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Why I had a baby at university Becoming a mother is the worst thing you can do as a woman in academia

What happens if you have a baby at university? Credit: ABBAS MOMANI/AFP via Getty Images

What happens if you have a baby at university? Credit: ABBAS MOMANI/AFP via Getty Images


June 3, 2021   6 mins

I was always supposed to go to university. No act of self-sabotage could put an end to the assumption — held by all responsible adults in my life, and shared by me — that I would be taking a degree. This despite the fact that my attitude to education was, in retrospect, discouraging. Not that I didn’t like learning. Not that I didn’t want to do well. But wow, I hated being at school.

Then I got glandular fever when I was 14, and spent six weeks mostly in bed. I was blessed with the damascene insight that no one could make me go if I chose not to. And so, I stopped. I learned that there was a threshold of non-attendance at which an intervention would be staged, and showed up just enough to avoid that. Otherwise, I claimed to be generically “ill”. No one really believed this, but no one really seemed to mind.

I stayed at home, listening to morbid records, writing diaries and reading in the garden. I did adequately in my GCSEs, and barely adequately in my A-levels. This stung my pride, but didn’t seem to matter. Whatever I was supposed to be, it wasn’t going to happen here, in the countryside, where there was one bus to town every two hours. This was not my place, even though it was the only place I’d ever known. University was where the Sarah Project would truly begin.

And it did. I started an English degree, and it was immediately clear that no amount of going to school would have been better preparation than my years of skiving. Six contact hours a week and as many novels as I could consume in the meantime? I knew how to do this! When I discovered that I didn’t like my course (too much theory), I just worked harder and got better marks, so that by the end of my first year I could offer my clutch of firsts around to other universities that would never have looked twice at my A-level grades.

I ended up, not exactly coincidentally, transferring to the university that my boyfriend was attending. And then, two weeks into my second year, I found out I was pregnant. Two days after that, I realised I was going to have this baby. I didn’t experience this exactly as a choice, though I know it was one. I experienced it as knowledge. Whatever had made its home in my belly had made me a mother, and I would have to catch up with that.

Even as the person who made that decision, I find it hard to reconcile the ambition I had at 20 with the will to throw my lot in with maternity. All I can say is that I believed I was equal to anything then, and my life so far had shown that I could overcome whatever obstacles I put into my own way. The baby would go to nursery (I assumed there would be a nursery). I would go back to university (I assumed this would be possible). The Sarah Project would continue, with some light amendments.

It’s difficult not to be conspicuous as a pregnant student. When I came back for my third year, I would introduce myself to classmates and find out they already knew me as “the pregnant one”. Well, they could hardly have missed me, with my huge belly and my dreary, hated uniform of Mothercare tunics. I understood that I wasn’t like most students, and I didn’t really mind.

For most people, university — or an arts degree at least — is the first time in their education that they realise what I realised laid out in my bed at 14, with a raging fever and a furious lymph system: no one else can force you to do this. You can choose not to. Outside my first Victorian tutorial, my peers joked about how they simply hadn’t had time to get through Middlemarch over the summer break. I had read it during breastfeeds, resting the massive paperback on the small body of my baby, trying to coax his appetite into sync with the chapter breaks.

I read the chapter where Dorothea Brooke visits her sister Celia, who has just become a mother. Dorothea watches Celia “watching the remarkable acts of the baby”, hardly knowing the person her sister has become. I felt like both sisters at once, besotted with my child and simultaneously astonished to observe my own besottedness. But I felt only annoyance for most of my classmates, who had nothing but time and no inclination. What had they come here for if they didn’t want to do the work?

More disconcerting still was the realisation that I didn’t belong in the same world as my tutors either, even as I started to fit myself for lecturing as a profession. (I wanted to write but a baby seemed an insuperable barrier to getting into journalism and academia was right there, offering me funding.) The ones who were parents were, mostly, male. For female early-career academics, the trade-off seemed impossible.

If you could complete your doctorate in three years, you still had a race to convert insecure and underpaid jobs into a proper departmental role before your fertility began to fade. I felt, smugly, that I’d carved a private path through the system, then realised I had not. The most senior women tended to be childless. This is a bit less true now than it was in the early noughties, but it’s still the case that having a baby is about the worst thing you can do for your career as a woman in academia.

I had a sturdy faith in the myth of my own exceptionalism, but not sturdy enough to believe that I was so much better than every other woman with a university career. I survived through my BA and an MA, and a little way into a DPhil, for the same reason I failed to sink myself at school and college: because there was a system that believed I would eventually succeed. I did not just “get to university”: I was carried. Teachers guided me, despite my great reluctance, through the admissions system. My parents had hand-couriered my paperwork when I was in danger of missing deadlines. And I did not just “complete my degree”. I had support — most importantly, the backing of my boyfriend, my family and my boyfriend’s family; but also, a generously subsidised and excellent student union nursery on campus.

