with real life practicalities, like the economic need for my wife to work. 

Our daughter did get into Tanaina shortly after it opened.  It meant I could take her with me to campus, drop her off, and I could look in on her when I had some free time during the day.  And it offered peace of mind to know that if anything happened, I was nearby.  Tanaina was good for her and she still has a best friend, 30 odd years later, that she met at Tanaina. 

I tell this story, in part to give some history.  In part to remind everyone that child care was then and is still today, loaded with political and religious controversy.

It was great to have child care on campus.  But the person who benefited most in my family - besides my daughter who got great socialization and early education - was my wife.  We came to Alaska because I got a full time job offer.  My wife took part time work in her specialty - they really wanted her full time, but she did want to more time with the kids - and she was able to do that because we had child care available. 

Child care is something that first and foremost benefits women.  Wives still tend to be the ones who drop out of work to take care of kids.  And women overwhelmingly have the kids when there is a one-parent household.  Without affordable child care, women slip backwards economically, along with their kids.

So I find it particularly ironic that as UAA is on a federal Title IX watch list, the administration decided to evict the campus child care/child development center.  The link between the campus climate for women and availability of child care apparently never crossed their minds.  They also had no sense of the deep loyalty people have toward a place like Tanaina, how important Tanaina is and was to the kids who went there, the faculty, student, and staff parents who were able to get their kids into Tanaina.   Good child care makes an enormous difference in a young couple's lives. 

Tanaina is also intended to be a laboratory for the early childhood education program in the College of Education.  Over the years this has worked better in some periods than others.  But it is an important role that campus based daycare usually serve. 

But the issue is bigger than UAA.  There just aren't that many good, affordable places available in Anchorage or anywhere in the US, certainly not enough for all the people who need them.  So evicting Tanaina not only hurts the university community, but the Anchorage community as a whole.  
The people who made this decision apparently had no sense of how important this issue is in people's lives, particularly women's lives.    They were taken completely by surprise by the strong community response and also by the response of - I'm told - four regents who told them at last Thursday's meeting that this was an important issue and they should go back and try harder.

The same day that people were telling the regents they were opposed to the eviction of Tanaina, the university was sending out emails to all faculty, students, and staff about a campus climate survey they were going to receive as part of the university's getting back in good graces over Title IX.  While the survey is specifically about sexual harassment, the eviction of Tanaina from the space they'd been in for over 35 years, doesn't send a good message to the feds about the administration's understanding of how all the components of a university, including child care,  work together, to create a campus climate that's welcoming to women. 

I also need to say that while I'm pretty disturbed about the administration's initial actions here, I also know that the Chancellor is a decent man.  Since the eviction notice has gone public, he has taken moves that offer the possibility of improving the campus day care situation.  Tanaina, like all good day care centers, especially those on campuses, has a long waiting list.  The space they are in is too small. There's a task force working to find alternatives for Tanaina.  The timing is tight and it's not clear that things will work out for the best, but there is a chance.   In the best possible world, this will lead to Tanaina getting a bigger space on campus.  In the worst possible world, Anchorage will lose a much needed day care option. 

I'd also mention that the university's contribution to Tanaina now, as I understand it, is the space.  That's estimated to be about $27,000.  I also understand that the board of Tanaina has said that they could absorb that cost through increased tuition.  So this isn't about 'entitlements' as the president suggested at the board of regents meeting on Friday.

I'd also say that there are lots of problems with many child care programs.  We need more and better affordable child care.  So many human problems could be alleviated through early intervention in children's lives that the cost of good child care should be more than made up for in the drop in other agencies that deal with the results of poor child rearing practices. 

I'll report on last Friday's task force meeting in a new post before too long. 

1 comment:

  1. Strong, thoughtful post, as usual. Looking forward to follow up.


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