The Breast-Feeding Professor

“Uh, Captain? Captain? We really need you up in the plane, now—we’re under attack…”

This story reads as if it were invented just to cause arguments on Ethics Alarms.

Adrienne Pine, a professor at American University, was faced with a choice: stay home and care for her baby, who had a fever, or take the child to class. She chose to take the infant to the first meeting of her “Sex, Gender and Culture” course, where the child spent her lecture alternately on her mother’s back or crawling around the room, or, at one point, being breast-fed by the professor. Pine’s Full Mommy breast-feeding act was commented upon by the school newspaper, and Prof. Pine responded to inquiries by a student reporter with a dismissive, “…the baby got hungry, so I had to feed it during the lecture. End of story,” and a defensive and defiant  blog entry. She sees nothing wrong with her conduct, and regards the controversy as proof that ” a feminist anthropology course is necessary at AU.”

That’s playing the ol’ Mommy Card with gusto, Professor Pine.

She is dead wrong, as a matter of professional ethics. As a college professor,Pine has limited demands on her time, and the one thing that she is required to do is to devote full attention to her students in class. With an infant, an ill infant at that, in her care, she could not do that. She had a pure and unresolvable conflict of interest, and it was a breach of her duty to her child (at one point a student had to tell her that the baby had a paper clip in her mouth) and a breach of duty to her students (if they were watching the baby, and later that breast-feeding exhibition, they were not able to give full attention to her lecture). She had a choice to make: do one job or the other, because it is impossible to do them both at the same time.

Simply put, it is unprofessional for a professional to make those to whom the professional owes his or her professional obligations accept lesser services because of the professional’s personal problems. Would it be, for example, ethical for…

  • ...a lawyer to breast-feed her baby and have the child crawling around while she was arguing a capital case before the Supreme Court?
  • …a surgeon to breast feed her baby and have the child crawling around while she was supervising brain surgery?
  • …a labor negotiator to breast feed her baby and have the child crawling around while she was to try to hammer out the resolution of a teachers’ contract with the striking union?
  • …a diplomat to breast feed her baby and have the child crawling around as she was trying to negotiate a cease-fire in Syria?
  • …an actress to breast feed her baby and have the child crawling around on stage while she is playing Lady MacBeth?

Well, who knows? Based on her aggressive stance maybe Pine would answer yes, which is why she can’t be trusted in any of these professions, just like she can’t be trusted to hold the one she is in. Her blogged explanation is full of rationalizations. Cancelling the first day of class, she says, might ” negatively affect my student evaluations, putting my tenure at risk.” Presumably she believes that the negative evaluations for giving a distracted first lecture with split attention and a disruptive child can effectively be beaten back by strategic and strident counter-charges of sexism. Her tenure track is not a justifiable reason to short-change her students.  Similarly, she rationalizes, “…as a single parent without help or excess income, my choice has been between sacrificing my professional life and slogging through it.” No, your choice is to either meet both obligations properly, or not to commit to both obligations. A professional’s duty is to those the professional serves. If, as Pine describes it, a professional is “slogging” through professional duties, she’s a poor professional, and should be called on it.

Predictably, Pine loads out all the political correctness ammunition. “AU is also a campus that prides itself on its gender and sexuality exclusivity, a place where students commonly refer to themselves using words like cisgender, and where the male-bodied student body president came out last year as a woman. It wasn’t until some of my undergraduate students saw me feed my baby through my breast that my workplace became a hostile environment,” she writes.

No, professor, it wasn’t until you abused your students by making them solve your personal problem without their consent and by failing your obligations as a teacher to give full attention to them that you received legitimate criticism, which you are now trying to marginalize by political warfare.

The fact is that Prof. Pine was disrespectful to her students, unfair to those to whom she owed her best efforts, and neglected her obligations as a professional. Until she accepts responsibility for this and stops trying to shift the blame to others, she’s not trustworthy, and cannot be called an ethical teacher.


Pointer: Rick Jones


Graphic: Babble

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at


73 thoughts on “The Breast-Feeding Professor

  1. Well, what does the breastfeeding have to do with it? If the baby was a distraction, it was a distraction, breastfeeding or not. If the baby had lain quietly the whole time, and the professor quietly breatfeed the baby while the students were reading some passages or whatever, I don’t think it would have mattered much. But nothing is more fascinating than a infant crawling around a room, with the whole class wondering what scrape the baby is going to get into next.

    • Jack, I’m with deery–the breastfeeding angle is irrelevant.

      Here are your quotes from above rephrased to show that the mere presence of the child is unethical:

      …a lawyer brings a child to argue a capital case before the Supreme Court?
      …a surgeon has her child crawling around while she was supervising brain surgery?
      …a labor negotiator has her child crawling around while she was to try to hammer out the resolution of a teachers’ contract with the striking union?
      …a diplomat has her child crawling around as she was trying to negotiate a cease-fire in Syria?
      …an actress has her child crawling around on stage while she is playing Lady MacBeth?

      I think the expectation that it’s okay to bring a child to work is far more of an issue than the breastfeeding. Let alone one that is sick and now she’s exposed all of her students to its illness. They, themselves, may not get sick but they may transmit the illness. That’s unethical.

      I would presume that Ms. Pine is trying to raise awareness about a contentious subject. What she fails to realize is that her own selfish stupidity is a disservice to mothers that abide by workplace rules and have found ways to be with their infants because this event will generate such a hostile whiplash reaction to the wrong issue.

    • Oh, I agree—though I would say that breastfeeding is somewhat more distracting than some other aspects of child care. But you are right—I just highlighted it because it was the hook of the original story.

  2. My first thought was that I work for a “virtual” software development team — we all work at home, connected to each other via the Internet — and even in that environment we all understand that we can’t work and take care of a sick family member at the same time.

    Then there’s Professor Pine’s blog post at counterpunch, which is riddled with self-parodying political-correct-speak and bizarre phrases like “some of my undergraduate students saw me feed my baby through my breast” and the non-ironic use of “bourgeois.”

    Still, given that she couldn’t find any other arrangements, I think she made the right decision to take her baby to class. In a job like mine, whatever I don’t do on a sick day, I can just do it the next day. But if she doesn’t show up for class, she has no way to make up for it, and the students miss out forever. Better a class disrupted by a baby than no class at all. Time was of the essence, and in this sense teaching a class is a lot like showbiz, and she was proceeding in the best tradition of The Show Must Go On.

    As for breastfeeding the child in front of everybody…that probably wasn’t in the script. Although it seems strangely appropriate given the subject of the class. Personally, I wouldn’t have minded, because it would have made for a great story to tell my friends. Which brings me to…

    Breastfeeding her child in class was nowhere near as astonishing to me as her utter cluelessness about how journalism works. She was astonished that Heather “clearly had not understood what I meant in my email by ‘End of story,'” and persisted in contacting her for an interview. And then she couldn’t understand why the newspaper staff were ignoring her requests to kill the story. It’s like she has no idea what reporters do.

    And what makes her think that she’s so important and wise that the newspaper staff should yield to her opinion of what’s newsworthy? Or that her conduct in class is somehow off limits?

    • Still, given that she couldn’t find any other arrangements, I think she made the right decision to take her baby to class. In a job like mine, whatever I don’t do on a sick day, I can just do it the next day. But if she doesn’t show up for class, she has no way to make up for it, and the students miss out forever. Better a class disrupted by a baby than no class at all. Time was of the essence, and in this sense teaching a class is a lot like showbiz, and she was proceeding in the best tradition of The Show Must Go On.

      Even giving her the benefit of the doubt, she couldn’t find another professor to look after the baby for 50 minutes or 75 minutes while she was in class? Or another professor to cover the class? When I was in college, it wasn’t common, but around once or twice a semester, one of my professors/lecturers would have someone substitute for them for one reason or another.

      • Of course she could. She did it this way to make a statement, as her rhetoric on her blog post makes clear. The students were subjugated to sexual politics. But any university that encourages a pompous term like “cisgender” is getting what it bargained for, I guess.

        • There was no comment that the University pushing the term cisgender. I’ll alse argue that cisgender is far from pompous. It’s a recognition that there are continuums of sexuality and behavior. A good chunk of my college friends referred to themselves as heteroflexible or homoflexible instead of straight or gay… because they weren’t straight or gay. Is that pompous to? Would referring to yourself as heterosexual or straight be pompous? Do you have a suggestion for a term that isn’t pompous?

          • I think dreaming up ways to categorize oneself in some kind of gender group is pompous, and the word itself stinks of campus-speak. I think waving flags about sexual habits and orientation is pompous. I don’t care. Nobody should care. I think calling myself a Greco-American is as pompous as calling myself a Harvard grad. Evaluate me on what I do, say and stand for, not who I want to have sex with.

            • We’re already categorized as male and female. Cisgender just tries to make that more accurate. I find it anti-intellectual to suggest that accurately describing yourself is pompous.

              There also isn’t any discussion here of the term being used in inappropriate settings. If you’re at a common singles bar or flirting with someone on the quad, noting your cisgenderness (or non cisgenderness) seems right to me.

            • The term “cisgender” has absolutely nothing to do with “who I want to have sex with,” “sexual habits” or “orientation.” It’s pretty obvious you don’t even know what the word means.

              Like a lot of words, the word “cisgender” is used because there was a need for a word in a lot of conversations that real people are having. That’s how new words typically enter English.

