In the first week of classes at American University, anthropology professor Adrienne Pine brought her sick child to class.
I sped through the lecture and syllabus review with Lee, dressed in her comfiest blue onesie, alternately strapped to my back and crawling on the floor by my feet. The flow of my lecture was interrupted once by “Professor, your son has a paper-clip in his mouth” (I promptly extracted it without correcting my students’ gendered assumptions) and again when she crawled a little too close to an electrical outlet. Although I specifically instructed my teaching assistant, Laura, that helping me with my child was outside her job description, she insisted on holding and rocking Lee, allowing me to finish class without any major disruptions. When Lee grew restless, I briefly fed her without stopping lecture, and much to my relief, she fell asleep.
When the student newspaper wanted to write about the event, Professor Pine objected to the characterization of breastfeeding her child in class as “newsworthy.” FWIW, the course was an introductory course on “Sex, Gender, Culture” with 40 students. Professor Pine pre-empted any student story by writing about the event on CounterPunch, here.
According to Inside Higher Ed, the American University has issued a statement that Professor Pine’s bringing the child to class was inappropriate:
The university says that in cases like this, a faculty member should not bring a child to class. “The faculty manual requires professional conduct in the classroom at all times, including a focus on high standards for teaching and respect for students,” said the administration’s statement, which a spokeswoman said was based on a range of policies already in place at the university. “For the sake of the child and the public health of the campus community, when faced with the challenge of caring for a sick child in the case where backup childcare is not available, a faculty member should take earned leave and arrange for someone else to cover the class, not bring a sick child into the classroom.”
Read that full story here.
The AU statement frames the issue as a one of public health. Sick child = distracted parent = poor instruction. Generally speaking, the broad contours of that reasoning make sense to me. But if the child were, say, 12, and simply had an upset stomach and sat in the back of the class watching a video with headphones, would that be against AU’s policy? And, more to Professor Pine’s point, if Professor Pine hadn’t breastfed her child in class, would this have been news at all?
H/T Maureen Crawford Hentz
image: Mother Breast-feeding her Baby, by Louis Fleckenstein, c. 1900.