Maternity, Paternity, & Adoption Issues
This handbook is dedicated to Giancarlo Nicoletti, whose short life demonstrates the fragility and importance of taking care of our children and providing resources to those who orchestrate their care. Download the Entire Handbook (PDF)
A Colleague-to-Colleague Handbook for Maternity, Paternity, and Adoption issues for Faculty Members at WPI
- Message From the Provost
- How long should I take for maternity/paternity/adoption leave?
- What should I be planning on when I return to the classroom?
- What should I do to set up my office at home?
- What if I need special accommodations during my pregnancy?
- How do I juggle undergraduate project advising?
- How do I continue advising graduate students?
- Should I consider going to conferences?
- How do I find daycare?
- What experiences have women on the faculty had with breastfeeding?
- When should I tell people that I'm going to become a parent?
- How have people handled their committee work during pregnancies and leaves?
- What happens to my academic advisees?
- I think that I've made all the right plans and I can get a lot of WPI work done during my leave. Am I being realistic?
- How should I keep in touch with people on campus?
- Appendix: "Maternity/Paternity/Adoption Issues and Working at WPI Interview Form"
In the spring of 1999, Provost John F. Carney III asked a group of faculty members to share with him their experiences with WPI's maternity leave policy. The faculty members followed up this meeting with several discussions and it became apparent that one problem is the lack of strong community ties - brought on by faculty work schedules and family obligations, having few female faculty members, fewer still who have had children while a professor. WPI has developed this resource that brings together the experiences and lessons learned by faculty members (female and male) who have brought children into their family while at WPI. It contains advice and anecdotal evidence on experiences along with WPI's Human Resource and tenure process guidelines. We hope that faculty members will use the resource to learn from others while maintaining privacy about the sensitive issues surrounding informing others of your pregnancy, taking time away from academic activities right after birth, breastfeeding, and more.
An announcement of the intention to develop this handbook and the need for faculty to sign up for confidential interviews was sent to faculty during the summer of '99. A. Tracy Hassett of Human Resources conducted the interviews and compiled the responses. A copy of the questions asked can be found at the end of this handbook. Comments from the ten faculty interviewed are compiled here: six women and four men. They come from many different departments, and had their children both recently and in the more distant past.
We consider this to be a living document - one that should reflect new experiences and stories to share. If you have comments or additions, please contact Tracy Hassett or myself. All additions will be confidential. We will also put this document on the web, thereby creating an even better resource for our community, and the world.
Thanks to the WPI Administration for its continued dedication to improvements in our climate and to Tracy for her dedication and tenacity in gathering the information.
A note on gender issues: this handbook reflects interviews of men and women on campus. Some issues are common, while others are specific to one gender or another. This handbook was written using a style that acknowledges that women are often the primary caregivers after birth and certainly have unique physical repercussions before and after birth. Men do have issues that come up when they become fathers, but does not sanitize the words chosen to the point of making the information so dilute that it is meaningless. If we have offended anyone, please let us know.
Denise Nicoletti, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
A. Tracy Hassett, Associate Director of Human Resources
WPI is committed to providing a nurturing, supportive working environment for all of its faculty - female and male. It is clear, however, that the demands placed on women during their time of pregnancy and following the birth of a child are substantial. It is difficult to maintain an undiminished professional life while also coping with the physical effects of pregnancy and childbirth as well as the day-to-day demands of infant care. As Provost, I am determined to provide the institutional support needed during this critical time.
The gender balance of the undergraduate student body at WPI is changing. In 1970, we had an essentially all-male student population. Now, the percentage of female students is 26% and growing. It is crucial that these female students have successful role models on our faculty. I believe that it is highly desirable to have the gender makeup of our students and faculty be in reasonable agreement.
For these reasons, it is my pleasure to support the efforts of the female faculty at WPI that have resulted in the production of this Colleague-to-Colleague Handbook. I will continue to explore opportunities to further improve the supportive infrastructure for all of our faculty.
Carol Simpson, Provost
Below is the WPI policy:
Female faculty members are eligible to receive 100% pay and benefits for up to eight weeks for maternity/adoption leave, at which time the tenure clock could stop. Maternity Leave covers a maximum of eight weeks after delivery, unless it is medically determined that the disability must be extended. Maternity leave is considered time used against the maximum twelve weeks of "Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993", H.R.1 (FMLA).
Every attempt will be made to reinstate you to the same or similar position upon your return. Failure to return to work at the end of the maternity/adoption leave (without an approved extension) shall be considered a resignation.
There is a separate WPI policy regarding the tenure process. The following is the section titled "Probationary Period, Unpaid Leaves, and Part-time Employment" from the Faculty Handbook, and was a motion carried at the April 20, 1995 faculty meeting:
Tenure-track faculty are entitled to extensions of the probationary period for unpaid full-time leaves or for intervals of part-time employment during which the faculty member's activity is at or below the half-time level. The need for such unpaid leaves or part-time intervals may arise from a variety of situations, including but not limited to child bearing, child rearing, extenuating circumstances related to personal or family members' healthy, personal relations within a family which impose special or arduous burdens, or for other reasons as may be provided for in the "Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993", H.R.1. It is the purpose of this section only to establish the probationary period extension. The terms and conditions of the leave are arranged by negotiation between the faculty member and the administration. It is also understood that the leave or part-time interval is not to be imposed by the Administration, but that it is available at the election of the faculty member. Exceptions to this policy must be approved by the At-Large Committee on Tenure and Academic Freedom. The following Table V-2 gives the probationary period extensions for the two types of leave.
|Table V-2||DURATION||TENURE DECISION WILL BE POSTPONED:|
UNPAID FULL-TIME LEAVE
Six months or less
HALF-TIME ACTIVITY INTERVAL
Less than twelve months
Faculty members report very different uses of the leave policies. The men interviewed reported taking no time off for parental leave. One woman who was a relatively new faculty member when her child was born felt that the time she would take off would be a burden to her employees. Her child was born on a Friday and she came back to work on the following Monday.
On the other hand, other women reported receiving an entire term off, which is nearly three months. Other leaves were in fact longer (as long as nine months) when they were combined with the summer recess, making such timings very attractive. Of course, given problems with fertility that can occur, relying on such timings must be done cautiously.
Most people said that they returned to a full teaching load. However, others took a half-time position upon return, which is an option available under the present policy, and one that should be explored with your department head and/or the Provost. Please see the section regarding realistic expectations for maternity leave.
One person discussed the pros and cons of graduate versus undergraduate teaching, and how doing either right after returning to campus is challenging. Graduate courses are once a week, which really helps, but they are usually held in the evening, which is extremely difficult when you have a small child you have to put to bed. Undergraduate courses are during the day, but they often meet practically every day which is a very straining time schedule when you cannot count on being able to go home and to prepare material as needed to make it through the next day.
Since many faculty members have some level of ongoing commitments while they are on leave (see sections on academic advising, project advising, etc.), making some arrangements is important to keep your sanity when at home - especially if your home is far from campus.
Consider taking or arranging for the following at home with you (and when appropriate, check with your department for approval):
- a computer with modem for your use and checking email (reported to be essential)
- a printer
- a fax machine (to be able to exchange drafts with students)
- WPI stationary and blank memo paper
- photocopier paper
- envelopes (interdepartmental and postal)
One woman reminds us all that pregnancy requires a lot more rest. Another reported needing even more TLC while carrying twins. She was able to further reduce her teaching load, and got a handicapped sticker so that she could park on campus in handicapped-only spots. She found that her department head and others across campus were very willing to help once she made it clear that she needed it.
This aspect of parental leaves is of special significance to WPI, where project advising takes a crucial (and time-consuming) role.
Of the four interviewed that responded to this question, one did not advise any projects while on leave; one had a reduced project load when she returned to campus; and two signed up co-advisors for their projects. All of these options require planning - especially when you consider that you often sign up projects in the spring, before you may be certain of whether or not you are going to have a baby in the following academic year. Therefore, lining up co-advisors can provide continuity for project students that can really make the whole thing work better. Also, one person advises others to be careful when picking co-advisors so that they have a similar discipline regarding grading and project advising.
Faculty members should be aware of CDR (Completion of Degree Requirement) deadlines, and whether or not they could request the Registrar to forgive a student missing the deadline, especially if the delay was caused by problems with advising while on leave.
