Publication Date

November 1, 1995

Editors Note: wrote the following article at the request if the Family Care Task Force of the AHA Professional Division. She includes here a description of the basic components, topics, and terms of faculty parenting leaves at the schools that she has studied, and also presents several models of actual policies. The taskforce will be preparing an information packet with examples of many more types of parenting leave policies, including information about public institutions. For details about the cost and availability of the packet, contact AHA, 400 A St., S.E., Washington, DC 20003. (202) 544-2422.


On behalf of several selective private universities, I have been monitoring trends in parenting leave policies among a set of their peer schools over the last 10 years. During these 10 years, most of the 21 selective, private universities and colleges that I have been following have established formal parenting leave policies for faculty in the arts and sciences. At one time, faculty leaves for parenting were mostly negotiated case by case, and the burden of the negotiation was on the parent. Now, after a decade of experience with first-generation parenting policies, and with the introduction of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in 1993, many schools are moving on to a second generation of policies.

At colleges and universities, the earliest tradition was, for both administrators and the few female faculty members, to ignore childbearing and childrearing by faculty members. (By anecdotal evidence, this system is still in place in some institutions.) Babies were timed for vacations, courses were taught between feedings, and child rearing was slipped in amid lab work. Literally, the burden was on the bearer. I will not attempt here a full discussion of the rise in consciousness about women's rights that took place throughout society and that had strong effects on all working women. From a strictly demographic point of view, however, the growing presence of female faculty—both in absolute numbers and as a proportion of all faculty—made it inevitable that the time demands of parenting would begin to be an issue at colleges and universities.

In order to recruit, retain, and nurture top female faculty, administrators began to realize that it was important to acknowledge the special time demands that childbearing and childrearing place on female faculty members. (Slightly later came the notion that childrearing, and even childbearing, also place a demand on male faculty members.) Yet, from a strictly administrative point of view, it was important for the overall teaching schedule to be protected from interruptions. At the same time, there were legal issues to contend with: Was maternity a disability? Did staff and faculty need the same policies? Thus began a dialogue between administrators and faculty members to create the first formal parenting leave policies.

When I was first asked to compare policies across universities, I started out by interviewing provosts and deans with an open ended question, "Tell me about your faculty parenting leave policy." I learned immediately that some institutions had no set policy but rather a faculty parenting leave "method.” "This is what we usually do," they said. Parenting policies are rarely created from scratch but, rather, evolve, and the level of sophistication of the policy has depended on the variable presence of concerned administrators, active faculty committees, or outspoken parents. Sometimes, excellent policies have even developed out of negative influences, such as the threat of lawsuits, or the hint of a departure of a well-liked faculty member to an institution with a more favorable climate. No two schools that I looked at had the same policy (although some schools made a regular effort to upgrade their policies to match the policies of a competitive institution.)

Finally, I began to see shape and void to these policies. I was able to characterize the policies by a set of components that I will describe here. I do not believe any institution set out a list of components and checked to be sure that each was addressed; this is strictly my overview of the various elements I have found in parenting leave policies.

Topics and Terms

A general word about policies. Although most policies are now codified, there is still a large component of negotiation involved in faculty parenting leaves, first with a department chair, and then with a dean or provost. However, the burden of the negotiation has shifted, in most cases, away from the individual faculty member to the chair or dean. Parenting leaves are often an entitlement, in fact or in practice, and the negotiation is often only to smooth the practical details of the faculty member's absence from the department.

Basics. What is a parenting leave for, and who can take the leave? Some leaves are only for women who give birth; others include adoption, or are available to fathers or any primary caretaker. Recently, with the introduction of the FMLA in 1993, some parenting leaves have also been expanded to include caring for a sick child, parent, or spouse (labeled” caregiving”). In the examples provided in the chart on page 18 of this issue of Perspectives, benefits are labeled with "W" and "M," for “women” and “men,” depending on who may take the benefit. The basic components of parenting leaves are as follows: paid leaves, teaching relief, unpaid leaves, extensions of appointment.