              At one point, the words “homosexual” and “heterosexual” seemed weird. Then homosexual people started coming out of the closet and wanting equal protection of the law, and the formerly obscure words “homosexual” and “heterosexual” became popular because people wanted language that would let them discuss those issues. (And given this blog, surely you of all people don’t think discussing current issues is inherently pompous!)

              The term “cissexual” (which means “not transsexual,” by the way) came about for the same reason. Just more recently.

              • Oh, bite me.

                I looked up the word the second I read it. It is by definition political word-gaming, like “womyn” and calling actresses “actors” and minorities “people of color.” “Biologically male” is too clear, so transgendered individuals want obscure, fancy sounding terms that, I don’t know, do something until the group decides that THAT word is “offensive.” You want to fight about what a cool word “cisgender” is, go somewhere else. It’s Orwellian.

                “Pompous” was the wrong word. “Silly” was the right one. We don’t need political correctness bureaus coining new words for what could be adequately and clearly described already. Next month, I’m biased for NOT using “cisgender.” Screw that. I know that language manipulation is the favorite tactic of the left—frankly, it’s nauseating. I won’t play.

                • I looked up the word the second I read it.

                  Okay, you looked it up, but then you went on to describe it as having something to do with “who I want to have sex with,” “sexual habits,” etc, even though you knew perfectly well that the word has nothing to do with any of that.

                  “Biologically male” doesn’t work for a variety of reasons – for one thing, “cisgender” includes both men and women, not just men.

                  The basic problem here is that you’re assuming that “the left” is a bunch of people who sit around in a room plotting how to hurt conservatives with words. That’s not how the real world works, Jack. Lefties are not the evil demons you’re painting them as in this comment (and neither are conservatives the evil demons some lefties imagine they are).

                  No one created the word “cisgender” because they’re trying to find a way to sound morally superior to you, Jack. That’s a right-wing fantasy about what horrible evil people lefties are, not a realistic description of how people typically act in the real world.

                  The word was created in feminist blog and bboard discussions because feminists fifteen years ago argued about trans issues A LOT, and as happens when people discuss stuff a lot, new terminology either develops from scratch or is adapted from existing words. (Not unlike the word “blog,” which didn’t exist 20 years ago). I was involved in many of those discussions personally, and was one of the earliest users of the word “cisgender.” I promise you, Jack, I didn’t have “shaming right-wingers” on my mind at all. The disagreements we were having was between different groups of feminists, virtually all of whom were lefties of one stripe or another. (The more radical feminists at that time were very suspicious of trans people and trans politics, while the more liberal feminists were more accepting.)

                  You don’t have to always assume that everyone you disagree with is acting out of malice or in bad faith.

                  • Rereading my comment, I want to correct myself — I don’t know if the word first came up on trans discussion boards, or on feminist discussion boards. (Plenty of people are both trans people and feminist, so there’s overlap). In either case, the first people I saw using the word were trans folks.

                    Not that anyone here but me cares, but what the heck. :-p

                    • If you don’t want to use cis- anything, that’s fine.
                      Just don’t ever say trans-anything either, or you’re being hypocritical.

                      Cis- is the opposite of trans-. As in CisAlpine Gaul vs TransAlpine Gaul. CisPacific vs TransPacific.

                      Cissexual and cisgender are useful terms to describe the opposite of transsexual and transgender. If you object to those words – as many do – then what word would you use? Normal, perhaps?

                      Like normal vs Jewish, normal vs Black, normal vs disabled, normal vs Gay…. you see where this leads, and it isn’t pretty.

                    • Sorry, I don’t buy any of that. Transgender is a clear, understandable word. The fact that there are variations, that it is misunderstood by some—well, words aren’t encyclopedia entries. Cisgender, on the other hand, is intentionally obscure, and more importantly, blatant linguistic mind-control. I’m sincerely sorry that some, many, most? people are biased against any deviation from “normal,”, but normal/typical/usual is still a real concept, and as long as 99.8% of the world isn’t transgender, making up a new, mystifying, clinical word to describe what everyone understands and has for eons is absurd.

                      Not that it doesn’t have it political uses. I get that. I know that the trend among all advocates is to come up with words and terms that twist perception in advantageous ways. “Persons of color”, for example, was an effort to linguistically ally all non-whites against the big, bad Caucasians, as if there was any cultural, logical, biological justification for describing a Cubano and a 5th generation Korean-American with the same term. “Pro-choice” is clever and sinister, as it banished from thought any recognition of the other aspect of the abortion dilemma, the life/potential life that is being terminated by that “choice.” Now comes cysgender, a clever bit of mind control that makes it impossible to think of what is, in fact, the norm as anything but just another in a long list of sexual variations.

                      I resent it, frankly. Don’t force me to think certain ways by manipulating language. If people are biased, address that—don’t twist the language so you think bias will be cognitively more difficult.