This type of advising tends to be easier to manage because of the relatively older and more mature students involved, and a different set of deadlines for the project. However, this activity is critical for continued professional activities re staying current and publishing. One person advises that it is important to re-arrange your priorities to find ways to continue to advise and work with MS as well as Ph.D. students throughout child-rearing years. Advising can be done via email, impromptu meetings, etc. and thus are much more feasible than regular formal classroom teaching.
And, as with undergraduate advising, faculty members should be aware of graduation deadlines, and whether or not they could request the Registrar to forgive a student missing the deadline, especially if the delay was caused by problems with advising while on leave.
The good news is - yes! People have reported different experiences with going to conferences, reflecting their family situations and career goals.
Some faculty members have reported that they would attend only if spouse/other caregiver was available to watch the kid(s) at home. Also, they have either eliminated or reduced the number of conferences attended. On the other hand, another faculty member has a nanny who is able to lessen the load shifted to her spouse/other caregiver during a business trip.
People have reported very different reactions to taking a baby along. One found that taking her infant to the conference by herself worked out well. She called the hotel and found that the hourly rate for babysitting provided by the hotel was exorbitant (over $50 an hour). She found references for daycare centers in the area, and found that one was able to take her infant on a day-to-day basis at a greatly reduced rate, and this arrangement made going to the conference possible.
On the other hand another woman tried to take the baby but it was very straining and the reactions were not at all positive. She got wives (who were companions to the conference participants) to talk to her, and the focus was primarily on the baby - but professional talk was severely limited. She has decided to cut down on business trips until the child is old enough to be taken care of while she is away from home.
As for the people interviewed, two have nannies who come to their home during the day - which is financially attractive if you have more than one child. Another used local daycare, and reported having no problems. Another used family members. It is clear that the solution to the daycare problem is highly individualized. One thing that should be considered is making arrangements for regular care AND emergency backups for the inevitable illnesses (of your child or the daycare provider), and to cover for holidays taken by your daycare provider but not by WPI (for example, Columbus Day).
One father reported that he may have gone a different route if we had a day care center on campus.
First Friends Early Care and Education Center is located on the perimeter of the WPI campus. First Friends has agreed to reserve a limited number of spaces each year for children of WPI faculty members and employees. For more information on First Friends, please call +1-508-791-4884 or visit their Web site.
Happily, people have had good experiences with breastfeeding, especially since being a faculty member does have a few perks that some other working women do not have. Most notably, we have private offices, so we can pump or nurse in private. This is a great privilege - especially when you hear stories about women having to use bathrooms for such things! People advise others to feel perfectly comfortable about putting a sign on your door that says DO NOT DISTURB to avoid little interruptions. Including a 'please check back at' a certain time allows you to have the time that you need without feeling guilty about avoiding students - but only if you give yourself plenty of time for what you need to do.
Most of us have access to refrigeration (for storing breast milk), although using semi-public refrigerators has its pros and cons. Consider purchasing freezer bags for temporarily storing the milk, or using a small refrigerator inside of your office.
For more information on breastfeeding and for local support, the local La Leche League can be reached at +1-508-987-1794.
Such news is always worthy of a celebration, but who to tell and when to tell is a personal decision. One faculty member advises prudence, especially considering that a miscarriage can occur. Women report telling their department head shortly after finding out themselves about the pregnancy, but asked that the news remain confidential. This allows for appropriate planning, especially for teaching assignments. This confidentiality can be maintained using some imagination. For example, one woman's pregnancy began just as the department was going to make course assignments for the following academic year. Her department head reported a lighter course load for the woman who was pregnant, with a note with the same indication that is made for faculty who buy out of a course with research money. Therefore, no one questioned why her course load was lighter, and allowed her to make her pregnancy known when she was ready to.
As far as letting the general public know (including students), people reported feeling comfortable telling people after the first trimester. One male respondent said that he was very open with students about the pregnancy, and it seems that students are interested and supportive of faculty member's impending blessing. One woman advises that you need to address their concerns that you would not be around enough to have attention and time for them.
