From the Desk: Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs Eliza Pavalko discusses the importance of work-life balance

Jan. 11, 2017

In spring 2015, the provost of Brown University sent a memo to department chairs and program directors encouraging awareness about the challenges presented to families with children when routine research and departmental activities are scheduled past 5:30 p.m. 

Eliza Pavalko

Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs Eliza Pavalko | PHOTO BY ERIC RUDD, IU COMMUNICATIONS

In any large university, scheduling some classes, research or creative activities or community events in the evening is both necessary and desirable. But the Brown memo served as a valuable reminder that we need to be thoughtful in how these evening activities are scheduled and aware that the realities of contemporary family lives mean that many faculty members cannot be available during evening (and I would add early-morning and weekend) hours.

Among the best practices recommended, the memo encouraged chairs and directors to vary the times of workshops, lectures and seminars so that the same people do not have conflicts with every event; to schedule governance activities during the daytime so that all faculty can participate; and to accommodate faculty with family responsibilities by making sure that professional development opportunities are scheduled at times that don't exclude faculty with family responsibilities. The memo gained nationwide attention as faculty at IU and many other schools applauded the recognition of the scheduling challenges for faculty with family responsibilities.

IU’s longstanding commitment to being a family-friendly university is one of the things that attracted many of us to this campus, and it has been critical in supporting our excellent faculty so that they can do their best work. For example, as far back as the 1960s, our faculty council has required that its meetings end by 5:30 p.m. These policies, as well as many others -- such as providing paid family leave for adoption, birth of a child, or to care for an ill or disabled family member; tenure clock extensions; university-sponsored child care centers, and campus support for dual-career hires -- are designed to support faculty careers. 

In the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs, we were pleased to see that in the faculty satisfaction “COACHE” survey completed last spring, IU Bloomington faculty were more likely than faculty at any of our peer institutions to feel that both the institution and our colleagues support work-life balance. Among those responding, 80 percent of IU Bloomington faculty felt that meeting times were compatible with personal needs, and 70 percent reported that their colleagues support work-life balance.

We were also encouraged that our female faculty, junior faculty, and non-tenure-track faculty felt just as supported as other groups. I interpret these findings to suggest that, while there is always room for improvement, our policies, practices and culture, strive to support work-life balance among our colleagues.

A much greater challenge for IU, and for academia in general, is for faculty to find ways to actually achieve work-life balance. The flexibility in when and where we do our work and the responsibilities and commitment that come with being excellent teachers, scholars and members of an institution committed to the principle of shared governance mean that our work is never fully done.

Finding ways to balance work and non-work lives is one of the greatest challenges of academic life. While responses to the COACHE survey indicate that IU Bloomington faculty are more likely than faculty at our peer institutions to feel that they have the right balance between their professional and personal lives, only 58 percent of those responding felt that they had achieved this balance. Associate professors are particularly likely to struggle with finding balance. 

The campus supports a number of programs designed to assist faculty in their quest for greater balance in their work and personal lives. Our office contracts with the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity to provide faculty with tools for making the most of work time and promoting a full and healthy non-work life. Beause IU Bloomington is an institutional member, all faculty, postdocs and graduate students can opt in and have access to the program’s resources.

More than 200 IU Bloomington faculty have also participated in the center's more intensive “faculty success program.” The majority of program participants from IU report both that the program increased their writing and research productivity (83%) and that it increased their work-life balance (69%). While these numbers are encouraging, I am particularly struck by a program where so many faculty report gaining both research productivity and work-life balance.

Our office also is the home of the Scholarly Writing Program, directed by Laura Plummer. Faculty writing groups, which now serve over 200 faculty across the campus, provide the structure, accountability and camaraderie to support weekly time devoted to writing and research.

Finally, the Institute for Advanced Study, supported by the Office of the Vice Provost for Research and under the direction of Eileen Julien, targets the needs of associate professors as they move towards full professorship. Faculty members should contact our office at vpfaa@indiana.edu if they would like more information about these programs.

The nature of both work and family life has changed dramatically in a short period of time, but IU’s commitment to being a place where our faculty can thrive professionally and personally remains strong. Our office is committed to doing all we can to support our faculty so they can continue to do outstanding work. Let us know how we can help.

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