Employee survey reveals irrationality of SLAP childcare campaign

DCF 1.0

Two weeks ago, the Swarthmore Office of Human Resources released the results of a survey, conducted in conjunction with the Swarthmore Labor Action Project (SLAP), of faculty and staff regarding the issue of dependent care. Along with protesting such colossal injustices as $30 proposed parking fees, SLAP has made childcare for Swarthmore College employees the subject of its latest paternalistic crusade. The survey results were discussed in this week’s Phoenix, in an article that unsurprisingly included not a single negative quote or criticism of the SLAP campaign.

To begin, the voluntary-response survey called forth responses from just 23% of all faculty and staff at the College – hardly a representative sample. If the well-known laws of statistics we were taught in Stat 11 are true, it’s likely that only employees most passionate about the issue of childcare would respond to the survey, biasing the results. Using the survey as evidence that there is widespread employee demand for childcare is akin to polling KFC patrons to gauge public opinion on vegetarianism.

The survey results proudly proclaim that 63% of respondents agree the “College should consider offering additional childcare benefits.” Putting aside the fact that this “63%” is actually 14% of all employees at the College, the wording of this question is itself geared to generate more positive responses. The inclusion of the word “consider” will naturally make respondents more eager to answer in the affirmative, since it does not imply a commitment to support the movement, just to consider it. As one respondent said: “My response is not an endorsement of a proposal to DO it [provide dependent care benefits], just to consider it.”

I agree that the College should consider adding childcare benefits, in the loosest sense of the word. We should always be looking for ways to more efficiently compensate our employees. But it’s ridiculous to extrapolate this result into a mandate to provide immediate and universal childcare benefits to College employees, as SLAP would have us do. And a close reading of the survey results suggests childcare is far from the best thing we could do for our employees.

Indeed, actually reading some of the open responses to the survey provided by College employees paint a much different picture. Among them:

“As much as I wish our resources were unlimited, I don’t see how it‘s possible to offer the full-time, quality, licensed, and insured care I would want for my child at a cost that makes it even remotely possible.”

“I feel it would be completely ridiculous for the College to pay for any kind of child care. The College could spend its money in other needed areas. YOUR children are not your employer’s responsibility.”

“Child care and adult dependent [care] are family issues that are personal matters. … I am aware of the pressures that are involved, but I do not feel it is an employer’s responsibility to cover the cost of child care or adult dependent care.”

Moreover, when the issue of funding is brought up (finding ways to pay for things does, after all, often vex leftist fantasies), the responses are even more suggestive of the idea that childcare issomething that is simply not in the best interests of the community at the present time. Cutting back on other employee benefits, reducing employee headcount, and raising tuition all garnered more than three-quarters negative replies from survey respondents. The only funding suggestion to win a positive majority was “fundraising to create an endowment for childcare” – a nice idea, if not realistic. Donors are interested in endowing a world-renowned college, not a preschool.

SLAP’s unyielding campaign for universal childcare is at best paternalistic and at worst downright arrogant. It is clear that this push is based more in the self-righteousness of campus activists than a real, critical examination of the needs of community members. Worse, the two professors who publicly support SLAP’s campaign in the Phoenix, Carol Nackenoff and Donna Jo Napoli, are both full professors who make significantly more than many families who are asked to pay full or near-full tuition. Why should families who have saved for decades to send their students to Swarthmore subsidize free childcare for professors’ children?

I have not heard any suggestions from SLAP or the Phoenix for how to pay for childcare benefits, and in all likelihood provision of universal childcare would entail a cut in other employee benefits—which would likely impact many staff workers who do not have the same clout as full professors or idealistic SLAP activists. What Swarthmore employees need is a campaign based around their actual preferences, not what a group of students thinks they ought to have.

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6 comments

  1. “Worse, the two professors who publically [sic] support SLAP’s campaign in the Phoenix, Carol Nackenoff and Donna Jo Napoli, are both full professors who make significantly more than many families who are asked to pay full or near-full tuition. Why should families who have saved for decades to send their students to Swarthmore subsidize free childcare for professors’ children?”