Paid Leaves. Paid leaves can be based on either the maternity disability model, or the parenting model. In the disability model, it is assumed that pregnancy, childbirth, and recovery from childbirth are short-term medical disabilities, and that a women would need about four weeks before childbirth and six to ten weeks afterward for recovery. A disability leave is usually fully paid with a full release of duties, and often requires a doctor’s certification that the faculty member is incapacitated. For medical complications, long-term disability policies are usually available, typically providing up to six months leave. Often, there is a separate source of funds for women on disability leaves.

In the parenting model, there is an acknowledgment that caring for a small child can interrupt a faculty member's teaching and research life, and that some relief of faculty duties is necessary when first taking on parenting obligations. The parenting model might cover both birth and adoption, caring for an older child, and the contributions of both father and mother. (If father and mother have different leave benefits, the benefit is labeled "maternity" and "paternity";if the benefit depends on primary caretaker status, it is labeled “primary caretaker.”) Leaves with a full release of academic duties range from one to three months paid leave (in a parallel fashion to a disability-based leave), or a full release of teaching and other duties for an entire semester or quarter at either full or reduced pay. Some paternity and adoption leaves offer only a short period of paid leave time.

Teaching Relief. In both models, there is often an overlay of relief from teaching responsibilities in addition to, or as a substitute for, disability or other paid parenting leaves. A disability leave or a paid parenting leave will often interrupt a semester or quarter of teaching and is thus inconvenient for the department (which would need to arrange a half-term replacement teacher) and for the faculty member (who would have to teach half a class). Teaching relief is either full-course relief for a semester or quarter, or a reduction in the course load by one or two classes. Sometimes it is with full pay; other times it is for prorated pay. In most instances, the faculty member’s obligation to advise students and to participate in committees is not altered by a teaching relief policy.

Unpaid Leaves. Unpaid leaves for parenting often fall within a general leave for personal reasons and usually entail a full release of academic duties. Leaves are most often for a semester or a year, but sometimes can be taken for up to two years. Sometimes, unpaid leaves need approval of the department, dean, or provost, and the terms of the leave might be contingent upon departmental needs. Regular benefits paid by the institution, such as health care, traditionally continue during the leave.

Extension of Appointment. There is an implicit assumption that caring for a child (usually a newborn or newly adopted child) exacts a toll on the faculty member’s ability to do the research that is necessary to earn tenure. An extension of appointment does not mean that the faculty member’s contract will automatically be renewed or that tenure will be granted at a later date; the academic component of these appointments are completely separate. Rather, an extension of appointment allows for an additional time period for the faculty member to prepare for reappointment and promotion.

If a faculty member chooses to extend the deadlines for reappointment and promotion because of parenting duties—and not all do—generally a year or two extension is available. Extensions are usually granted in increments of a year in order to preserve the cycle of reappointment. Sometimes this extension is tied to the faculty member having taken a paid or unpaid leave (labeled "tied to leave"). Other times, the extension is available to a birth mother or either parent, regardless of whether a leave has been taken (labeled "automatic"). At a few institutions, the extension is not technically automatic; the faculty member must request or apply for the extension (labeled "on request"). At some institutions, a junior faculty member would have at least two appointments before being reviewed for tenure. An extension of appointment sometimes must be used during the current contract; other times, it could be "saved" and used well into the second contract in order to delay the review tenure.

Some institutions specify a maximum time that an appointment can be extended because of parenting. At most institutions, however, even if there is a theoretical maximum, it has never been tested. This is one of the few issues that has been repeatedly mentioned as a sensitive policy area. On one hand, it is not helpful to a junior career to have a lengthy time before tenure; on the other hand, it is not deemed wise for the administration to appear as if they are dictating the number of children that faculty should have.

Other Details. Smaller details that are seldom codified are whether a department automatically receives a replacement for the faculty member on leave, or whether two faculty parents of a child may both take some leave benefit, simultaneously or consecutively (labeled “double benefits”). The header “climate” refers to administration attitude to the arranging leaves, or provides some notion of how the faculty have been responding to the types of leaves available to them.

Caregiving. In many institutions, leaves for caring for a sick family member are ranged on a case-by-case basis, often with some of the same terms as parenting leaves. Caregiving leaves are usually unpaid (the FMLA provides a minimum of 16 weeks in the first year and 12 weeks in the second year for unpaid caregiving leaves), but in some institutions, a caregiver may also take teaching relief or an extension of appointment. Caregiving leaves are only rarely paid leaves with a full release of duties.

Adapting Policies for New Situations. Although the FMLA explicitly addresses leaves for caregiving and parenting leaves for men, many institutions have not yet experienced any faculty requests for these leaves. Although many policies are codified to address the needs of women faculty, administrators often demonstrate a willingness to extend the policies to caregiving and to parenting leave for men. Future versions of written policies for most institutions will likely include some restatement of the FMLA.

Eligibility. In many institutions, only faculty members who are on the tenure track are eligible for parenting benefits, sometimes only after serving on the faculty for one complete year. In other institutions, non-tenure-track faculty are eligible for some or all of the same benefits.

Note about Individually Arranged Benefits. In each of the models, “ad hoc” is used to signify that there is no written policy, although there are usual and customary unwritten terms to the benefit. By contrast, “case by case” means that each individual must negotiate for the specific benefit, and any general statement of the benefit in the summary refers only to what has normally been granted. To a certain extent, an ad hoc benefit is an entitlement just as a written policy is, while a benefit that must be negotiated on a case-by-case basis might be denied.

First and Second Generation Policies

In the beginning, there were simple policies, informal or written, for full-time female faculty members and staff members that provided a disability leave for maternity and a protected unpaid leave. Often a leave required permission notes from doctors or deans. Over time, there became an awareness that a more desirable parenting leave was one that was an entitlement and not one that involved bargaining. There were too many stories circulating about women who did not take leaves simply because they needed to ask. Second generation policies, thus, almost always have included the notion of entitlement, and transferred some of the burden of negotiation to the faculty chair or dean.

Another feature that has evolved over time is the separation of faculty and staff policies. Many faculty benefits are, in fact, different from those offered by universities and colleges to other staff members due to the fluid nature of the faculty work week. Even when parenting leave policies are written the same for both faculty and staff, the implementation is generally different. Extension of appointment is a relatively recent feature of parenting leave policies. However, while most women would appreciate some time off after a birth, there is an ideological split over whether or not an extension of appointment is helpful to an academic career. I have heard anecdotes from women who have indignantly mentioned that, without being consulted, they were given a later date for tenure review due to the birth of a child;more appropriate is for an extension of appointment to be discretionary.

Some additional policy features that have changed from the first generation to the second include the creation of the overlay of teaching relief to the maternity disability leave, the expansion of parenting leaves to both men and women (clearly not based solely on disability), some restatement of policy to include adoption, the inclusion of caregiving of children or parents (after the introduction of the FMLA), and the occasional availability of leaves to non-tenure track faculty. Few schools have addressed all these concerns.

The Models

The models presented in the chart on page 18 are all second-generation policies, having been revised in the last five years or so. Each example is from an actual university or college. The summaries were compiled from each institution's written policies (if any) and in-depth interviews with an administrator who has had firsthand knowledge of how leaves are negotiated. In general, every attempt has been made to list the general rules for parenting leaves, but it is important to note that there have been exceptions to the rule at every institution at some point in time. In the chart, all wording has been chosen with great care in order to facilitate comparisons.

The first model features a university with a standard disability leave plus a teaching relief overlay. The policy has been upgraded to comply with the FMLA, and offers some features for men and non-tenure-track faculty. The second model is for a university on the quarter system. Generally, schools on the quarter system have an easier time rearranging the departmental teaching schedules and can provide slightly more generous teaching relief policies compared to schools on the semester system. The school in the second model does not provide a disability leave and is quite favorable toward parenting leaves for male faculty members and for adoption (even though few such requests have been made.) The third model is from a university that has both a disability leave for women and a primary caretaker teaching relief overlay; there is no formal paid parenting leave with full release of duties. The policy had already met the regulations put forth by the FMLA and did not need upgrading. The fourth model is from a college with a bare-bones policy that has several ad hoc features. According to the school, the policy has been received very favorably. The fifth model is from a college that provides a rather complicated set of options for paid parenting leaves, but does not offer disability leave.

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