                    • You switched the values in your comparison. Cisgender isn’t like “person of color”, it’s like “white”. It’s the dominant side being noted for being the dominant side. Due to the multiple meanings of the word normal, a distinct word is very necessary.

                    • I don’t think it is. “White” may be a majority in some places, but it is no more “normal” than any other race. Cisgender is like thinking up a required word for “one head” or “two legs” or “not a conjoined twin” to make it sound like it is just as unusual as the alternatives. I’m fond of retronyms, words like “hard copy” and “land line” that are now necessary to distinguish them from more modern alternatives that didn’t exist before. We don’t need a retronym for gender, until we get to the point that people are switching sexes like underwear.

                    • Jack, how many of your immediate friends and loved ones are transgender? Do you work in a workplace with a lot of trans folks? Or, at the least, are you part of a social group where trans issues are a daily staple of conversation?

                      Just because YOU don’t need the word “cisgender” in your life doesn’t mean that other people don’t need it; and it doesn’t mean that the reason they use the term is because they have malicious intentions.

                    • Who works with “a lot” of trans folks? There aren’t “a lot.” If and when there are “a lot,” cisgender begins to make sense other than as linguistic manipulation.

                    • It’s true that trans folks are a small portion of America — about one-third of one percent, is an estimate I’ve seen, which works out to about 700,000 people. But of course, they’re not evenly distributed. Some areas, some neighborhoods, some social circles, and some cities do have a lot more trans folks in them.

                      I’m not sure why this happens, but I have a few theories. First of all, cities with hospitals with good treatment centers for transsexuals may tend to attract more trans folks than other cities. Second of all, once a city – for whatever reason – gets known within the trans community as a place that’s friendly for trans folks, other trans folk will be tempted to move there. Third, some cities are common destinations for runaway teens, and since trans teens are especially likely to be rejected by their parents, those cities may end up with above-average numbers of trans people.

                      I know of workplaces here in Portland with multiple trans folks. Just in the course of my ordinary social life, I’ve been at parties and occasions with multiple openly trans people (and those are just the folks I knew about).

                      Anyhow… my point is, again, the reason the word “cisgender” came into use is that people use it, and the reason people use it is, it’s useful for the real conversations they have in their real lives. Just because it’s not a word you need to use, doesn’t mean that no one else needs to use it.

        • Jack, if you assume the person you’re criticizing is lying, then of course it’s easy to rationalize ways that her behavior is unethical. But if you give the person you’re criticizing any benefit of the doubt – which is something ethical people should do — then you should assume she actually was telling the truth.

            • You said “of course she could,” agreeing with TGT’s completely unwarranted assumption that she could have found a babysitter or a substitute professor.

              But her essay made it clear that she saw only two choices on that day: Cancelling the class or bringing the baby. If she was telling the truth about that, then the unwarranted assumption you and TGT are making is not true. If you and TGT are correct, then she was lying.

                • In other words, you’re saying she’s lying.

                  It’s easy to say “well, she was lying when she said she was facing two bad alternatives, so we don’t have to consider the possibility that she had only two bad alternatives.” But “easy” also means, in this context, that you’re essentially making a strawman argument.

                  Yes, if we assume she had a convenient, safe, available last-minute chlidcare option, then she shouldn’t have brought the baby to class. But that plainly wasn’t her situation, unless we’re assuming she was lying. And you have no warrant for that assumption.

                  If the only way you’re able to make your argument is by assuming bad faith in the people you’re criticizing, then obviously you have only a weak argument.

                  • When there’s a third alternative that would be available nearly 100% of the time, and that third alternative is not mentioned, it’s safe to assume the teacher chose not use the third alternative.

                    Do to her repsonse to the issue, I think assuming bad faith here is valid.

      • TGT, unless you assume she’s lying, she wasn’t able to find another professor to do either of those tasks. Do you really think it never, ever happens that a single parent has an emergency and can’t find someone to cover for her? If so, then I have to wonder how many single parents you know.

        Even giving her the benefit of the doubt…

        You’re NOT giving her the benefit of the doubt, so please don’t claim you are. You’re doing exactly the opposite – you’re assuming that she’s lying.

        When I was in college, it happened more than once that a professor had to cancel a class session because they could not attend. So apparently it’s not true that 100% of the time, professors can easily find substitutes.

        • I’d better clarify – I don’t think she specifically said, in her essay, that she did or didn’t try other professors. What she did very clearly say is that she didn’t see any alternatives other than cancelling class or bringing baby to class. If we’re assuming she was lying about that, of course that changes the situation somewhat – but I don’t see any reason to assume she was lying.

          • I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt in choosing to bring her child to campus. Once there, the inability to find anyone to look after her kid for an hour is beyond unlikely. I just can’t see it occurring.

