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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: More on Maternity Leaves
November 12, 2009 - 10:50pm

Several weeks ago, I asked my readers to share their maternity leave stories with me, as I work to propose a reasonable maternity leave for Ursuline college. This week I want to summarize what I learned, thanks to my readers who were generous with their time in responding to my request. I am especially excited about the responses I received, because I think that they move us in the direction of seeing these “blogs” as on-line discussions, with the weekly entries being the start of the discussion, but, by all means, not the end of them.

I want to start out by saying that our efforts here at Ursuline are a good start, and not as in need of improvement as those at some colleges. I just think they could be even better, which is why I am in search of additional ideas. We do allow mothers giving birth to use short term disability leave during the time they have their child, and anyone, including new dads and adoptive parents, are eligible for five weeks of paid personal leave. Since five weeks away from campus was pretty useless for me as a college teacher, when we adopted our daughter I translated it into course reductions and moved some of my classes to the evenings and to summer, thus giving me what amounted to a good “maternity leave.” However, not every school is so generous, and even we could do better. I have therefore given myself the task of summarizing potential maternity leave options for us and for anyone else who is interested in the issue.

Responses to my request were interesting. Some included personal stories of the benefits their institutions offered them, while others directed me to web sites that provided additional information. One responder took an approach similar to the one I took, and overloaded one semester so she could have a reduced load when she needed it. She managed to teach only one day a week while on “leave”.

Another was given a leave that began when she had her baby in January, allowing her to take a full six months to be home after the birth. A similar approach is taken at Ursuline when a faculty member uses the disability leave to fashion a maternity leave.

Still other respondants directed me to web sites with more information. One directed me to the web site of the University of California system, which spells out leave policies for childbearing as well as for parental leave without pay. Of particular interest was the clause that allows Family and Medical Leave to be taken as part of a “reduced work schedule or on an intermittent basis.” Indeed, such an approach might partially eliminate the problem of how benefits would be maintained while taking FML.

Another responder directed me to the National Clearinghouse on Academic Work Life, which I had not visited previously. I was amazed at the wealth of information there that might be of interest to anyone who regularly reads Mama, Ph.D. At their web site I was able to find examples of maternity leave policies at different colleges and universities, including colleges that allow the use of Family and Medical Leave to fashion a reduced load. Also mentioned was the use of sick time, which might be one’s own sick time or that donated by colleagues, that could be used to create a leave, as well as several interesting academic papers that relate to Family and Medical Leave. One paper suggested that women are using the Family and Medical Leave to maintain continuity in their jobs after having children, but may be trading off job continuity for somewhat lower wages in the long run.

I noted one suggestion that has larger implications; one respondent said that their college offered a one semester leave for the “primary parent” and a one course release for the “secondary parent.” In reading that, I am reminded of a comment from my column last week, which asks why I assumed that the mother is the one acting with primary child care duties. I am not making this assumption myself, but am reacting to the common practice of schools and doctor’s offices in the area where I live. In this part of the country, where many mothers focus on at-home child rearing, it is almost always the mother who is called about health and child welfare issues when they arise, although I realize that this does not need to be the case. Indeed, I wonder, just how is the status of “primary parent” determined when such an arrangement is used? I suspect that it does not need to be correlated with gender in the same way that “disability leave” used as maternity leave must be.

On an unrelated topic, I wanted to pass along a funny story a colleague told me. A girl came trick-or-treating at her house dressed all in pink with a pig mask and two little wings taped to her back. She was, of course, dressed as the “swine flu.” I hope everyone is staying healthy!


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