Family leave policy issues at forefront again

A small UC Davis taskforce will soon begin to study faculty family leave proposals made by another campus group last year.

Last June, the Chancellor's Committee on Work-Life Balance offered suggestions on how parental leave could be granted more equitably across academic departments. But work on assessing those recommendations - including making the period for leave and faculty modified duties one year - was put on hold over the summer and fall.

Barbara Horwitz, the vice provost for academic personnel, attributed part of the delay to the university's budget concerns and her need to settle into her new position and study the issues. Horwitz replaced Barry Klein in the post last July.

Now, Horwitz will meet with another, newly appointed committee composed of: co-chair Bob Rucker, professor of nutrition; Diane Wolf, associate professor of sociology, Patricia Turner, vice provost for undergraduate studies; Elizabeth Constable, assistant professor of French and Italian; and Diane Davies-Conley, associate director of budget operations for the Office of Resource Management and Planning. The group will study the proposals, looking at appropriateness, cost and practicality.

The first meeting is set for later this month Horwitz said.

Other suggestions Horwitz and Rucker's committee will examine include:

  • creating a central pool of funds for deans or department chairs to draw on when faculty members take family leave;
  • delaying the schedule for a tenured faculty member's promotion or merit review for one year after a birth; (Currently, assistant professors up for review have the option of extending the "tenure clock" after a birth or adoption.)
  • developing a policy on multiple births; and
  • providing training on work-life balance issues for faculty members, chairs and deans;

The recommendations were developed last year after some faculty members complained that family leave policies weren't being applied evenly across campus. According to current UC policy, a faculty member's department chair or dean determines how long - beyond the federally mandated six weeks - a new parent can take leave or receive only modified duties.

"Part of our goal is to create better balanced lives for the next generations of scholars," Wolf said.

Wolf, co-chair of the work-life committee along with associate professor of political science Emily Goldman, presented the group's recommendations last Tuesday to the Academic Senate's Representative Assembly for the first time. The faculty members, Wolf said, questioned the costs of the proposal and whether other universities, or even corporations, had similar leave policies for their faculty members or employees.

Another professor asked if there would be a limit on the number of leaves a faculty member could take.

"I was taken aback because women who want many children tend not to get Ph.Ds and go into academia," Wolf said.

Though Horwitz said the newly formed committee would not work under a strict timeline, Wolf said she would like to have some new leave policies in place by the fall.

"I know there is a lot of support for our recommendations," Wolf said. "My sense is that the concerns are budgetary and are from those who that faculty will take advantage of such leaves."

Horwitz said it is likely that some of the proposals could be implemented quickly; others will take more study.

UC is considering a family leave policy that would grant each faculty member system-wide the chance to take a salaried one-year period of leave and modified duties. The draft of the policy is being looked at by provosts and executives vice chancellors at each campus, Horwitz said.

"They haven't come to consensus. I'm sure a major part of it is cost," she said. "There are also issues of fairness and equity; like, 'Why aren't we doing this for staff?' "

Ultimately, further campus-wide committees may look at a variety of family issues affecting staff, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students.

Horwitz agrees that parental leave issues are important ones for UC Davis to consider.

"I think it's a very important set of issues for the campus. We are trying to diversify our faculty," she said. "Family issues, generally speaking, impact more on women than men. It would be good for the campus to be a leader in this area. It would make us particularly attractive to faculty members who have family concerns."

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