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Making Room for Baby

January 30, 2006

In an effort to increase the number of women pursuing advanced degrees, Stanford University has adopted a new policy that administrators say “is designed to partially ameliorate the intrinsic conflict between the ‘biological’ and the ‘research’ and ‘training’ clocks for women graduate students.”

The university’s new Childbirth Policy allows all female graduate students “anticipating or experiencing” a birth who are registered, matriculated students to:

  • Be eligible for an “Academic Accommodation Period” of up to two academic quarters before and after childbirth, during which the student may postpone course assignments, examinations, and other academic requirements.
  • Be eligible for full-time enrollment during this period and to retain access to Stanford facilities, health insurance, and university housing.
  • Be granted an automatic one-quarter extension of university and departmental requirements and academic milestones, with the possibility of up to three quarters by petition under unusual circumstances.

Under the policy, students supported by fellowships, teaching assistantships, and/or research assistantships will be excused from their regular teaching assistant or resident assistant duties for a period of six weeks, during which they will continue to receive support.

A student cannot receive a stipend or salary if she didn’t receive one previously, but she is still eligible for the “Academic Accommodation Period” and the one-quarter extension of academic milestones.

“We have to make it easier for women to combine having a family with getting an educational experience,” said Gail Mahood, the university’s associate dean for graduate policy. Now in her mid-50s, Mahood said that many women from her generation decided to postpone having children until after graduate school, and, in some case, after they achieved tenure only to find that they could no longer have children or had to undergo lengthy fertilization treatments.

Administrators believe that Massachusetts Institute of Technology is the only other institution to be providing comprehensive childbirth support to female graduate students.  MIT’s plan was used as a prototype for Stanford’s new policy.

Of the approximately 5,500 graduate students currently enrolled at the university about one-third are female. Mahood said that the university expects about 30 females to participate in the plan each year at a cost of “less than $100,000.” No similar plans are expected to be enacted for male graduate students. “We’re responding to distinct differences in biology,” said Mahood.

 

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