Following years of faculty advocacy for more equitable parental leave policies, University Provost Ben Polak announced a set of reforms to the University’s policies Wednesday afternoon.
The new reforms will allow faculty members to receive parental benefits, including a semesterlong teaching relief and one-year tenure clock and contract extensions, regardless of their spouse’s employment status. Before this semester, the University required faculty members to identify as the “primary caregiver” in a household to receive parental leave, which is normally from eight to 26 weeks. The new policies apply retroactively to the entire academic term, which began on July 1, 2018. All full-time ladder faculty will be eligible to receive the benefits.
“Yale is committed to helping faculty balance their work, academic and personal lives,” Polak said in the facultywide email. “As part of this effort, the university is increasing and streamlining the support we offer for ladder faculty who are welcoming new children into their families.”
The new policy gives families more flexibility by allowing the possibility of “co-caregivers” in one family, as per the Wednesday announcement. Faculty members can now also request unpaid leave to care for a new child or ill family members.
Under the previous system, in order to take time off or receive tenure clock and contract extensions, Yale faculty members with newborn or newly adopted children had to prove that their spouses were employed to receive benefits. Faculty couples also had to share the parental leave benefits usually allotted to one faculty member with a nonfaculty member spouse.
According to Polak’s email, the new policy no longer requires faculty members to show proof of their spouse’s employment to receive a break from teaching and other benefits. If both parents are Yale ladder faculty members who identify as caregivers, both are eligible to receive a semester of teaching relief and one-year clock and contract extensions on their current appointments.
The policy change follows two years of discussion among faculty members concerning the need for fairer parental leave policies at the University.
In 2016, the School of Medicine Faculty Advisory Council and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate released separate reports highlighting ambiguities within the existing parental leave guidelines and recommending policy reform. The School of Medicine was set to implement separate parental policy reform at the beginning of the year. But in January, the Provost’s Office blocked the policy.
This spring, FAS senators and School of Medicine faculty members sent a letter to Polak pointing out that none of the recommendations brought forth in both 2016 reports had been implemented. The authors of the letter called for the University to grant parental leave on a per-parent rather than a per-child basis and for consistency across schools regarding the length of paid leave, among other reforms. 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.”
In a statement to the News, the lead author of the 2016 report Bill Rankin said that the new changes to the University’s parental policies are “a serious step forward.” He added that the majority of the problems his ladder faculty colleagues have encountered in the past will be avoided with these new policies, and Yale will be better able to recruit and retain great faculty as a result.
Still, Rankin noted that the new policies “only address part of the recommendations from the FAS Senate and other advisory groups.” He added that he hopes that the Provost’s office will continue having conversations about ways to support University faculty members, including the nonladder ones.
“The changes just announced will have an immediate impact and eliminate some of the worst problems, but they’re also low-hanging fruit, since the impact on budgets and scheduling will be minimal,” Rankin said. “The next steps will require some heavier lifting. The challenges of parenting continue beyond the first year, of course, and I’d love to see Yale more actively involved with issues of childcare and schooling. But since these issues affect New Haven families of all kinds, not just faculty families, the approach will have to be different.”
Chair of the FAS Senate and economics professor William Nordhaus declined to comment.
Former chair of the FAS Senate Matthew Jacobson said that while the senate “applauds the new policy as a major first step,” the fact that instructional nonladder faculty was not included in the policy is “a point of significant concern.” Jacobson added that the Senate will be discussing aspects of policy implementation that are ambiguous and have yet to be spelled out.
Chair of the School of Medicine’s Faculty Advisory Council and cell biology professor Megan King told the News that she was pleased that “essentially all of the recommendations made by [the] Faculty Advisory Council have been incorporated.”
“The changes applying to both FAS and YSM reflect that co-parenting is a mainstay of modern families,” King said. “Our hope is that the new policy will help build a family-friendly culture that will enhance success and excellence by supporting our faculty during what are likely the most vulnerable years of their careers.”
According to Jacobson, the FAS senate will soon post a summary of what the new policy “does and does not address in regard to the Senate’s March 2016 recommendations.”
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