A Modest Proposal Concerning the Faculty

Sometimes you just have to laugh…and use birth control. I wrote this one weekend when I just couldn’t take the actions of the Provost (now President) of Michigan State University any more. At the time I worked at MSU. The pseudonym was meant to protect my innocence, but the school paper wouldn’t publish it with the pseudonym. I then offered it to them with my real name, but alas, they went instead with an article about parking on campus—something everyone cares about.

A Modest Proposal Regarding the Faculty

By Potentia Pregnatis, Ph.D.

Many MSU students do not realize that, when they don a robe at graduation, they are participating in a tradition that signals the historical link between universities and monasteries. The Western university grew out of monasteries—early intellectual think-thanks. Indeed, well into modern times many universities required their faculty members to be free of the burdens of wives and children. Lately we’ve been wondering if the Provost has decided it would be good to return to that particular tradition, too.

At first, looking at the accumulation of her recent decisions, we thought the Provost had been become rather stunningly anti-family. But now we realize our she is on to something in these economic hard times. Indeed, we think she is not going far enough to ensure that faculty members productive energies will not be accidentally directed at reproduction. Allow us to explain.

In 2000 the Provost changed the faculty maternity leave policy so that maternity leave proper was reduced from 12 weeks to 6 weeks. She also decided that, if both a father and mother of a child were employed as faculty of the university, they would have to split the six weeks of leave between them. This brilliant marriage-penalty policy has helped to terrorize several women (and men) we know into being much more careful with their birth control, thereby ensuring they would not accidentally have or adopt a baby on university time. Though divorce would indeed double married faculty members’ benefits insofar as maternity/paternity leave goes (a not-insignificant issue when one is pregnant or adopting a child), most faculty members are strangely and fortunately reluctant to divorce in order to better provide for their families.

The Provost has also decreed that the costs associated with maternity and paternity leaves must be borne directly by the faculty members’ departments, rather than having the university assist with the costs. Again, brilliant! Faculty members—especially those in small departments where the effects of such a leave are much greater—are now aware that their immediate colleagues will pay for their choice to reproduce. This has not only discouraged faculty members from reproducing, it has also encouraged search committees to avoid people who look like they might bleed the departmental coffers by selfishly breeding.

The word has come down of late that there will be no more on-campus sabbaticals for faculty members, a decision that again disproportionately affects those with families, as they have a significantly harder time up and moving for months at a time. This policy has an excellent triple effect: first, it encourages faculty with families to leave the university if they want sabbaticals (good riddance!); second, it decreases the possibility that a sabbatical will result in a baby (which sometimes happens when married couples get some rest together); third, if faculty members do decide to split up families for months, that may result in a permanent break-up of the family, which can only benefit the university.

The recent decision to move (oh, right, expand) the College of Human Medicine to Grand Rapids again looks to be helping in terms of reducing the number of those pesky family-oriented faculty members. Several faculty members we know in CHM have realized how challenging it is going to be to try to manage that situation. (Do you move the spouse who has a job in East Lansing? What do you do about your children’s daycare or school now being over an hour from where you’ll have to work?) This again is encouraging them to put the university before the family or get out.

In hard economic times, we all have to do our part. Faculty members must be made to realize that now is not the time for them to be putting their personal lives before the needs of the university. For this reason, we would like to suggest several other policies the Provost should adopt, to round out her “Production, Not Reproduction, Vision.” Namely:

  1. Require individual departments to pay for faculty members’ weddings. This again should discourage long-term commitments that interfere with departmental well-being.
  2. Sell off individual departments to the highest bidders in distant cities. This move would raise external funding considerably (we hear the Van Andel Institute might be interested in the Department of Fine Arts as an aperitif to their purchase of the College of Human Medicine) and it would also simplify the whole reorganization of the university—which the Provost has only given us two weeks to respond to anyway.
  3. Recognize the sale of gametes as legitimate forms of external funding for research projects which have failed to garner other types of external funding. Indeed, require this, and punish failure to comply with extra teaching (universally understood as a form of punishment).
  4. Get university counsel to reclassify faculty offspring as intellectual property of the university. Then also use the offspring as naming opportunities. The latter has the added benefit of reminding faculty members, each time they call their children’s names, of their duties to the university.
  5. Though Norplant has not yet been required as a term of contract-signing, in the humanities buyers’-market, this option might be seriously considered for fertile female candidates. There is no point in treating faculty members equally across disciplines when the fact is some are superior to others (proven by the obviously innate differences between adjuncts and tenure-stream faculty as reflected in wildly different benefit packages).
  6. In the hiring and promotion process, favor those faculty members who have elected for gonadectomies; require certification by the University Physician. Not only do gonadectomies guarantee faculty members will not reproduce, they are also likely to diminish lust, thereby diminishing interest in long-term committed relationships which distract faculty members from their work. (While lust does not necessarily cause long-term relationships, it often exacerbates them.)

We should note that, in recent water-cooler discussions, Mr. Bickerstaff has suggested that children of faculty be donated to Food Services. Though this might improve the taste of food served in certain residence halls, we are not willing to go that far. Nevertheless, as admirers of the Provost’s recent decisions—and the Trustees’ seemingly full-fledged support of them—we humbly suggest these policies. Go Green, Go White! No Go Nad!

Prof. Pregnatis is a faculty member in a department affected by the Provost’s recent ‘visions.’