On the costs of administration

by Lady Day

Hey, Lady!

Yesterday, Our Glorious Institution hosted a panel discussion in which five senior women university administrators discussed their experiences. The good news is that I came away liking them a lot, and feeling (in many respects) good about having them around. However, I can’t shake my worries about a couple of themes we heard from them over and over.

4:00 a.m.

Several of the women on the panel said that, even as senior administrators, they were able to (more or less) keep up with their research by setting aside time to work at 4:00 a.m.

4:00 a.m.! Let that sink in for a moment.

I like research plenty, but really, there is nothing about my job that I like well enough to — and here’s the thing — routinely do it at 4:00. (And I worked for years as a hotel night auditor! If anyone should be able to work at 4:00 a.m., it’s me.)

Not only do I not want to routinely work at 4:00 a.m., I frankly don’t want to work for anyone who regards this as acceptable or promotes it as a norm.


The other thing that I keep fretting about as I recall the discussion was the number of panelists who spoke about having full-time nannies.

Let’s be clear. I don’t have any objection in principle to hiring domestic workers. Among other things, I think that actually paying people to do the work traditionally done for no pay by women helps to nudge economists and others towards the notion that the pro bono domestic work done by women is an economic good that must be factored into the accounts. And, more simply, some people need domestic employment, just as some people need domestic help. So, in principle, no problem.

What got me worrying about it though was that the least senior administrator on the panel spoke about relying on a full-time nanny. She is just an associate chair, and so likely doesn’t get paid astronomically more than I do. I mean, she’s not earning a dean’s or v.p.’s salary. So, I got thinking, “How can she possibly afford to have a full-time employee? That must cost at least $40,000 plus benefits, right? Because, no good feminist would want another woman to work for less than that, right?”

I was a food server with a grad student spouse when I had my kid. Between us, we had lots of flexibility and very little money; so, we only ever needed to hire occasional, part-time childcare providers. But even that was pricey. I’ve never been able to figure out how people can afford daycare, much less a full-time nanny.

Well, I looked it up. According to NannyCanada.ca, full-time nannies in Canada earn between $1000 and $1400 per month. Are you fucking kidding me? $1400 per month?! A person is supposed to live on that and make a life for herself (because it’s usually a “her”, right?)? A person whom you trust enough to raise your kids?

Now, I have no wish to cast aspersions at any of the women on the panel. Perhaps they’re all doing the right thing and paying their nannies actual living wages rather than sub-par subsistence wages.

But, I have the nagging worry that, for women, senior administration requires employing some other woman to hold it all together for a wage that is absolutely unacceptable.

NannyCanada helpfully explains that most nannies come from outside of Canada because the booming Canadian economy makes it difficult to hire Canadian nannies. At $1400 per month? No shit! This raises the further worry that senior women administrators rely not just on underpaid domestic workers but on underpaid domestic workers of colour.

Is it really the case that the only way to get the (mostly white) women into the upper reaches of the ivory tower is through poorly paid brown women? If so, that may be too high a price to pay.


So, does this mean that women shouldn’t seek upper admin positions in universities? Hell, no! But, it is unjust and unsustainable for those promotions to be premised on 4:00 a.m. research sessions and poorly paid brown women.

Cecily Devereux begins the hard task of addressing this dilemma in her “What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting” (Susan Brown, Jeanne Perreault, Jo-Ann Wallace and Heather Zwicker, Eds. Not Drowning But Waving: Women, Feminism and the Liberal Arts. Edmonton: U of Alberta Press, 2011. xxi + 472 pp.). Responding to the argument that it is women’s “biological destiny” (99) to bear children that prevents them from reaching the upper echelons of institutions, Devereux urges that if it is impossible for people raising children to take part in all of the travel and long hours that are required to excel in academe, then universities and scholars must change their expectations.

And, hell, even those — female or not — without children deserve a little shut-eye at 4:00 a.m., right?

Your friend,

Lady Day


4 Comments to “On the costs of administration”

  1. Um, I pay my nanny over $3000 USD per month, plus health insurance and employment taxes. She gets two weeks vacation. You are making a lot of assumptions here.

    • Hi, philochick. Thanks for stopping by. I hope that I made clear that I have no objection to people employing domestic help at adequate living wages. And it sounds like you do. That’s great! (It lends a bit of anecdotal support to my admittedly biased view that women in philosophy are awesome!) I really hope that lots of people are paying their nannies as well as you are, and a fortiori that lots of women in academic administration are. I really have no problem with hiring nannies so long as we’re good Kantians about it and treat them as ends in themselves, not as mere means to our ends.

  2. P.S. I’m also quite aware of how many male academics/administrators have historically flourished at least in part because they had *unpaid* full-time domestic workers at home. I certainly don’t want to hold women professionals to a higher standard than we do the men.

  3. Totally good. I just want to separate those issues (having a nanny vs using women as means). Many people do not seem to separate them. I think the strategy of outsourcing domestic chores is a good one for academic women. In fact, what is even better is to outsource lower-priority tasks like laundry and cooking, especially if that means we can spend more time with our kids and more time on our research. Such outsourcing on an academic salary might mean that other things–like having a big house or a second car–would not be possible. But it might be a good trade-off all the same.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: