21st 2010
Leave? Or, the once-and-future state of maternity leave in academia

Posted under: Gender, jobs, unhappy endings, women's history

Today’s post is a guest post by Anonymous, an Assistant Professor in a Humanities department at a large, public university and (for now) the mother of one child.  Here, she tells us the story of her request for a maternity leave for the birth of her second child.  Now nearly 8 months pregnant, she still isn’t sure what her university plans to do for her, or what price she might pay for having asked for accommodation:

When I had my first child, I was working at a university with no paid family or maternity leave.  The university stipulated that we must use accrued sick leave as salary during that period, but it turned out I had only accrued enough for three paid weeks.  On the other hand, my chair dealt with my request for leave promptly and professionally, and there appeared to be no negative consequences in the department or university for being a woman and daring to have a child (untenured no less).  But it was a rather young department and many faculty members had young children, so there was an established more-or-less child-friendly culture there.

Now that I am about to have another child, I am at a different institution (though both of my employers were large public universities).  As in my previous experience, I went to my chair at the earliest possible moment to “request” leave.  I had been told that the university had paid maternity leave, but didn’t know how it worked.   The chair listened to my request and then said that he would mention it to the dean during their next meeting.  Shortly thereafter the chair came back to me and said: “There’s a problem!”  Two problems, actually.  The first “problem” was that my child is due in the late spring or early summer, so there was a question about whether or not I qualified for leave in the fall, since (apparently!) I “should” just be taking it in the summer.  The second problem was that I had planned to be away in the fall (to be with my partner, who lives and works in another state), but the “leave” provided by the college requires service work.  So rather than providing actual “leave” the college gives course-releases, which is actually rather different from paid leave.

I was flabbergasted by both concerns, and particularly that they would be raised in a way to make it sound like my request was dubious, or even unethical.  I immediately said that the college could not legally stipulate when I took maternity leave – while I understand that perhaps they might legally be able to refuse to give me the course releases, I could take twelve weeks of maternity leave under the FMLA (the Family Medical Leave Act) any time during the calendar year following a qualifying event – in my case, the birth of a child.  He instantly backtracked and claimed not to know the statutes of the FMLA.  In addition, I added that I’d never heard of a university denying leave to a woman based on the time of year her child was born.   And in fact, this “problem” quickly disappeared the second I unearthed a colleague whose child had been born in early May and who had been given the fall off several years earlier, no questions asked.  The second concern about service work surprised me because I was used to an institutional model wherein the chair of the department worked to facilitate faculty issues vis-à-vis administration requirements.   I didn’t know what to make of this meeting – I was felt with a feeling of vague foreboding, as if the college were trying to bully me out of my request.

Over the course of the next five (yes, that’s right – FIVE) months, I had a series of meetings with the chair, many of which merely reiterated the issue about service with no real resolution, even after I clearly stated that I would be happy to comply with any service requirement demanded by the department/ university and couldn’t we find something that I could do from abroad?  It’s not as though I was going to some exotic foreign location to live the high life and abandon my professional responsibilities; rather being out of town was a structural, emotional, and economic necessity for my family, since we live in two different places.  Apparently, I wasn’t going to get any sympathy from anybody on that front, which frankly left me feeling rather sour. 

During the course of these conversations, my chair also made sure to tell me not once but twice that he had been not eligible for family leave when his children were born, which left me with the impression that his position was that I was requesting a favor or some kind of special treatment from the department (as a woman), rather than a right, which is naturally how I view maternity leave.   (This view in some ways is encouraged by the structure of the leave itself – because the university has no set maternity leave policy other than compliance with the FMLA, the college instituted its own informal way of dealing with maternity leaves.)  So rather than a quick and pro forma batch of paperwork, my leave request became an ongoing series of unresolved conversations about the “problem” of my service requirement. 

In all honesty, I never understood what the problem was exactly.  There are many kinds of departmental service which take place over the course of an academic year.  But it’s also very common for a faculty member’s service to largely take place in one semester or the other, rather than to be ongoing.  (My previous service had completely wrapped up by January, for example, and nobody seemed concerned that I wasn’t sitting on another “spring” committee.)  It seemed simple enough to assign me to service work that got started later in the academic year.  (Problem solved!)  But it seemed like this wasn’t enough.  I couldn’t figure out why, until I had a long conversation with a (tenured) female colleague, who told me some hair-curling stories about the treatment of female faculty in my department, and how strongly some of the full professors come out against “special treatment” for women and faculty of color. 

Then it became clearer to me: the service requirement of maternity leave could actually be used as a punishment.  Because this leave is viewed by some as giving women some kind of advantage or privilege (who doesn’t want a semester off with pay!? What a lark!  Think of all the productive work she’ll get done!  Which will put her “ahead” of white male colleagues without that luxury!), the service requirement acts as a punishment.  Therefore it was less of a basic question of which committee to assign me to (an easy task) but rather how to make sure I was given a heavy enough service load to justify my time “off.”  And ironically, in this scenario, nothing makes those white men angrier than a female faculty member who does in fact wish to do some modest amount of research during this period.  Research cannot be exchanged for service!  Because research benefits her (and therefore “disadvantages” her peers), whereas we all know service work is just a black hole of time and energy.

I understand that in smaller departments service work can be onerous indeed, as people can have multiple committees they are required to sit on – therefore every time someone is on leave it can cause a upset in the balance of work to the detriment of those left behind.  But this is simply not the situation where I am.  I’ve heard several other stories of female faculty throughout the university being given especially heavy service loads during their maternity leaves.  As for me, theoretically I’m on leave for the fall term.   My chair says that he wrote the dean and considers it a done deal, but I don’t have the letter from the dean confirming this, nor do I know what will be expected of me in terms of service.  They’re already threatening that I will definitely have to “come back” at least once or twice to fulfill my service responsibilities.  (Hilarious – toting a small baby 350 miles to stay a couple of days just to attend a stupid meeting!)

This experience can be safely filed under the heading “How to Alienate/Get Rid of Your Female Faculty.”

Historiann here again:  thanks, Anonymous, for sharing your tale of woe with us.  This story has it all, doesn’t it?  The department chair and dean who act like they’ve never seen or heard of a request for maternity leave before, the defensive and hostile chair, the presumption that maternity leave is a “favor” someone might be granted or denied rather than a “fact of life” any competent administrator should plan to handle, the unseemly judgment of Anonymous’s plans for her leave, the fact that “leave” actually means “do service work” in the minds of colleagues and administrators.  (And when Anonymous resigns to move to another university because this one pi$$ed her off one too many times, the story this chair will tell about her departure will be one in which Anonymous was allllllwayyys asking for “special favors,” and besides, her husband lived out of town, she was never going to stay, so what did you want him to do about it, anyway?)  WTF, dude?  You called FIVE MONTHS’ worth of meetings and no decisions were ever made!  Rank incompetence.

I’ve heard similar stories, and I’m sure you have too, of institutions that dragged their feet and only grudgingly made accommodations, and Assistant Professors forced to make their own arrangements to get their classes covered.  Even departments that accomodate parents with a one-quarter maternity leave, no questions asked, I’ve heard were punitive when the new parent didn’t continue to publish one article a year while also making progress on a book manuscript in the year of her leave.

Lest we forget–and of course, our institutions count on us forgetting, all of the time, even those of us who are historians!–it was forty years ago (1970) that the Rose Report of the American Historical Association suggested maternity policies to accommodate the needs of more faculty women.  It was thirty years ago (1980) in which this call was reiterated in the Committee on Women Historians’ summary report, and it was five years ago (2005) in which the Lunbeck reportmade the same suggestion again.  I don’t have any illusions that Anonymous’s story is going to be the thing that rouses us from our institutional torpor, but throwing up my hands and saying “well, that’s just the way it goes!” is not my style, and I’m really glad it’s not Anonymous’s style, either.  It’s clear that after decades of inaction, universities would prefer that women return to being administrative staff and secretaries.  The idea that university faculty have uteri and that some might want to use them is clearly beyond the geniuses in the deans’, provosts’, and presidents’ offices in America’s great universities. 

Most faculty women will give birth or adopt only once or twice ever, let alone at one particular university, so we’re not talking a huge drain on the system.  In my department in the past decade exactly TWO women on the tenure-track have had ONE child each.  If their courses were covered by adjuncts at $4,000 per course, that’s a total of $16,000 to cover two one-semester maternity leaves.  Big deal!  If I include contingent faculty, that brings us to a total of four women and five children in 10 years.  Contingent faculty teach 4 courses a semester, so that brings the total bill for 5 pregnancies over ten years to $64,000.  Why don’t deans and department chairs keep small (very small!) pots of money to cover maternity leaves?  I can only assume it’s because they’re hoping most women vanish from the faculty, stop having children, or just stop asking.

What will happen, I wonder, when Anonymous’s department chair gets stricken by cancer, or felled by a heart attack or a stroke?  Will it take five months for the dean and his colleagues to work something out?  Will they require that he attend meetings and do “service” while on medical leave?  Will someone else remind him that she didn’t get course releases when her back went out, and someone else complain that he didn’t take any leave after blowing out his knee?  Will he be expected to use his time in the hospital or in rehab or a nursing home polishing his next tome?

I’d better stop, because I’m about to write only invective and profanity.  You all take it away!


77 Responses to “Leave? Or, the once-and-future state of maternity leave in academia”

  1. Lance on 21 Apr 2010 at 6:55 am #

    I hate stories like this – stories of incompetence that are totally tracked to the department chair, who, in this case, simply needs to create a service task that can be completed abroad. This should take 15 minutes of thinking!! Even something abstract like: a comparison of survey courses across history departments in the Big 10, or Pac 10, or something like that. Something useful, portable, etc. He sounds like a chair without courage or without imagination. Of course, he could also be concerned about losing teaching capacity, or maybe he doesn’t want to ask some big senior prof to close down his graduate class and teach World History I or something like that.

    Is there an Office of Women’s Affairs? Maybe it is time to shake a legal tree?

    In most universities, there *is* a pot of money to cover the cost of an adjunct or a lecturer. In our case, unbudgeted tuition revenue from surplus enrollment becomes “cash” that can be sloshed around to handle these things. All that is required is a tiny grain of imagination.

  2. John S. on 21 Apr 2010 at 7:40 am #

    My experience is slightly different, because my interactions with the university regarding accommodations, possible leave, and tenure clock stoppage centered around my health issues, not parental leave per se. But it seems relevant in that our University covers both in the same fell swoop: they have a blanket policy setting out leave policies when parents give birth (it specifically allows for paternal leave if dad is the primary caregiver during the first months), when an adoption happens, when you get sick, or when you need to take time off to care for an ill family member. It’s all spelled out and leaves fairly little latitude.

    Of course, I imagine that could be a hindrance in some cases, where you want/need more flexibility. But it also cuts down on the kind of hemming and hawing that this a$$ of a department chair was doing. You need some kind of modification of your duties because of a life change? We’ve got an app for that (as the Apple people would say). It probably helps that HR handles this, not our department chairs. Which is to say, the chair administers the policy, but such leaves are *not* at his/her discretion.

    I also think that having blanket policies covering “life change” events (though it’s not stated that way) is the fairest way to go. It’s a bit of an equalizer, recognizing that those of us of the male gender will never give birth (though some may become primary care givers); many won’t choose to have kids at all; some of us might have perfect (or nearly perfect health). But all of us will have *something*, so check your tendency to think the young asst prof mom down the hall is getting some “freebie” while on leave when you might have to move your father in with you as his health declines in his later years.

  3. Historiann on 21 Apr 2010 at 7:52 am #

    Good points, Lance and John. We all inhabit human bodies that by definition will fail, later if not sooner. There are many feminists who will dispute the lumping of childbirth in with illness/life change events (those who want to resist the medicalization or even pathologization of childbirth, for example), but I think it’s the fairest way to think about how one administers work performed by hearts and minds that happen to be lodged in human bodies and frequently embedded in care networks.

    When people get whingy about “fairness,” it always sounds to me like versions of the complaints about Mediaid or welfare: “Why does this person get a break when I have to work for my living?” But–no one ever offers to quit their jobs or go on welfare or Medicaid, do they? Similarly, I don’t think anyone would really want to take a maternity leave if they thought about what it would entail for even 5 minutes. (Medical/bodily trauma, full-time 24/7 care for a newborn, sleep deprivation, etc.)

  4. Historiann on 21 Apr 2010 at 7:56 am #

    oh, and p.s. to Lance’s point about the unimaginative chair: I think the dean is clearly to blame in this, too. The dean was the first person the chair said he’d consult. The fact that the chair was still floundering suggests that the dean was either clueless too, or uninterested in helping Anonymous out.

  5. NTBW on 21 Apr 2010 at 8:17 am #

    The institution where I worked when my first child was born had no maternity leave policy. So, I had to use my one semester pre-tenure research leave as my maternity leave. Of course, I was still expected to get all the research done. Which I did, at significant cost to my physical and mental health. I then proceeded to get another job ASAP.

    The institution where I work now only recently (within the last 2 years) instituted a parental leave policy. It is a semester off, with pay, for either parent who will serve as primary caregiver. Definitely a good start, but the problem is that there are big strings attached.

    First, the leave policy is always held hostage in collective bargaining between the union and the admin. So, I have a colleague right now who needs leave in the fall and who doesn’t know whether there will be leave to be had, since bargaining is ongoing. This has happened every year since the policy came into existence.

    Then, if there IS leave and you take it, here are the terms: you cannot separate from the institution for one year after the leave without paying it back in full. If you stay past that year, whenever you do depart from the institution, either to go elsewhere or to retire, you must pay back the leave out of your accumulated sick leave (which otherwise you would get to cash in for $$). So, one way or the other, you’re gonna pay back the leave. So it’s not exactly “paid leave” as you might normally interpret that term. It’s more like “leave with borrowed pay.”

  6. thefrogprincess on 21 Apr 2010 at 8:28 am #

    In terms of Anonymous’s male “colleagues” (a word I use generously), what are the chances that, if their university instituted a generous paternal leave policy, that the burdensome service requirements would vanish and magically more research would be done?

  7. Maternity leave in academia « Scholarly Bound on 21 Apr 2010 at 8:37 am #

    [...] politics, feminism, and history in general.  Today it has a guest post by Anonymous titled Leave? Or, the once-and-future state of maternity leave in academia.  Quoting from the blog: Today’s post is a guest post by Anonymous, an Assistant Professor in a [...]

  8. Matt L on 21 Apr 2010 at 8:54 am #

    Sue the pants off of ‘em. It sounds to me like the university is violating the basic spirit and letter of the FMLA. If an engineering or tech company said an employee could have three months family leave, but only if they telecommuted for ten hours a week, that wouldn’t be in compliance with the law. Its not ‘leave,’ in the meaningful sense. So how can a university require ‘service’ while someone is on leave?!

  9. Emily on 21 Apr 2010 at 9:10 am #

    This is a terrifying post, and reminds me to add to my list of questions to ask prospective employers “What are your parental leave policies like? What are they like for parents who don’t give birth?” (I have delegated the getting-pregnant part of the having kids schtick to my lovely wife, for which I owe her so, so much.) We had our first child while I was writing my dissertation, so it was relatively easy for me to take an unfunded semester off, but I’d like to be able to take some time off with #2.

    I’m particularly horrified that they want to refuse you the right to be with your partner while your child is an infant. Parenting an infant (and an older kid! oh god, I’m getting hives just thinking about it) is a huge, draining task, both physically (especially for folks recovering from pregnancy and/or nursing) and emotionally. You need your support system–your partner, your family, whatever friends you can con into helping, everyone you can enlist. Plus! I think your baby has a right to see hir father! I’m tempted to ask if either your chair or dean have children…but there are a lot of men who apparently find ways to not-notice how difficult the early infant stage is for their partners. (As a non-birth parent, I do not get this. It’s not like it’s subtle.)

    Kudos to you, Anonymous, for sticking with it, sticking to your guns, and insisting on your rights. (Frankly, I agree with Matt L–it might be time to talk, informally, with a lawyer.)

  10. Janice on 21 Apr 2010 at 9:21 am #

    Oh, wow! First off, I’m again appreciative that I live in Canada. It was 3 months parental leave at full pay when I had my girls (although the timing of eldest’s birth meant that I essentially just took the non-teaching term of summer “off” in the least intrusive way). Now it’s 6 months leave at full pay or twelve months partial.

    As we’re a unionized faculty, we also have provisions clearly detailed in the contract about how this is achieved and organized. Not only is the structure clear, but I never ran into a colleague who begrudged me any of the leave time.

    But in the absence of knowing your legal rights and having a clear institutional policy, who wouldn’t be worried? Given the sad reality that sometimes colleagues aren’t collegial and academic administrators will attempt policies that are penny-wise and pound-foolish, it’s clear that some people are effectively being denied parental leave or punished for their temerity to use it.

    When institutions attempt to run these programs without clearly written policies, the ones who suffer the most are the faculty and staff attempting to schedule their leaves. A few years back, Joan C. Williams wrote a great piece for the Chronicle about her own horrific experience securing a parental leave and how many university and college leave polices violated federal law. I wonder how many have come into compliance in the interim? Not as many as should have, I expect!

  11. Flavia on 21 Apr 2010 at 9:46 am #

    This post got me outraged much too early in the day (I prefer to wait until at least late afternoon!).

    But as someone whose institution also does not have a maternity leave policy, I appreciate the story. Forewarned is forearmed, and all that.

