Tuesday, September 08, 2009

No Kids Allowed

On behalf of a reader, today I am seeking information about universities that have banned children from campus buildings 'for safety reasons'. Of course I am not talking about bringing children into labs with hazardous materials or delicate equipment, and I am not talking about whether someone should bring their ill child to campus. The issue is whether all children can and should be categorically banned from offices and classrooms.

If your campus has a such a policy, does it have a negative effect on you or someone you know (such as a colleague or student)? Or do you agree that the ban makes sense, for the safety of the children and/or university personnel who might contract an illness (swine flu!) from contact with child-vectors in campus buildings?

In terms of the health issue, I am not an expert but I think I am more likely to get swine flu from contact with my university students and other campus regulars than from contact with a younger child who happens to be in my department building, even if that child is brought to a class or meeting. As long as labs and other sites with hazardous materials have restricted access, there seems to be no good reason to exclude all children for their own safety.

Do universities fear what might happen if a child is injured in a campus building; for example, if a child slips on a recently waxed floor? I doubt it; some universities aren't even particularly concerned when professors slip on a recently waxed floor.

Bringing a child to a class or a talk might not be a good idea, particularly if the child is disruptive, but I would rather deal with these situations on a case by case basis than have a university ban children from campus buildings.

There have been times when my husband and/or I had to bring our daughter to campus; e.g. on days when she had no school and we couldn't arrange childcare or our schedules so that one of us could stay home. We brought her to talks (during which she sat quietly in the back coloring or reading) and classes (during which she sat quietly in the back, amazed by all the talking/texting students around her). Bringing out daughter to campus allowed us to do our jobs.

Perhaps these bans are not rigorously enforced (has anyone by any chance seen a few dogs in campus buildings in which no dogs are allowed?) but provide the university with some security if there is a problem. Even so, students, postdocs, staff, and untenured faculty would be reluctant to violate such a ban, fearing repercussions.

If someone wanted to protest such a ban as ineffective as a safety measure and harmful to university personnel and students who on occasion need to bring a child into a campus building, what is the best strategy? Presumably the people taking the lead should be tenured full professors (men and women), though it would be good if administrators knew the full range of the problem for students and those with more precarious employment situations.

If administrators realized the many ways in which the business of the university (teaching/learning, research, service/outreach) was being negatively affected by such a ban, perhaps someone with authority would take a calm look at the issue and come up with a sensible policy.

49 comments:

Jeremy D. Young said...

This is how bureaucracy generally performs its duty. It costs less to make blanket rules.

Anonymous said...

I'm generally not a fan of children in the workplace. I don't think there's any reason to consider the University as an exception. I could not have sat in my father's office building as a child. And I as a speaker would be distracted by a child coloring in the back of a talk I was trying to give. Besides which, doesn't hauling a child around your workplace just reinforce the stereotypes of you as a mommy and not a professor?

qaz said...

FSP - Do you actually know of such a university? Is this a recent development? All the universities I've seen (admittedly only a handful) had kids around. At my U, we have rules about kids under 12 not being allowed in labs, but lots of people bring them to their offices. I remember sitting in my dad's classes when I was a kid. It was a fun game trying to see if I could make sense of what the class was about.

What's the age limit on this "no kids policy"? Technically, aren't freshman kids? A lot of them are under 18. Walking by the new ones moving in yesterday, they certainly looked really young.

Anonymous said...

I am not a lawyer (nor do I play one on TV) but I'd say you can sue them for discrimination.

The ban is too broad to stand up in court. A ban such as kids under ten, or any kids from this lab might stand up in court. No kids anywhere wouldn't stand a chance. As I understand it, private organizations in the US are still allowed to discriminate but not if they receive federal funding.

Just find a lawyer willing to take the case pro-bono.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if my university has such a ban, and I'm not going to ask. If I don't know, and no one takes the time to tell me, I can't be blamed for breaking it, can I?

(Obviously, the real solution is to just not hire women of reproductive age, then the problem of kids on campus will just go away. ;)

Anonymous said...

I think there can be real safety issues, and people have grown significantly more concerned about them with time (litigation being only one of the reasons). That's 'cause the expectations for child safety are higher than they used to be, and workplaces would have to meet different standards if they were going to be frequented by children. That being said, some universities run child activities over the summer, for example allowing middle schoolers to be in the university library, elementary kids to be on the grounds and in other buildings. As long as that's the case, it seems that a properly supervised child could be in other spaces. The reason why universities would rather have blanket bans.

"Bringing a child to a class or a talk might not be a good idea, particularly if the child is disruptive, but I would rather deal with these situations on a case by case basis than have a university ban children from campus buildings."

And, this, is the problem. It's much easier to have a blanket ban, than to have a ban that says that "disruptive children" won't be allowed and then try to enforce such a ban, when different people's perception of disruptive will vary, and when it is difficult to set a standard.

Anonymous who finds the child quietly coloring is a bit odd, for example -- I, for example, an adult have a bad doodling habit, and doodle extensively during talks. I guess it could be disruptive to some, but no one would think of banning my doodling. The fact that I'm drawing pictures instead of writing words really can't be relevant to judging my behavior, even if an odd speaker might be so sensitive as to find it disruptive.

Anonymous said...

I am at an academic medical center, so obviously a blanket ban on kids would not work here. But I suspect that the schools that do have such a policy are not actively discriminating against parents. Most probably, they are just trying to limit their liability in case anything goes wrong. While the university might not seem to care about professors or students hurting themselves in the building, children are likely another matter. Kids do not always sit quietly and can easily get themselves into (albeit unintentional) trouble. I doubt the university wants to deal with the expense, hassle, and bad PR of a lawsuit involving an injured child.

Cloud said...

Anonymous @ 4:01- why should being a mommy and being a professor be mutually exclusive? I personally would have found it encouraging to see evidence that my few female professors had kids. Too often the impression given is that academia and family life are mutually exclusive.

Besides, FSP said her husband sometimes brings their daughter with him. Does that perpetuate stereotypes of him as a daddy and not a professor?

I, in general, think kids in the workplace should be an occasional thing, when child care issues arise. Even as a fellow working mother, I am annoyed by my office mate who habitually brings her daughter in with her after school, because her daughter is disruptive to my attempts to finish up my work and go pick up my daughter. However, I don't mind people who have to bring a child in occasionally, when a school holiday falls on a day that neither parent can take off. In general, sick kids (and sick adults!) should stay home. When my daughter first went to day care, I used all of my paid time off days staying home with her when she was sick (and my husband did the same)- so it annoys me when other parents won't do the same, thereby exposing me to yet another illness. However, even in this I think there are exceptions and try not to judge people who have to bring a sick kid to work occasionally.

I see no reason why a university should be more restrictive than any other workplace. In fact, I think they probably can be less restrictive. One of the universities I attended actually had families living in the dorms as "resident masters"- so, it would have been impossible to keep the kids off campus.

Anonymous said...

We recently received an email from the Med School reiterating the VERY strict rules for having kids in the lab. No one AT ALL under 12, and no one under 18 as a worker or observer in the lab except under very strict rules. I luckily work in the Biology Department and have pointedly not inquired about whether this is University wide. If it is, they'll have to catch me first.

My grad PI's kid and that of one of his postdocs definitely visited the lab, and that was 20 years ago. My daughters have spent MANY hours of the summer, school breaks or other miscellaneous days in my office or that of my spouse, reading, internet surfing, doing homework, etc. My youngest spent about five months from six weeks old to six months old in a porta-crib in my spouses office. It's one of the few "benefits" unique to academia. I never received a complaint nor felt I was over stepping. I imagine my postdocs and students might feel less free (generally I only see their kids on weekends or REAL holidays), but I do not think other junior faculty have felt significantly inhibited, given their behavior.

I do not bring in sick kids--they'd rather be home anyway. I also kept them in my office till they were old enough not to hurt themselves by doing something inadvertent.

As long as the University is covering its liability and not being hyper vigilant, and people are being reasonable, I think a don't ask-don't tell policy works.

Mark P

Anonymous said...

I'm a grad student in a small physical sciences department in Canada, and I see nothing wrong with children being on campus. On average we have a young faculty in my department, and there is a focus on creating a community within the department. My adviser, other professors in the department, and other grad students occasionally bring their children with them to the department. Of course the when and where is very important. A child playing in an experimental lab may be inappropriate, but I have had meetings with my adviser while his daughter colored at his desk, and I don't think there is a parent in the department who hasn't brought in their newborns to be fawned over by the department. To be honest, seeing a prof with their child makes them seem more human and approachable to me, but I think the key is that the child should be supervised. As well, we have several profs (including our chair) who bring their dogs to work. I see no problem with either of these things as long as the children and/or pets are well behaved, and it's the parent's job to ensure that, the same as any other location.