It mattered as well that my tutors did not want to see me fail, and when I finally fell out of university it was because my doctoral supervisor simply could not deal with me having another baby: he called me a child bride and stopped answering my emails. Still, in a way, that disinterest was a relief. Before then, I had had to learn that there is nothing quite as suspect as the person in authority who takes a special interest and then takes a bit too much.

Part of the problem, nowadays, is that no one seems entirely sure what universities owe their students: complete protection from all distress, or benign neglect. Then universities minister Sam Gyimah argued that institutions should see themselves acting “in loco parentis”, with particular responsibility for the mental health of their students; but he also claimed that students were being coddled by a “culture of censorship”, suggesting that campuses were if anything too protective of their charges.

Those two apparently conflicting positions might be closer than it seems. Students are treated increasingly as consumers — they want and expect their university to look after them, and universities write policies on wellbeing and inclusion that suggest they can meet this demand. The necessary resources, however, rarely exist. A fully funded psych service is expensive. Trigger warnings and no-platforming come cheap. They may not be moral and they may not be effective, but they allow beleaguered lecturers to believe they’re discharging their duty of care, even if deferring to student demands ultimately only traps young people in permanent adolescence.

In the last few years, I’ve done some teaching at university, and the rawness of students — the childishness of them, in the safety-rails-on simulacrum of an adult life that university offers — can be painful to see. I’ve sometimes felt the same annoyance with my own classes that I did outside that Middlemarch seminar: why are you here, if you can’t manage your own life?

But the bargain of university has always included the promise that it will form you in the last stage of your growing-up: you become a part of it and emerge, finally, as a fully matriculated member of the bourgeoisie. It was never only about the education, and students will always be liable to do slightly dumb things. That might be trying to protect themselves from the literal violence of people with ideas, or it might be having a baby. The duty of a university is to see that neither of those decisions can keep someone from becoming the adult they could be.


Sarah Ditum is a columnist, critic and feature writer.

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J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago

This is the third article in the “What’s the point of university?” series I’ve read and it’s very interesting. In fact, they’ve all been interesting and well written. I’m always a sucker for a little autobiography.
I’m struck, though, by how very different the authors’ experiences of university were from my own. That’s probably because they all did arts degrees and I was a STEM undergraduate, then PhD, then a change of career to law (I don’t recommend that career path).
At no point was I asked to reflect on questions such as what it meant to be a human being, or what is the meaning of justice (not even in law school), or what was Jane Austen’s attitude to marriage. In my case, university was a form of trade school, either for life in a laboratory or in a law office. I never had one-on-one tutorials with distinguished faculty. In fact, even in the most specialized courses I don’t think there were ever fewer than a dozen people. Except for my PhD supervisor, I didn’t stay in touch with my ‘tutors’ for years after graduation. Neither did any of my peers.
University did, however, move me from a solidly blue collar background into a solidly middle class background. My career has not been stellar but I did ok.
The other thing that struck me about these articles is that the authors are all talented success stories. Sarah Ditum, for example, had enough talent to mess around in school and only later take her studies seriously and quickly proceed up the academic ladder. For people of modest ability, such as me, it’s a very dangerous thing to step off the well-trodden path. No one will spot your latent brilliance and pick you up. You’re probably facing a life of dead end jobs.
I’m enjoying these ‘university’ stories, but I can’t help feeling they’re not particularly representative of most people’s experience. Nor are they a useful guide for the average person. Modesty might prevent the authors from describing themselves in these terms, but their university recollections are the stories of talented people who would likely have found a path to success whatever life choices they made.

Last edited 2 years ago by J Bryant
Auberon Linx
Auberon Linx
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

That is a very interesting reflection on the role of education in life. I disagree with your conclusion that innate talent guides people towards a pre-ordained level of success though. So much of where we end up is due purely to chance.

James Rowlands
James Rowlands
2 years ago
Reply to  Auberon Linx

Due purely to (woke based) patronage.

To succeed as a non masonic white male, in the public sector, you now must be exceptionally good to obtain an average career.

Last edited 2 years ago by James Rowlands
Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  Auberon Linx

Yes luck always plays a big role. But you maximise the chances of being lucky with a right amount of talent and good life choices.

Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I was about to write too about the lack of STEM related graduates. Perhaps because in there there are no culture wars going on?
I do hope my kids won’t dream of doing an arts degree…

Cynthia Neville
Cynthia Neville
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Oh, there are culture wars in STEM. Don’t you know that all science teaching at the university is now under threat? Apparently everything we know is based on the racist thinking of white men. So that’s all going to have to change, ain’t it.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I think people with from STEM background typically are eminently employed and thus have more important things to do than write articles whinging about their life experiences; whereas art graduates aren’t really good for anything else especially if they don’t fancy child herding, sorry, teaching.
I mean I feel qualified to comment on this because, as I’ve said before, I did both an arts and STEM degree. The different in actual intellectual challenge and then later employment prospects was between night and day. My main regret was being ‘tracked’ into an art degree by my grammar school without any idea of what career it would lead, if I were 16 again I would do science A levels and get a STEM degree without wasting my time.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Phil Rees
Phil Rees
2 years ago

Hear hear! In the current climate of woke politics and CRT, together with the jobs market, I think anyone doing a humanities degree is a fool. The only exception is philosophy which is a great qualification for just about any job, and also equips people to argue back against the woke fools. My first degree was mathematics 50 years ago, and I did a philosophy degree plus PhD as a ‘mature’ student when retired, though that was before the woke attack on free speech.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

“The duty of a university is to see that neither of those decisions can keep someone from becoming the adult they could be.”
no, sorry, this is the responsibility of the individual, not of the university. Managing your life is your responsibility. As is taking responsibility for your decisions.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

Yes, but surely both can be achieved, and indeed both should be required. At 18 or 19 years old responsibility is something you are learning. That’s a fact of biology as much as morality. I don’t see why the university shouldn’t offer a helping hand in that aspect of education. Maybe “duty to protect from bad decisions” is too much, but “duty to discuss and advise” seems right to me.

Last edited 2 years ago by Colin Colquhoun
Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

If you are learning basic responsibility at 18 or 19, much less 20 as in the authors case, you are unprepared for university to begin with. The author is hardly the only person who has ever attended college with a child. This is a choice that anyone is free to make. But once made, it’s the individual’s responsibility. Fully funded psych services, as the author appears to believe are the purview of universities, are not an “aspect of education”.
No university is there to advise you on managing your life, or to prevent you from making decisions that will make life tougher – this is a parental responsibility and it should have been accomplished before arriving at college. Universities are not parental substitutes.

Last edited 2 years ago by Annette Kralendijk
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

I think 18 is very young, and it’s appropriate for the university to provide advice that can be taken or left. What you say depends on a definition for “basic responsibility”. We require toddlers to exhibit very basic responsibility (for example not just s***ing everywhere). We require much more of 18 year olds, and in fact I’d say as far as the University is concerned, an 18 year old now has ultimate responsibility for eveything in thier life. That dos not mean the University has no responsibility towards them, and it does not mean University staff cannot and should not try to advise and instruct students on pastoral matters, specifically those pastoral matters that affect their studies.
Your view seems to me a bit extreme, and like many extreme views it could lead to practical problems. In practice 18 is really young and a little help from older people in understanding and making important decisions is not inappropriate. Indeed it’s necessary.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

She was 20, not 18, and she had already made the decision. Universities are not equipped to provide advice on managing a baby. If a student needs fully funded psych services, a mental health clinic would be appropriate, not university staff.

Last edited 2 years ago by Annette Kralendijk
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

I guess not. That’s really not their remit. It does seem like a little advice especially from female staff might not be completely out of order.
I think both staff advice and a mental health clinic are useful. Not everything is a “mental health problem”. I don’t think it’s a great idea to go running to health professionals for ordinary stresses, strains and problems. That’s another discussion.

Last edited 2 years ago by Colin Colquhoun
Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

You’re now a long way from this……
“The duty of a university is to see that neither of those decisions can keep someone from becoming the adult they could be.” as the author claimed. But no, gender has no bearing on this.
If a mental health clinic is needed, then one should be sought rather than demanding the university provide it.

Last edited 2 years ago by Annette Kralendijk
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

Am I though? I think the university does have a duty to at least be available to discuss these things, even if not to “keep someone” from making bad decisions. They are not parents but they are there to educate the student.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

The decision had already been made. What responsibility did the university have to discuss it? If you need counseling, by all means seek it. From someone qualified.
and yes, you are a long way from the author’s claim. Which was this…The duty of a university is to see that neither of those decisions can keep someone from becoming the adult they could be..

Last edited 2 years ago by Annette Kralendijk
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

So then they have a responsibility to discuss the many subsequent decisions involved in simultaneously being a young mother (or some other difficult thing) and a university student. I do think so, absolutely. Part of the point of university is to teach (the oher part is to research), and it’s really teaching skills not just giving out static knowledge. Obviously it has quite limited pastoral responsibility. But it does have some I think. It’s an interesting question how much, and I don’t have a firm idea of how much advice they should be giving young mothers. Certainly advice relating to their continuing studies seems warranted. Informing them that it might be very difficult seems warranted. Helping them overcome those difficulties is also warranted. Ultimately informing them they can’t continue with their studies might be necessary so an earlier intervention than that makes sense.

