Opinion | UA Should Offer Childcare to Faculty, Staff and Students

Mary Claire Wooten, Staff Columnist

On Aug. 16, the Faculty Senate met in North Lawn Hall to discuss their agenda for the forthcoming academic year. Heather Elliot and Alex Tokovinine, co-chairs of the Faculty Senate’s Faculty Life Committee, proposed on-campus child care for faculty, staff and students. This motion was supported by the Professional Staff Assembly, and the Faculty & Staff Benefits Committee.  

The University of Alabama once offered this service to its faculty as well as students. The University Child Care Center was housed on the first floor of Rose Towers, a 13-story building that was initially built to house married students and their families. Over the years, it became a hub for graduate and international students as well as faculty.   

On July 4, 2012, the Rose Towers legacy amounted to nothing but a 50,000-ton pile of rubble. Child care services were eradicated with it. Standing in its place today are Presidential Villages 1 and 2, which were built to accommodate increasing campus populations. 

Ten years later, the University has not had a childcare facility on its grounds since then. The broad span of individuals who would utilize this service were left to find their own child care within the city of Tuscaloosa. 

The University employs faculty and staff members with a wide range of pay scales based on academic credibility and responsibility. This results in very different lifestyles for many employed on campus.  

With such a broad range, it would be naïve to assume that all faculty and staff can afford luxuries such as daycare while also making it to their jobs to pay for it. It’s Sisyphean.  

Elliot sees their proposal as a route to recruiting the best faculty, staff and students. 

“Childcare is essential to the University’s recruiting and retaining the best faculty, staff and students. If people can’t get the help they need in taking care of their families, they will go to employers that do provide such help,” Elliott said.  

In terms of child care services, The University of Alabama falls significantly behind the curve. The University has a Children’s Program, housed in the Child Development Research Center, that is only equipped to hold 114 children. 

Programs like this are the bare minimum across SEC schools. Auburn University, The University of Arkansas, The University of Tennessee, Mississippi State University, The University of Mississippi, Texas A&M University, Louisiana State University and The University of Missouri all offer a research center that caters to a small number of applicants.  

The University of Georgia and Vanderbilt University provide a model to follow. They provide child care to faculty, staff and students at a heightened level, helping parents manage their work and time. These factors affect whether parents can continue to work and tangibly attract skilled workers.

The Bipartisan Policy Center found that 4 in 10 children don’t have access to child care in Alabama. While football season takes the driver’s seat in Tuscaloosa, parents that are attempting to pursue a degree or educate toward one are swept under the rug. 

In fall 2021, the University reported that there are 2,025 instructional staff faculty members and 2,418 people employed as professional staff, and 74% of these employees are full-time. Many will not be able to overcome the extended wait time for child care establishments, especially with new faculty being hired to accommodate rising enrollment numbers.

Tuscaloosa is at an impasse, and child care services must catch up to sustain a growing community. Supporting parent workers signals investment in their work and supports individual growth. The University of Alabama should look to their past and invest in their faculty, staff and students through child care services.