  12. Historiann on 21 Apr 2010 at 9:49 am #

    Janice, I was thinking of you the whole time I was writing this post, because I know you live in Canada where all mothers are guaranteed 3 months’ paid leave. It’s a right of citizenship insured by the government–and that appears to be the only way to do this, since we can count on corporations and other institutions dragging their feet even on complying with FMLA, which only guarantees 3 months of UNPAID leave. I’m so glad you commented, and thanks for the link to the Chronicle piece.

    As for Matt’s advice: Anonymous can’t sue, because she was asking for paid leave, not unpaid leave, and FMLA only guarantees that your job will be there in 3 months, not that you’ll be paid while on leave. So, universities that offer any kind of paid leave can attach any irritating, intrusive, or punitive strings they want to (as NTBW’s institution illustrates.)

    IMHO, this is another reason why the national approach is the best. But: who are we kidding, those of us who live in the U.S.A.? We can’t even implement a workable national heath system–and I’m sure there’s even less political will for the government to pay women for their leaves of absence from work.

  13. wini on 21 Apr 2010 at 10:07 am #

    Every step of this story is so horrible. I am often tempted to write thank you notes to my dean, director, and chair whenever I hear about things like this. My large state school is not perfect, but they have hammered out a rational maternity leave policy that seems to be pretty consistent across colleges. (I interviewed here 7 months pregnant, and they offered me leave for the first Fall–which I didn’t take. I am also able to count that first year as an extra tenure year whenever I want to. In other words, if at any time I decide I want an extra year on the clock, I need to fill out a form and say I was the primary caregiver for a preschool child for the year and it is automatically approved.)

    This whole fairness rhetoric makes me stabby. I mean, really, why are we having “life isn’t fair” conversations among adults. I’ve had this conversation with single, female colleagues here about our family leave policy. It’s deliberately open: elder care, spouse care, paternity leave, maternity leave, adoption, etc. Still, somehow, it’s not fair because it is mostly women that use it for maternity leave. I’m sure my colleague watching his wife die of ALS thinks a lot about fairness of family leave. Stabby, stabby, stabby.

  14. Historiann on 21 Apr 2010 at 10:13 am #

    I’m with you on the stabby, wini.

    I once had a colleague who used to make the point that giving faculty women the whole semester off after a birth or adoption wouldn’t be fair to staff women, who were guaranteed just 6-8 weeks of paid leave time. This objection never made sense to me (although of course I would have supported an extension of staff women’s benefits to 12 weeks of leave!) So–faculty and staff are different in all kinds of ways, with the faculty benefiting from all kinds of privileges that staff don’t benefit from, but we’re going to insist on exact equality of staff and faculty just on the question of family leave? Whaaaa?

    That’s the kind of thinking that’s only possible in environments in which faculty women are viewed as zebras and not horses, right? (That is, always the exception, never the rule we have to plan for.) Apportioning maternity leave benefits on the basis of staff women’s schedules only makes sense if you think that women should remain an exception rather than the rule on the faculty. And that’s my deep, deep suspicion about academia right now–it would be very happy for most women to drop out, die off, and retreat to secretarial status.

  15. LadyProf on 21 Apr 2010 at 10:31 am #

    A friend of mine just took a new job, moving from one law school to another with tenure. He is pursuing a Ph.D. (on top of his J.D., the normal terminal degree for law professors) and needs to stay resident in city #1 to finish his coursework. What to do?

    I know! The second school is giving him a year of paid leave to stay put and finish, working on his courses. No teaching and no administrative work. See how easy that was? Argh.

  16. Notorious Ph.D. on 21 Apr 2010 at 10:49 am #

    To paraphrase the great Twisty Faster: I think my obsteperal lobe just melted.

    Gah. How *dare* she have girl parts.

  17. Comrade PhysioProf on 21 Apr 2010 at 11:25 am #

    The dean was the first person the chair said he’d consult. The fact that the chair was still floundering suggests that the dean was either clueless too, or uninterested in helping Anonymous out.

    The fact that the chair was still “floundering” suggests nothing whatsoever about the dean. Chairs blame deans–either directly or, as could be the case here, obliquely–all the fucking time for shit that they don’t want to take responsibility for. We have no way to know what, if anything, the chair actually said to the dean about this.

  18. Historiann on 21 Apr 2010 at 11:42 am #

    I suppose you could be right, CPP–maybe that was unfair of me. But, in my experience, good deans follow up on conversations like that (if in fact there was a conversation with a dean). A good dean will ask a chair who’s discussed an issue with hir, “what did you work out for Anonymous? Is she satisfied with what you’ve decided?” A dean who doesn’t really care about an issue will let it drop.

    This may be only in their mercenary self-interest. Faculty who are dissatisfied with a chair’s intervention on an issue will make their next stop the dean’s office!

  19. Comrade PhysioProf on 21 Apr 2010 at 11:51 am #

    All I’m saying is that I am *always* skeptical about academic hearsay. When you hear from an academic “I told so-and-so X, Y, and X, and she said that Q, R, S, T”, your bullshit meter should be redlining. This goes quadruple when someone tells you about a conversation they had with a dean.

  20. RKMK on 21 Apr 2010 at 12:06 pm #

    Janice, I was thinking of you the whole time I was writing this post, because I know you live in Canada where all mothers are guaranteed 3 months’ paid leave. It’s a right of citizenship insured by the government–and that appears to be the only way to do this, since we can count on corporations and other institutions dragging their feet even on complying with FMLA, which only guarantees 3 months of UNPAID leave.

    More Canadian perspective. I work (administratively) at one of the largest public universities in Canada, and people (both staff and faculty) have been dropping babies left, right, and centre. My two (female) co-workers who had babies received one year paid mat-leave (I believe at a reduced pay-rate? I found it gauche to ask, but I believe .75 or .8 of their regular salary? I’m sure I could find something in our union guidelines to confirm practice.)

    Beyond that, the associate chair of my department recently became a father – his daughter’s about 7 months old, now – and he’s opted to combine his upcoming sabbatical with his parental leave, for a total of 18 months relieved from duties. His daughter will be about 9 months old when he does this. It’s my understanding that the female faculty who’ve given birth were given one year mat leave as well, at full salary. These were all tenured profs, of course, but I’ve worked in three departments, and my impression has been that parental leave is fully supported by the university at large.

    And so I read stories like this with the same wide-eyed horror as I do anything regarding American medical care/insurance companies. Another universe entirely.

  21. truffula on 21 Apr 2010 at 12:12 pm #

    I don’t understand the attribution to “cluelessness” or “incompetence” what good old fashioned sexism would more easily explain.

    The implication of a statement like He sounds like a chair without courage or without imagination is that the chair would be happy to accommodate the maternity leave request, if only he could figure out how to do it. Perhaps that’s true, but nothing else reported in anonymous’ letter supports it.

  22. anonymous on 21 Apr 2010 at 1:01 pm #

    OP here. . . I’ve really appreciated the lively conversation here today – and of course all the empathy and support!

    Wini’s comments bring to mind as aspect of this experience that I’ve been thinking a lot about. Going back to some of the first comments about the creation of a flat policy that encompasses all sorts of care giving/illness/ life-altering events – I’m completely on board with this idea, and agree that maternity leave should *not* be a special category separated from other types of (paid) leaves that others might be eligible for. On the other hand, I suspect this is not sufficient for ending the kinds of underhanded prejudice and bias of maternity leave that I and other women have faced – which in some ways is confirmed by wini’s account. There is something specific about caring for a small child that is not considered “valid” as a reason for leave. I can see that more male participation in family leave could help neutralize such biases – but I have to admit that it makes me a little stabby to imagine that once we have the menz magically on board, that’s what’ll validate the enterprise of caring for children!

    (I should say, however, that I am a strong proponent of “paternity” leave and see it as one of the few places that men are routinely hassled at the work place as well as discriminated against, since many fathers are told they aren’t eligible for such leave. Sometimes they are if they meet certain criteria – ie are the primary caregivers, which is seldom defined. My partner will probably have to take FMLA leave the term following my leave, because his uni does not have a formal leave policy either, which allows them to refuse to recognize paternal requests for [paid] leave, which is sometimes granted to female faculty.)

  23. anonymous on 21 Apr 2010 at 1:02 pm #

    PS I have a Canadian SIL who is get 14 months paid maternity leave this year (the 12 months at partial rate offered by the gov’t combined with a “bumping up” to 100% by her employer as a voluntary benefit, plus accrued sick and holiday leave). I have thought about emigrating many times!

  24. ej on 21 Apr 2010 at 1:20 pm #

    I would agree with the comments here, and suggest that the problem needs to be discussed more broadly. The lack of policies in universities is frustrating, but a number of my friends work at places that have policies, but they are much more restrictive. A middle-school teacher got her 6 weeks of paid leave, end of story. Another cuts hair, and as soon as her 6 weeks is up, has to return to work or she’ll lose her insurance. She can’t get on her husband’s because her gestational diabetes is considered a pre-existing condition. It seems to me that we spend so much time telling mothers what to do and judging the choices they make, and not nearly enough time figuring out how to support them.

