‘We will be living with the effects for decades to come’: Employees criticize Yale’s childcare policies
On Feb. 3, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler wrote an email to faculty letting them know that recent efforts to convert Rosenfeld Hall into a childcare center for school-age children fell through due to the building’s conversion into a vaccination site.
“We extensively surveyed additional campus spaces and none meet the regulatory requirements for operating a childcare facility,” Gendler said.
The news came as a disappointment to many faculty members who were already stretched thin by the demands of working from home with their children’s constant presence. For them, trying to find a consistent and affordable option for childcare proved difficult as well — especially since many facilities have closed due to the pandemic.
Rosenfeld Hall would have been the only school-aged childcare center on Yale’s campus. Without it, some faculty now find themselves in the same position they have been in for many months — an unsustainable arrangement that could have lasting ramifications on gender inequity in the workplace.
“I am facing never-ending laundry, dishes and cleaning, combined with the pressures of acting like a grade-school teacher and IT professional (none of which I am qualified for) combined with my full-time job and my desire to do that well,” Stacey Bonet, senior administrative assistant at the Yale School of Public Health, wrote in an email to the News. “Since the disadvantage women face in the workplace is cyclical, pandemic losses could result in generations of further disadvantage for women at work.”
On Dec. 1, members of Yale’s Childcare Consultative Committee presented a brief to University President Peter Salovey and other administrative officials detailing their issues with Yale’s current childcare plans and offering specific policy adjustments, which they also detailed in a December op-ed for the News.
The YCCC members suggested policies including 90 paid time off “COVID Days” for the spring semester, affordable and convenient childcare options provided by the University, childcare stipends for postdoctoral parents and more. They also advocated for more centralized flexibility guidelines for academic departments that cover work hours and teaching arrangements. Currently, those departments operate under a policy of individual discretion as to what accommodations they would provide.
The Committee is not an official group under the Provost’s office — although the YCCC has demanded that it become one, and a resolution asking for such a committee to be formed recently passed at an FAS Senate meeting. Instead, the YCCC is a coalition formed from representatives of the Women Faculty Forum, FAS Senate, Committee on the Status of Women in Medicine, Working Women’s Network, Yale postdoctoral associations and UNITE HERE Local 34, which is the union for clerical and technical workers at Yale.
According to professor of history Naomi Rogers, the administration’s primary response to these complaints has been organizing regularly scheduled meetings with a senior provost official.
Rene Almeling, associate professor of sociology, spoke positively of administrative response to childcare issues, both in general and in specific response to the YCCC brief.
“The YCCC committee is appreciative of the efforts being made by the Yale administration, especially the Provost and FAS Dean Tamar Gendler, to address pandemic-related childcare issues. If this was an easy problem to solve, it would be solved by now,” she said.
But even so, Almeling and other faculty do not believe these steps are enough.
For one, Yale lowered the number of Crisis Care days from 25 for June to December 2020 to just 20 for the spring term. Crisis Care days give employees access to emergency backup care, which includes Bright Horizons Daycare located on West Campus or $100 reimbursements for care they secure within their personal network.
“Neither 20 nor 25 days will be enough to help parents with childcare for 6 months,” Krishna Mudumbi, a postdoctoral associate, wrote in an email to the News.
Furthermore, Bonet noted that the benefits don’t account for scenarios in which group care or babysitting is not a safe option, such as if someone in the family has been exposed to COVID-19. And the process of arranging most childcare centers or babysitting options requires an amount of time and energy that may not be feasible for working parents, Bonet added.
“I cannot help but wonder how many community members have not completed this process due to time or access?” Bonet wrote to the News. “It is a complicated process, and it is time-consuming.”
Childcare benefits also vary according to parents’ jobs. Postdoctoral parents, who are some of the most junior academic staff at Yale, do not receive the same stipends to offset the cost of childcare that graduate students and medical students do.
Postdoctoral fellow Chrystal Starbird told the News that she appreciated the efforts of the University to respond to the different YCCC requests, but that the postdoctoral population is still largely neglected.
“There is very little response to requests that address the needs of postdocs,” Starbird said. “It’s important for [Yale] to really consider the postdoc population, which is a vital part of Yale’s operations.”
Mudumbi acknowledged that Yale has made strides in the right direction, such as including postdoctoral fellows and associates in current childcare policies. But Mudumbi told the News that postdocs currently do not have guarantees of contractual extensions, while Yale has offered to extend the tenure clock for those on tenure track.
University Provost Scott Strobel noted in an email to the News that Yale has spent over $4.1 million on expanding the back-up care accommodations for “benefits-eligible faculty, managerial and professional staff, post-doctoral fellows, post-doctoral associates, clerical and technical, and service and maintenance employees, and students of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.”
“We are pleased that the emergency back-up care program has been successful and widely used by the students, faculty and staff across the university,” Strobel added.
Strobel declined to comment on contractual extensions for postdocs, but did confirm to the News that ladder faculty received a one-year appointment extension.
In an email to the News, Gendler pointed to adjusted teaching policies for the 2020-2021 academic year. Gendler noted that faculty can co-teach or teach two sections of the same course to reduce their course preparation load, and that deans and faculty can work together to come up with a teaching plan that accommodates their childcare needs.
“We are eager to continue working with colleagues within the FAS and across the University on this extremely important issue,” Gendler said.
But for some faculty, childcare issues have existed far prior to pandemic times.
Nina Stachenfeld, Senior Research Scientist at the Yale School of Medicine, called childcare an “ongoing challenge” that only now is more “apparent and immediate.” Rogers noted that the pandemic exposed the tenuous ways in which families “cobbled together a working way to work at Yale.”
But, while it is not new, the gender inequities exacerbated due to the pandemic are especially worrisome.
“My primary concern if things are not rectified is that women at [the Yale School of Medicine] will lose progress and momentum in their professional lives because so much of the child and family falls especially hard upon them,” Stachenfeld said.
Starbird added that inequities in science in both “gender and minority participation” could broaden. She cited studies indicating that, during the pandemic, women and faculty with fewer resources have published fewer papers and submitted fewer grants — meaning that, in the future, those same people will be less competitive for grants and jobs.
Almeling, who in her sociological research specializes in gender, noted her concerns about “the long-term effects of pandemic-related caregiving burdens, which studies show has fallen mostly on women.”
She pointed to junior faculty who have had to interrupt research due to childcare needs struggling to get tenure in the future. She also mentioned postdocs who don’t receive adequate childcare benefits and have trouble acquiring a job.
“Unless Yale takes action to address the gendered inequities of the pandemic, we will be living with the effects for decades to come,” Almeling wrote in an email to the News.
Rosenfeld Hall is located at 109 Grove St.
Madison Hahamy | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, Feb. 15: The story has been updated to reflect that the 25 days of Crisis Care applied to the the period from June to December 2020, not the fall 2020 term.