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

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!

0 thoughts on “Leave? Or, the once-and-future state of maternity leave in academia

  1. 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.


  2. 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.


  3. 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.


  4. 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.


  5. 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.


  6. 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?


  7. 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.


  8. 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.


  9. 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?).


  10. 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.)


  11. 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.


  12. “…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.


  13. Historiann,

    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.


  14. 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.


  15. 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.


  16. 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.


  17. 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.)


  18. 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.


  19. 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.


  20. Pingback: Leave? Damn straight! We hear again from Anonymous about her maternity leave plans : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  21. 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?


  22. 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?”


  23. 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 …..


  24. Pingback: Pin the Blame on Daddy? The Precariousness of Parental Leave - Tenured Radical - The Chronicle of Higher Education

  25. Pingback: The offer refused | Tenure, She Wrote

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