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New family leave option offers pause in tenure clock

For many women faculty members in the early stages of their career, the decision to start a family must be carefully weighed against the demands of earning academic tenure.

A new memorandum of agreement between the University and the AAUP is designed to make that decision a little easier.

The agreement enables a faculty member to designate a paid maternity leave as personal leave, which under University by-laws would not be counted in the probationary period for tenure. The provision also applies to a paid family leave to care for a sick family member.

"We have negotiated an adjustment recognizing the obligations that family leave may place on an individual who is actively pursuing tenure, and have provided an accommodation for that," says Virginia Miller, assistant vice chancellor for human resources. "This is family friendly."

The change allows for up to eight weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child and the possibility of additional paid and unpaid leave to care for a family member. Although the University does not have statistics on the number of people who may be affected, Edward Marth, executive director of the AAUP, says his office receives calls every year about maternity leave.

The impetus for the change came from a request by the AAUP during contract negotiations last winter and was reaffirmed during discussions held by the Pew Charitable Trust in the spring.

Marth says this type of provision is becoming increasingly common at other institutions. He stresses that participation is voluntary: an individual may request or choose not to request a pause in the tenure clock. He says having the option available represents a step forward for faculty members, however. "Up until now, if they're working, the tenure clock is running," says Marth.

Currently, recommendations for tenure are made after five years, with the decision made in the the faculty member's sixth year and implemented by the seventh year.

Under the new provision, if a faculty member chooses to take this option, the tenure clock will be delayed for up to a full year.

Marth says the full year is critical. He says even after returning from a maternity leave, "it may well be that they are not able to work at full capacity - the 50, 60, or 70 hours per week a lot of untenured people put into teaching, while still being expected to grind out research and publications at the same rate as anyone else."

Both Miller and Marth recognize that many women faculty have been successful as mothers of young children at the same time as earning tenure, despite the considerable demands this makes.

"It's not that a lot of people haven't been able to make a superwoman effort" and publish and do research and cope with being a mother, Marth says, but "this is a way of saying that people are entitled to have a life."

The memorandum of agreement is effective through the life of the current contract, which expires June 30, 2001. The provision, however, is likely to stay. Miller says at that time the agreement will be evaluated and the University will move forward.

"There may be proposals to expand it, for example by extending it to paternity leave," Marth says. "There may be an improvement but not a rescission."

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu