Infuriating…voting on a grad student’s pregnancy?

Isis the Scientist recently wrote about a seriously stupefying incident that occurred at UC Davis Veterinary School. One of the 85% female class had a baby, and the class presidents wrote a letter to the entire class asking them to vote on how to grade her and deal with her maternity leave, or lack thereof.

…Below are listed the options that Dr. Feldman has suggested. Please reserve comment on these options and provide us your opinion on them by voting when the time comes. Thank you for your understanding in this matter.

a) automatic A final grade
b) automatic B final grade
c) automatic C final grade
d) graded the same as everyone else: best 6 quiz scores out of a possible 7 quiz scores (each quiz only given only once in class with no repeats)
e) just take a % of quiz scores (for example: your classmate takes 4 quizzes, averages 9/10 points = 90% = A)
f) give that student a single final exam at the end of the quarter (however this option is only available to this one student, all others are graded on the best 6 quiz scores and the % that results)

I am happy to say a groundswell of WTF *facepalm* reaction from her readers and hopefully members of the class and greater UC Davis community has engendered (pun intended) a response from the chancellor of the school, Linda P.B. Katehi:

…I want to assure you that I take very seriously any allegations that a student’s welfare, dignity or academic rights have in any way been compromised. And as a woman, who has experienced firsthand the challenges of melding academic and family life and has experienced discrimination, I am especially sensitive to this issue. This alleged action, if found to be true, would present a serious deviation from the values and principles that guide our campus and our School of Veterinary Medicine, and I would be profoundly disappointed if the reported events did in fact transpire on this campus.

I have asked Ralph Hexter, UC Davis’ provost and executive vice chancellor, to initiate a thorough review of this matter. He will ensure that all appropriate procedures are followed and that the appropriate campus authorities will make a final determination as to whether any campus policies and procedures were violated and, if so, what steps need to be taken. I expect rapid attention and response from the provost.

Our veterinary school, with an enrollment that is 85 percent female, has a long history of providing accommodations for the health and well being of its students and their families. During a student’s pregnancy, the school customarily works with her to help catch up after being away for childbirth or to arrange for an extended leave after which she can resume her academic program. And for mothers of infants, the school provides a lactation room so that students can continue breastfeeding their babies.

Right on, Chancellor.

I find it extremely hard to believe this is the first time this has come up. Every year in medical school there has been a few students that have had babies. It is not a generous leave policy at our school. You either have weeks or a year. If you are on rotations, you can arrange to take a month off. I know many students who feel pressured to schedule their births, either by cesarean or induction, in order to make it fit in with their rotation schedule or class schedule.

I am looking forward to being in residency with younger women. I am done with the baby making. I will be happy to step up when they need maternity leave, and will be the first to defend them.

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “Infuriating…voting on a grad student’s pregnancy?

  1. Disgruntled DVM

    Welcome to vet school folks. I graduated from an east coast school several years ago and can cite numerous examples of similar events. I am not at all surprised that it was left to the class officers to obtain a class vote on an issue that should have been privately dealt with between student and instructor. It’s a fun little game of survivor…and then you get into the real world and learn the insanely high ratio of student loan debt to income. Oh, and btw, Dr. Feldman (the professor mentioned in the article) is a board certified leader in his field. Too bad he and so many of his colleagues are too caught up in themselves to even realize how grossly inappropriate and discriminatory they can be toward anyone daring to have a life outside of vet med. It’s a sad state of affairs for a previously noble profession.

  2. Outrider

    One of my close friends gave birth during finals week in veterinary school. No biggie – she made it to most of her exams on time, took one exam early and made up another a few weeks later. She had plenty of time to plan her exam schedule with our professors. IOW, giving birth wasn’t exactly a surprise.

    • MomTFH

      I know! This is one aspect of it I found really confusing. It says in the note from the class presidents that she recently gave birth and would be out for an unknown amount of time. (Apparently so unknown that, according to Isis’s post I link to, she was actually there when this was distributed, even though she had just had the baby.) Why wasn’t this already settled? Why didn’t the school have a precedent for this?

      • Outrider

        Well, yeah. Actually, my friend was legitimately worried about premature labor and spoke with all relevant professors and lab group members early on (she made it to term without going on bedrest, thank goodness). Everything was well-organized; there were no surprises… other than the co-ed shower we held.

        Veterinary school sucked in many ways, but pregnancy and birth weren’t major sources of conflict for professors or students, at least while I was there.

  3. Well this just sickens me. I must say, however, that I am thoroughly impressed with the Chancellor’s response. Not that it should have been anything than what it was…but I’m impressed nonetheless.

    I remember needing to take two incompletes after my first child was born during my second year of my PhD program. Although I graded 75 papers within two weeks of his birth, began teaching three classes five weeks after he was born, and only needed to turn in my final papers for the courses, I was harassed far more frequently about my incomplete work than my childless colleagues who had also take incompletes in the same courses. This situation is, of course, vastly different from the one at UC Davis, but it does seem to illustrate the same sort of general reaction (i.e. disdain, and even mystification) I’ve often seen to student mothers in higher education.

