The following is part of an ongoing political activism project. My group members and I are trying to raise awareness at St. John’s regarding the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act. St. John’s is in compliance with the minimal provisions of the act, allowing for up to 12 weeks of UNPAID leave. For many faculty members this is a luxury they cannot afford. Without further ado:
Professors Have Families
The quality of academic life here at St. John’s depends almost entirely on professors’ capacity to contribute equally to instruction, research, publishing, and participation in activities, such as departmental committees, with each demand requiring extensive time outside the classroom.
Traditionally, the university setting has valued a professor for his or her ability to comply with such an arduous workload-as a direct measure of each individual’s scholastic merit and the extent of his or her commitment to St. John’s. Indeed, the high standards required of professors, particularly of those on the pre-tenure track, should not be compromised; however, the current academic requirements, in conjunction with the existing benefits policy, leave sizable gaps in the possible productivity of St. John’s faculty.
By failing to address the dual responsibilities of its employees as both faculty and family members, the deficiency of the benefits policy ultimately threatens the substance of the essential intellectual fabric here at St. John’s.
Unpaid Leave is Unsustainable
At first glance, the current compliance of St. John’s benefits policy with the guidelines of the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may appear relatively acceptable.
In accordance with the federal mandate passed in 1993, St. John’s now offers its full-time employees, having worked at least one year at the university, the option of 12 weeks unpaid job-protected leave. The policy stipulates that paid sick days off, already accrued by faculty members are used first and concurrently during the leave period. At this time, faculty members may apply for leave due to personal illness or the illness of a dependent family member, the birth and/or adoption of a child, and the return of a family member from duties in the armed services.
The above considerations may indeed be a worthy step in the right direction, but the limited provisions are woefully inadequate in considering the realities of modern-day families, especially of those individuals employed at a university. The most glaring fault in the existing policy is the fact that because the leave is unpaid, an overwhelming number of faculty members, will not be able to take enough time off to deal with pressing family emergencies, due to lack of financial security.
Moreover, attached to this central problem is a laundry list of related concerns compiled by Time To Care New York, (an organization dedicated to reforming Family Leave laws) including but not limited to: The increasing amount of workers who must care for children in households with two employed parents; The prevalence of workers who need time to care for elderly relatives; The fact that there is no safety net to provide income stability to individuals who take time off from work for familial needs; Or that the current policies reflect a period of time where men were considered chief workers and thus cannot account for all disruptions in working caused by family responsibilities.
Gender inequality in the University workplace
The institution of paid family leave benefits, in addition to the restructuring of the typical time commitments required by all tenure track professors-thereby enabling for greater flexibility in the workplace, are policies that will improve the quality of life for families and faculty alike; such changes offer a promising probability of ensuring broader professional equality between male and female professors as well.
Historically, the expectations of an academic have largely been formulated along an “ideal” worker model. This ingrained assumption along gender lines has traditionally assumed that the male professor was the primary breadwinner of the family, whose stay-at-home spouse would be available for the ongoing unpaid labor of domestic and caretaking responsibilities. It is a travesty that such an outdated approach to the workplace has continued to allow for the particular disadvantages of potential female tenure applicants and current faculty members, while simultaneously failing to envision the responsibilities of professors outside the realm of academia.
For instance, in an article written by Jerry A. Jacobs and Sarah E. Winslow for the Academy of American Political Science, which surveyed the particular demands and relative success of university faculty members, it was revealed that those who have put in the “long[est] hours on the job greatly contribute to research productivity.”
In fact, in research presented in the aforementioned piece “Overworked Faculty,” Jacobs and Winslow concluded that working sixty or more hours a week led to an overall decrease of job satisfaction, while increasing the likelihood of publishing pertinent scholarship required for the tenure track. It is no question then, that the extremely long hours required by faculty positions, combined with the inadequacies of current Family Leave policies in which women (who are almost always relegated to the duties of primary caregivers) must choose between raising a family or having a career have bred a workplace where “women are more likely to hold both full-time and part-time, non-tenure track positions than full-time, tenure-track positions.”
As specifically evidenced by research conducted by the American Association of University Professors, the average age for receipt of a Ph.D. is 33, which places the average achievement of tenure year at age 40. Women are more likely to receive the Ph.D. at a slightly older median age (34.1 years as compared to 32.8 years for men)
Therefore, the years devoted to establishing security in one’s academic career will likewise coincide with the prime childrearing years.
Considering the status of women as the primary care providers, female academics are often forced to make a choice between “an all – consuming professional career or having children.” Generally, this is one choice that male faculty members are not also forced to make.
In accordance with these basic trends, AAUP notes that such practices have produced a “significant source of inequities in faculty status, promotion, tenure, and salary.”
As result, hopeful female academics are now more heavily concentrated in less secure and financially compensated work, often teaching adjunct courses. St. John’s University, along with all institutions of higher education in the United States, can no longer afford to let such talented professors forgo academic ambitions in order to fulfill the biological desire for a family.
Envisioning better policies at St. John’s
As the momentum for individual states to pressure for paid leave mandates continues, with neighboring New Jersey, for instance, now granting six weeks of paid leave for all employees, it seems probable that New York’s campaign (Time to Care NY) for similar policies may be successful in the near future.
In anticipating the success of New York’s campaign to institute paid family leave, St. John’s University should take the lead in revamping its family benefits policy. Structuring the university around family-friendly policies can ensure that academia and family life are no longer exclusive entities.
In order to accommodate for the present demands of families without hindering the substance of academic life, St. John’s should consider the following policies, as proposed by the American Association of University Professors (2006):
· Flexibility in scheduling to accommodate work/family responsibilities
· Equitable treatment for faculty taking leaves (paid or unpaid) for family or personal emergencies
· Stopping the tenure clock during the probationary period for a maximum of two years
· Paid leave for pregnancy, adoption and physical disabilities
· Subsidized child care
· Institutional support for faculty caring for relatives, spouses or partners
For more information about the FMLA please visit: http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/index.htm