Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, December 6, 2000
From the attic to the Faculty Senate, Sullivan raises profile of child care


When Kathleen Sullivan was hired in 1989 to be director of the Child Care Resource Center, her office was in the attic of Peter Coutts, the oldest building on campus in Escondido Village. Today, Sullivan and her staff who run the WorkLife Office, which evolved from the former center, are based in Building 310 in the Main Quad.

"We're an integral part of the university," she says. "We're in the hub; in the center of things."

That status was reinforced last Thursday when Sullivan appeared before the Faculty Senate to announce the findings of a campus Child Care Needs Assessment Study and the steps the university is going to take to address the acute need for affordable quality child care. Construction of additional campus child care centers and establishing for the first time a needs-based financial subsidy for parents with young children in licensed child care are the two principal results to come out of the study. [See accompanying article.]

Kathleen Sullivan speaks with WorkLife office manager Carol Skladany
photo: L.A. Cicero

"For me, it's very exciting to have child care on the table, with the support of the president and provost," Sullivan says. "It's an integral part of the university's mission."

As Sullivan, 60, prepares to retire on Dec. 20, she leaves a university with a renewed commitment to supporting child care. Stanford was an early leader in providing child care, opening its first site in 1969, the Children's Center of the Stanford Community (CCSC). It has continued to offer in-kind support to CCSC and a second site, the Stanford Arboretum Children's Center, by providing rent-free space. In the 1970s and 1980s, child care was regarded as an issue concerning mostly graduate students and Sullivan's office initially was under Student Affairs. In 1993, in response to the growth of dual-income families, the university recognized child care as an employer issue and moved the office to Human Resources, where it was renamed the WorkLife Office. In 1997, it became part of Campus Relations under the President's Office.

The university's decision to institutionalize support for child care is long overdue, says engineering Professor Jeff Koseff, a member of the university's Child Care Advisory Committee and senior associate dean for faculty affairs. While child care might not be regarded as important as providing housing, he says, the university now officially accepts it as critical for recruitment and retention of faculty and staff in a tight labor market. "Child care started off in an attic," he says. "Now it's being discussed on the senate floor."

Koseff says that Sullivan and psychology Associate Professor Anne Fernald, in her former position as vice provost for faculty development, should be credited for bringing the issue before Stanford's leadership. "The university is in a far stronger position than it was," he says. "Kathleen kept the momentum going in a professional manner. I'm fearful that without someone like her, some of this momentum might fall by the wayside. There's still a long row to hoe."

Margaret Ann Fidler, associate vice provost for administration, says that one of Sullivan's most significant contributions has been to document the need for quality child care through this year's assessment study. "Such a comprehensive study has not been made since the 1972 Leifer Report that gave rise to Stanford's original Child Care Policy," Fidler says. "To have taken a fresh look at the needs of the community 30 years later, including looking at matters of policy, will serve students, faculty and staff well for the next several decades."

Under Sullivan's leadership, the WorkLife Office has expanded its mission to help staff, faculty and students balance the demands of work and personal life. By collaborating with groups in the surrounding community, it helps people with a variety of needs, such as providing support to people caring for the elderly. "I always felt that it was important to look beyond the needs of people with children," she says. Although child care is the WorkLife Office's largest program, Sullivan has been motivated by a desire to make Stanford "a good working place for everybody that breeds respect and mutual caring."

After retiring, Sullivan plans to move back to Arizona, where she lived and headed early childhood programs at Arizona State University for 17 years before coming to Stanford. But she will continue to work part time to help the university carry out its plans for child care assistance. "I've bought a house in Flagstaff; that's something I could never afford to do here," she says. Her family lives in Arizona. "It's always been a dream [of mine] to retire when you still have good health and passions that you care about," she says.