On Monday, all Swarthmore faculty and staff received an email announcing the college’s new “Child Care Subsidy Pilot Program.” The program, also detailed on the human resources department’s website, provides a subsidy of $3,000 for employees to help them pay for childcare. In order to qualify, employees must have children under six years old and household incomes under $85,000 per year. These requirements exclude most faculty members.
The program will be funded by money the college set aside many years ago to support childcare and will be in a pilot stage for two years, wrote Pamela Prescod-Caesar, VP for human resources, in an email. The human resources department worked with “interested faculty, staff, and students,” particularly members of the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP), which has campaigned for better employee access to childcare for years, she wrote.
However, some faculty members criticized the college’s decision to offer a subsidy to employees rather than simply raising their wages or providing more comprehensive child care on Swarthmore’s campus. In 2008, Linguistics Professor Donna Jo Napoli emailed a survey to all college employees regarding childcare. Out of the 60 faculty members and hundreds of staff who responded, nearly all preferred on-campus child care to a subsidy program, she said in response to The Daily Gazette’s request for comment.
“No one wanted subsidies. People wanted daycare here. In fact, people were hostile to the idea of subsidies,” Napoli said. “People said, ‘If you really think people need more money, give us more money, raise our salaries.’ And it wasn’t just one person who said it, that was a recurrent answer.”
Other faculty members objected to the program’s use of funds that were previously earmarked for a more comprehensive childcare center.
“[The program] is nice, but that’s not what that money was supposed to be for […] I don’t want to begrudge the [subsidy] money to someone who’s not being paid well, but my feeling is that [the college] should pay the workers well first,” said Marjorie Murphy, professor of history. “They just want to get rid of that money, because they don’t want to have a commitment.”
However, the college has not written off the possibility of more comprehensive childcare in the future. Prescod-Caesar wrote that the subsidy program is “not meant to be the ultimate or final solution to the many conversations and perspectives on this issue,” and that the college will continue to review its childcare policies.
Additionally, an ad-hoc faculty committee was formed in January to evaluate faculty child care needs and provide recommendations to the college on how to meet them. However, the college did not consult the committee for feedback on the subsidy program, which was announced the same day as the group’s first meeting.
“You can imagine our surprise when we learned about the pilot program later that afternoon,” wrote Bob Weinberg, professor of history and chair of the committee. “No one had told us that the faculty staff benefits committee was working on the pilot program. For unknown reasons the ad-hoc committee was kept out of the loop.”
He added that while the program will make childcare more affordable for many college employees, “there is so much more that needs to be done.”
SLAP was similarly cautious in their praise of the program. In a statement provided to The Daily Gazette, they acknowledged it as a “crucial step forward,” but added that “if the college treats this program as an excuse to stop talking about child care on campus, then it will have done little to benefit faculty, staff, and their families.”
Featured illustration by Erin Ford ’19