As of June 14, WMU closed The Children’s Place Learning Center which had offered child care services to the WMU community. The process for making this important decision, and the context surrounding it, remain unclear. WMU’s brief closure notice on The Children’s Place website alludes to financial reasons and states, “This decision was very difficult to reach. We regret that it means you must look elsewhere to meet your family’s child care needs.”

The WMU AAUP shares the concerns expressed in the faculty letter below, which, as far as we know, has not received a reply from WMU administration. Further, we are deeply concerned about the process that led to a decision of this magnitude, given WMU’s expressed commitment to transparency and shared governance.

Update: WMU has advertised its plan to sell off the assets of the Children’s Place Saturday, July 20, including, “children’s toys, books, supplies, tables, chairs, lockers, shelving units and outdoor play equipment.”

Letter from the Women’s Caucus of the College of Arts and Sciences

Sent: Tuesday, May 28, 2019 10:58 AM

Subject: CAS Women’s Caucus on the closing of the Children’s Place

To: Diane K Anderson

Dear Dean Anderson,

On behalf of the CAS Women’s Caucus, we would like to add our voice to the many others who have written to oppose the closing of the Children’s Place Learning Center. Because childcare disproportionately affects women faculty and students, this is clearly a gender issue. It is well documented that women academics pay a “baby penalty:” women with children are less likely to get hired, to get tenure or rise to administrative positions such as dean or provost, while men with children are more likely to advance in academic careers. Lack of childcare is a major barrier to women’s full and equal participation in paid work and in pursuing a degree. Having high quality child care on campus should not be considered optional; it is an essential service.

Childcare provision impacts student access and success as well as faculty recruitment and retention. Students with children will have less access to WMU and its undergraduate and graduate programs. As Dr. Bilinda Straight pointed out, we are already losing students to GVSU, this is yet another factor that will harm recruitment, particularly of non-traditional or contemporary students. Similarly, the ability of students with children to complete their degrees will be diminished; research has shown that students with children who use on-campus childcare are more likely to remain in school and are more likely to graduate. These same arguments apply to faculty recruitment and retention. For example, current caucus member Dr. Denise Ross noted that preschools have short hours. Having access to childcare at WMU from 7am- 6pm allowed her to teach afternoon classes, attend afternoon faculty meetings, and have writing time in the early morning and evening hours. In short, the Children’s Place mattered greatly for her professional growth, especially during the pre-tenure period.

Although there are other childcare centers in Kalamazoo, the closing of the center will hurt many families and it will hurt WMU’s reputation. What kind of message does it send to current and prospective students and faculty members when WMU, which prides itself on making its programs accessible to all categories of learners, closes down its campus childcare program? Wouldn’t it be a point of pride for WMU to maintain a facility that enables work-life balance for faculty and staff and helps retain undergraduate and graduate students who are juggling childcare responsibilities with their education?

The CAS Women’s Caucus believes that the administration needs to look harder for solutions to the budget issues related to the Children’s Place. We also question whether an essential service should be dismissed because it is not covering its costs. There are other programs that do not cover all their costs such as study abroad and sports programs. Under the Strategic Resource Management budgeting system that will be implemented, such valuable programs will be subsidized. Like study abroad programs, campus childcare benefits only a small proportion of our students, faculty and staff, yet they add value to everyone’s education and workplace experience, and they signal that equity and excellence are valued by the university. Alternatively, the costs could be met by adding $2-3 per student in student fees. The administration could also look to local foundations, such as the Kellogg Foundation, that may be willing to partner with WMU to help meet costs. WMU development officers could and should reach out to these foundations. The university should take at least another year to seek out alternative solutions. In short, closing the childcare center is short-sighted and will have negative consequences for many years to come—once the childcare center is gone, it will be exceedingly difficult to bring it back.

Sincerely,

CAS Women’s Caucus Steering Committee

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