  3. Hmmn. I sometimes chew gum and dance around to rock music while I’m at work, dressed in torn jeans and a t-shirt. I’m pretty sure it would be unethical for me to do that were I a lawyer arguing before the Supreme Court, or onstage playing Lady Macbeth.

    May we therefore conclude that it’s unethical for me to chew gum and dance while at work?

    No, of course not. There are enormous differences between these work environments, which make drawing conclusions from such a comparison illogical.

    The consequences of a surgeon with their hands inside a patient being momentarily distracted by their baby is that the patient could die. Are you honestly arguing that Professor Pine’s students might die if her attention is distracted for a moment? Presumably not. So how can you justify making such an obviously illogical equivalence?

    What you’ve established is that it would be wrong for someone in significantly different circumstances to bring a baby to work with them; it doesn’t follow logically from that that this professor was wrong to bring in her baby given her specific circumstances.

    When I was in college (not too long ago), I would have appreciated it if a professor in Pine’s situation had brought in their baby rather than cancel class (and Pine’s narrative makes it clear that these where her only alternatives), especially when it’s the first class of the course. The waste of my time involved when professors cancel classes I have scheduled and made time for is much greater than the trivial waste of my time involved if the professor spends a few minutes out of 50 being distracted by their child. (And from Pine’s description, it does sound like it was only a few minutes).

    • I’d say analogizing teaching to the professions noted is a lot closer than analogizing taking care of a baby and breast-feeding it to chewing gum. You can drive a car, write a letter, and mow the lawn while chewing gum.

      It’s split attention, and unfair to the students. (Chewing gum while teaching students is also unprofessional and rude, by the way.) I think your rationalizations are worse than than Pine’s. Note that she also alludes to other lectures where she’s done this, and that they didn’t go too well, because the tot got “fidgety.”

      • My point remains: Logically, it doesn’t demonstrate that an activity is unethical in situation X merely because it would be unethical in significantly different situation Y. Teaching students is not the same as performing surgery.

        Dismissing arguments you don’t have any logical response to as “rationalizations” isn’t very persuasive.

        Yes, according to the article, she’s brought the baby to professional conferences, but this seems to have been the first time she brought the baby to class.

        In the article, she unambiguously explains that her only choices (that she could see) were cancelling the opening class of the course, or bringing the baby with her. Given that choice, I as a student would certainly prefer her to bring the baby to class. Split attention (and split for only a few minutes, based on her description) is much better than a cancelled class, since in a cancelled class the students would get no attention at all.

        How is cancelling the class session entirely fairer to the students, exactly?

        I’m a student who has taken the bus an hour to reach the university, I walk up the three flights of stairs, textbook in hand, and reach either a closed, locked door with a “cancelled” note taped to it, OR a classroom where a professor hands out the syllabus and says the usual first-day-of-class stuff for 50 minutes, but she also spends a few minutes intermittently dealing with the baby.

        You seem to think it’s so obvious that the former situation is better for me than the latter that even explaining it is beneath you. But I assure you, that’s not the case.

        If the measure of value is “Professor Pine’s attention,” then obviously I get more value if Pine is there with a baby than if she’s not there at all.

        • It’s not a significantly different situation. It is a situation that demands all a professional’s attention to do well, and she is intentionally using her time and attention on another task. Here’s an exact and identical analogy: I have to give a 2 hour ethics presentation to 300 new bar admittees every month. They pay about 200 bucks each for the session, of which my segment is the longest. Would it be acceptable for me to bring a toddler to my presentation? Would the DC bar, which pays me a fee, regard that as fair service? This group resents being there at all, and I have to be diverting alert, and in complete control, AS DOES ANY TEACHER. She is taking up X per cent of time paid for by the university and the students to be 100% class, not 95% class and 5% personal needs of the teacher. You are, in fact, rationalizing unethical conduct. If it would be wrong for me to do it—and it would be—it’s wrong for her to do it. She cancels the class and she makes it up. That’s what I have done if I have to cancel a class. “Do a sub-par class” may be fine with some students, but it still isn’t a responsible alternative.

          • You’re the expert on ethics, not me, Jack. Is choosing the lesser evil, when all the options are bad, an unethical thing to do?

            If you had a childcare emergency and had to choose between a last-minute cancellation of the class session (to be rescheduled later – but real-life university experience should tell you that there will always be some students who aren’t available for whatever time you schedule the makeup class for), leaving a sick baby without any supervision at all for an hour, or teaching the class with the baby there, then it seems to me of these three options only one (abandoning the baby) is obviously too evil to be acceptable.

            The other two are lesser evils. On the one hand, if you reschedule, realistically that will be incredibly inconvenient for your students (some of whom may have already made childcare arrangements and paid babysitters in order to attend your class). On the other hand, if you teach, part of your attention will be diverted. In this case, both solutions are imperfect (but not disastrous), but you have to choose one of them.

