The pandemic placed unprecedented stresses on caregivers this spring. Not only did the conditions of work change overnight, but our societal resources — including child and elder care, K–12 education, health care, and food access — also became limited at the very moment they were greatly needed.

As we move toward the fall, I recognize that faculty, staff, and students of our college will continue to juggle care for others with the demands of their work, and that they will likely be doing so with significantly depleted physical, emotional, and financial resources. Moreover, the repercussions, particularly in the area of academic research, may be felt — and felt unequally — for years.

While ensuring that CLAHS practices align with university plans and policies, the CLAHS leadership team is adopting measures to ameliorate some of the inequities that the pandemic is exacerbating. These include:

  • continually addressing ways to make work more flexible for faculty and staff during this time;
  • amplifying the university’s communications on medical leave policies for faculty, staff, and graduate students, including leave to care for others;
  • recommending that faculty who are particularly affected by caregiving burdens work with their school director or departmental head or chair on differential assignments, whereby the percentages of labor devoted to research, teaching, and service can be adjusted by mutual agreement;
  • advocating for the representation of caregivers on university committees tasked with making policy around the COVID-19 response;
  • encouraging school directors and department heads and chairs to consider reducing the size of committees and/or deferring or reducing service tasks that are not time-sensitive for the duration of the pandemic;
  • recognizing that future pay inequities and delayed progression toward promotion may arise from pandemic-related tenure clock stoppages;
  • strategizing ways to support the reinvigoration of faculty and graduate student research agendas after this caregiving crisis has passed; and
  • encouraging college, school, and departmental leaders to poll their faculty and staff on the desirability of avoiding the scheduling of required meetings or essential service duties on Wednesdays this fall, when schools in the Montgomery County Public Schools district will be closed.

The work that so many have done, over so many years, to reduce race and gender inequities in higher education is at risk of coming undone as the pandemic illuminates just how tenuous our social structures are. Communities — including working-class, immigrant, and communities of color — that have long relied on a collective approach to caregiving such as extended family support and cooperative domestic labor are being especially taxed given the need to protect community members in high-risk groups.

The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the need to build a society with care at its center. I am committed to doing that within the CLAHS community and to advocating for that approach within our university.

In Solidarity,

Laura Belmonte
Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences