Should the university provide affordable infant and child care for students and faculty? This is precisely the question the Office of the Provost asked in 2007 when it commissioned a study to determine the child care needs of UIC students and faculty. At first glance, it may not seem so obvious that a lack of infant and child care options on campus has costs for us all. But, these costs are real, and they come in many forms, from losses in productivity to missed classes and cancelled office hours. This means students get short changed, graduate students take a longer time to finish their degrees, and faculty make less of a contribution to the university.

For graduate students like me with small children at home, things look even bleaker. A lack of child care options means taking on a second job and missing out on department activities. I know, because over the last few years, I’ve had to do both. For the first two years of my son’s life, in an effort to save money, my partner worked full-time and I stayed home three days a week with our son. On days when I would teach, we hired a babysitter; I returned home in the afternoons immediately after I finished teaching, in order to take care of our boy. I also took on adjunct work, teaching evening classes at local university to make extra money. Needless to say, I made almost no progress toward my degree during those years, and I was rarely able to fulfill my teaching duties in the way I believed the job required. There were many times during these years when I contemplated giving up on my degree and staying home full-time with our kids.

Right now I have two children who need care during the day. For my son, who just turned three, we pay $200 a week to have him in a Montessori program near our home. Granted, there are other, cheaper options, like in-home daycares, but they are marginally cheaper (about $25 less per week) and provide less structure and fewer activities for kids.  For our infant son, we pay a student in our neighborhood to watch and care for him in our home for most of the week. This costs us another $400 per week. If my partner didn’t work full time, too, there’s absolutely no way we could pay for the care of our children on my university wages. And, if we didn’t pay for care, there’s absolutely no way we could both have careers. In other words, without having two incomes it would be impossible to raise our children in Chicago on a TA salary.

I want to be clear, though, that I’m not asking the university to raise my kids or provide me with free child care so that I can be a student and my partner can work. What I’m asking for is an affordable on-campus option that’s good for employees, students, and our children. With the number of education, nursing, and social work programs at UIC, it seem entirely possible to provide world class child-care options while also educating the next generation of educators, nurses, and social workers.

And, it appears that I’m not alone when it comes to facing these difficult choices between quality child care and professional obligations. According to UIC’s Ad Hoc Committee on Infant and Child Care, 40 percent of graduate students reported taking an additional job in order to pay for child care costs, while 77 percent reported missing out on opportunities to participate in their departments. This means a degraded academic culture and lost opportunities for all.

According to the same 2007 report mentioned above, providing infant and child care at UIC would “improve recruitment and retention, it would also benefit from increased productivity and a reduction of time lost due to faculty and staff absences related to child-care issues.” Not to mention lower stress levels for 80 percent of graduate students and 70 percent of faculty with infants or small children.

The university’s own report, then, identified the costs of not having affordable infant and child care options available on campus. This same 2007 report made specific recommendations to the Office of the Provost to radically expand infant and child care options at UIC. So, what’s happened? In short, nothing.

To be fair, though, UIC does offer on-campus child care for the children of employees and students—as long as the children are at least two years nine months and fully potty trained and you can afford the cost (about $200 per week for most employees and on a sliding scale for students). On the face of it, we might think this isn’t such a bad deal. After all, there’s at least an on campus option for child care, right? The question, however, for employees like me, is what to do for the first two years and nine months of my child’s life. Is it possible to raise your children and still pursue a professional degree? Let’s just say that it would be far more possible for far more people, if all UIC employees were paid a living wage and if UIC provided affordable care options for all employees and students who need it.

So, what actually happens now that my son has turned the requisite two years and nine months and finally qualifies for the UIC on-camps care? It turns out that there’s a waiting list to get in to the on-campus program. UIC’s child care facility can only accommodate 96 children, while back in 2007 the report noted that demand for child care was topping 400. Where might we put the additional 304 infants and toddlers who can’t be enrolled in our on-campus child care center? One idea: How about the Office of the Provost?

-Brian Charest, TA in the Department of English

***All statistics quoted above are from the Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Infant Care at UIC: http://www.uic.edu/depts/oaa/childcare.html