May
13th 2010
Leave? Damn straight! We hear again from Anonymous about her maternity leave plans

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

Last week, Anonymous posted an 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 this:  she’ll get paid, but she’s not going to be on leave!  Take it away, Anonymous:

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 [the university] offer[s] this “benefit” of course releases if [its] 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. . . . [P]arental leave (i.e. leave during which a parent acts as a primary caregiver for a brand new human being) does not exist at my university.

There you have it, friends.  In my opinion, Anonymous is being set up to fail.  She’ll be expected to do all of the service work while “on leave,” and my guess is that if she doesn’t continue to publish at the same rate next year, she’ll be dinged in her annual review for failing in her research agenda “even though we granted her a paid leave!”  Alternatively, if she slacks on the service and spends whatever time she has away from her newborn infant madly writing and researching so that she doesn’t fall behind with her publications, she’ll be criticized as being uncollegial and untrustworthy, a very bad girl, and moreover used as an example for why they can’t possibly offer paid family leave ever again. 

You can’t win, Anonymous.  You have no power.  They have all of the money and the power to shape the narrative about you.   (I’m sorry, Anonymous–I know this isn’t what you want to hear ever, or think about right now in particular.)  My advice?  Take your leave.  Spend your non-baby hours on updating your C.V. and apply for every job out there in the fall.  Take it from someone who knows:  living well is the best revenge!

27 Comments »

27 Responses to “Leave? Damn straight! We hear again from Anonymous about her maternity leave plans”

  1. squadratomagico on 13 May 2010 at 5:44 pm #

    Yes, anonymous might want to consider trying to find another position, if she is able to relocate. Her institution sounds *awful.*

    I wonder, also, whether there are any other recent parents on campus, with whom she might make common cause? The university’s policies in this case seem truly antediluvian.

  2. Comrade PhysioProf on 13 May 2010 at 7:07 pm #

    That’s some fucked up shit. At my insitution, we treat grad students, post-docs, and faculty better than that: six weeks of paid parental leave. And all faculty are entitled to a one-year extension of the promotion/tenure clock if you have a baby.

  3. Susan on 13 May 2010 at 8:43 pm #

    Wow. That is really craptastic.I would think they are verging on the illegal, but . . . Anyway, it’s nice to know how they value women faculty and how they support families.

  4. Dr. Crazy on 13 May 2010 at 9:00 pm #

    …..

    I don’t even know what to say. “Unconscionable” doesn’t cover it.

  5. Indyanna on 13 May 2010 at 9:08 pm #

    Is it any wonder that you never seem to hear of academic institutions being named in those “Ten Best Places to Work right here in Syllabiznia” polls? Wouldn’t you sort of think that an appropriate AWA (Alternate Workload Assignment–the term of art hereabouts) would be something like: to the extent you can, read a lot of books, think hard about some important problems in your field, do a little research, come back even smarter than the person we hired? Well, of course, that would undercut the currently fashionable notion that research is a high-end form of shovel-leaning, and really when you get down to it, a form of larceny from the tuition-paying units (another term of art around here that they tried when they should have just said Students). Instead, they tend to go for those discernably Age of Steam tasklets, like, well, our obsolete departmental slide collection could really stand to be dusted off, rehoused, and entered in a database type entity.

    A guy really can’t appropriately come up with any good protest measures, but I think of things like: send out announcements that the baby will be born in the Dean’s outer office and invite the whole U to help celebrate. Or that the kid has decided to audit, oh, about six courses the first semester, as a personal enrichment sort of thing. Maybe even for credit.

  6. Historiann on 13 May 2010 at 9:12 pm #

    Heh. I like that, Indyanna–bring it on back to the Concurrent Enrollment issue! Anonymous should see if she can get those hours on the kid’s transcript.

    (I thought you would all be terribly impressed.)

  7. ej on 13 May 2010 at 9:19 pm #

    I know I completely overestimated how much work I could accomplish with a newborn in the house. And worrying about what wasn’t getting done just added to an already stressful situation.

    I fear that she is correct in thinking time off without pay (however unfair) may have been a better option.

  8. Emma on 13 May 2010 at 9:36 pm #

    You can still take FMLA leave.

  9. Z on 13 May 2010 at 9:50 pm #

    Emma’s right — still take FMLA leave. *And* go on the job market.

  10. Prof. Koshary on 13 May 2010 at 10:47 pm #

    Indyanna’s ideas are indeed brilliant!

    And I add my voice to the chorus: there has to be a better place for you out there. Brush up the CV, apply, get hired at Superior Institution, and then tell your cretinous colleagues to go fuck themselves.