  25. anonymous on 21 Apr 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    @ ej – Yes, exactly. Maternity leave (like health insurance) is not a problem for academic women only. I agree with Historiann’s earlier comment that all these things (along with a basic pension) should be administered by government and all people should have fair and equal access to them, regardless of employment status. I cannot imagine how awful it would be to return to work 6 weeks after giving birth, and I know many women are forced into just this position.

  26. Matt L on 21 Apr 2010 at 2:17 pm #

    After sticking my foot in my mouth, I went and looked at the Department of Labor web page. FMLA provides 12 weeks, unpaid leave, with health benefits maintained. It protects your job for 12 weeks, if you work for a school, public agency or a company with 50 or more employees.

    Anything above and beyond depends on the goodness of the employer’s heart. Thats it. Barbarous.

    I know people who go on and on about how ‘progressive’ academia is. But really, its no different than any place else. There are some restraints against sexism and racism in public universities, because of the civil service laws, but all bets are off in private schools.

  27. Historiann on 21 Apr 2010 at 2:23 pm #

    Matt–you didn’t stick your foot in your mouth at all. Thanks for looking up the FMLA guidelines–that “50 or more employees” probably knocks out a huge swath of American workers, since I think that more of us work in places with 49 or fewer employees.

    I always just have to laugh whenever I see the latest railery about the “liberal” nature of higher ed. in the U.S. If this be liberalism, who needs conservatives?

  28. HistoryMaven on 21 Apr 2010 at 2:38 pm #

    Some years ago, my father suffered a massive stroke and needed round-the-clock care. I immediately asked for a leave per FMLA and though my chair was willing to find quickly a replacement for me for the rest of the semester, the folks in Benefits couldn’t figure out how to return my calls, emails, etc., having not had to employ FLMA before my request. Other roadblocks appeared. It became a comedy of errors and I ended up spending 6-10 hours per day next to my father’s bed, supervising his care in an extended-care facility, all the while teaching my courses, advise students, undertake service work, and the like. And I was criticized by some “colleagues” for not keeping up my professional responsibilities. I found that it was all about departmental and college culture. And now I’m working elsewhere.

  29. Comrade PhysioProf on 21 Apr 2010 at 2:44 pm #

    Fuck? Just testing.

  30. Comrade PhysioProf on 21 Apr 2010 at 2:46 pm #

    I pass!

    (Sorry, H’ann. I can’t help myself.)

  31. Indyanna on 21 Apr 2010 at 3:03 pm #

    This situation hasn’t intruded too much on me, so far, except to say that my colleagues stepped in heroically when my aging father’s situation went progressively haywire for several months almost a decade ago, which kept me on the highway more than in the classroom. But does the AHA (or any other academic disciplinary associations) have any sort of position on all this? Probably a very proper one, but not a very militant one, I would guess. Sort of along the lines of: don’t interview people in bedrooms, but if you do interview people in bedrooms, put only coats on the beds, etc.

  32. truffula on 21 Apr 2010 at 3:13 pm #

    anonymous: but I have to admit that it makes me a little stabby to imagine that once we have the menz magically on board, that’s what’ll validate the enterprise of caring for children


  33. Canuck Down South on 21 Apr 2010 at 3:23 pm #

    Wow–thanks for posting this story, Historiann (I’m a frequent lurker). As a Canadian student attending graduate school south of the 49th, this story makes me more determined than ever to try to return to Canada when I graduate, despite the many benefits to being in the USA (specifically, the sickliness and small size of the Canadian academic job market makes the American one look healthy and full of oppurtunities). That seems to be the big trade-off: there are fewer jobs, fewer grants and other academic supports, but one benefits from maternity leave, etc. Are unionized faculties particularly rare in the USA, outside of a few large public universities? Or does it simply make little difference–and, as has already been said on this thread, not much will change until the government is willing to step in?

  34. RKMK on 21 Apr 2010 at 6:16 pm #

    Light’n’lazy research (i.e. Wikipedia) has this to add:

    In 2000, parental leave was greatly expanded in Canada from 10 weeks to 35 weeks divided as desired between two parents. This is in addition to 15 weeks maternity leave. In most situations, a combination of maternity and parental benefits can be received up to a combined maximum of 50 weeks. In Canada maternity and parental leave is paid for by the Employment Insurance system.

    And a linky-loo to actual law-type things.

  35. Susan on 21 Apr 2010 at 6:20 pm #

    I thought I could no longer be shocked. It turns out I was wrong.
    That’s all.
    (Having said that, I didn’t take a family leave when her husband was dying. Partly it wasn’t clear how quickly it would happen, and I didn’t think of a leave, but like others who have posted here, I just led a double life — on campus when I had to be, otherwise with my husband. I stayed at home the last week — I was team teaching, and my colleague covered class — and the week after he died.)

  36. Z on 21 Apr 2010 at 7:50 pm #

    I’ve been living in a misogynistic state for 20 years and I don’t know how I learned this but I somehow KNEW that this sort of thing is not what you ask a chair or a dean about. You go to HRM and find out exactly what the policies are and how they work, get black letter on FMLA, etc. You also find some old timer feminists — in a large state university they can be found — and find out what has been done re maternity leave for other people in the last five to ten years. Armed with this information you then talk to your chair and dean about how the department will comply with, ahem, the law.

    When I was stalked by a faculty member in another department (housed in my building) the city police explained that for my protective paperwork to look right I _must_ ask the university (following OSHA) to make arrangements to keep me safe at work. The dean wouldn’t. Didn’t realize it was serious, didn’t understand that I wasn’t just talking or just complaining. It took me months to demonstrate to them that by our own very sexual harassment policies, as well as OSHA, they were complicit with the stalker and could be legally liable.

    The point: these guys really don’t get it, and chairs and deans aren’t necessarily schooled in state policy, the law, etc. They often get away with just doing whatever their prejudices tell them and saying it is policy, it is “fair,” and so on.

    I’ve worked in two universities in this state, one with a full on HRM unit and one not. I’ve learned that even when there isn’t one such, there are administrators and staff who do those tasks and have that training. They may have other titles and be known primarily by those titles, but somewhere there is someone whose job it is to administer those things and they know how to do it right. The problem can be not knowing who they are, and the chair/dean not knowing either (and as I say, not accepting that these things are matters of law not just of their personal feeling).

    Where to find out lore: old timers in AAUP, old timers in academic senate, old timers in the business, law, engineering, agricultural and medical schools, people in the sciences who do research on living subjects, i.e. people who really understand that there is a legal side to all of this. If there’s a women’s studies department, the people who worked to create it back in the day. Also, people who have sat on the university grievance committee tend to know who are the official experts on these HR type issues.

    It’s a jungle out there, I know, and I hope the person in question gets a reasonable deal in the end.

  37. Historiann on 22 Apr 2010 at 7:54 am #

    Z: I think you’re right that checking with Human Resources might be helpful in terms of understanding what the employee can expect. But, HR offices exist to serve the will of the institution, not the needs of employees, so it’s good to keep that in mind. I agree completely with your advice to TALK to others who have been around and may have seen these issues before. Anonymous did that–which is when she discovered that there was significant resistance among her senior colleagues to recognizing maternity leave as a right.

    I finally had the chance to click on the article Janice linked to yesterday. It’s full of practical information and advice. So, here’s something for those of you who are dealing with this issue personally, or who have colleagues who may one day be or currently are pregnant:

    One in three academic institutions have parental-leave policies that violate federal antidiscrimination law, according to a recent study by Saranna R. Thornton, a professor of economics at Hampden-Sydney College, in Virginia. Either the policies treat pregnant women worse than others, typically by imposing conditions not imposed on other temporarily disabled workers, or else they treat pregnant women better, typically by giving mothers, but not fathers, time off after the arrival of a child. Both approaches violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which requires employers to treat pregnant women “the same” as everyone else.

    For 20 years colleges have been trying to design a policy that avoids both of those pitfalls. Now there is one, and it’s in place at Harvard Law School. Most of the kinks have been ironed out, and the integrated policy for childbirth, child rearing, and other family care giving deserves to be adopted widely.

    Childbirth leave exists at most institutions, but it is often offered with conditions that are not attached to other types of temporary disability. Employers cannot legally place arbitrary six- or eight-week limits, require stricter notification periods, or offer less pay and less teaching relief for pregnancy than for other temporarily disabling conditions.

    In short, the key to designing a good childbirth-leave plan is to treat pregnancy the same as any other temporary disability, both in terms of written policy and in terms of practice.

    Amen. Here endeth the lesson. (I still have no confidence that we won’t be here 40 years hence, reading and telling some of the same stories, however.)

