Kids, Law Schools, Perks / Fringe Benefits

Should Law Schools Offer Child Care? An ATL Debate

There’s a very interesting debate coming out of Washington State: Should universities do more to provide child care for students with children? On Monday, parents across the University of Washington system brought their kids to class to protest the lack of child care options in the area.

It’s an important question. According to the Seattle Times, child care is the third-greatest barrier to completing a college degree.

It’s a problem for law students too. The University of Washington School of Law has been taking an aggressive approach to finding family-friendly options for its students.

But is this something that law schools should be concerning themselves with? It’s time to fire up the old ATL Debate Machine….

ELIE:

How about less emphasis on law school child care, and more emphasis on law school birth control? Look, I’m all for things that make it easier on parents who are trying to raise a family and have a professional career. But let’s not forget that family planning is one way of trying to balance a family with professional aspirations.

Planning, you know. It’s a useful professional skill. I can’t say I have a lot of sympathy for law students who couldn’t figure out how to exercise some birth control while they were still in school.

But fine, accidents happen. And even though I’m “pro-choice,” I can see how aborting a fetus because you need to buckle down through OCI could be a little monstrous. The most commonsense proposal coming out of UW calls for having more on-campus day care. And I don’t have a problem with that. It will help students who didn’t master the complexities of latex, as well as professors and university staff (of both genders, of course).

Just make sure to keep the baby jails away from the rest of the people who are trying to get an education. Honestly, you can’t throw an F-bomb these days without somebody’s spawn staring back up at you. Not every place is an okay place for children.

Parents, of course, don’t want to hear that. Parents don’t want to hear that they can’t do all of the things they used to do simply because they have children. I mean gosh, maybe parents of infants should delay going to law school for a few years… but that would require parents to push their own career aspirations off to the side for a little while. And who wants to do that?

So fine, have kids and come to school. Knock yourselves out. Just keep your perfect little progeny away from everybody else. I mean kids in class? I know it’s a protest, but talk about a disruptive thing to do — why don’t you just sit in class with a foghorn that farts while you’re at it?

Kids are loud, smelly, annoying, and germ-infested. It’s no different than bringing a feral animal into a place of learning. Think about that before you bring your kids out of your house around regular people: don’t bring your kid anywhere you wouldn’t also bring a raccoon on a leash.

And the first duty of law school administrators should be to keep the learning spaces raccoon-free where possible.

LAT:

Even though I don’t have children myself, we decided — in light of Elie’s rather strong views on kids — that I would take the pro-parent role in today’s debate. And I’m happy to assume this position. I’ve always wanted to be a breeder.

With all due respect, Elie, a lot of your (perhaps entertaining) rant misses the point. Is family planning — and I use this term in the sense of “making a considered decision about when to have children,” not as a euphemism for abortion — a good thing? Yes. Ideally everything in life — a law degree, a Biglaw partnership, two or three beautiful kids — would come at just the right time.

But we live in the real world — and in this world, trade-offs exist. Many law students must juggle legal studies and parenting responsibilities. Maybe they had children unexpectedly (which seems to be the scenario you envision). But maybe they’re from religious traditions or cultures in which people get married and start families early. Or maybe they’re non-traditional law students who are entering law school at a later age.

These law students are, for whatever reason — and it’s arguably none of our business — also parents. The question then becomes: How can they be reasonably accommodated?

I don’t think they should be given special treatment with respect to academic responsibilities. While I think law school professors and administrators should be compassionate, supportive and understanding, especially if emergencies arise, I don’t think law students who are also parents should get later deadlines for assignments, or be graded differently than their colleagues without kids.

But what’s so objectionable about this measure, described in the Seattle Times article?

[T]he UW’s law-school building, William H. Gates Hall, has a remote-learning room that allows students to watch law-school lectures on video screens while their children play in the room, sort of like a movie theater’s crying room.

“It’s been terrific,” said Hudson Hamilton, a third-year law student. He and his wife, Sayaka, have a 13-month-old son, Oliver, and Hamilton said he uses the room in a pinch, when other child-care arrangements fall through. “The professors have been really understanding in our school,” he said.

Doesn’t that sound like a win-win situation? If children are in the remote-learning room, nobody has to worry about their noises or germs or smells (other than their parents, and perhaps other parents in the remote-learning room). If used occasionally — “in a pinch,” as the Hamiltons use it — the remote-learning room could be a godsend. (It shouldn’t be abused, i.e., used as a way to hide from Socratic professors.)

There is, of course, a question of resources. The Seattle Times piece describes one child-care assistance program that gives subsidies to student parents with low incomes. The program is funded by fees levied upon all students — so it’s “basically students subsidizing students,” in the words of student / parent.

Is this kind of cross-subsidization acceptable? If used in moderation, I’d say so. In the great law-school resource grab, some individuals and groups are always going to benefit more than others. If you are, say, a gay Asian member of the Federalist Society, and go to every free event and lunch sponsored by Lambda, APALSA, and Fed Soc, you’ll get more bang for your activity-fee buck than a classmate who never goes to any events. Does this mean no student groups should get any funding, since their benefits can’t be distributed with perfect equality? Of course not.

Diversity enriches law schools. We can argue about the size of this benefit, and whether or not affirmative action programs should be used to enhance it, but we can all agree that there is some benefit to having students of different races, sexual orientations, or political viewpoints in the classroom.

Can’t the same thing be said about having law students who are parents? I could certainly imagine the benefit to a Family Law course to having law students who are parents as part of the discussion. But one can imagine how parental perspectives could be useful in a whole host of courses, from Tax to Trusts & Estates to Criminal Law. If the price for having parental perspectives is having an emergency day-care center somewhere on campus — it doesn’t even have to be law-school-specific, but could be shared with other branches of the university — that seems like an eminently reasonable price to pay.

As a very wise woman once said, “I believe the children are our future.” Shouldn’t we be doing everything in our power to make sure that our future is bright?

UW students bring kids to classes, seek child-care help [Seattle Times]

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