  11. Notorious Ph.D. on 13 May 2010 at 11:09 pm #

    Anon’s colleagues are awful. At my institution, we allow only a few weeks (6?) of paid leave, but our chair works hard to make sure that new mothers get a full semester (we haven’t had any new fathers in the department since I was hired, so I can’t speak to that). Getting the extra time is pretty simple, if you know how to juggle course releases, as any competent chair should.

    It sounds like Anon’s chair doesn’t value her. Even if going on the market is not a real possibility this year or next (awful job market), she will surely keep this treatment in mind when a better deal DOES appear on the horizon.

    Sadly, cretins like her chair will spin this as “women faculty can’t be counted on: they just have babies and then leave.”

  12. LadyProf on 14 May 2010 at 12:33 am #

    She’ll be expected to do all of the service work while “on leave,” and my guess is that if she doesn’t continue to publish at the same rate next year, she’ll be dinged in her annual review for failing in her research agenda “even though we granted her a paid leave!” Alternatively, if she slacks on the service and spends whatever time she has away from her newborn infant madly writing and researching so that she doesn’t fall behind with her publications, she’ll be criticized as being uncollegial and untrustworthy, a very bad girl, and moreover used as an example for why they can’t possibly offer paid family leave ever again.

    One other possibility, though less likely than the other two outcomes: somehow, running on adrenaline and determination plus careful timing of publications that were mostly done before the pregnancy, and a bit of slack from colleagues, Anonymous fulfills the formal demands of writing and service while caring for her infant. Whereupon, of course, the university and colleagues promptly conclude that any pregnant woman can make it; no change need ever happen.

  13. Comrade PhysioProf on 14 May 2010 at 4:59 am #

    Well, of course, that would undercut the currently fashionable notion that research is a high-end form of shovel-leaning, and really when you get down to it, a form of larceny from the tuition-paying units (another term of art around here that they tried when they should have just said Students).

    One of the aspects of being in a medical school is that the finanacial reality is the reverse. Tuition income to the medical school doesn’t come close to funding the actual teaching provided to MD and PhD students, and on a pie chart you can barely see the tuition slice next to sponsored grant income and clinical practice income. This means that classroom teaching duties are “voluntary”, quite modest in quantity, and only count infinitesimally towards promotion/tenure duties. It also means that faculty who totally suck ass at classroom teaching just stay in their labs/clinics and don’t fuck up students. On the downside, it means that faculty generally support a large fraction of their salaries from the direct costs of their research grants and/or clinical incomes.

  14. feMOMhist on 14 May 2010 at 6:48 am #

    Wish I could say I am surprised, but sadly no. I was “fortunate” enough to give birth at the end of the semester both times, and when I needed bed rest the first time around I supervised graduate theses and wrote a grant from home. So I “enjoyed” a sort of “materntiy” leave.

    I am LMAO at the idea of service work with a newborn child. Sure if you can attend committee meetings while sleep deprived and of course towing said child along to breast feed (which I did in my first year on the TT because HEY you can only pump SO MUCH!).

    The idea that Anon would go on the job market again though is a bit laughable as well. Unless she is in a highly desireable field, the market sucks, and presumably her partner has a position [Where is he in all of this BTW? My partner had sabbatical during first year of first child's life and that saved my ass, but should one not be fortunate to be impregnated by an academic, or if said academic is ineligible at that particular moment for sabbatical, well then that won't work either].

    The answer is for the United States to get its ass in line with the rest of the world on actual paid maternity leave instead of leaving women to come up with ad hoc solutions on their own, which of course, screws individual women like Anon.

  15. Historiann on 14 May 2010 at 7:19 am #

    Agreed. But, in a country that can’t even agree that health care is a civil right for all, I’m sure government paid maternity leave will never, ever happen. (At least not in the next 150 years.)

    If you read the previous post on Anonymous, she gives answers to your other questions. Long story short is that she and her partner live in different cities, and she’s planning to have the baby in his city and live with her husband during her “leave.”

    Yes, the market sucks. But not taking action is just too defeatist, I think, especially considering her less-than-ideal family situation.

  16. Sungold on 14 May 2010 at 8:34 am #

    Oh, this is just awful. If I were Anonymous, I think I’d take the FMLA if she can possibly afford it, financially. I agree that she’s being set up to fail – and that if she “succeeds,” it will be at tremendous cost to her, and it sure won’t help the next woman in her position.

    My own institution offers no maternity leave. I had my first baby while dissertating, and my second while adjuncting for my present employer. I was lucky enough to conceive in September, and then due to the university’s perverse rules for adjuncts, I had to take an unpaid quarter regardless of the baby. (They’re obligated to issue a contract if you adjunct for six quarters in a row … which leads to mandatory one-quarter layoffs to circumvent a rule that was supposed to prevent abuse of adjuncts!)

    I sometimes think the institutional reluctance to accommodate pregnancy is due to a fear that OMG, she’s getting free time off! She’s going to accomplish heaps of research! She’ll have an unfair advantage!

    In fact, during the first few months of my kids’ lives, this is what I accomplished. Baby One: Baby was kept fed and clean. Baby grew massively. I wrote one chapter in a rush of sheer panic while he was strapped to my chest in a front carrier. That would be all I wrote for some months to come, because I was so exhausted, my real accomplishment was avoiding a psychotic break. Baby Two: Baby was kept fed and clean. He grew prodigiously, though slower than his brother. I slept enough to avoid flirting with a psychotic break. This was not my accomplishment; the kid slept better than his brother from day one. I taught no classes, served on no committees.

    I might have been able to apply for jobs during the first three months of each baby’s life. But that would’ve been *all* I could have done.

    So my feeling is that FMLA plus some combo of job application and/or reading and writing would be the least crazy-making solution, if I were Anonymous. I’m not, of course, and there may be compelling reasons why she’d take a different course. But in any event, it makes sense to regard her attempts to negotiate with her chair as a form of “sunk costs.” She tried to work out a reasonable arrangement. It failed because her chair is a jerk. She has no obligation to accept his pseudo-leave. FMLA is still an option, and the university is legally bound to offer it no matter how badly it clashes with the semester schedule.

    Anonymous, if you’re reading this, good luck! And I wish you lots of joy with your kiddos.

  17. Historiann on 14 May 2010 at 8:43 am #

    Sungold, thanks for your comment. I think it’s instructive.

    As for why institutions and departments are so unwilling to recognize the need for maternity or family leaves: it’s sex bias, pure and simple. When Anonymous’s chair is felled by his MCI, are his colleagues going to contact him after his 6 weeks of sick leave and shovel piles of committee work on him, because he’s not teaching his courses? When a colleague is being treated for an aggressive cancer, will the Chair then show up at the hospital after 6 weeks with a pile of busywork so that the cancer patient can adequately compensate the university for the leave time?

    I don’t think so. But, all of these problems stem from the fact that our minds are part of human bodies, bodies that will fail, break down, or need additional care and recuperation even when functioning in perfect health (as in the case of a pregnancy). But it’s only in the case of pregnancy or family leave requests that we see people get hung up.

    So, here’s my plan for guerilla action. All of you folks out there who might get pregnant or adopt a child: just tell your colleagues that you have cancer and that you’ll need medical leave as of X date. Shave your head bald if you have to. Because it’s clear that having a functioning, healthy female body is seen as more problematic than having a failing or sick body.

  18. Indyanna on 14 May 2010 at 10:00 am #

    I love this last paragraph on guerilla action, except that (or maybe because) it’s going to play havoc with all sorts of statistical databases and maybe send the Centers for Disease Control crashing into the Chattahoochee River. Maybe there’s a list that could be compiled of other stealth “diseases” that could be used to mask pregnancy leave requests, while distributing this statistical anomaly stuff more broadly over a range of disease-specific agencies?

  19. Historiann on 14 May 2010 at 10:08 am #

    Yes–that’s a great idea. Too much cancer would risk blowing our cover. Best to keep this on the D-L.

    (Too bad that’s hard to do with pregnancy itself.)

  20. Emma on 14 May 2010 at 10:25 am #

    There are things you may want to do to help protect yourself. It’s up to you whether or not you do them. Of course, there is risk in any of this. You should talk to a lawyer and get advice pertinent to your specific situation and your specific state.

    While you’re on FMLA leave, do no work — b/c requring you to work on FMLA leave is interfering with your FMLA leave and is illegal. IF you ARE still required to do work, make written complaints to HR that such requirements are interfering with your FMLA leave and are illegal and that you want the requirements removed. Keep copies of all such complaints and makes notes of when and to whom you submitted them.

    While you are on leave, gather evidence to highlight the retaliation when it happens upon your return.

    For example, your stellar reviews and student comments and all other evidence of you doing a good job for your employer.

    For example, other people who have been allowed medical leaves, not been required to do service etc. work, and have not suffered any downgrade in their performance evals etc.

    For example, other women whose maternity “leave” has been forced servitude and retaliation upon return.

    And, the very first time you suffer any adverse consequences upon your return, file a written complaint with Human Resources that you are being retaliated against for taking FMLA leave. And name names and actions taken. Keep a copy of the complaints for yourself, with notes of when you filed them and with whom.

  21. Leslie on 14 May 2010 at 10:44 am #

    I tracked the last thread with interest, but didn’t comment… For what it’s worth, in my experience, the best person to talk to initially is a staff person. Specifically, the person who oversees all the personnel, budget, and planning issues for the department or college. Or to put it another way, the person to whom the dean or chair will turn for information when you ask about procedure. Here, leave for faculty is handled in a sort of hybrid model – had to deal with both HR and Academic Personnel.

    I have two kids and two different experiences from the same university. Six weeks paid leave, then “modified duties” for whatever remains of the term. The first time, academic personnel said that whatever I worked out with my boss for my return was fine. The second time, I had to list all of the duties, they had to amount to half my normal workload, and the whole thing had to be officially approved. The difference in procedure was a little stressful. I opted not to take FMLA or short term disability to extend my leave–keeping the salary etc. stable was more important (and I was only back at work for a month before summer break).

    I made crystal clear that any time I showed up on campus after the six weeks were up, I’d have a baby with me.

    I’m a lecturer, part time. My classes had to be covered for the entire term. The first time, I had a colleague who was also part time, so his load was increased; the second time, we hired someone for the classes who works in town. Yes, a sort of adjunct. Cost to the department varies – my first choice last spring was an emerita professor in my field. Had she been available, she would have been “reactivated” at her previous salary.

  22. quixote on 14 May 2010 at 2:37 pm #

    My advice to Anon: get the hell out while you can. Yes, you’re being set up to fail. And there’s an interesting psychological twist that occurs as I found out when it happened to me.

    Setting someone up to fail is a nasty thing to do. The way people deal with that is to convince themselves the person deserved it. The “failee” was uncollegial / unproductive / taught stale material / didn’t serve on committees /served on the wrong committees /served on too many committees / all of the above. Trust me, they’ll find endless reasons for why it’s all your fault.

    And short of admitting they were wrong, they can never change their minds about what a second-rate scholar you are.

    Get out while you can.

  23. Matt L on 15 May 2010 at 7:28 am #

    Anonymous – get out while you can. Take the FMLA time, document everything that has happened so far, leave town, and do your best on the job market. If you have any allies in the department, get letters from them that testify to your strengths as a teacher, researcher and colleague.

    This is truly awful. I am really sorry to hear about this. Its grotesquely unfair. We like to think that universities are happy places to work, but they are not. They pride themselves as little cities on a hill, but really, they can be just as bad as the corporate Moloch they serve.

  24. Historiann on 15 May 2010 at 7:37 am #

    Well put, Matt: “We like to think that universities are happy places to work, but they are not. They pride themselves as little cities on a hill, but really, they can be just as bad as the corporate Moloch they serve.”

  25. Beth on 15 May 2010 at 9:32 am #

    As a young professional woman, I’m worried and sympathetic (pre-sympathetic? I’ve not been pregnant yet)

    On the other hand, the idea of parental leave -at all- is foreign and luxurious in the background I come from. As I developed my professional self and moved on from being the daughter of the waitress, one of the biggest adjustments was understanding the cushy benefits that professional jobs bring. Hourly employees don’t have health care or retirement plans, and certainly can’t afford them on their own. I’ve known more than one person back at work – hard physical labor – the very day after the birth of a child.

    So the idea of being paid to stay home, handling other (admittedly important) issues like children or health, which are not the employer’s business? ….really strange to me.

    Not that this makes the situation better. Benefits like parental leave are a part of the compensation package. All I’m saying is – don’t forget gratitude for what you do have.

  26. Emma on 15 May 2010 at 1:12 pm #

    All I’m saying is – don’t forget gratitude for what you do have.

    Everybody has the right to the exact same thing: 12 weeks unpaid FMLA leave. If that’s insufficient (which it is for all sorts off women for all sorts of reasons) I think the answer is to unite and make it better rather than dividing women into privileged and unprivileged depending on what their employers may (or may not) deign to give them.

    I think gratitude is absolutely the wrong attitude to create change in what people are entitled to under the law. I think one thing to remember is that Anon is trying so hard to get paid leave because, like all the women you know, she can’t afford to take unpaid leave for the birth of her child. That pretty much sucks for everybody involved, doesn’t it?

  27. Ellie on 15 May 2010 at 10:09 pm #

    Actually, not everyone has the right to FMLA leave. There are all kinds of regulations as to who may take FMLA and under what circumstances. For example, you can’t take FMLA if your workplace is sufficiently small or if your work is paid as “scholarship” and not as work (can’t take leave if you’re not an employee or contractor).

    When I looked into the regs as a pregnant grad student some years ago, it was a real eye-opener about who could or could not be covered, and what kinds of leave were permissible (twice per week for 16 weeks: yes. Three discontinuous periods of 4 weeks each: yes. After 5pm every day: probably not.)