Parental leave policy ‘sickens’ some faculty

Jennifer Nacin

The university parental leave policy has some employees on campus feeling sick.

Cindy Anderson, associate professor of sociology, is among some faculty on campus who say the policy makes them “nauseous.” Anderson said she has researched the policy and found it does not properly accommodate faculty.

“The existing policy that we have at Iowa State is really an embarrassment to the university,” Anderson said.

The parental leave policy found in the ISU Faculty Handbook states that pregnancy, miscarriage, abortion, childbirth and recovery are to be treated as sick leave. In doing so, Anderson said the policy’s treatment of the arrival of a child as an “illness” stigmatizes a normal part of everyday life in assuming that childbirth and adoption occur “behind the scenes.”

“The idea that work is separate from family and the two don’t intertwine is a real myth,” Anderson said. “You are going to have workers who are more satisfied and can contribute more to the university if they have better work leave policies and can attend to their families.”

Although the policy is complemented by the Family and Medical Leave Act — which ensures the safety of employee jobs while gone — faculty and staff lose sick days. Sick leave is paid as long as a doctor certifies a person is unable to work.

“My position is that a new policy is needed that reflects the current work force,” Anderson said. “The current policy is based on an antiquated model of ‘male breadwinner’ that assumes men are responsible for most of the family’s income and that they have wives at home to take care of the household and raise children. This is simply not the case.”

The policy also gives more time off for employees who have longer tenure at Iowa State. But if an employee’s accumulated sick leave is not enough to cover the period of disability, faculty and staff can be granted a leave of absence without pay.

Anderson said she and others would like to see equal time off for all permanent employees regardless of the amount of time they have been employed.

The university is aware of faculty concerns with parental leave on campus and had proposed a new “Policy for the Arrival of Children,” which would provide more options for new parents among ISU faculty and staff, said Susan Carlson, associate provost.

“This policy would make it easier for faculty and staff to balance work and family,” Carlson said.

The proposal was approved by faculty, staff, Provost Ben Allen and President Gregory Geoffroy and sent on to the Board of Regents in June 2003; however, the regents have tabled the policy.

Dianna Baker, executive assistant for the Board of Regents, said there are no plans to discuss the policy and it will not appear on the regents’ upcoming dockets.

Graduate students are also not included under the policy. If they want to request parental leave, it is usually informally negotiated with their department supervisors, Anderson said.

“The problem with informal negotiations is that it is behind closed doors and might not be fair for everyone,” Anderson said. “It is subject to discretion, and it is applied unevenly when it is informal.”

Denise Lindstrom, graduate assistant for the Center for Technology Learning and Teaching, gave birth when she was a graduate student.

“The faculty in my department really helped me get through that time, but I am not sure if it is that way in other departments,” Lindstrom said.

Lindstrom said the only options graduate students have is to request leave from their supervisors or decide not to enroll that semester if support is not given from the department. Lindstrom has joined a group of graduate students who will be comparing domestic and international parental leave policies for graduate students so a policy can be proposed to the university and the Board of Regents, she said.

If the university is to recruit and retain quality faculty, she said, both men and women at Iowa State need a new policy that values families and allows adequate benefits for the arrival of children.

Discussions on parental leave policies and child care issues sponsored by the Child Care Summit Steering Committee will take place at 11:30 a.m. April 12 in the Memorial Union.