            As someone who commuted a considerable distance when I was in college, and who had a job preventing me from just showing up at whatever random time the professor decides to reschedule to, I think a professor who chooses to hold the class anyway is being FAR more considerate of my needs and time.

            You seem to be saying that when it supports your case, the needs of students are ALL we need to consider – but when the students’ interests are harmed by the solution YOU prefer (cancelling the class session), then suddenly being considerate to the students’ interests doesn’t weigh anything at all. That’s completely illogical. If considering the students’ needs weights against bringing the baby to class, then considering the students’ needs should likewise weigh against a last-minute cancellation. You can’t have it both ways.

            By the way, what about a professor with a broken leg in a cast which constantly itches, so they have less than 100% attention – is it unethical for them to teach a class? How about a professor with a medical condition that requires them to excuse themselves for a few minutes to give themselves an injection partway through a long T/Th class – can they ethically teach a long class? How about a Econ professor who speaks English as a second language, so part of their attention is not on teaching Economics per se but just on trying to remember what words to use (“… the question is how, how do you say it… like a rubber band, it bends… how much the demand…. ? Elastic. The question is, how elastic is the demand?” etc etc etc.)

            All of those are real-life situations I saw as a student. But I doubt anyone would say these professors were being unethical, even though they are not devoting 100% of their attention to teaching.

            The reason, I think, is that we realize that in the real world, these people have valuable contributions to give to students even though life sometimes gets in the way of the ideal “100% of attention” situation. That econ professor may not have as good a grasp on the language as someone else, but maybe he has a superior grasp on other aspects of his job (like how to design a meaningful exam rather than a stupid multi-choice exam).

            In the real world, single parents are likely to have some sort of conflict once or twice a year for the first five years of their kid’s life. (There are some single parents who never have such conflicts, ever, but they seem to be the exception rather than the rule.) Unless we’re going to say that it’s never acceptable for a single parent to hold a professional job, then I think we have to accept that on rare occasion we’re going to have to accommodate them, just as we accommodate people with itchy broken legs, medical conditions, and difficult to understand accents. To say otherwise is, it seems to me, a position that lacks compassion and generosity.

            • I had a professor who spoke English as a second language. More than half the class failed finals. Most of them contested the grades.
              The class was english comp.

  4. As somebody who has attended and taught college courses in different capacities, I can honestly say that there is a certain amount of eccentricity, and even downright odd behavior, that is permitted in the academic setting, for a multitude of reasons. I think it might have to do with the notion that in order to teach a classroom full of passive students, a professor often has to be willing to take risks, break rules, and be themselves. Do you see where I’m going with this? We all remember our eccentric professors, the ones who told funny stories or sang in class or brought fresh baked cookies or swore a lot or came in their pajamas. I dunno. I just think a college classroom is a lot different from a courtroom or a doctor’s office, for the reasons I’ve stated. Eccentricity is encouraged in academia and I I think this professor’s behavior is indeed eccentric, and certainly the students will remember her as a wild card! Eccentricity isn’t a justification exactly, just more of a factor in the situation being discussed. Overall, I don”t think breastfeeding in the classroom is right, or responsible, or mature; but it DOES seem like “eccentric professor” behavior. When my husband was in college, his law professor shaved her head bald and did a headstand IN CLASS, to make a point about the subject being taught (the point escapes me now). See where I’m going with this?

    • Yes, but I don’t think it applies. I’m an eccentric teacher myself, but when I’m eccentric, it’s aimed at the students. This wasn’t. This was a conflicting activity, not designed or intended to enhance the class, but rather an impediment to both professor and students that had to be overcome.

      • My eccentric professors did things like draw Socrates and his pig on the chalkboard, and then relate everything through the pig, or use wild hand and body motions to emphasize the importance of different topics. The eccentricity improved the teaching. That’s a far cry from eccentric behavior that distracts from the material.

  5. What I find unethical is the attempt to take what is likely to be a singular event in this professor’s life, in the students’ lives, and imply 1) it’s the norm, and 2) try an equate very mundane events with extraordinary ones.

    The confluence of sick child of breastfeeding age, no alternative daycare available, child needing to be fed during the 50 minute class, etc. It’s not going to happen again. You’d have a point about unethical behavior if it was an every day occurrence in this class or if she was nude from the waist up while feeding in class. Neither of these are the case.

    Furthermore, trying to equate presenting class materials and introducing the syllabus in a small class setting is in no way to be equated with presenting a case in front of the Supreme Court or being in a surgical theatre. Better questions to ask would be, would it be ethical for…

    …a lawyer brings a child to make opening arguments in a family court case?
    …a physician brings her child to a family planning consult?
    …a labor negotiator has her child crawling around while she was initiating labor discussions with a day-care company?
    …a diplomat has her child crawling around as she was discussing issues impacting families in an open forum?
    …an actress breastfeeds her child during the first read through of Lady MacBeth?