Faculty members report being able to maintain their activity in committees while pregnant and during leaves - when THEY chose to remain active. To do this, they have brought children to meetings. The Faculty Governance policy is that a member must step down from a committee membership if an absence is to exceed 10 weeks in an academic year.
Each year, usually in May or June, the Director of Academic Advising gets a list from the Provost's Office of the faculty who are going on leave or sabbatical or who are retiring. The current policy is to reassign all advisees for those who are gone for a whole year. When the advisor comes back, the students have the option of requesting the original advisor back. Advisees are not reassigned for those away less than an academic year, but this faculty member will not be assigned new students.
Faculty members reported having a good experience after sending an email to their advisees telling them about the leave, when to expect a return, how they can make contact, and to designate someone who they should talk to if they can't wait.
If the timing of your leave does not coordinate well with the communication between the Provost's office and Academic Advising, or if you have any other concerns, please contact the Director of Academic Advising.
I think that I've made all the right plans and I can get a lot of WPI work done during my leave. Am I being realistic?
Well, in a word, no. Women who have already had children have voiced some very strong advice to their colleagues preparing for new motherhood. Perhaps they say it best:
"Your personal expectations should be LOW; don't expect to do much while you are out and know that that is O.K."
"It is possible to have a family AND a career, but if you value your sanity - DON'T DO IT!"
"Proper planning ahead of time allows you to do less while on leave."
"Find ways to get help ahead of time. Don't try to do it all yourself - ask for help."
"I feel strongly the need for some policy that would allow a female faculty to continue her professional activities at some level while doing justice to the child bearing and early months rearing process. Reduced teaching (which requires regular meeting and prep times) would allow for time to do the graduate student advising, research, etc."
We believe that these comments reflect people's realization that, perhaps for the first time in their life, they could not do EVERYTHING perfectly. In fact, they might not have been able to do very much at all! Not only is your personal life being turned upside down, there are inevitable physical repercussions to giving birth. And, unlike the pregnancy where things change comparatively slowly, your body is going through upheavals and changes that must be respected.
Women who have been there would like others to take a full leave from WPI during their maternity leave (or, as full a leave as you can bear), and to try to take advantage of all options to extend your time away from professional duties, whether you take paid or unpaid leave.
It was important to also report people's successes - one woman said that "Everyone at WPI was VERY supportive (Human Resources, co-workers, and her Department Head)."
People report good results from relying on email correspondence, particularly because the faculty member can choose when he/she wants to take the time to read and respond to messages, and can do so relatively easily. This mode of communication was especially effective when departmental staff and students were cautioned about how often the person wished to be contacted.
Visits to campus while on leave can be important, but also very tiring, experiences. One person suggests trying to schedule on-campus visits around students' schedules thereby avoiding running into people in the hallways - especially if your baby is fussy at the time!
Interviewee (optional): __________________________________________________________
Date interviewed: ______________________________________________________________
Gender: Female Male
How long were you out on maternity/paternity/adoption leave? ________________________
While on leave, did you set up an office at home? Yes No
If yes, how did you set up your office at home (did you take home stationary, paper, envelopes, etc.)
Please comment on the following issues as they pertain to you:
- Difficult pregnancy - did you require special accommodations (i.e. limited mobility, needed more rest, etc.)
- Taking computers home (or, to the hospital, believe it or not!)
- Returning to teaching (what types of courses work best, how to juggle family/course duties, etc.)
- Project advising (i.e. finding co-advisors for all projects, how to sign up projects when you are/might be pregnant, etc.)
- Advising graduate students (research)
- Going to conferences
- Daycare (need for regular AND emergency daycare, when possible)
- Breastfeeding (where/when to pump, milk storage, etc.)
- How and when to let people know you are expecting
- How to talk to students about pregnancies
- Committee work (when to resign from committees, etc.)
- How to ask for delays from the registrar (CDR day, etc.)
- Academic advising (when to get another professor to cover for you, freshman advising day, talking to Academic Advising to not get freshmen assigned, etc.)
- Expectations that women place on themselves before the big event versus what motherhood turns out to be
- Contact information (what to tell your department, colleagues, and students about how to contact you (phone, email, etc.), and how much contact you want.
Last modified: January 29, 2009 13:45:44