  38. Emma on 22 Apr 2010 at 8:27 am #

    it wasn’t clear how quickly it would happen

    Not to preach or beat a dead horse or whatever, but FMLA is structured so that one can ask for leave on very short or no notice. Basically, just call up your responsible HR person and say: “I have X condition/situtation that means I have to start leave right now. I would like it to be FMLA.” There’s no requirement for weeks, days, even hours, of notice.

    If you have any concerns or issues around these leave questions, I can’t stress enough: call a lawyer. It simply is the very best way to safeguard yourself.

  39. FMLA law Family Medical Leave Act update, Latest cases on FMLA Law : FMLA Law News Update April 22, 2010 on 22 Apr 2010 at 8:29 am #

    [...] Leave? Or, the once-and-future state of maternity leave in … By Historiann (This view in some ways is encouraged by the structure of the leave itself – because the university has no set maternity leave policy other than compliance with the FMLA, the college instituted its own informal way of dealing with … Historiann – http://www.historiann.com/ [...]

  40. Historiann on 22 Apr 2010 at 8:29 am #

    Thanks for your thoughts, Emma–I was hoping you’d show up in this thread.

  41. Emma on 22 Apr 2010 at 8:51 am #

    FMLA provides 12 weeks, unpaid leave, with health benefits maintained. It protects your job for 12 weeks, if you work for a school, public agency or a company with 50 or more employees.

    Fifty or more employees w/in a 75 mile radius, counting all F/T, P/T, and employees on leave, and the employer only needs 50 employees for 20 weeks out of the year, and the weeks don’t need to be consecutive. Seasonal workers? Count ‘em. Temp workers? Count ‘em.

    Leased and temp workers who work for joint employers, i.e. the leasing agency (Kelly Svcs, e.g.) and the hiring employer (tiny law firm, e.g.), are counted for both employers for the 50 employee threshhold. There are also rules for integrated employers and successor employers.

    Governmental and local educational agencies, i.e. public and private elementary and secondary schools and public school boards, are covered regardless of the 50 employee threshhold.

    Anonymous can’t sue, because she was asking for paid leave, not unpaid leave, and FMLA only guarantees that your job will be there in 3 months, not that you’ll be paid while on leave. So, universities that offer any kind of paid leave can attach any irritating, intrusive, or punitive strings they want to (as NTBW’s institution illustrates.)

    It depends: if she took unpaid FMLA leave, would she also have to meet these special requirements? Would her performance evals drop b/c she didn’t meet the special requirements? Is she being warned that ANY leave she took would adversely affect her career unless she did X, Y, and Z? Is she being subject to more onerous conditions than her male counterparts who took leave? FMLA is not the only applicable law here.

    Also, specific State laws might apply.

    Seriously, if you have a question, call a lawyer. It’s too complex, too many regulations, to figure out. You can usually get a quick analysis (“do I possibly have a case or am I screwed?”) for free. It’s complicated and, IME, most employees CANNOT protect themselves.

    I hope this doesn’t run afoul of the site rules, but if you have an issue, go to NELA.org (for attorneys in your area), workplacefairness.org, employeerightsadvocacy.org, or any other employee rights organization. The DOL website isn’t going to cover it.

    Disclosure: I am a member of NELA, I think it’s a great organization, and it and its members do a lot of fabulous work for employees.

  42. Emma on 22 Apr 2010 at 9:00 am #

    Thanks for your thoughts, Emma–I was hoping you’d show up in this thread.

    Thanks! I’m pretty passionate about employee rights. The situation described in this post is sort of unclear and complex, so I don’t have any concrete thoughts on that. Just that the employee knowing about FMLA seemed to have helped. :)

  43. Historiann on 22 Apr 2010 at 9:24 am #

    This is great, Emma–thanks for the further clarification. Apparently, FMLA should apply to more workplaces than I had guessed. It’s really useful to know that governmental and local agencies (inc. schools) are all covered too, regardless of the number of employees.

  44. Moo No More on 22 Apr 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    I’d like to chime in with another reminder about the plight of us ‘teaching administrators’–neither faculty nor staff, and we are often given changeable access to benefits depending on which is least helpful in the judgment of the administrator in charge of deciding.
    In my (needless to say) former institution (think large, prosperous Ivy League), where I was an assistant dean with regular teaching responsibilities, I was counted as staff and allowed twelve weeks paid maternity leave when I gave birth to my second child in May 2001 (yes, just after the end of classes). The catch was, I had to pitch in all of my accumulated vacation and sick time first–the university only paid the difference between my accumulation and the twelve weeks, which wasn’t much because I seldom took time off for any reason.
    When I requested the fall semester off as unpaid leave from my administrative duties, and lined up an evening course to teach as an adjunct (to help pay the bills, since my husband made much less than I did, and to make sure that we had care for the baby while I was in class), my dean invoked a policy that forbade faculty from teaching while they were on leave to deny me that course. We lived to a significant extent on credit cards and I spent much of my unpaid leave job-hunting. I was also asked twice to return and work unpaid for daylong events for which I normally had reponsibility–once I did, once I said I would if I were paid and then they found someone else to handle it.
    When I returned, after much negotiation about what job I would have when I returned (did I forget to mention that the university policy called for ‘firing’ staff about to take unpaid leave and ‘rehiring’ them when they returned?), my dean castigated me for disloyalty to the institution, to the students, and to my colleagues in the office.
    Guess how much notice they got when I found another position at my husband’s institution?

  45. Janice on 22 Apr 2010 at 1:43 pm #

    Glad that my link could help. Knowing your rights and, more importantly, knowing who can help you secure them, inside and outside of the university? That’s a rare situation. We’re academics and, for the most part, come into our employment unequipped to fight these types of battles.

    Every institution is different so nobody here can give anyone the “one sure fix” and the stonewallers are potentially everywhere, so if you’re not getting firm answers in short order, Emma’s advice is vital. Speaking to some savvy old-timers or sounding out folks who’ve recently gone on mat/parental leave is also a good way to get other perspectives (because the chair and dean sound surprisingly uncooperative).

    Good luck, anonymous!

  46. Historiann on 22 Apr 2010 at 1:57 pm #

    Janice wrote, “the stonewallers are potentially everywhere.

    Sure enough. Great other advice. I’m so sorry, Moo No More, to hear your story. I hadn’t considered the extra-irritating aspect of having a 12-month rather than a 9-month contract.

    And, welcome readers visiting here from the Chronicle’s On Hiring blog.

  47. Z on 22 Apr 2010 at 4:09 pm #

    Historiann, HR offices exist to serve the will of the *institution* not some random chair or dean. Uninformed or opinionated lower level administrators will make errors that can and do result in successful lawsuits. That is why staff whose job it is to match institutional policies to state and federal law, and to keep up with these matters, are more reliable than many department chairs.

    I know Anonymous *finally* found out she wasn’t the first person to have this problem. My point was, always get advice BEFORE going to talk to a male chair or dean about things like maternity leave. That’s not a criticism of Anonymous, it’s a statement about reality. I learned it from my grandmother.

  48. clarissa on 23 Apr 2010 at 7:45 am #

    Like others commenting here I was outraged when I read this post — but then I started to think and realized that I didn’t know what the guest poster actually wanted and was asking for.

    So here goes my cautious dissent — knowing that I will be villified by others. First — why doesn’t the blogger know what her university’s actual policy is? I doubt that a large public university (even in a reactionary state) doesn’t have a stated policy on maternity and paternal leave.

    Whether I believe or not (and I do believe in it) that a university ought to offer paid parental leave to new parents (as distinguished from paid maternity leave for the actual birth of the child, which I believe is required by law) is not relevent. It’s important to know what your university actually offers and feels obligated to offer. I am in a unionized system where parents are entitled to take 6 weeks of paid parental leave (BTW — it would be easier if they just got the semester since finding substitutes for 6 weeks is a lot harder) but that’s something my union bargained for not something the university gave us out of the goodness of their heart. Public universities are under great scrutiny these days and lots of assigned time is being revoked. While the university might once have automatically granted a semester’s paid leave to new parents and sucked up the cost, they might not be in a position to do so anymore.

    The guest blogger is unclear whether or not she is requesting paid parental leave (indeed she states that she had “planned” on getting leave to be with her child and partner) or not. My guess is that she is not contemplating an unpaid leave since the requirement that she do some “service” (which, btw, is not stupid or make-work — it’s what continues to give faculty whatever leverage they still have in universities) would make no sense. So what I see here is someone who assumes that her institution will give her paid leave for fall semester without really knowing anything about the policies of the institution where she works and who has failed to sort what they are (if she had, she wouldn’t be citing FMLA the way she does). If they have a paid parental leave policy that her university refuses to implement for her, then she is in lawsuit territory. If they don’t have a paid leave policy but are willing to reassign all her teaching in exchange for service in order to ensure that she gets to reduce her workload and keep a paycheck then their requirement that she be resident for some of this service is not unreasonable. I know lots of you will disagree, but the university is not responsible for the fact that this woman and her partner have chosen to live in different places. Her petulance at demanding that the university give her service that she can do far away from the institution is just that, petulance.