Last edited 2 years ago by Colin Colquhoun
Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

“So then they have a responsibility to discuss the many subsequent decisions involved in simultaneously being a young mother (or some other difficult thing) and a university student.”
no, of course not. You’re confusing universities with parents. What expertise would university staff have in counseling someone on how to be a parent and a student?
yet you’re still not agreeing with the author that the university has a duty to see that student decisions do not impact or limit their future choices. Which, like all major life choices, they do.

Last edited 2 years ago by Annette Kralendijk
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

We established early on that I don’t agree with the author, I take a position between yours and hers, that universities have a duty to advise on decisions to the extent possible, but not to make them or take responsibility for the results.
I’m not confusing them with parents, I’m suggesting they are teachers. I would suggest that many university staff might know rather a lot about being a parent and a student.
In practice what you advocate is impractical and also not very kind.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

There is no position “between hers and mine”. You either agree that “The duty of a university is to see that neither of those decisions can keep someone from becoming the adult they could be” or you don’t.
And you are indeed ï»żconfusing parents with university staff. Parents are teachers as well. And life choices such as having a child are far more appropriate for parents to discuss than university staff.
And while universities can and do advise students on what classes to take and in what order, those types of things, which it would do for any student, that is not what the author was suggesting. The child is her responsibility, not the universities. How she makes that work is up to her.
I’m not advocating anything. In fact, I do not see universities as having any responsibility to protect students from the consequences of the adult choices they have made. As to impractical, nothing could be more impractical than throwing responsibility for the subsequent consequences of student made decisions on university staff.

Last edited 2 years ago by Annette Kralendijk
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

This is deteriorating. You’re not responding to what I’m actually saying anymore Annette, you’ve started to insist that I’m saying things that I’m very explicitly not saying, for example that staff have responsibility for student decisions.
They have a moral duty to advise, but the student does not have a right to expect decisions to be made for them.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

“for example that staff have responsibility for student decisions.”
no, that isn’t what I said. I said that universities have no responsibility for the subsequent consequences of the decisions made by students. The decision had already been made.
“They have a moral duty to advise”
on a student’s education, yes. And they do that. For any student. In fact, no one gets through a masters or PhD program, without that.

Last edited 2 years ago by Annette Kralendijk
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

Right, so they have a duty to advise on how a having a child will affect the student’s education.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

No, of course not. Because….
1) the baby is already here and 2) if that would be necessary advice, the student isn’t ready for university and should not have been accepted. Even the author doesn’t claim she was blank on this.
In fact, how would any university be able to advise on this? Should they explain that she will have to study while the baby naps? What if the student’s parents or her boyfriend are taking care of the child? Should the university get involved? What if the student has a full time nanny? Still the universities business? Universities are not childcare placement agencies.
But this would have been very appropriate parental advice at some point. Maybe, just maybe, universities are not parents.

Last edited 2 years ago by Annette Kralendijk
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

Well, actually daycare is often provided by universities for students and staff. I received advice as a student, and I give it as an advisor to graduate students.
Should they explain that she will have to study while the baby naps? “
Yes I think they should alert the student to exactly that possibility, if they seem unaware of it. And they can let them know what facilities or opportunities do and do not exist to help out. That kind of thing.

Last edited 2 years ago by Colin Colquhoun
Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

Well, that’s true a daycare center would be an excellent place to turn to for childcare advice, rather than university staff.
As to counseling, they will need a counselor for that.

Last edited 2 years ago by Annette Kralendijk
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

The daycare center is run by university staff.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

No, it would actually be people in the childcare field. Rather than History professors.

Last edited 2 years ago by Annette Kralendijk
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

Right but they are all university staff, and the childcare professionals will not have information on how it might affect a person’s studies. There are often academics who are specifically available to discuss welfare issues, i.e. to offer personal advice to the many very young people floating cluelessly around the place. That person might well be a history professor. It’s rather broken at the moment, because of paranoia and wokism etc. But it was a system that was effective in the fairly recent past.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

“and the childcare professionals will not have information on how it might affect a person’s studies.”
oh sure they would – they would know, for example, that babies have to be fed even on exam days, wouldn’t they? They would know that babies have to nap and that would be a quiet time to study, wouldn’t they?
But of course, no one would expect them to be advisers on this anymore than anyone would expect university staff to be family advisers.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

“Yes I think they should alert the student to exactly that possibility, if they seem unaware of it.”
and should they explain how to change the baby’s diaper between classes as well? Perhaps some counseling on how and when to feed the baby on days when they have exams?

