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CAUT Bulletin Archives

February 2005

Making Room for Baby

I read the President's Column ("Envisioning a Family-Friendly Campus," Bulletin, December 2004) with a profound sense of relief. I feel very fortunate to work in a family-friendly environment at Wilfrid Laurier University. My situation is out of the ordinary, perhaps. I had three children within four years of completing my PhD, and was recently successful in my application for tenure. Various onlookers seemed to think this had to do with some superhuman ability on my part. Of course this is not the case.

Of the many factors that made this possible, the supportive, helpful and flexible environment that I encountered at Wilfrid Laurier has been crucial. My tenure clock was stopped for any maternity leave taken. News of (another!) pregnancy was met with delight, rather than the scorn I have heard can greet such news in other institutions.

When I chose not to take a leave with my third child, but to continue nursing, I was told the department would do whatever it could to help make this possible. This meant that Ariel was very much part of the department for a few months, whether being babysat in my office or jiggled through a meeting. I was never given the impression this was an irritation, and this arrangement allowed me to continue teaching, serve as graduate officer, and care for my newborn.

Finally, I am fortunate to have role models of both women and men who have been able to balance an academic career and several children. Female graduate students regularly ask me, inevitably in an embarrassed undertone, how it is possible to manage academic work and a family. By virtue of the fact that they ask me, I hope that simply by being there, by being academics who are also parents to young children, we help to make families more plausible to the next generation of scholars. At the same time, I always urge those young women to seek their careers in similar family-friendly institutions.

Faydra Shapiro
Religion & Culture, Wilfrid Laurier University