Interview with Andrea O'Reilly: ARM's Mama Speaks Frankly About What's Ailing Her Baby
Andrea O'Reilly is one straight-talking mother. She'll tell you the truth, even if it's not necessarily in her own best interest to be quite so honest or forthcoming with the facts.
Her tell-it-like-it-is style has won the hearts of mothers around the world over the past dozen years, since what O'Reilly describes as the "unplanned birth" of the Association for Research on Mothering.
And it has earned her major kudos from the students who have taken her courses at York University over the past 30 years.
It hasn't served her quite as well in trying to secure funding for her baby: despite its international reputation and stellar academic achievements, the Association for Research on Mothering has been denied any institutional support from York, where it lives, even though O'Reilly insists that ARM would be able to break even – and avoid closing its doors – if the university were to contribute $20,000 in institutional support each year. (A typical centre receives $60,000 to $150,000 per year.)
To date, that request has gone unheard.
You would think that York would be proud to be associated with ARM; that it would be doing whatever it could to offer the combination of cash and institutional resources (postage, staffing support, whatever: O'Reilly isn't picky) to keep the association afloat. Unfortunately, round-peg ARM has never managed to fit in to the increasingly square-peg environment at York.
"ARM's birth was unplanned. It just happened. We didn't follow
standard procedures that would have taken eight years to get through Senate. And, after ARM was born, I
was shocked to discover that it wasn't enough to beg for forgiveness [for not
going through proper administrative channels ahead of time] if what you gave birth to
And thrived it has. "There isn't a single research centre at York that does everything we do," says O'Reilly. "We have members who pay for memberships, we hold three conferences each year, we publish a journal (Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering), and we have a book publishing program (Demeter Press)."
The only thing that ARM lacks is the research centre designation that would help to ensure its survival. (Only research centers are eligible to receive funding from the university). That would allow ARM to top up the SSHRC grants that it has been so successful in securing (O'Reilly has obtained 16 grants worth $500,000 on behalf of ARM over the years: a major achievement for a humanities-based association) with the base funding needed to balance its books.
ARM has had to contend with some additional challenges en route to funding nirvana.
The first – the fact that ARM is an organizational anomaly at York – has been a long-standing problem for the association. "We're bigger than a centre in that our scope extends far beyond the university," O'Reilly explains, noting that ARM has members (mothers and/or scholars) around the world. "Our success has become a liability for us because we're both different and bigger."
Finding funding for an association
that veers away from traditional ways of approaching the study of mothering has posed additional challenges.
"If we were doing traditional child-centered or health-centered research
into mothering, it wouldn't have been so difficult."
Add to that the convergence of two noteworthy and disturbing trends -- what O'Reilly describes as "the marginalization of liberal arts and women's studies, with studies of motherhood being the most marginalized area of all; and the corporatization of university culture" -- and you get some small sense of the frustration that O'Reilly has been facing.
"I'm not a scholar anymore. I'm an entrepreneur. I run around and hustle for cash."
So what does the future hold for ARM?
O'Reilly has no idea.
"We don't know how this thing is going to play out. We may stay at York. We may end up moving. We are open to any and all options."
What she does know is that things are looking up, thanks to ARM's supporters. "I have been
revitalized and rejuvenated by the Tsunami of support" (including a fundraising
effort to save ARM).
She admits to being shocked (and she's not someone who is easily shocked) by the number of emails that poured in during the first 24 hours after the letter announcing ARM's intention to close (.pdf) was sent out on Tuesday.
"Hell has no fury like pissed off mothers. The letters said, 'ARM's my baby and you can't do this to her!' The degree of passion in the letters has blown my mind. 'I got your email and I just wept.' 'I need your research because it saved my life.' There were 100 different stories."
Buoyed by her supporters, O'Reilly has a message for "the suits" at York:
"York should be ashamed that one of its most successful initiatives -- an association that models everything York stands for, including inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary studies and projects that bring together scholars and activities -- is closing because of a lack of funding."
Let's hope someone is listening.
Note: I still have not received a response to my request for an interview from officials at York University. Perhaps The Star 's Andrea Gordon will have more luck. She is following this story, too.
Reminder: You can support O'Reilly and ARM by taking these THREE simple actions – and by joining the brand new Friends of The Association for Research on Mothering Facebook group.