Following years of advocacy by faculty members across the University, Yale plans to announce a set of reforms to its parental leave policies in the next few weeks that will allow faculty members to receive parental benefits regardless of their spouse’s employment status.
Under the previous system, a Yale faculty member who had a child would have to prove that his or her spouse was employed in order to get time off from work and other benefits. And faculty couples who had children would have to split parental leave benefits between them.
Earlier this month, Provost Benjamin Polak told the News that under the new policy faculty members will not be required to show proof of their spouses’ employment to receive a break from teaching. And if both parents are Yale ladder faculty members who identify as caregivers, he explained, they will both be eligible for teaching relief.
Although Polak declined to comment on the specifics of the forthcoming reforms, he said the new policy will apply retroactively to the entire academic term, which began on July 1, 2018.
“There’s a change that’s taken place in society over the past 20 years in that most parents do decide to be co-caregivers. The old language which talks about a primary caregiver seems old-fashioned now,” Polak said. “We want to make it possible [for faculty members to be] parents in the way that’s best for them.”
The imminent reforms are the latest development in a two-year discussion among faculty members regarding the need for fairer parental leave policies at Yale.
In 2016, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate and the School of Medicine Advisory Council published separate reports highlighting ambiguities and inequities within existing guidelines for faculty parental leave and putting forward similar recommendations for policy reform.
In a letter sent to Polak this spring, FAS senators and School of Medicine faculty members said virtually none of the recommendations set forth had been implemented.
The changes requested in the letter reflected the concerns put forward in the two 2016 reports. On top of proposing to give parental leave on a per-parent rather than a per-child basis, the letter asked for consistency across schools and equity across ranks regarding the length of paid leave. In addition, the letter requested that research and clinical faculty members in the medical school be allowed to take an eight-week leave without pressure to work more hours before and after the leave or arrange for others to cover their responsibilities.
The letter requested that the changes be implemented by the beginning of this academic term on July 1.
“These changes will bring Yale into alignment with its peer institutions, improve the equitable application of policy, and reduce the legal exposure that comes from inconsistently applied and underfunded policies,” the letter stated. “Yale should be a leader in equity and inclusion in this area. As it pertains to parental leave, we are not a 21st century university. Until we are, the cultural costs and personnel losses will be significant.”
Matthew Jacobson, former chair of the FAS Senate and an American Studies professor, said the Senate heard “really promising statements” from the Provost’s office in the spring following the FAS Senate and the School of Medicine Advisory Council’s joint letter. But he said he became concerned that policy changes might not actually come to fruition after he didn’t hear anything by July 1.
Psychiatry professor Chris Pittenger, who also serves as the vice chair of the YSM Advisory Council, said he met with Polak in April to discuss ways to better support research and clinical faculty at the School of Medicine.
“We were getting frustrated by the number of delays, so we were pleased to hear that there were changes finally being made,” Pittenger said. “It’s a testament to what we can get accomplished when we sit down together and talk about how we can improve the working environment at Yale.”
Polak told the News that his meetings with representatives from the FAS Senate, YSM Advisory Council and Women Faculty Forum — an organization of women faculty members who advocate for gender equity throughout the University — as well as deans and provosts from peer institutions this summer, helped inform the University’s new parental leave policy.
WFF Chair and Linguistics professor Claire Bowern called the forum’s discussion with Polak “productive.” She said she would like to wait until the policy details are formally released to comment on them, but she believes that “we have made a number of advances in having fairer policies.”
Bowern noted that there is an “all too common” perception in academia that faculty — particularly female faculty members — are not serious about their work if they have children. But estimating conservatively, she said, two-thirds of the Yale faculty have school-age children, based on parental leave figures and the number of faculty receiving education tuition benefit.
“Parenting responsibilities change a lot from newborns to college, of course, but working and parenting is the norm, not the exception,” Bowern said. “So by having good and flexible parental leave policies, we recognize that parents are also serious and committed researchers and teachers.”
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