    The fact that her chair and dean are depicted as so clueless, malicious and out of touch adds just the right element of melodrama and, honestly, strains my credulity. There is something about this narrative that just doesn’t add up.

  49. Historiann on 23 Apr 2010 at 8:12 am #

    Clarissa, I don’t think you’ll be “villified” here, but it’s not just Anonymous who’s had problems like this when asking for maternity leaves. (Please see many of the comments upthread for example–other commenters report similar experiences with negotiating the maze of leave policies in their unis.) Anonymous’s experience tracks with what I’ve seen and heard, which is that most people figure out what the university offers when they get pregnant, but that there are also overlapping systems devised by departments and colleges within universities that sometimes have worked to the advantage of the employees in question, and sometimes not.

    Please see the link to the story in the Chronicle of Higher ed above that explains that most university maternity leave policies are in fact not in compliance with federal law, if indeed they have them at all. Putting the onus of this entirely on Anonymous and on other women faculty–who frequently are newish Assistant Professors and who reasonably look to their department chairs and deans for guidance–is wrong, IMHO.

    I’m sorry that you see “petulance” and “melodrama” here on the part of Anonymous. It seems to me that those values can more properly be ascribed to her department chair. After all, he and the dean have all the power–Anonymous, as an Assistant Professor, has very little. Given that we all have bodies that will decay, break down, become diseased, and/or fail us at some point in our lives–whether or not we have female bodies, and whether or not we ever choose to become pregnant–it seems like compassion and good will is what’s called for here.

  50. clarissa on 23 Apr 2010 at 9:15 am #

    I think that excusing an Assistant Professor who is supposedly a professional for not, sometime in the eight months that she has been pregnant (although maybe not before), learning what the policies at her institution are for maternity and parental leaves just infantalizes her and,by extension, all women. She is likely in her 30s (or older), is a professional, knows enough about being a professional to change jobs, and has been pregnant before etc — she probably knows how to read a benefits manual. She probably knows how to telephone a lawyer and/or her union if she has one. She’s independent enough to live apart from her partner as a “single” parent with a young child (or she’s strong enough to let her child live with her partner). Instead she uses the tropes of melodrama (poor young pregnant assistant professor being done wrong by villainous, likely mustachioed, administrators and rather than acting, writes an anonymous blog post hoping that the sisterhood will save her). I have no doubt that even at public universities that different units and depts have put other workarounds into place that define the university policies in slightly different ways and that it’s confusing to work through all this, but c’mon — the story that is self-presented here is one of helplessness without any indication rather than complaining about having to do any resident service that she has taken any action besides talking to two administrators, who seem like caricatures, that would help her solve her dilemma. She’s about to give birth in a month and she has let the situation come to this?! I fully believe there are jerks in the world and her chair/dean may well be jerks but there is something fishy about this story and lots of things that don’t add up.

  51. Historiann on 23 Apr 2010 at 10:33 am #

    Well, you’re entitled to your opinion, clarissa. But, it’s based on some misreadings of Anonymous’s story above. She says that she contacted the chair “at the earliest possible moment” in her pregnancy to notify him and ask what kind of accomodation she would get. And, did you catch the part about “five months of meetings?” She didn’t “let it get to this”–her chair and dean did. I don’t know why you think she has more power and authority than they do.

    If you cared to read the thread above and look around, you’d find that Anonymous’s experiences are far from unusual. I hope that if you ever find yourself in need of medical or family leave that you don’t experience the hassles that seem to beset so many people–people who don’t see (or portray) themselves as victims at all, but who are aghast at institutional hostility and/or ineptitude.

    And, please check your contempt for feminism and for blogs if you want to comment here.

  52. Emma on 23 Apr 2010 at 11:25 am #

    I doubt that a large public university (even in a reactionary state) doesn’t have a stated policy on maternity and paternal leave.

    You would be surprised.

  53. katydid13 on 23 Apr 2010 at 1:15 pm #

    Since federal employees don’t get any paid parental leave, I don’t see them being a trailblazer.

    In fact at a hearing on the subject on Member of Congress complained that federal employees would adopt or take in a new foster child every year just to get the leave. I suspect said Member of Congress has never been alone with a child for any amount of time or he would understand what a dumb comment it was.

  54. wini on 23 Apr 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    Clarissa. I can be specific, although I am not Anonymous. I have never gone to school at or worked at a school with a faculty union. None of my friends work at a school with a union.

    I work at a very large R1. Because I was pregnant when I interviewed and pumping during faculty orientation, I know a lot about our leave policies. This is because other female faculty members involved in drafting the policies told me about them. The *only* reason this stuff came up was because I asked for pumping facilities, and then the coordinator introduced me to the relevant people when I randomly saw her later at a meeting.

    I am also the only faculty member I know that went to the general HR meeting, where I learned a lot of valuable information not mentioned in the faculty orientation. I only went because I hadn’t already been told not to go, after two different HR staff members told me I shouldn’t have gone because faculty orientation covered “everything I needed.”

    They are not on our web site. A search of the HR site for “maternity” brings up a document on sick leave saying I may use sick days while recovering from pregnancy (why not birth?). The catch: faculty don’t get sick days or vacation days at my university. None, zilch, nada. We have almost 10xs as many staff positions on campus as we have tenure-stream faculty, so almost all of the pages on the HR site don’t apply to me. There are no pages for “family leave” or “paternity.”

    But, I know that in the faculty handbook these policies are spelled out. I know this because I was told this. The faculty handbook? Not searchable. In fact, it’s a weird series of links (instead of a PDF), so you have to click around a lot to find anything. It’s also 1/2 written by the state legislature and 1/2 written by university lawyers. I can understand what the policies say, but it’s tricky.

    Already, in two different situations, I’ve been the one to inform my school’s director about stated school policies for faculty with children. (Shout out to my director, who handled everything quickly and professionally.)

    I would have made different choices than the original poster, but that doesn’t mean that she isn’t entitled to fair leave and good information. My school keeps things off the HR web site, I’m sure this happens everywhere.
    Just because she is asking for a non-standard leave does not mean she is not entitled to it. Leave without pay seems to be “good enough” for her.

  55. clarissa on 23 Apr 2010 at 5:15 pm #

    Just so you know, I HAVE fought these battles, taken risks and pissed people off to sort through my own life circumstances and to do what is best for my family. And I don’t have contempt for feminism — I am a feminist. I didn’t question your feminism — I simply didn’t agree with you, so the response is that I am attacked. I find it unbelievable that if the only people this woman has been dealing with for 5 mos are a useless chair and an incompetent dean that she has not taken her case to other venues. A provost? a lawyer?

    As I said at the outset, I fully support faculty getting paid parental leave for the entire semester — but that does cost the institution. Where I work, $64,000 is a lot of sections and not the spare change this blog makes it out to be. I still support it even though as a chair I had a male faculty member insist on his 6 weeks of paid parental leave which he bragged to everyone he would use to finish his book. He did. He’s now divorced — which seems like at least his former wife had his number.

    What I read here was someone who says she is willing (supposedly) to do some service to get her leave (which probably then isn’t a leave but just a reassignment of her workload) but who then balks at the reasonable suggestion (which may well be a way of “punishing” her by malicious male adminstrators who don’t believe that women should be in academia but maybe not — sorry, the tropes of melodrama do suffuse her account) that some of that leave must take place at her institution and that she can’t do it all 350 miles away from the campus. I”m sorry, some of you may not believe that this is the best the university can do in a time of reduced resources (it may well be that they used to fund paid parental leave in better financial times) — but those of us in the state sector are suffering (a lot). Lots of assigned time has disappeared. Having spent a lot of time as a chair fighting for leave, rearranging schedules, etc., to accomodate other parents in my dept. and to create a family friendly dept., I am also aware of how easily some faculty confuse not getting all that they want with institutional hostility. If you look at the text above and examine the way the guest blogger characterizes the service request, it seems at least possible that the self-representation here isn’t entirely reliable (isn’t this what we learn as humanists???) and is greatly inflected with the blogger’s sense of outrage that what she thinks would work best for her is not what her institution has offered her.

    So go ahead and attack my feminism — as I predicted, my failure to immediately fall into line with your sense of the appropriate response would find me attacked. I don’t know the guest blogger — for all I know everything she says is entirely true, but I was a chair long enough to know that every dispute has two sides that deserve/need to be heard before you side with anyone. I also know that when any of us (myself included) tell the story of our own lives we tend to make ourselves heroes or victims, depending on what response we want from readers/listeners. All I’ve suggested is that this makes the blogger unreliable and that some things here don’t add up.