Last edited 2 years ago by Annette Kralendijk
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

Maybe, yes, or they can tell them where to get further advice. Like I say eventually they may have to be told that their position as a student is no longer teneble, and they need to be advised of that possibility, and of their obligations as a student as well as a mother.

Last edited 2 years ago by Colin Colquhoun
Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

Maybe yes? You think history professors should explain when to change babies diapers? Really?
“Like I say eventually they may have to be told that their position as a student is no longer teneble”
if they fail class, or all their exams, sure. If they don’t pay their tuition, sure. But this has nothing to do with being a parent. And it applies to any student.
“and of their obligations as a student as well as a mother.”
as a student, yes.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

Since my history tutor was pregnant when she taught me, I’d say she’d be able to offer good advice to students on such matters, or to offer them the advice that they need to stop asking advice and get on with it. And I would imagine she has done so.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

You’ve become a parody of yourself. Diapering advice from your university professor, wildly appropriate, eh?. By the way, diapering comes after the birth, not while someone is pregnant, so fail there as well but good try! Does she provide breastfeeding advice as well? Thanks for the laugh.

Last edited 2 years ago by Annette Kralendijk
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

You’re missing the point. She can just offer what advice she has, and in the real world that is going to happen whether you think it should or not. If she doesn’t know, she can direct to someone who does. If she does know, she can impart this knowledge. It’s just normal human life. It’s a community of young people overseen by older people.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

“You’re missing the point”
No, actually you are. Who would ask a pregnant woman whom they know in their professional capacity as university professors about baby diapering? Think about what you’re saying rather than simply knee jerk attempt to disagree. It’s patently ridiculous. Are you thinking all pregnant women are just dying to have personal conversations about childcare after birth? No one would do this. So, no, it isn’t going to happen. Whether you dream of it or not. Why would anyone who already has a baby ask a pregnant woman for diapering advice?

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

You’re missing the point”
No, actually you are. Who would ask a pregnant woman whom they know in their professional capacity as university professors about baby diapering? Think about what you’re saying rather than simply attempt to disagree, just to disagree. It’s patently ridiculous.
ï»żAre you thinking all pregnant women are just dying to have personal conversations about childcare after birth? No one would do this. So, no, it isn’t going to happen. Whether you dream of it or not. Why would anyone who already has a baby ask a pregnant woman for diapering advice?

Last edited 2 years ago by Annette Kralendijk
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

Yes but you’ve rhetorically forced the discussion into a discussion of whether “all pregnant women are just dying to have personal conversations about childcare after birth”. That’s an extreme possibility, and indeed it might happen in specfic circumstances.
The more general point is that it doesn’t matter what the advice is, or to whom the person is referred, it just matters that we have a duty to give it.
We do have that duty, in practice, and we do give the advice, in practice. The college where that history tutor works has
a dean (an academic in charge of discipline)
a welfare dean (an academic in charge of welfare)
a chaplain (also an academic)
a welfare advisor (may or may not be an academic)
tutor for women (acadmic)
tutor for diversity (new thing, academic)
tutor for race (not sure the difference, but an academic)
There are five university nurseries and five separate college nurseries, all available to sudents.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

I didn’t force anything. You willingly jumped down the rabbit hole. And you’ve reached the bottom.
the fact is it wouldn’t happen that someone with a baby would ask a pregnant woman about how and when to diaper a baby. Because, you see, they would already be doing it.
There are hundreds and millions of things university professors have no duty to advise on. Whether to be baptized, for example. Whether one should marry their boyfriend or girlfriend. How to tie ones shoes, for example, how to cross the street, how to put your wardrobe together, how to keep your parents from divorcing. How and when to change your baby. These would all be great things for a parental discussion though if you somehow got to the age of 20 without knowing them.
The same way you wouldn’t ask your physician whether French or German is a better fit with your particular curriculum, you wouldn’t ask your History professor about that mole on your nose.
On one’s educational path, absolutely. What classes to take and when, for example. What to take if you want to go to law school or med school eventually. Where to get tutorial help, for example. Even what sort of careers a particular educational path might lead to. Resources for research.
How to manage your life after you have a baby? No.

Last edited 2 years ago by Annette Kralendijk
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

Right.

But inasmuch as it affects academic performance (which it does hugely) we have an obligation to provide advice on pregnancy or any other topic.

