Thursday, August 14, 2008

Family and Medical Leave Act Seeks to Undermine Mother's Rights

I discussed this issue before on this blog: how men have been attempting to undermine women’s unique contribution and bond with their infants in order to reward men with time off from work and many other benefits. These benefits rightfully belong to the person who has contributed, risked, suffered and simply invested the most in the birth of a child and that person is called a ‘mother’. This benefits our society overall, as well as the individual mother and any children SHE alone bears, as it ensures women get good health care and nutrition prior, during and for some time after pregnancy.

The article below is a good example of the sort of political correctness that has been creeping into public policy over the last few decades or so. I first noticed it when Bill Clinton issued an executive order to his cabinet-level officers that ALL governmental programs begin enforcing strict gender neutral participation. Even programs such as Women Infant Children (WIC) were expected to ensure exact 50/50 representation of men and women.

Can someone please tell me WHY men should be getting free milk, eggs, cheese, etc., paid for by our government?

Do they carry life within their bodies that draws calcium and other minerals from them?

Do they breast feed?

Do they suffer any pain, discomfort or disfigurement during the 9 months pregnancy or actual birth process?

I think we all know the answer to that already, a resounding NO.

Yet they wish to give themselves benefits on a par with women when they contribute little or nothing to the entire process of bringing life forth…

I can tell you where this is heading if women do NOT start taking a strong stand on this issue and soon. One, custody battles taking place BEFORE birth just to decide who has the right to take the maternity leave. That’s one thing.

Secondly, this business of trying to make the gender neutral Family Leave paid and substitute it for Maternity Leave can have a decidely negative impact on mothers and children. As what’s to stop any family member from fighting to use your baby in order to stay home for an entire year WITH PAY?

Absolutely nothing!!!

Women are slowly but surely handing over our naturally bestowed rights as mother to the legal system, a system invented by men for their OWN benefit…Remember we don’t need to sit around with hat in hand waiting for a Judge to tell us we can be home with our babies. That’s our right, not something we get as a gift from men for being ‘good girls’.

Giving Birth to a Good Policy

Here's what to consider in drafting a sound maternity-leave plan for faculty members

Search the Web and you'll find no shortage of articles on the need for sound policies to help faculty members balance family life with career issues. Why, then, is there such a dearth of solid maternity-leave policies for faculty members?

At the University of Dayton, where I am an associate provost, several years passed between the clear need for a campuswide maternity-leave policy and its going into effect, and even now we continue to refine it.

What took so long? As Beth Schwartz, a benefits manager at our university, points out, many human-resource policies — for example, those governing conflicts of interest — can be developed almost independently of other policies and have a high degree of transferability from one campus to the next. But "a faculty maternity-leave policy," she says, "is much more of a challenge. Its interdependence with so many other policies, and the need for an institution-specific solution, requires substantial effort to properly draft."

If your institution is looking to adopt a campuswide policy — or update an inadequate one — you can find some guidance online. For starters, read the American Association of University Professors' "Statement of Principles on Family Responsibilities and Academic Work" and check out the Web site of the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (

But as you start down the path to a new or more-consistent policy, be prepared to face both legal and political considerations. It is a difficult process, one with many baby steps and hurdles along the way.

Members of the committee writing the policy will need guidance and support. An institution committed to adopting a sound maternity-leave policy must set the right foundation for that panel from the outset:

Acknowledge the difficulties ahead. Serious discussions on maternity leave lead to sensitive topics, like people's views about family and their understanding of women's issues. A maternity-leave policy has a price tag — not only in terms of financial costs, but also faculty time and course-coverage needs, both of which are constraints at all institutions.

The breadth of the policy means it very likely will have to go through a lengthy and repetitive approval process, requiring votes from bodies as diverse as faculty senates, benefits committees, and boards of trustees.

Unless the committee understands those difficulties and is supported through all of the political impediments, frustration will result from a seeming lack of progress, which can result in a loss of momentum, which in turn can leave the institution with no policy or bad policy.

A good policy is detailed, but not too. Settling for a policy that lacks any real substance and essentially says "maternity leaves will be accommodated within departments working through deans" is unacceptable, but, regrettably, all too common.

A lack of detail in written policy is not helpful to faculty members trying to make plans, nor to those involved in administering the details. Remember that professors will look at the policy well ahead of making family-planning decisions. Even if all cases are, ultimately, handled well under a vague policy, a mother making family decisions deserves to be able to predict the way her case will be handed within some reasonable range of outcomes. The negative effects of having to "negotiate" a maternity leave are well documented but often underestimated.

On the other hand, if the group responsible for drafting a policy begins with an implicit assumption that the policy will completely remove the need to apply judgment, the committee is headed for much frustration and, probably, failure. The myriad due dates, teaching schedules, contracts, and childbirth experiences simply preclude an exact formulaic answer for all scenarios.

A committee must push hard for a real policy, with some specificity of details, that is helpful to faculty members who may be starting families and to department heads who must respond to pregnancy announcements. At the same time, both parties should recognize that no policy will answer every question.

Be clear about the premise. Setting the committee into motion without an explicit statement of the premise for the policy can lead to wasted time and frustration. That may seem like a small detail, but it is actually a difficult step that is necessary and primary in the timeline of the work. A policy that is geared to provide time and support for child rearing will be quite different from one that is viewed as a special case of medical leave, for example.

A group that begins with divergent views on the premise will not agree on paternity, adoption, paid or unpaid leave, or other crucial components. A clear charge will direct the approach, scale, and nature of the policy.

Imperfect policy can be good policy. The initial outcome of a committee's work may be a policy with a few faults, but with the stipulation that it will be revisited at set intervals. Too often good policy is never put into effect, because of the lack of focus that results from waiting for perfect policy. Acknowledging that the policy might have a few kinks to work out can lead to approval on a provisional basis and permit progress to be made, while the institution gains experience and identifies potential refinements and improvements.

With those provisos, your committee is ready to begin work. So, what are the fundamental features of a sound maternity-leave policy for faculty members? What types of issues will the group have to consider? Here are some questions that policy writers will need to weigh.

Does the policy match our institution? The transferability of maternity-leave policy from institution to institution is limited, and for good reason. Financial capacity, availability of part-time faculty replacements, policies on medical and family leaves, and many other issues are critical, requiring a tailored policy that is appropriate for your institution.

Is the policy legal? You may be surprised to learn that many maternity-leave policies do not meet that standard. A fair-minded policy is a great start, but consistency with the Family and Medical Leave Act is a requirement, not an option. Also, if female faculty members receive substantially more benefit than their male counterparts — for example, in terms of time off to spend raising children — then the institution is open to legal challenges. They can be avoided by involving campus lawyers as the policy takes shape.

Are students well served by the policy? Discontinuity or poor planning can disrupt the educational process for students. It is imperative that maternity-leave policies be looked at from the perspective not only of faculty members and their department heads but also of our students, who deserve full course offerings, qualified faculty members, and uninterrupted courses.

Does the policy mention the tenure clock? Faculty leaves can have serious implications in terms of tenure. Maternity leaves, in particular, tend to be taken more by junior faculty members than by senior ones, making this a crucial issue for tenure. Many senior female professors made family-planning decisions based on the tenure clock. Junior faculty members often sense a stigma associated with a request to temporarily stop the tenure clock for maternity leave. The best practice is probably to delay the tenure clock by default, unless otherwise requested. At a minimum, a sound policy must explicitly address the tenure-clock question.

Have we considered the related issues? All sorts of ancillary topics crop up in the drafting of a maternity-leave policy. Paternity, adoption-policy, and faculty-replacement issues are likely to arise, to name just a few. The key to success may be to keep an inventory of those issues and be deliberate about which ones should be a part of the maternity-leave policy as it is developed, and which should be kept separate so as not to impede its approval and use.

My institution is a Roman Catholic, doctoral-intensive university of about 10,000 students in Ohio. Like most institutions, we operated without an explicit policy for many years. The majority of leave requests that came before we had a policy seemed to have been addressed reasonably, but our initial attempts to codify the practices were not successful.

In 2002 the Academic Senate developed a progressive policy, which automatically delayed the tenure clock by a year for faculty members who qualified for FMLA leave, whether they took the leave or not. The idea was that, even if a faculty member was unable to take the leave, the institution recognized the potential delay in research or other work required for tenure.

That policy was a natural starting point for our Faculty Maternity Leave Policy, and a small group took on that issue specifically. A clear, fair, legal, and yet imperfect policy was passed by the Academic Senate in late 2004.

Built into the policy, however, was a stipulation that it be reviewed after a certain point and then continued, improved, or rescinded.

"It's important to look at the policy after a couple of years and get a sense of how it is used and how it can be improved," says Lisa Rismiller, director of the university's Women's Center, who is leading that review process. "There are some adjustments that we'll make as a result of our experience. Some of the points of contention during initial implementation didn't turn out to be a problem, but some that we did not foresee now need to be addressed."

Among those issues are better coverage for faculty members whose due dates fall in the summer, when they are not working under contract; inclusion of additional coverage for adoptive parents; and the possibility of a standing panel to review new maternity-leave provisions and ensure consistency and clear communication.

Developing an effective policy is a challenging goal. But it's also an attainable one, and the positive results will come in many ways, including supporting families, recruiting and retaining faculty members, and serving the educational process.
Joseph Untener is associate provost for faculty and administrative affairs at the University of Dayton.
Section: The Academic Workplace
Volume 54, Issue 45, Page B30