  56. wini on 23 Apr 2010 at 7:57 pm #

    And your assumptions about the nature of her institution are totally out of line with my experiences of my institution.

  57. Historiann on 23 Apr 2010 at 8:50 pm #

    Clarissa, maybe this blog isn’t the place for you. I just don’t get all of the hostility directed at one Assistant Professor. I’m sure the chair has his own story to tell–I’m sure there are blogs somewhere where administrators vent about faculty ingrates and slackers. This isn’t that blog. (Perhaps you could start your own blog.)

    But when you misread (or read into) this blog post things that aren’t there, as you did and as I noted above, it doesn’t enhance my confidence in your analysis of the situation. And when you write things like “poor young pregnant assistant professor being done wrong by villainous, likely mustachioed, administrators and rather than acting, writes an anonymous blog post hoping that the sisterhood will save her,” that just strikes me as hostile and unfair.

    I’m sorry that administration has made you so uncompassionate. Sometimes the people we work the hardest for and do the most for are the least appreciative, and that can breed cynicism. You say you support leave policies–but then you direct all of your anger at one new Assistant Professor because she (in your estimation) didn’t successfully navigate a bewildering and complex set of handbooks, HR policies, and state and federal laws. Instead of blaming individuals–and I’ll admit that I may have teed off on the chair unfairly here, so we’ll include him as an “individual” forced to work in a needlessly complex system–why aren’t you questioning the system that puts such a huge burden on individuals needing medical or family leave?

  58. profgrrrrl on 24 Apr 2010 at 6:54 am #

    When I took maternity leave a year ago I got my 12 weeks of FMLA and paid myself via my accumulated sick leave. I went through HR to take care of things. My department chair just said he’d follow the rules. The HR person in the dean’s office knew what to do and was doing paperwork for someone else at about the same time. I was glad that I was able to get paid and that I was able to do it as a partial leave and file time sheets. Between keeping up with a bare minimum of advising and administrative duties that I couldn’t easily hand off I worked 20 hours a week. Mostly I just didn’t teach or go into the office unless absolutely necessary.

    My university does have a paid leave policy that covers a longer period of time, but it only allows you to not teach for one term (so really it makes no sense – you can take 6 months paid but you can only be released from teaching for one term?). AAAAAANNND you have to sign something saying you’ll come back and work for a full year. I wasn’t ready to say that (not because I wasn’t planning to return to work but because my husband and I suffer a 2-body problem and would leave if we found jobs together).

    No one seemed to worry about what I was doing during the 4 weeks of the term that I was on the clock full-time and not teaching at all. That was nice.

    However, there’s been one last thing that I hadn’t thought about: impact on my annual review. We do peer reviews which generate ratings, and then the chair writes letters. My teaching rating is lower than ever before despite taking on 2 summer classes (yes, I got paid extra — but I did it because we needed those classes covered and no one else would do it) that went 50% over cap; 3 new preps; supervision of graduate student instructors; supervision of a field experience each semester including my maternity leave (in addition to regular load during fall and unpaid during summer); and carrying a heavier doctoral advising load than most. Oh, and being nominated for a teaching award and having strong evals for each class I taught. I got a lower rating than people who did not do all of these things but who taught their regular 2-2. My chair said it was because I didn’t teach during the semester I was on leave and no one knew how to rate me. Thus, my colleagues consider me less deserving of merit pay (supposing there were any) because I took a medical leave even though I did more than my fair share during the rest of the year, did what I was contracted to do (just like they did) and did it well. (Note: No one had to take an overload or do anything any different to accommodate my leave. No one suffered for it. No one did extra work.)

    I’m glad I have tenure already, and understand why my untenured colleagues do not take leave. Me, I’d take leave again … but the idea that my colleagues have and will again ding me on my teaching rating leaves a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

  59. Historiann on 24 Apr 2010 at 7:04 am #

    profgrrl: I’m sorry. I suppose it’s not consoling to know that I’ve heard and seen other stories like yours. This is what I meant above when I suggested that the issue isn’t just whether and how the medical/family leave happens, it’s also the consequences for having taken the leave and how that all shakes out in the course of one’s career.

    It appears to me that you have grounds to protest your evaluation. But, in the end, you may decide that the fight isn’t worth it. Because of the fracked up non-system we have, a lot of employees are made to feel like they should be endlessy grateful for whatever leave they got and not question anything else for a while.

  60. profgrrrrl on 24 Apr 2010 at 8:53 am #

    Historiann, I think I could appeal the evaluation if the letter from my chair made some comments to that effect, but the letter and the ultimate evaluation say I’m doing well. The letter also notes that I was on leave and everything that I did. And, of course, it gives the rating from the department committee — but that’s out of my hands. The chair simply verbally noted to me that the rating was probably lower because of that issue, and we’ve had that problem in the past (people who are bought out or have lower loads get rated lower EVEN THOUGH they are fulfilling their assigned duties; not sure why my colleagues can’t wrap their minds around the idea that you rate someone in terms of how effectively they perform their assigned duties, not whether or not their assigned duties in a given area are comparable to the normal assigned duties).

    Anyway, in my case it’s not worth it. I have a supportive chair and I’ve had a very good thing happen this year thanks in part to my dean. The issue is with my colleagues who gave me this rating (and I don’t even know who it was this year) and will do it again if I have a second child. I have a very positive review letter and the mention of the rating on my official record doesn’t matter to me. When I go up for full the only thing that will matter is that my evaluations look acceptable (the bar is low, I think, and I’m well over it) and that I have enough pubs/grants.

    What drives me crazy, however, is knowing that I have it GOOD. So much better than most. My university made it easy for me to file the paperwork and make it all happen. Faculty at my university accrue sick leave which can be used for this purpose. At my husband’s university he was told that he could use FMLA but there was no option for leave with pay.

    The only backlash I experienced was on these evaluations, and frankly I’ve seen it happen to other people who haven’t taught full loads (regardless of reason). I was even able to have everyone be realistic about the fact that I was still going to do work on leave and I did not use sick leave to cover that leave — I was paid like regular for the 20 hours a week that I worked. This is good because if I have a second child I still have enough sick leave to take a full 12 week, 40 hour leave if I wish (not that I could, because what do you do with your students while on leave?).

  61. Historiann on 24 Apr 2010 at 9:58 am #

    Profgrrl, this is it exactly: “What drives me crazy, however, is knowing that I have it GOOD.”

    Compared to many (if not most!) you have it good, and you were still treated unfairly (at the other end if not at the point when you requested leave.)

    You ask, “what do you do with your students while on leave?” If they’re undergrads, someone else can teach them for a semester. If they’re grad students, they’ll be around when you get back from leave. There are some kinds of work that are basically just keeping up with correspondance–like writing letters of recommendation for students, for example. You could do that, because that’s a time-sensitive request, but I think reasonably decline requests for your time otherwise.

    The fact is that none of us are irreplaceable. Life will go on without us, whether we’re on leave or when we retire. (To me, that’s consoling, not sad.)

  62. Janna on 24 Apr 2010 at 6:06 pm #

    My husband and I have put off having children until I finished my doctoral course, which I finish up this semester. I am in a unique position than most doctoral students because I work as an adjunct at two local universities as well as my own. I know as an adjunct I have no benefits, and I accept that. Two of the schools give semester by semester contracts and are happy to “let me” teach online instead of losing income. To top this off, my dissertation adviser has been less than supportive of the idea of me having children while working on my qualifying exams and dissertation. While I wish I could hold off having children for a little while longer, it sounds like it would be worse waiting, and I’d be better off just taking longer to write my dissertation.

    I am grateful that I attend a Catholic University who gives extensions to pregnant women like they are Chicklets.

  63. Indyanna on 26 Apr 2010 at 10:12 am #

    “…nobody knew how to rate me,” so the ratings went DOWN?!? First off, in most of the actual meritocratic world if you “don’t know how” to do something you get eased off the squad for that particular function and replaced by somebody who does. Giving evaluations that you don’t know how to give is generally a privilege reserved to tuition-paying students (if their checks don’t bounce and they happen to be there that day).

    But if you’re on the disabled list and thus not batting and so the hits don’t keep coming, your average goes DOWN?!? Unless this phenomenon has been noted following aortic valve replacements, botched appendectomies, and/or cases of long-term sequestered jury duty, I’d say this looks like a cause of action waiting to happen.

    At a minimum, it makes a good case for not taking things on that somehow “need” to be done, but “nobody else will do it.” Wow.

  64. kp on 05 May 2010 at 12:30 am #


    It’s nice to know that you think that most of these problems can be solved by hiring more overworked, underpaid adjuncts with no job security and no ability to produce any kind of research (and thus have little in the way of permanent job prospects) because they’re commuting to three different schools in a fifty mile radius just to pay rent. But at least they won’t have the problem of maternity leave, b/c they can’t possibly find the time to have the social life necessary to begin the process toward having kids.

