Faculty spend hours weekly in front of a classroom, where they profess knowledge to help mold young minds. They possess a heightened ability to focus and concentrate on a narrow subject within a proscribed discipline. Because of the kind of work that they do, faculty also largely control the use of their time with remarkable freedom from constraints of colleagues or administrators. So it should be no surprise at all that some faculty come to believe that they themselves are worthy of the same focus and concentration that would be directed at a newly discovered manuscript by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.
Even so, I was taken aback a bit by the self-absorbed fatuousness in a column in the January 27 edition of Inside Higher Ed by one Tamara Yakaboski, associate professor of higher education and student affairs leadership at the University of Northern Colorado.
Professor Yakaboski recently had a baby, the run-up to which–according to her–made her the center of unwelcome attention from Las Vegas to Orlando:
I attended two student affairs conferences in March, presenting and serving on panels at both. When presenting, I worried whether the audience still valued my work or were they thinking more about me as a mother than as a scholar.
While some women may choose not to attend conferences while pregnant as to avoid any devaluation of their professional identity or for health reasons, others attend for many reasons including the need to network, to present their research because their annual evaluations require it, or they are on the job market. I chose to conference [sic] out of habit.
Not to mention travel to such hots spots as Vegas and Disney World on somebody else’s nickel, which is understandably habit-forming. In fairness to the preggers professor, Ms. Yakaboski was presenting at each of the conferences, so it could be argued that she was working. On the other hand, these were conferences about “student affairs.”
Professor Bun-in-the-Oven ostensibly wrote her column to educate. “Busy conference schedules, where sessions are packed in one after another and void of time in the day that is unscheduled,” she writes
really are not planned for the fatigued body, pregnant or not. Conference planners would do many a favor by creating a centrally located lounge space for attendees to rest.
In my experience, such “centrally located lounge space” is relatively easy to find in a conference hotel and is typically called “the lobby.” Having attended more than my fair share of academic conferences, moreover, I know that, should I need to rest my weary bones, I can always count on a quick flop in one of the chairs, couches, or benches that dot the serpentine hallways every 30 feet or so of gigantic conference hostelries. So I do not know what Professor Yakaboski is talking about. Perhaps she is expecting too much.
Location, conference venue and hotel, is important for conference planning committees and maybe even more so for those with families. Pregnant women or families may not be a priority for conference planning committees, but they might consider their needs when selecting sites. Or at least realize that without accommodations, such as lounge space, and other family friendly planning, individuals are left to decide if they belong at academic and professional conferences when it can be challenging and even unwelcoming.
If you set out to imagine a more self-centered vision of the world, you would be hard-pressed to top that of Professor Prenatal. Why should she–or any other working individual–drag her family to a conference in the first place? Besides the free hotel room, courtesy of her institution’s budget, I mean.
You might also ask yourself in what kind of upside down universe is the self-esteem of a highly educated individual so fragile that at a conference designed to accommodate the needs of some 5,000 attendees (i.e., NASPA 2013 Annual Conference), her need to nap must be planned for lest she feel “unwelcome.” What makes this navel-gazing even more appalling that the particular conference she is talking about 1) took place adjacent to Disney World; 2) had regularly scheduled shuttle service to Disney World; 3) established “gender-neutral” bathrooms at the site of the conference; and 4) placed a pronoun (he, she, ze) on the name tag of each and every attendee lest a transgender person get ze’s feelings hurt.
The planners messed up big time, I guess, when they failed to add a pink, blue, or lavender ribbon to the name tags of the pregnant participants. The ribbons, tastefully warning fellow conferees to keep their eyes above belly level, could have avoided Professor Yakaboski’s having to suffer the indignities of her pregnancy:
there were people questioning my physical body instead of my mental contributions. It was a surprise that these comments came from student affairs and higher education professionals and faculty who I thought would have been more sensitive and inclusive and a little less judgmental.
But suffer them she did, bravely leaving the warmth and comfort of her ivory tower a mere three months before her confinement, in order “to conference” [sic]. Having broken through to the other side, she modestly takes credit for being the pioneering “role model” millions of pregnant women were unaware they needed:
Reflecting back almost a year later, I hope my baby bump sent a message that a woman can be pregnant without losing her scholarly and professional identities. If you are attending a conference this season with a baby bump, be proud and know you are role modeling for the next (and current) generation of women scholars and professionals. You are supporting the fact that academics can have families.