    Two points:

    1. Neither Carol Nackenoff nor Donna Jo has children young enough be in child care. Did you consider the fact that they support the campaign because they believe other people also deserve child care?

    2. This blog consistently ignores the fact that not all parent’s pay for their child’s tuition. (I myself receive a full scholarship due to my family’s low income.) My mother needed subsidized child care so I could be safe while she worked to support us, and I support SLAP because every parent deserves that opportunity.

  2. I’m loving the irony of critiquing a survey because it doesn’t have a perfect response rate, which is an issue for most surveys, and then cherry picking some of the negative open-ended comments. That’s not the way to get an air-tight analysis that doesn’t suffer from selection bias.

    Members of SLAP worked with Institutional Research, Human Resources, the Staff Advisory Council, and faculty to put together and analyze the survey. It’s not perfect, but that’s a shocking amount of collaboration.

    Also, what’s paternalistic about students supporting some staff and faculty who have been fighting for an on-campus childcare center for over 30 years? Reading your editorials, I get the sense that having any sort of solidarity is paternalistic.

  3. I’m sorry, are you saying that Nackenoff and Donna Jo are selfishly asking the college to pay for childcare… When they don’t have children of that age? Do you even know who they are?
    Additionally, 23% response is really really good for a survey. The response rate is not a limitation of the survey.
    The SLAP I know isn’t terribly “paternalistic.” They actually talk with real live members of the staff to assess what staff members might want–which, coincidentally, was the point of this survey.
    As for where the money for childcare would come from–how about our huge endowment?

  4. Well this is a little awkward considering most of peer institutions provide far superior childcare options than we do. You’d think you’d be all about the free market and Swarthmore being able to get the best faculty and staff…

    Kenyon has an on-campus Head Start.
    Bryn Mawr provides a large childcare stipend to all employees.
    Colgate has an on-campus daycare with scholarships for lower-income staff.
    Dartmouth has a sliding scale on-campus daycare center that partners with the United Way.
    Pomona (and all the Claremont Colleges) have an on-campus sliding-scale daycare center.
    Princeton gives all staff making under 130k a $5,000 for their children in need of childcare.

    You should honestly be embarrassed about this article.

  5. “Well this is a little awkward considering most of peer institutions provide far superior childcare options than we do. You’d think you’d be all about the free market and Swarthmore being able to get the best faculty and staff…”

    I agree completely.

    Since many of Swarthmore’s staff are part of America that is struggling to pay for health care, childcare services, and education more and more, I am not going to say this is a nebulous campaign right off the bat.

    Swarthmore has tons of $$. If they have $$ to fund students’ parties and indulge our development in tons of other ways, I would like to consider why Swat can’t be an example too of treating employers better than many other workplaces in America—and just as good as other comparable colleges.

    “Bias warning”: I grew up with a single mother and a sibling many years younger than me. It is extremely stressful to find quality affordable daycare at times. Especially b/c my mother works in health care and does not work a regular 9-5 job.

  6. The main question raised for me by this article is, do the authors on this page just not bother to read the Phoenix articles that Swat Independent loves to shit on so much, or do they willfully ignore entire paragraphs in said articles so that the can sound appropriately outraged while ranting about how ridiculous it is for students on this campus to support a cause that the authors don’t think is worthwhile.

    If you wanted to hear suggestions from The Phoenix on how to fund childcare, you could have simply read the article and found out that money was already set aside in 1988 for this very purpose, with SLAP calling upon the school to uphold a commitment that was made over 25 years ago.

    It is perhaps inconceivable to the author that professors like Donna Jo Napoli and Carol Nackenoff are working towards something that won’t benefit themselves, but to address your concern about childcare benefits ‘unfairly’ benefiting professors, the proposed changes work off a sliding scale.

    I understand that you pride yourself on being Swat’s counterculture, but some semblance of research before you proceed to put down someone’s attempts to take constructive action, would be nice.

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