    Infuriating indeed.

  4. Margaret

    That is absolutely disgusting. I had a child during graduate school and such treatment probably would have caused me to protest. I was lucky that my due date was during summer break, but I knew others that had babies during the semester and the teachers were wonderful with helping moms to rearrange the work before the birth and later on to finish up the class.

  5. anon

    “MomTFH
    January 18, 2011 at 7:56 am
    I know! This is one aspect of it I found really confusing. It says in the note from the class presidents that she recently gave birth and would be out for an unknown amount of time. (Apparently so unknown that, according to Isis’s post I link to, she was actually there when this was distributed, even though she had just had the baby.) Why wasn’t this already settled? Why didn’t the school have a precedent for this?”

    Yes, it is very confusing the way it is told. Especially when you add in other factors: that UC Davis’ Vet School is 85% women. That Feldman is highly regarded.

    What then does Occam’s Razor tell you?

    • MomTFH

      I don’t normally allow anonymous comments with fake email addresses. But, this one seems harmless enough.

      Occam’s razor tells me that I don’t know enough details. If you read the original posts at Isis’s blog, she contacted Feldman and he did not deny that the letters went out. The Chancellor’s letter confirms that this was egregious and most likely happened as described.

      One of the original posts said the student in question was already back in class when the letter was distributed. My personal version of Occam’s razor tells me she didn’t intend to miss any class because the class quiz schedule seemed so unrelenting. I personally know of a law student and a midwifery student who returned to class mere days after delivering because of similar pressures.

      What are you implying? That someone who is a highly regarded white male cannot discriminate in a highly insensitive fashion against a pregnant employee or student? I can assure you, it happens all the time.

      • anon

        Thank you for posting my original comment.

        “What are you implying? That someone who is a highly regarded white male cannot discriminate in a highly insensitive fashion against a pregnant employee or student? I can assure you, it happens all the time.”

        No, and where do I imply anything like that? You may wish to search yourself to figure out where your own biases would lead you to think I am suggesting that.

        Occam’s razor tells me the same it tells you: “I don’t know enough details” and a bit more: since it is so confusing that this happened when the student was already back in class, and at a school and in an industry that is 85% female, than this was probably misreported. Misreporting, now that’s the simplest, most concise, parsimonious hypothesis that fits the story. Something happened, but what? We do not know, but probably not this.

        Occam’s razor tells me that all the students that came by Isis’ post to say that this was misreported were probably a lot more accurate than Isis.

        Common decency tells me Isis was almost certainly horribly wrong in her representation of what happened, in her conclusions, and you participated in what was most likely a smear.

        I don’t know though, there has been pretty much silence on the “investigation” and its results in the past two weeks.

        That’s the other problem with Isis’ post and your silly retweet of it. After most likely smearing a good person, have you bothered to follow up? Do you owe anyone that follow up? Dr. Feldman? UC Davis? Your readers? Yourself?

        If you follow up, and if you find the investigation says something different happened, will you accept that? And if so, how will you interpret that with regards to your own diagnostic powers?

        • MomTFH

          This is the last anonymous comment I am allowing on this post. I will delete any further unless you use a real email.

          I don’t need to be told about my own biases. I was discriminated against both times I was pregnant. It is a rampant problem in higher education and in the workplace. The fact that someone is a well respected member of the privileged class (i.e. white male in academia) does nothing for my personal Occam’s razor about this particular instance.

          If you have anything specific that refutes this story, link to it with a real email address. Even better, write about it in your own space on the vast interwebs. Otherwise, stop calling me “silly”, stopping calling my blog a “retweet”, and stop using big words to say this story is somehow false with absolutely nothing to back up your statements.

          ETA: I looked over the comments on the original post. The first one I saw that said it was from a student in the class, comment 32, confirmed that the poll and email happened exactly as stated. The author of the post asserts that no one in the class would choose to just give her an A or just give her a C, but that’s a moot point. The situation was egregiously mishandled.

  6. So glad the Chancellor responded in the manner she did. Some of the comments on Isis’s posts were so shockingly clueless, though, from people who thought it was perfectly appropriate for students to have any input whatsoever on another student’s grade, or who really just couldn’t see how inappropriate the action was. Argh.

  7. Phledge

    Your colleagues will be lucky to have a strong advocate for motherhood like you. We will just HAVE to work together someday! :)

  8. Tanya

    I went to Nursing School as a second degree at 34 years old. I was pregnant with my first during child and due around the end of a semester. Everyone was incredibly supportive, especially our director. EXCEPT, are you ready for this, our Maternal Child Nursing class professor. She never blatantly voiced her disapproval, but made it clear in her passive aggressive remarks. She also liked to used me as a example to the class in a laughing manner. For example ridiculing my plans for a non-medicated water birth. Funny, she was a older lady who had only dogs. I never ask for any special treatment and only missed 2 classes after my birth. Every now and again I have to miss lecture for a few minutes to go pump–but all has been fine.

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