Anonymous said...

The key issue is that children who are loud, disruptive, or sick should not be present. Of course kids are fine under other circumstances, but the tricky thing is how to frame the rules so that the system won't be abused.

Once a kid shows up, it's difficult to send them home. (It can be done, but it often amounts to sending the parent home too, so people are reluctant to do it.) The system needs to create a powerful incentive for parents to find other options for their kids, if the kids are sick or likely to be a nuisance. I don't know how to do this, short of a total ban. If you allow parents to exercise their own judgement, then irresponsible parents will systematically abuse the system. If you track behavior over time and try to crack down on problem cases, you'll be accused of bias or selective enforcement and it will turn into a big mess. A total ban may be unfair, but it gets the job done while avoiding these difficulties.

Does anyone have a suggestion for how else to handle this? There's a reason why bureacracies create blanket rules, but I hope there's a better option out there somewhere.

It's also worth noting that bans can work out fine if they aren't enforced proactively. Think of it as a zero-tolerance policy for complaints about kids. If nobody complains, then no notice is taken, but if there's one complaint, then the rules get enforced. That's not so unreasonable (and it's certainly much less divisive than trying to gauge what level of complaints should be required before taking action).

John V said...

For the six years my daughter was in the on-campus elementary school, I'd bring her to my office daily after picking her up, and I don't recall a single complaint.

On three different universities, I never heard a complaint about individual kids, although I've thought a few when some dallied noisily outside my office.

Aside from liability, the main issue seems to be equity. The majority of university employees have supervisors and no tenure, plus must use community space to park the kids, and often have jobs requiring frequent interaction with other workers across campus, and thus don't bring them in. So some are not pleased the higher paid, unclocked profs and researchers can set up nurseries nearby.

Of course, the larger issue is day care and its subsidy or lack thereof.

Anonymous said...

As an MMP I have brought my daughters to the University many many times. I used to leave them in my office to doodle on the chalkboard while I was otherwise engaged. Now that they are older they love to run around the quad and all over campus while I go to the office on weekends.

I have never taken them to talks but more for their sake than to avoid making a speaker feel awkward ...

We have an essentially "don't ask, don't tell" policy about dogs on campus but, despite what security guards have told me, no anti-kids rules.

Shay said...

I am wondering if this is a baby-bathwater example of employers unwilling to take on individual parents.

I worked for years in an IT company that did not have a workplace policy on children. A woman in my section brought her son to work at least once a week, and almost every day during school holidays. She told me once that didn't believe that she should have to pay for a babysitter while she was working.

I would prefer to see no children in the workplace (yes, I'm child-less) but I recognize that emergencies arise. There are just too many people who abuse the priviledge.

Anonymous said...

My institution has a blanket ban on children in the workplace, for liability reasons. (They do allow children on campus for other activities, however.) My institution also does not observe any of the Monday holidays (technically, we get them off between Christmas and New Years), and until this year, had a spring break that was two weeks before the local school break.

Faculty, staff, and students break the rules all the time. Given the institution's schedule (and the inflexibility of it for faculty and students - staff, at least, can take vacation days), it's the only option.

I've had kids tag along with their non-trad-student parents in class. I know the bind they're in, and the kids have been fine, so it doesn't personally bother me.

Anonymous said...

I sometimes feel like I'm reading a blog about an alternate universe when I'm at FSP. Is there really such a university out there or is this a candidate for snopes?

Pagan Topologist said...

I have not heard of such a policy, and I would be quite distressed if we had one. I always make it clear to my students that I am happy to have them bring children to my classes. Students of both sexes have done so on occasion, and it has never been a problem. I have also brought a child to a class I was teaching myself a few times over the years. I am not female, so this is not an issue which involves only females.

It is indeed hard to enforce, as we have had full time students who are as young as ten a few times since I arrived on this campus in 1968.

Kevin said...

http://shr.ucsc.edu/announce/children-in-workplace/memo.htm
has an attempt at a reasonable policy, written by administrators. Personally, I think it is a bit too hard on parents, especially since UCSC has just kicked all faculty and student kids out of the on-campus daycare.