  65. Historiann on 05 May 2010 at 5:01 am #

    kp–did you catch the part where I said above that non tenure-track faculty (our permanent underclass of full-time lecturers) should be eligible for maternity or family leave policies too? Didn’t think so.

    I guess you think that classes should just be cancelled if a professor has a heart attack or a family issue, and the students told that they wasted their time. I thought that *paying* others to step in and cover classes was a thoughtful way to deal with this–sorry that you disagree.

  66. Mariella on 05 May 2010 at 11:23 am #

    I have to agree with KP: adjuncts should not at all, ever, be the answer. They are just abused laborers.

    Instead, I think all lectures should be recorded (it is really so cheap to do that these days), and when the professor is gone, lectures from past semesters should be played. Students or TAs or other profs can step in with grading. Or the prof. on leave can get to it when he/she gets back.

    I do agree also with KP that it’s a serious problem that so many academic laborers only WISH they had the social life to have a family and children.

  67. kp on 05 May 2010 at 4:19 pm #

    Thank you, Historiann, for reading much into what I was saying that I didn’t actually say. Do I expect a civil response to this follow-up? I don’t think so. But I’ll try to keep it as civil as possible nonetheless.

    I in fact never said or even implied that there weren’t ever times when adjunct or emergency instructors may be important and necessary. And I agree that to the extent that there is a semi-permanent academic underclass, they should be eligible for benefits (what I actually said was that, due to their work situations, they’ll generally have less access to the social time needed to ever take advantage of said benefits; I ask this partly tongue-in-cheek and partly seriously: who has time to date, marry, and think about having kids with the commuting and grading load of the average adjunct?). What I disagree with is the idea that the complicated problem of maternity leave has the simple solution of extending the already bloated use of adjuncts. And what I really disagree with is the pay scale, the “small (very small!) pots of money” that you recommend storing away to pay adjuncts. $4000 to teach an entire college level class is really a disgraceful amount to be paying adjuncts with many years of college-level teaching experience (which is the typical level of experience at least in my field of English); and what’s especially disgraceful is that this pay is considered generous is some quarters. And quite frankly, this issue affects more people for much longer periods of time than maternity leave does. I’m all for sane and fair handling of maternity leave (and agree that the service requirements of the university in question basically make it no longer any kind of “leave” policy), but my point is that the primary means of solving the issue cannot be to simply extend an already supremely unjust system.

  68. Historiann on 05 May 2010 at 5:03 pm #

    So whom should we ask to cover classes with sometimes very little notice? It seems to me that these are the cases that adjuncting was originally designed to serve. I’d be all for paying people more than $4,000/class–that’s just the going rate at my uni, so I used that as an example. Adjuncting is problematic when it becomes the standard model for staffing departments, rather than short-term and temporary fixes for leaves, sabbaticals, and the like. (I taught 3 semesters as leave replacement myself before I got my tenure-track job.) I don’t think that hiring adjuncts to cover leaves and sabbaticals is what’s driving the adjunctification of higher ed.

    I agree that adjuncting can be exploitative. OTOH, when courses on the schedule needed covering at sometimes the last minute (or even in some cases urgently, in the middle of the term), my adjunct/lecturer friends have stepped up to take on the extra teaching because they needed the dough. It would have been unfair to expect anyone to volunteer, so I think hiring adjuncts is a more just and realistic solution. I just don’t see any other way of solving this problem right now. (But I’m open to all serious suggestions.)

  69. Mariella on 06 May 2010 at 6:23 am #

    I’m still finishing my PhD, but if I got pregnant now there would not only be no maternity leave, but basic prenatal care is not covered by our health insurance. (Sonograms, delivery, etc is all out of pocket, because it is considered something you do to yourself.) To me that is as great a travesty as the one you describe here.

  70. Historiann on 06 May 2010 at 7:00 am #

    I agree, which is why I wrote this comment above.

    I’m still waiting for other ideas about how to staff courses for faculty leaves and sabbaticals. Any ideas?

  71. Anonymous on 07 May 2010 at 1:10 pm #

    I haven’t been here in a while and didn’t know the conversation was going on! Historiann, thanks for taking up all those contemptuous comments by Clarissa while I was MIA. I agree that perhaps it was unbelievably naive of me to imagine that the chair and the dean could clearly and legally and fully explain to me the policies relating to leave (which as other posters have explained are NOT clearly laid out either in the faculty handbook or on the HR sight, which is actually incomprehensible). Since the chair frequently handles requests for leave, it seemed sensible to imagine this was part of his job description, rather than an imposition I was making on him. Had I known what a fierce and complex struggle this would be, I would certainly have approached it differently. But considering my previous experience at a different university, at which my request for leave was handled by the chair and treated as utterly pro forma, perhaps I had *some reasonable expectation* of a similar outcome.

    It is worth repeating what has been noted before in these comments: the university as a whole has no parental leave policy other than FMLA. What people need to understand is that colleges and universities and even departments often rely on informal or extra-formal procedures for dealing with such leaves, which makes them by definition undefinable and ad hoc. My college does not consider what I am taking to be maternity leave or parental leave – it is not classified as such, even though this is what they offer faculty in place of FMLA. FMLA is unpaid of course but it also causes many logistical problems for those of us on a semester-based system – since FMLA would require the university to reinstate me full time and full pay near the end of a semester, when it would simply not be possible for a professor to begin teaching.

    Honestly, if I had understood clearly what the outcome of all these months of negotiating would be, I probably would have insisted instead on taking FMLA leave and sucked up the financial loss. I was recently informed that the amount of work that I would be expected to perform while on “leave” would have to “adequately compensate” the university for such leave – to wit, that I would be expected to perform as close to a full work load as they could give me without teaching. I’m not sure therefore why offer this “benefit” of course releases if their main concern is extracting an equivalent or near-equivalent amount of work. I won’t enumerate the expectations for my work load while on leave, but they are onerous indeed. I’m feeling certain that the whole concept of parental leave (ie leave during which a parent acts as a primary caregiver for a brand new human being) does not exist at my university.

    I would also like to add that the idea that an untenured faculty member at a new university with a byzantine and unclear set of policies should somehow be in a position of power or authority over her chair and her dean and the administration as a whole is absolutely absurd. We need to be realistic about the power dynamics functioning at universities and how those affect the untenured.

  72. Leave? Damn straight! We hear again from Anonymous about her maternity leave plans : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 13 May 2010 at 5:00 pm #

    [...] update about her attempts to secure a paid maternity leave from her university.  (If you recall, I posted her story a few weeks ago detailing her efforts to get a leave for the fall term.)  Guess what?  After nearly six months of wrangling as her belly grows, she’s down to [...]

  73. anonymous too on 13 May 2010 at 9:20 pm #

    How’s this: I struggle to get a teaching release for the semester my baby is going to be born, and the man who is accused of multiple episodes of sexual harassment is “relieved” of his teaching duties so as to protect his students (and not asked to compensate by extra service)? I mean, I’m all for keeping the slime away from students, but isn’t there something just a LITTLE problematic about forcing a no-course load on a harasser and refusing one to a new mother?

  74. Historiann on 13 May 2010 at 9:27 pm #

    That’s awful–but I’m sad to report that that’s not the first time I’ve heard of that happening.

    I really think there’s something going on with punishing women who dare to reproduce in academia. Our efforts to draw attention to the problem are met with stonewalling and eyerolls, as if to say, “hey, we heard all of this back in the 1970s/80s/90s when we hired you–haven’t YOU figured it out yet?”

  75. Cailin Murray on 30 Nov 2012 at 10:12 am #

    I am on the Diversity Committee for my university and on a sub-committee tasked with advising the Provost about ‘family friendly’ policies. After just watching a cherished assistant professor in my own dept go through the nightmare of having to Frankenstein her own maternity leave, because our university forces women to use paid sick leave that may not cover their needs fully, I had rather hoped we could discuss the possibility of paid maternity leave policy. Does anyone have examples where this has worked out? Please contact me at murraycailin@gmail.com if you have links or ideas. Terrible – I was in the Retail Clerks labor union in the 1980s when I had my son – I received full coverage for the costs of pregnancy and birth plus the unforeseen costs of giving birth to a child with a disability AND 8 weeks of fully covered maternity leave (normally we got 6 weeks but I got 2 more because of his special needs). And I packed cookies and sold doughnuts for a living …..

  76. Pin the Blame on Daddy? The Precariousness of Parental Leave - Tenured Radical - The Chronicle of Higher Education on 07 Jun 2013 at 12:09 pm #

    [...] reported on this back in 201o. A brief trip around the web will show you that, as of [...]

  77. The offer refused | Tenure, She Wrote on 25 Nov 2013 at 9:23 am #

    […] taking any leave, or you take the semester off with no pay, and possibly no insurance (e.g. see here, here, and here).  Um, that might work if you have a spouse that carries insurance and makes a […]

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