We should do that. We do do that. We try to ensure students succeed on their course and that involves pastoral care.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

Nope, no pregnancy advice. Simply not qualified. In fact, there could be legal jeopardy in doing so.
academic performance – absolutely. That is, of course, the entire point.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

Well, although it does not fall to me, I think the tutor for women, and possibly individual teachers in specific circumstances do help with that, or anything else the student needs help with. It is not our duty to care for them as parents. It is however our duty to advise them, and quite possibly adapt to their needs if they are sick, pregnant, new mothers or whatever.

They are not employees they are students. It is not necessary to refuse to advise or help young people just to prove an ideological point about self reliance. We can do both.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

Absolutely it is not a university’s responsibility to care for them like parents. Advise them in appropriate areas of a university’s expertise absolutely. That is, after all, why they are there.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

They are there to be educated.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

Yes. In appropriate areas of a university’s expertise. Which does not cover all of life’s learning.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

Well I think it can. Not everyone has parents Annette let alone supportive parents, in fact we have found that bright children are often mistreated by their families. Oxford is full of trouble teenagers and always has been. Some of them get pregnant. Some of them take overdoses or cut themselves. Lots of them actually. You have to keep a professional distance but there is also a sense in which they are charges.

I appreciate that universities have political problems at the moment. But they’ve always been about education not instruction. No one needs a degree in english literature they need to be taught how to think. When dealing with young people who do not yet know how to think, inevitably they will need pastoral care. It’s always been that way.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

Whether you think it can or not doesn’t matter. It’s fact that it can’t. Wishing it were so, doesn’t make it so. It’s fantasy to believe that universities cover all of life’s learning. The vast majority of people learn more during their lifetimes outside of universities rather than inside them.
Pregnancy is a normal, common part of life. There is nothing unique about being pregnant or parenting in academia. Students who OD need an ambulance and an emergency room physician, not an English professor.
You are confusing universities with counseling centers and you confuse education with counseling and mental health services, which fall under health care, not university education. They are not the same and English professors are not qualified to help students who cut themselves. Mental health issues are not best handled by university professors.

Last edited 2 years ago by Annette Kralendijk
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

But the reality is that this is what happens. That is what I’m saying. I dont interact with undergraduate students personally. But frankly it’s true of graduate students too.

Of course university teachers should be doing this. They are highly successful adults who deal with young adults all day, and thats who is required.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

The reality is that people over their their lifetimes learn far more outside of university than inside. No institution can cover all of life’s learning. Would not be a good idea even if it were possible.
Lots of adults are highly successful. That doesn’t make them mental health qualified experts or even counselors.

Last edited 2 years ago by Annette Kralendijk
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

They dont have to cover all life’s learning. They just have to look after their young students welfare. And they do.

In fact if the faculty had more power to do that we might not be in quite the mess we are with all the cancel culture and so on.

Last edited 2 years ago by Colin Colquhoun
Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

That’s not what you said though. You said that you think a university can cover all of life’s learning. And the fact is that it cannot. Nor should anyone expect it to.

Graeme Cant
Graeme Cant
2 years ago

It is my – reasonably considerable – experience that only a minority of university teachers are highly successful adults. Especially if we are focussing on humanities teachers; which we appear to be doing.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago

I remember seeing universities in Coimbra in Portugal and also in Berlin that had buildings that were previously ‘student gaols’ – there was a whole special legal system – similar to how clergy and those enlisted in the military have parallel legal systems – and penal code for students who were held both as not fully adults but also liable to the same kind of harsh punishments parents would mete out then. I think this died in the 19th century.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

I think you might be talking about something else? Were talking about whether lecturers should look after their students welfare.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
2 years ago

My point is that students have always been in a transitional state between adulthood and childhood, that the university historically took a fidiciuary duty but one that also included a fairly harsh penal element to ensure that students came out as adults in the same way the army takes people at 17 and applies extra layer of law to them. For what it is worth apprentice masters could also inflict brutal punishment. If lecturers were still able to literally put their students in a small prison for several days then the students might well learn responsibility faster. In a way this was considered be ‘looking after’ their students in the long run perspective.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

I agree disciplinary measures are sometimes the right thing.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

Yes, an example of the consequences of universities moving away from their primary mission. Which is education. They are not welfare agencies, mental health clinics or country clubs. Even if some would like them to be.
Going from one extreme to the other, universities no longer imprison students but today a student can, with a straight face, claim that it is a university’s duty to ensure that the student’s life decisions do not impact their education .
The term “welfare” as used by Colin is entirely inappropriate as it covers everything including feeding oneself, clothing and housing oneself, transportation, getting enough sleep, and exercise, paying one’s bills, taking care of one’s children, spiritual needs, emotional needs, healthcare, etc. universities are neither charged with such responsibility, nor could they ever fulfill such obligations.

Last edited 2 years ago by Annette Kralendijk
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

I’m disputing that. I’m saying actually historically they had a pastoral aspect. Its inevitable.