In practice, kids are fine anywhere on campus except hazardous locations (like labs) as long as they are not disruptive. It is routine to see kids reading or coloring in faculty offices, especially during the breaks when no day care or school is available.

Anonymous said...

I think having a child in your office (if its your own private office) because their summer camp has a few days of non-overlap with school starting, or something, is totally fine as long as it isn't disruptive. That seems pretty normal.

Bringing a sick kid to work- if they are truly so sick that the school doesn't want them there- is incredibly selfish. It implies that your work is more important than the health of all your co-workers. People who are sick shouldn't be around large groups of other people sharing communal spaces with them, and this includes kids (it might even especially include kids, who are less likely to do things to limit contagion spreading like hand washing, mouth covering while coughing, avoiding rubbing their runny nose and then touching something, etc).

Alex said...

But I suspect that the schools that do have such a policy are not actively discriminating against parents. Most probably, they are just trying to limit their liability in case anything goes wrong.

Basically. Large organizations like to have a rule against anything and everything, so that they can disclaim any responsibility for anything. If these rules happen to cause problems for actual human beings, well, that is trivial compared to the "If it saves just one life, or covers just one administrative ass...." consideration.

"Yes, you inhaled toxic chemicals due to a building ventilation malfunction, but if you had read the university policy on breathing you would see in the fine print that employees are discouraged from breathing except with the assistance of a proper device."

"Yes, the livestock got loose from the agriculture school and trashed your car while trying to mate with it, but the university manual clearly states in the fine print that the issuance of a parking permit does not constitute permission to bring a vehicle onto campus, but merely permission to utilize the parking space."

We recently had a situation where a student left some chemicals in a refrigerator for food. The response from above was that the refrigerator was in a room with computers, and food and computers don't mix, so we should remove the refrigerator from the room rather than simply make sure nobody puts chemicals in there again. (This is a room with desks used by a bunch of research students.) Everybody who has ever eaten lunch at their desk in front of the computer immediately went "WTF?" and the matter is now "under discussion."

amy said...

I've never heard of a policy like this, and I would be strongly opposed to my university adopting such a policy. The small town we're in has completely inadequate childcare options, so such a policy would seriously burden parents. And they'd have to be making exceptions all the time for the school groups that come through, the occasional genius kid who's a college student at age 13, etc.

We do have a pretty strict ban on animals in buildings, though, which makes me sad. My cat is sweet, mellow, and well-behaved, and he'd make a lovely office companion. A friend of mine just spent the summer at a university in Turkey, and every office there has at least one resident cat. I'm jealous!

Ewan said...

[To answer the question originally asked: I would deal with such a ban by ignoring it in the first instance, and protesting it in the second :)]

Nice timing: today is the day before my six year-old resumes school, I have class to teach, camp is over, grandparents were *last* week... and so he came to class. Intro to Behavioral Neuroscience. Perfectly behaved, and even drew a picture of a brain which he signalled to me (by intensity of looking at me, nothing else) I should come look at, and I used it as a prop for the next student question. Fabulous. [Then we dropped off the car for minor repair and walked home together holding hands on an absolutely fabulous morning. Sometimes there are reminders of why I do this job :-))]

{p.s. A similar Q came up at DrugMonkey a while back, about professors 'revealing' their parental status. I can't imagine it ever not being obvious that I have kids, and continue to be boggled by the concept that I'd get differential treatment if I were a female parent (note that this is a separate issue from being female vs. male absent parenthood, which also boggles me but which is clearly real) or if I were apparently non-parental. Both kids appear in the slides for the first lecture of almost all my classes! I guess I am just too naively easy to boggle.]

Anonymous said...

I think our society separates "professional" and "private/family" life far too much. I think this often leads to unhealthy fixation on one or the other aspect of life, and to general alienation.

Luckily at my university they are quite flexible about kids. I know families who regularly bring their pre-school kids to campus...

P.K. - professor's kid said...

I would like to speak from the other side. I was the kid in the back of the seminar/class coloring, and sitting in my father's lab after school or during school holidays when childcare was unavailable. My father, being a professor, had a much more flexible schedule and work place so he picked up the slack by having me spend time with him on campus when my mom had to work late.

Not only do I think this shaped my love of science and eventual draw towards academics, I greatly enjoyed getting know the other professors, grad students, and postdocs in the department as well as their children who were also in and out on campus. I believe our presence (the other kids and me) it made for a much more vibrant and balanced working environment. Incidentally, some of these faculty children and I are still very close 20+ years later!

My postdoc advisor occasionally brings in his two daughters (12 and 15) to spend the afternoon in our lab (geophysics lab - no harmful chemicals, etc here!) and I have never thought twice about it. I enjoy having them around as they add levity to the day and make the workplace feel more balanced.

Anonymous said...

This post is extremely well-timed for me - just two weeks ago, I would have thought such a policy was absurb. Just last week however, our department instituted a new set of safety rules that we are required to sign in order to enter the building - and it includes a blanket ban on children. Apparently, this has been the policy of our university for some time, but we didn't know!

The problem is, my husband and I work in the same department, and right now are on joint parental leave (meaning we each work half-time). In our country we get 15 months of full-pay parental leave, but the trade-off is that childcare doesn't exist for children under one year.

Naturally, since we're academics, our parental leave isn't really respected, and we very often need to bring our 10-month-old child to work - primarily (mandatory) meetings, but occasionally to get access to on-campus electronic resources, printers, etc. - even occasionally to teach. I typically bring my son to work every week, and my husband does the same, and it has not been a problem until now. In fact six months ago we had a mandatory safety meeting/retraining course for our entire department, which our son attended with us since we were both required to be there. Ironic actually...

I understand that this is a question of liability for our university, but there is a big difference between bring a child into a lab and into a meeting. No one has ever complained, but since we are now required to SIGN a form promising not to bring our child to work, we are open to all sorts of problems. I would love to hear more about how others deal with this issue...

mpp said...

I think it is very telling that "Anonymous" at 4:01 does not allow for a dual identity of mommy/professor. Herein lies the problem that so many women in the sciences are facing.

female Science Professor said...

I would have commented on that but I was worried about reinforcing stereotypes of me as a blogger and professor.

Kate said...

This policy seems to go against all the programs that try to get kids on college campuses so they can see themselves a college students some day.

Unlimited soda with meals in the cafeteria, bunk beds in the dorms, and the fact that apparently no one ever told you to clean your room sold me on the idea of college before I even learned to read.

My dad tended to bring me with him to the SLAC he taught at when I was little. Not during the regular workday because my mom stayed home, but on weekends when he had stuff to pick up, errands to run in the evening and that kind of stuff. I loved the typewriter in the office.

When I was a college student, people who were big brothers/big sisters were encouraged to bring kids they mentored on campus. To show them things like the dorms, shoot hoops in the gym, play pool in the student center, taken them for walks in the arb.

I'm sure kids in the workplace can become a problem if they are there all the time, but it doesn't seem unreasonable for kids to occasionally enter the building. Obviously, kids and labs don't mix (although I remember a few pretty cool tours of the labs for faculty kids), but unless they are left unattended, I don't see how university buildings are less safe than any other building.

John V said...

re anon@4:01 "mommy" comment.

I've read repeatedly here and elsewhere (and experienced) that being seen with a baby at work may be (inappropriately) typecasting more for a woman than for a man, so perhaps the commentor was just trying to get to the crux of the problem.

His/her comment misses the mark IMO for offering two (out of three) totally invalid arguments. (1) So what if this person wasn't allowed in the father's workplace? (2) That can be an issue - it's hard enough to pay attention to a stultifying talk without some lively youngster in view. (3) The whole point of this discussion is whether one can simultaneously be a parent and a prof, so an argument that being seen as a mommy precludes being seen as a prof completely misses the boat.

hkukbilingualidiot said...

At my old department, one of my profs had an autistic child and we see the child with the professor regularly in our department. I know its very hard to get childcare for disabled children and it actually showed a gentler side to that particular professor...though in his lectures there's always a 5 minute film clips during his lectures that used the chemistry that we were being taught...

There's another situation when a 10 years old child of another professor sat in our class (his dad's) which was one of the advanced physical chemistry lectures. The prof posed a difficult question that none of the students could answer but his 10 year old did...which was rather embarassing to us, lol. Though having a dad like that you shouldn't really be that surprised that his kid knew.

So on banning kids from campus, I think it's ridiculous, it just detracts from the nurturing nature of a university. If limitations were to be put onto what an employee can and can't do concerning family necessities they will just not be as productive. Additionally, how else would you get a relaxing environment which is actually more constructive to an educational environment?

Kevin said...

Re: children in labs.

When my son was 11, he spent 2 weeks in a molecular biology lab (supervised by a grad student). He actually did some useful work for them, and learned a fair amount about wet lab work. I don't have a wet lab, so I arranged this with a friend who did. It did take some setup effort, as her lab dealt with pathogens, so he had to do the work in a departmental lab that didn't, and there were a number of waiver forms to sign.

Still, I was very encouraged that there was a way for kids to get legal entry to the labs. (Of course, he's since decided that wet-lab work is not for him, and all his science fair projects have been computational, despite the fact that his experience was unrealistically positive---all the steps he did (PCR, digestion, ligation, cloning, ...) worked first time.

Harvestar said...

This just seems very strange. I worked for a year with a program where school groups were brought on campus to do real research with scientists. This was an amazing program which taught these kids a lot - including things like what it was like to eat at the Student Union and the different types of people on campus and just the atmosphere of a research building.

We also had lots of school groups coming for tours of our building, planetarium shows, and museum visits. That's very sad if they want that to go away.

When I was a kid, I did a program at the local college on Saturdays (and for 2 weeks in the summer) which involved various subjects (science, language, swimming, basketball). These took place in the actual labs and classrooms.

Anonymous said...

"When my son was 11, he spent 2 weeks in a molecular biology lab (supervised by a grad student). He actually did some useful work for them, and learned a fair amount about wet lab work. I don't have a wet lab, so I arranged this with a friend who did."

Speaking as someone who recently witnessed grad students and employees in a lab being pressed into helping their PI's child with a science fair project... you should not have done that. This sort of thing makes science "fairs" less FAIR for the kids without a university lab to play in, wastes grad students' precious time, and exposes employees and students to possible liability should an accident occur (which is a near-certainty unless the child or teen is supervised extremely closely).

Alex said...

Speaking as someone who recently witnessed grad students and employees in a lab being pressed into helping their PI's child with a science fair project... you should not have done that. This sort of thing makes science "fairs" less FAIR for the kids without a university lab to play in, wastes grad students' precious time, and exposes employees and students to possible liability should an accident occur (which is a near-certainty unless the child or teen is supervised extremely closely).

Depends.

1) Kevin did state that there were some waivers signed, so the liability concern seems to have been addressed.

2) As far as fairness to the other 11 year-olds, most science fair projects are near-jokes (not everybody is doing Westinghouse), and rather than insisting that all projects should be equally bad we should exult when somebody actually finds a way to do a good one. It isn't terribly fair, but it's better than yet another crappy project.

3) The concern about grad students is a significant one. Faculty should not use grad students as substitutes for summer camp or whatever. However, most grad students will, at some point, be told to mentor an REU student or a high school student in some sort of summer program, or something along those lines. Some of these mentors get a stipend, or at least supply money. Of course, in those cases there's a grant specifically for those purposes. A PI can't just arbitrarily allocate grant $ to compensate a student for watching his/her kid.

OTOH, if there was a student who wanted some teaching/mentoring experience (and maybe needed an extra pair of hands for menial chores for a few weeks), and it was made clear to the student that saying "no" was an option, then this might be acceptable.

So, if it's voluntary, enjoyable for the student, and maybe even somewhat beneficial (as mentoring experience and perhaps a set of hands for menial tasks during a busy spell full of menial tasks) then it might be OK.

Anonymous said...

How do you define voluntary or involuntary for the grad student?

The issue is grad students "forced" to be lab managers or baby sit for their advisor or foreced to be the cook/chauffeur for the PI and the lab.

Not in the job description. And grad students "forced" to TA again and again and again for the PI's classes.

Or grad students acting as a personal secretary for the PI. Again, not in the job description.

(PI: hey I am paying your meager salary).

Never heard of grad student "forced" to sleep with PIs. I am sure it happens somewhere present and in the past.

Some grad student/postdocs do end up marrying their PI/supervisor. I am sure most are willingly. Some PIs do sexually harrass postdocs in their lab....

So can grad students sue their PIs if it is just too much (the damage was so bad), unreasonable.

(PI: the end of your academic career....or life).

For sure, it is an advantage for kids to have parents with doctorates and/or money.

Anonymous said...

