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Managing Childcare and Other Family Needs During COVID

July 21, 2020

This message by Wole Soboyejo, senior vice president and provost, and Michelle Jones-Johnson, vice president for Talent & Inclusion and chief diversity officer, was sent to all employees.

Since the earliest days of this pandemic, our faculty, staff, and graduate students with children at home have been working hard to balance their family’s needs with WPI’s online classes, Zoom meetings, traditional working hours, research endeavors, and their personal career goals. They’ve asked for flexibility, some proactive planning, and support. 

In response to frequently voiced concerns from the community and recognizing the importance of the issue, the president and provost asked Dean Jean King to convene a group of WPI parents and caregivers. The group discussed how the university could best help those who were dealing with such challenges as providing childcare, navigating schooling schedules, and a variety of additional family demands created by this pandemic. That meeting took place last month, and the members’ input was actively sought and received over the past several weeks. 

This group consisted of Kristan Coffey, John Galante, Heather Mulry, Ben Nephew, Emily O’Brien, Rebecca Ouellette, Susan Roberts, Gillian Smith, Erin Teeple, and Suzanne Weekes.

We thank them for their time and contributions to this important conversation. Their input made it clear that the flexibility to custom-design schedules for each individual’s situation was of paramount importance. 

They endorsed the following approaches and ideas to accommodate faculty and staff needs:

  • Encouraging candid conversations with department heads/supervisors—and their colleagues and students—to create paths forward that meet all stakeholder needs
  • Rescheduling a class to evening hours
  • Allowing employees to work different hours during the day and across the week

Accordingly, and consistent with our current practices during this challenging time, academic department heads and administrative supervisors and managers will work with their teams in support of flexible work options. They will empower individuals to find practical ways to assure coverage for critical, time-sensitive aspects of their jobs. They will trust them to fulfill their commitments to WPI. In addition, the provost will work with appropriate faculty governance committees on the issues of promotion and tenure in support of faculty who are impacted by caregiving duties or remote work.

This approach to flexibility aligns with the university’s overall strategy of prioritizing health and safety, while still advancing WPI’s educational mission.  We ask that you work with your department head or supervisor to devise personalized solutions that work for you and your family, and for WPI.

With gratitude,

 

Wole and Michelle