    Ethical decisions are rarely black and white but regularly have shades of gray that require an accurate account of the facts of the case. The decision made by a single female professor, concerned about her career and child and wanting to balance these two parts of her life decided that in this unique case it was best to bring her child to class and take a chance that she may need to breastfeed. Just because it is not the decision you would have made, does not make it unethical.

    • Professional ethics are not much good if they don’t guide you to the right conduct in “a singular event.” In fact, that’s when standards are most essential. A professional is supposed to consider her constituency’s needs and welfare first. The professor, it is clear, was thinking about 1) her kid 2) her convenience 3) her entitled lot in life and on campus as a working feminist and 3) her tenure prospects. The students look forth to me.

      Was she engaged in personal duties and matters while being paid by the university to devote 100% of her attentions to her students? Yes. Is this professional and ethical? No. Was she in a fix—sure: I don’t care. It wasn’t the students’ crisis, and they should not have been involuntarily made part of the solution. At very least, she should have e-mailed them and asked: OK, would you rather me cancel the class and make it up some weekend, or try to lecture with my feverish child under roe and on my mind? Then your position starts looking more reasonable.

      Your non-ethical argument makes my point. Oh–those other audiences are more important, are they? In ethical terms, no, they aren’t. A professional’s constituency and stakeholders are important, period, and more important than the professional’s own interests. She states that she has had the child with her during lectures to other audiences, and that this undermined those lectures. “Oh, well! I’m a mother, and everything stops for me!” Baloney.

      Damn right I wouldn’t do it, but that’s not why I call it unethical. I call it unethical because professional ethics is my field, and I know an unethical professional when I see one.

      • So, if I understand you correctly you would state the following…
        “A person being unethical if they cannot provide 100% of their attention to their constituency. There can never be any justification for providing 1% less attention to your task. If a person provides only 99% of their expected service then they are being unethical and it is better then to provide 0% service until they can devote their full attention.”

        Is this what you are saying in this instance or am I misunderstanding the issue at hand?

        • 99% is not a replacement for 100%. 99% may be appropriate in certain situations, but it’s something that should be apologized for and should be made up in an acceptable way. If the teacher had brought a pen for the kid, kept to her lessen, and then opened up for extended office hours and email communication, I think she’d be forgiven for her behavior. Instead, she flaunted what she was doing and acted like it’s no big deal. See the difference?

          • Addressing a few points….
            1) I made the 99%/100% point because Jack implied that anything less than 100% was unethical and there was no room for any negotiations. 99% unethical, 100% ethical.
            2) I am in no way defending the professors reaction or how she handled the interview and the Counterpoint blog.
            3) I’ve been in this situation myself, all be it with an older child. I teach in a combined lab/lecture setting so I sat my son at my desk, gave him a bowl of Cheerios and book to read quietly. I did apologize to the students and there were no complaints to me or my department chair.
            4) [unless you have facts I don’t have] there is no indication she didn’t do the things you had suggested (apologizing, etc…)

            • 1) It’s like you didn’t even read my post.
              2) Yes, yes you are.
              3) A child who can read is not the same as a child still getting breastfed, and I have no complaint with how you handled your situation.
              4) The fact that she sees nothing wrong with her conduct is prima facie evidence that she did not so much as apologize.

              • Yes, I think that’s right. Her attitude was “deal with it.” I’d be shocked if she apologized, based on the tone of her writing. Eric. on the other hand, handled his situation exactly correctly.

        • What you are doing is playing numbers games to avoid the real issue. Obviously nobody can be 100% all the time, but one has an obligation to make every effort to get as close to 100% as possible. A head cold knocks off a few percent. A death in the family. But it is the job of the professional to know his limitations and the needs of his stakeholders. A child, in whom a mother could be assumed to a have a permanent priority, precludes anything close to 100%, and if the teacher isn’t paying proper attention to her, then she is neglecting the child. The percentages can’t equal more than 100, but the percentages owed to both students and child are far beyond that.

          • Jack, first I must say I appreciate the open forum and the civil conversation. It’s been fun as a layman. I’ll certainly be back.

            My numbers game was more analytical and an attempt to determine at whether in your mind ethical responsibilities are absolute or finitely variable. If there is variability, how far does that extend?

            In your response above you stated, “it is the job of the professional to know his limitations and the needs of his stakeholders.” Assuming this is a singularly unique instance and lessons are learned to prevent it from happening again, I would argue she made that calculation and decided it was best for everyone involved to hold class.