I think a blanket ban is the easiest and least hassling way for a university to handle this issue. Of course one person occasionally bringing their well-mannered child to campus for a short while is not a big deal. Everyone bringing their loud and disruptive children to campus is a big deal. It's a slippery slope. How many children is 'too many', how often is 'too often', and how loud/disruptive is 'too loud/disruptive'. Dealing with it on a case by case basis is going to incur huge costs in time and money and even more bureaucratic red tape. Surely this is not what we want? I can understand why there would be blanket bans. There are already child care centers and professional baby sitters precisely so you don't have to get into these situations. (if a parent is unwilling to use those resources, that's their own problem). For some things, it's better to just not go there at all.

Anonymous said...

I work in a psychology dept where we have kids around all the time taking part in research. We scan their brains or record their eye movement or have them do all sorts of psycholoy tests. So a campus wide ban on children would destroy our work. Anyone looking to overturn a ban on children might want to look to developmental psychologists for support.

Anonymous said...

I'm with PK. I used to go into the University every day after school (and for the odd week during the holidays) when my Mom was working there as a research assistant and mature PhD student. It was fantastic. I used to hole up in the library or computer lab with my homework, and got the chance to peruse all kinds of weird books that I would never have come across otherwise. It certainly left me with a love of academia that I have never lost, and probably set me on the road to becoming a junior FSP.

Anonymous said...

My U. sponsors a number of events on campus throughout the year that target children. The ones I am most familiar with showcase the sciences and engineering in ways that are fun and interesting to kids. There are also museums on campus (not to mention football games and other sports events) that draw school groups as well as the general public. This is a land grant large state U., and given its public purpose, I can't imagine a blanket policy banning kids, although there are certain areas with restricted access for safety reasons.

Anonymous said...

"How do you define voluntary or involuntary for the grad student?"

There is no truly "voluntary" when it comes to a PI asking a grad student for a personal favor involving their child. The power imbalance is too great, and the ramifications of refusal potentially too large in the student's mind. Advisors don't always recognize this, because from their position of power, the relationship can appear to be collegial and somewhat "equal". It usually does not appear so from below.

Want your kid to learn about science? Of course you do, we all do. Send them to science camp. Nobody there is setting aside their thesis work to look after them.

Kevin said...

"Speaking as someone who recently witnessed grad students and employees in a lab being pressed into helping their PI's child with a science fair project... you should not have done that. This sort of thing makes science "fairs" less FAIR for the kids without a university lab to play in, wastes grad students' precious time, and exposes employees and students to possible liability should an accident occur (which is a near-certainty unless the child or teen is supervised extremely closely)."

These are reasonable concerns.
1) this was not a science fair project---it was just a chance to learn some wet-lab work.
2) I talked with both the PI and the grad student (not my grad student, but in my department). I wanted to be sure that neither felt any pressure to do this. They both seemed eager. Both asked later if he wanted to do it again---the grad student even saying that he had "good hands" in the lab.
3) The County Office of Education offers to try to match any kid in the county who wants a mentor for a science fair project up with faculty. Some kids (not just faculty brats) do take the opportunity. I've judged at the county science fair for years, and the kids with faculty mentors do not do substantially better than kids without until the high school level. (Having parents with higher education: scientists, engineers, doctors, lawyers, ... seems to make more of a difference than access to university labs.) We have so few kids competing in science fair at the high school level that discouraging those who work with faculty would cut our numbers in half (from 20 in the county down to 10) and drop the quality down to lower than the 5th grade entries.
Some of the high school students working in the labs are doing work that would be impressive from a grad student---should they be handicapped by not being allowed to use fume hoods or any equipment that they could not make themselves out of their allowances?

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps these bans are not rigorously enforced (has anyone by any chance seen a few dogs in campus buildings in which no dogs are allowed?)" FSP original post

There may be an alternative explanation for the presence of dogs. Perhaps it would be helpful to note for your audience that while pets may not be allowed in certain buildings, service animals most certainly are allowed per federal law to help mitigate disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act is excellent reading material, and is applicable for students, faculty and staff - as well as visitors to campus.

Anonymous said...

My wife's advisor offered her space to set up a crib in his personal office at Harvard over 30 years ago. And a few years ago, I was just fine with one of our grad students bringing her newborn to class. Universities are good places for children.

Anonymous said...