I’m stopping now, I’ve been out walking but now I’ve returned and I have work.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

It’s not only not inevitable, it’s not possible. And would not be positive for universities to move away from their purpose anyway.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

I really think you are taking about something political or theoretical, and I am talking about actually dealing with students. If you want to turn away distressed, confused youths or just say “it’s not up to me” when their work is missing or poor then maybe university is not the right environment for you.

You wouldn’t. In practice youd help them and discuss their progress with others. you’d say ” is everything ok, because your work is slipping” .

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

No, this is very concrete. Disregarding that university professors cannot look after every aspect of a students life is nonsensical.
Wanting professors to be emotional counselors is shorting students of services they may actually need.
Expecting them to parent students is unrealistic.
Professors do counsel students all the time in their area of expertise. They direct students to research resources and discuss career paths pertaining to a student’s interest. They do not explain that one has to still study when one has a baby. That papers will still be due and on exam day, you are required to show up without your baby in tow. They are not responsible for figuring out how a student can parent and study at the same time. That is the student’s responsibility.
Universities are institutions that one chooses to attend, they are not legally required. If a student doesn’t do the work, they fail the class. This isn’t kindergarten. It isn’t high school.

Last edited 2 years ago by Annette Kralendijk
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

Its not all or nothing. You just help as much as possible whatever that entails. I knew one guy who used to give students money. That’s taking it too far. Pregnancy advice as it pertains to student life, from the tutor for women is sensible and that is why she is there. It’s common sense actually.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

Pregnancy advice comes from a physician, not a tutor. Male or female. Universities do not hire people to give pregnancy advice, nor should they. There are already healthcare professionals charged with this. You’re flailing.

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

I’m not really trying to make an argument Annette so much as justify what happens.
Universities DO hire a range of people to give advice including pregnancy advice. My college has a tutor for women, and a nurse. The student has a tutor/lecturer who monitors their academic progress and will step in if there is a problem.
Other unviersities have different arrangements but usually there will be some sort of course convenor who’ll contact you if your performance drops and they will refer you on to whatever resources you need.
for example
https://www.york.ac.uk/students/support/estranged/
https://www.york.ac.uk/students/support/children/
https://www.york.ac.uk/students/support/studentswhoarepregnant/

Last edited 2 years ago by Colin Colquhoun
Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

No, universities do not hire people to give pregnancy advice. Unless they are medical professionals. A nurse is a medical professional. Which is healthcare, not academics. It would be malpractice for one thing. And a legal liability for another.
yes academic performance would be under the purview of a university. For pregnant and non pregnant students. They will notify students if they are failing, haven’t paid tuition, don’t have the required attendance. They also help students, pregnant or not, arrange academic schedules. These are all academic functions appropriate to any university.

Last edited 2 years ago by Annette Kralendijk
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

Not all pregnancy advice is medical advice. Appropriate advice is offered. Informally, pastoral relationships do develop between teachers and students. It’s not a political matter and as long as appropriate professional distance is maintained, that is a good thing.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago

Yes if it’s advice about the pregnancy it’s medical. If it’s academic advice, it’s not. Pregnant students would be entitled to academic advice as non pregnant students are.
You keep forgetting that we are talking about an institution and what responsibilities it has and doesn’t have.

Last edited 2 years ago by Annette Kralendijk
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
2 years ago

Until fairly recently we used to hang people at 18 and allow them to shoot other people from the same age.*

However if they the wished to participate in what we misleadingly called Parliamentary Democracy they had to be 21.

(* The Queen’s somewhat numerous enemies in Northern Ireland, Aden, Cyprus, Borneo, Oman,
Malaya, Palestine, etc etc.)
,

Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

Thank you for that Charles.

VĂłreios ParatiritĂ­s
VĂłreios ParatiritĂ­s
2 years ago

The voting age should be raised to 32. People are too immature and ignorant today. There is nothing sacred about 18.

Graeme Cant
Graeme Cant
2 years ago

No, Annette. Sarah is correct. It is the duty of the university…
…and you are correct. It is the responsibility of the individual…

Pp Pppp
Pp Pppp
2 years ago

I used to accept these “PhD supervisor from hell” stories pretty much at face value.

Now, though, I’ve supervised enough PhD students to know that when the supervisor gets sufficiently irritated to say something outrageous to the student (“child bride”) and stop answering emails, it has almost certainly occurred at the end of a very long process of failure to progress towards actually writing a passable PhD, probably laced with dozens of missed deadlines, masses of ignored advice, and general unreliability, routinely leavened with the student’s unshaken belief in their entitlement to gain a PhD and probably an academic career as well.