            Barry D. pointed out above and I can attest to the voracity of his statement regarding canceled class with no warning. Nothing upsets students more, especially on a commuter campus. I have students traveling 60 mins each way for one class a week. If I cancel class without several hours lead time they go through the roof, and rightly so.

    • [..] child needing to be fed during the 50 minute class, [..]

      There’s really no excuse for this part. Unless the teacher was going to bring the baby to every class, I’m pretty sure she should have alternate feeding plans in place.

      I’ll grant that some of Jack’s examples would be bad for secondary reasons, but all your examples are also completely inappropriate.

    • They are not, however. As I have explained. You can only say that if you believe that a professional’s duties vary according to the relative importance of his or her stakeholders on a universal scale. They don’t, and that’s not the standard. Those example just make it plain. To the students, the teacher’s duty is a as clear and paramount as the the lawyers to the Supreme Court justices. You’re just saying that the teacher can get away with it, and the actor/lawyer/surgeon can’t Maybe true, but that’s irrelevant to ethics.

      • Jack, some of your examples have secondary issues. Like the sterility for brain surgeon. Your main point is correct, but I think some people are getting hung up on the secondary details. Even using Eric’s examples shows the problem. A physician bringing a kid to a consult? So, making the patients uncomfortable and destroying doctor/patient confidentiality is fine?

  6. Reading a little more today on this subject I found two interesting examples of what I would consider clearly unethical behavior.

    First is the professor’s Counterpoint essay. Naming students of the newspaper, publishing the e-mail correspondance and the unprofessional tone of the essay is problematic. Taking the time to describe her side of the story, in more professional and less inflammatory language without delving in feminist theory may have OK. She should have then left the essay on how her experiences relate to feminism for another venue. This would have preserved her academic freedom while maintaining her professionalism.

    Second is how the news of the incident got to the newspaper in the first place. The newspaper has a duty to investigate issues relevant to the students and the campus. However, students have a duty to approach the professor, chair of the department, and/or dean of the college if they have problems in the class. To have talked with classmates or run to the newspaper without first coming to the professor or department chair is unethical behavior.

    • Naming students of the newspaper, publishing the e-mail correspondance and the unprofessional tone of the essay is problematic.

      I agree.

      To have talked with classmates or run to the newspaper without first coming to the professor or department chair is unethical behavior.

      Not sure about the newspaper, but I definitely disagree about the classmates. Talking to classmates is really valuable; for one thing, in some instances it can provide a much-needed “reality check” before bringing things to a higher level. And any ethic which says that students shouldn’t talk to other students (or employees to other employees, or consumers to other consumers, etc) tends to disempower the students, which I think is a bad idea.

      • Yes, I agree, Barry. Why would it be unethical to see what classmates felt? And like you, I’m not sure going to the paper was inappropriate. It’s news, obviously, from the reaction to the story, and it seems that the students may have correctly discerned that Pine wouldn’t take too kindly to any criticism, implied or real, to her conduct. The newspaper seems like a reasonable option that doesn’t risk losing you a half a grade.

  7. Pingback: On The Case Of The Breast-Feeding Professor | Alas, a Blog

  8. Pingback: Six Thoughts On The Case Of The Breast-Feeding Professor « Family Scholars

  9. While I would concede that she should be able to breast feed wherever she wants, if I am her student, I am skipping class that day. I have no problem with women breast feeding in public because I can get up and leave much easier than she can being that I don’t have babies in tow. I would not want to be in a situation where I am a captive audience. Being not that fond of babies, or breasts, I’d rather not attend that day.

    • Neither babies nor breasts would make me leave the room. Some of my most grateful, most spiritual, happiest life moments were seeing my wife nurse our infant daughter.

      • …and I think that is awesome. But I don’t want to watch your wife breast feed your infant daughter… if she is likely to do that while she is lecturing in a classroom.

  10. That part about 100% of the time is crap. Anyone in academia is going to spend a lot more time on their job — even when not in class or at their desk — than some ethics mavens I could think of. There is only one criterion for an employee and the amount of time they devote to their job — does the employee perform satisfactorily. If I can meet the goals I am judged by in 3 days of work, why should I have to put in an extra 2? Contrariwise, if I’m punching in early, leaving late, and continuing to work from home and I fail to meet those goals, then I’m in the wrong job.

    • And what does that have to do with the post? If you are doing personal tasks when you are supposed to be working, that time on the job is a charade.
      I don’t get a salary and I have no tenure, Bozo—I work seven days a week at my job, and have no net. I’ll match pure work time with the good professor any time, if she can put down her baby long enough to give me her full attention, that is. And I lecture for a living too, and if I show up carrying a baby and attach him to my nipple while talking, I’m not getting a second chance. Believe it. The students were captive suckling-viewers, when their education was supposed to be the point.

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