As a grad student, I took my preschooler with me when I had to run into the lab to change cages for new rat litters and such. Probably SO not okay, but I never thought about it, so can't say I broke any rules lol. He wore gloves and helped v.e.r.y. gently scoop out the babies and transfer them. I let him pipet bubble water into a new microcentrifuge tube and vortex it (WOW, bubbles!), etc. Since I juggled school and lab with being a mom, I did what I had to do. It was an urban medical school, so we'd stop by the lab on the way to the children's museum, etc. He is SO comfortable in the lab as a JH student. Last year, he helped a grad student with microinjections. Not squeamish at all, very responsible. It's what he knows. shrug To ban him now.....?

Anonymous said...

A couple of years ago, my UK research-intensive University introduced a blanket ban on staff bringing in children, except for short "social visits". I find this incredibly family-unfriendly, especially for single parents. And also for dual academic couples, where one parent may be unavailable at a critical time because they are away doing work on behalf of the Uni.
It's self-defeating. It certainly makes me quite ill-disposed to the Uni when they want something extra from me.
And it makes me less efficient - if I forget something at the office, I usually can't risk having a formal complaint made against me if I have to take my child with me to pick it up. Friends in other Departments say their colleagues are relaxed about kids being brought in occasionally, but I have some nasty colleagues.
It's rumoured that this policy was introduced mainly for the reason Shay alluded to. I'm told that some overseas grad students and postdocs were bringing in their kids constantly as an alternative to organising childcare, and this was the easiest way to deal with the issue.

Anonymous said...

I recently had a childcare crisis and had to bring my toddler son into my shared office one afternoon a week for a couple of weeks. My colleagues were wonderful. When I apologized profusely and reminded them that it was only until we could find new day care, at least one commented that he would be fine if it was every week. My two awesome lab prep people were fine with the prospect of an office meeting with the little one tagging along [thank goodness I didn't have to do that.] So, the attitude of colleagues makes a big difference. Though, I think sometimes people will be friendly about it on the surface, but complain to the administration in private...

That being said, I once worked in a research lab in which a mid-twenties graduate student's very young [19?] wife would bring their infant son into the lab in his carrier, and leave him in it on the lab floor in front of wet lab research benches. She even changed his diaper in the lab a couple of times. She had no previous lab experience, and I wasn't sure if she just wasn't aware that an active research lab wasn't the greatest place to have a baby on the floor on a regular basis... or change his diaper next to DNA-altering chemicals... but, when I tried to gently tell her very lab-experienced husband that there was a great place to change diapers in the 1st floor ladies' room, he basically told me to stuff it if I couldn't handle a dirty diaper in the lab. No matter that my concern was for the bare-bottomed baby amongst the toxic chemicals...

Helen Huntingdon said...

I've seen parents do enough real and substantial damage to others' work through turning kids loose without sufficient control that I'm in sympathy with the ban.

I'd rather have no such ban and have non-disruptive kids around. If only there were some magical barrier that kept out the children of parents who wouldn't control them appropriately, everything would be lovely.

I'd be happy with allowing kids and then dealing individually with the parents who don't take appropriate care, if only there were some way to roll back the clock and undo damage to irreplaceable work that had already been done. Since there isn't, I'm out of answers short of an all-out ban.

Anonymous said...

I am a student at St. Petersburg College pursuing secondary certification via night classes. I was just told I could no longer bring my 10 year old child to class for "insurance purposes". Several other professors have marveled at my child's impeccable behavior & manners- and said we were "welcome" any time, but this message comes from someone "higher up". I am sincerely shocked by this policy. I do feel this is discriminatory toward single parents and question the legality of it. If it is correct and enforceable I will not take future courses there. College is, after all, big business and as such I will take my business elsewhere.

Emily said...

My father, a tenured professor in the humanities, used to bring me to his lectures sometimes when I was a kid (not a baby or toddler, though). I would sit in a corner or behind a lectern and listen or color and read. I don't think the students even knew I was there most of the time. I'm glad I was allowed to do this because even though I didn't understand everything, I ended up learning a lot from the lectures, and college did not seem like some new, daunting place when I was old enough to go.

Obviously this doesn't work for every kid at every age, and it probably wouldn't have worked if my father were a scientist who worked with chemicals, or if he didn't have tenure. The situation may also be different because the university hosts classes for elementary students on campus sometimes.