The really impressive stories are the ones where the student behaves like that and the supervisor manages to button his/her lip long enough and retain enough patience to get the student as far as submission and viva.

Last edited 2 years ago by Pp Pppp
Colin Colquhoun
Colin Colquhoun
2 years ago

I had had to learn that there is nothing quite as suspect as the person in authority who takes a special interest and then takes a bit too much.”
That’s certainly the truth. Just so long as we realise it’s not a problem peculiar to women. It’s just generally suspicious when someone takes too much interest. It means it’s about them in some sense.

Chris Milburn
Chris Milburn
2 years ago

Running through this article is a thread of sentiment that it is society’s responsibility to look after those who have made bad decisions.
When I was in med school I played in a bar band. I took quite an amount of time away from studies. My poor haematology mark was a direct result. Was it the university’s responsibility to tutor me to a better mark, or give me a second chance to write? What if I had spent the same time volunteering in an orphanage? Or feeding the poor at a food bank? Or had adopted a handicapped child and was spending large amounts of time parenting? Or had my own child?
Where does the individual stop becoming responsible to keep up his/her own studies, and the university become responsible? My take is: never. Society already has generous benefits for those unable or unwilling to work. We already have socialized “free” medical and psychiatric care in most countries. Many countries already have baby bonuses and subsidized child care. So why in god’s name should the universities have to duplicate these services?
What it comes down to is that the entitled classes believe they should not be held to the same standard as others. They are special because they have a kid, or an anxiety disorder, or a “learning disability” (my particular favourite).
I say: Keep it simple. The university is there to set curriculum and testing standards, and fairly judge those standards regardless of colour, age, sex, parental status, disability status, etc. Either meet the standard, or fail. It’s bad enough thinking that society owes you something. It’s a step further thinking that universities do as well.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Milburn

“The university is there to set curriculum and testing standards, and fairly judge those standards regardless of colour, age, sex, parental status, disability status, etc. Either meet the standard, or fail. It’s bad enough thinking that society owes you something. It’s a step further thinking that universities do as well.”
yes. Universities owe pregnant students the same thing they owe non pregnant students. An appropriate curriculum and testing standards. Academic scheduling assistance and advice on potential career paths that a specific academic program could lead to. A student’s decision to have a baby while in school is not the responsibility of the university. Whether it’s a bad decision or not to have a baby while in school is completely up to the student.
Those who demand that universities parent students are actually taking away from the academic focus of these institutions.

Last edited 2 years ago by Annette Kralendijk
Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
2 years ago

Having a child at 20 is not the preferred route to take, but it happens. this, meanwhile, sounds a bit overheated:  it’s still the case that having a baby is about the worst thing you can do for your career as a woman in academia.
I daresay the majority of women in academia are also mothers. And wives. Having grown up in an academic household, I will tell you there is very little that is unique to the experience with the possible exception of having a library nearby that is well beyond what the public version can offer.
The university was essentially the local factory; the major employer whose workforce included faculty, support staff, and at that time, a modest bureaucracy. The latter has exploded in number and is no small reason why tuition in the US has spiked. All that payroll won’t fund itself.
Perhaps one reason psych resources appear scarce is because of the funding needed for an army of people who have nothing to do with instruction, curriculum, or research. Perhaps it has something to do with the construction sprees evident on numerous campuses, whether the projects involve a new vanity building for the business school or country-club accommodations for students.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
2 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

“this, meanwhile, sounds a bit overheated:  it’s still the case that having a baby is about the worst thing you can do for your career as a woman in academia.”
yes, a bit, nice understatement. You get the impression that the author finds herself unique in having a baby in academia.

Claire D
Claire D
2 years ago

My advice to any young woman in this predicament, for what it’s worth, take some time out and have your baby in peace, there’s nothing to stop you going back to university in a few years time, you won’t waste time on the frivolities and you’lI really enjoy the intellectual challenge.
I recommend The Millstone by Margaret Drabble.

Peter Ashby
Peter Ashby
2 years ago

This resonated with me and I expect with my now separated wife. We married at the start of 3rd year, our eldest on the way. I supported my wife changing courses, she ended up with two degrees. I got my PhD.
We too benefited from a subsidised campus childcare system. The NZ Federation of University Women gave us financial help. One of the carers became a personal friend.
Whoever was free picked them up from childcare went home and did the short order cooking for the fractious, hungry eldest. We made it work.
Your PhD supervisor sounds like a dinosaur nightmare. My wife was often the only woman on her courses, you can imagine since our yougest followed 19 months after the first so she was pregnant or feeding for much of it.
We made it work. But that was back when govt’s paid you to go to university. Not much but it wasn’t a ÂŁ9k per year debt. How you would do it now is beyond me.