From the Faculty Senate Office


The following is published for comment. The proposal was drafted by last year's Senate Committee on the Faculty and minor changes were made in light of discussion at the September 6 Senate Executive Committee meeting. Following receipt of additional suggestions the Committee on the Faculty will recast the document into specific recommendations. It will then be referred to the Personnel Benefits Committee for review and comment. The current faculty maternity policy also appears below. Please send your comments or suggestions to Carolyn Burdon by email at or by telephone at 898-6943 by Tuesday, October 3, 1995.

A Review of Penn's Parenting Policies Proposal of the 1994-95 Senate Committee on the Faculty

May 22, 1995; revised September 11, 1995

The Senate Committee on the Faculty was asked by the Provost to consider whether the University of Pennsylvania should institute an extension of the tenure probationary period for faculty members who become parents. The Committee concluded that this question could best be addressed in the context of an overall review of Penn's parenting policies. This has been an area of rapid change in American universities in recent years, and it seems appropriate to ask whether Penn's current policies fully meet the needs of its faculty and whether they are keeping pace with those of comparable institutions.

Institutional responses to faculty members becoming parents may include: provisions for unpaid leave; provisions for paid release from some or all duties; and, for untenured faculty members on the tenure track, extension of the tenure probationary period. Institutions vary in which of these benefits they grant and also in whether they grant them only to birth parents or also to adoptive parents and whether they grant them only to mothers or also to fathers and other primary caregivers. Ideally, a university's policies should respond both to the particular constraints imposed on women by childbirth and to the ongoing impact on the careers of both men and women caring for small children. Further, they should allow for the special demands of parenthood while also recognizing that there are other life events and circumstances that may affect a faculty member's ability to perform his or her job and require comparable (although not necessarily identical) treatment.

Penn's current policies include the option of requesting unpaid leave for purposes of full-time childcare (useful but limited because it is practically impossible for most people) and the option of requesting a reduction of duties of up to 50% with a corresponding reduction in salary. The reduction in duties option is an unusual and flexible response to the ongoing demands of childcare (as well as to the various other circumstances for which it may be used); it applies to both men and women and to both birth parents and adoptive parents, and it includes a provision for extension of the tenure probationary period (one year's extension for every two years at 50%).

Penn does not, however, provide any extension of the tenure probationary period for junior faculty members who do not elect a reduction in duties and corresponding reduction in salary. This is an area, then, in which Penn could do more to recognize that becoming a parent often reduces the pace of a faculty member's scholarly research and writing, as well as his or her involvement in other professional activities, and to respond to that fact in the case of those who stand to suffer the most serious consequences as a result. Many comparable institutions now have some provision for extension of the tenure probationary period. The length of the extension varies between six months (Yale) and a year (most others); in some cases the extension is only available to female faculty members who give birth.

If Penn were to adopt the relatively inclusive policy of allowing an automatic extension of the tenure probationary period, if desired, of one year per child to men and women alike, we would be aligning ourselves with at least four similar institutions: Princeton, Harvard, Dartmouth, and the University of Chicago. Before adopting such a policy, we would need to resolve a number of questions: Should there be a limit on the number of times an individual faculty member can avail himself or herself of an extension? If the option is made available to adoptive parents, fathers, and other primary caregivers in addition to birth mothers, what mechanisms (if any) should there be for determining that the faculty member in question has actually been so intensively involved in childcare that the extension is warranted? If such a policy is adopted, should it be applied retroactively to members of the junior faculty who became parents before it went into effect? Should the institution of such a policy for parenting be accompanied by comparable provisions for other disruptive life events? Do we need additional policies to address the impact of parenting on the careers of faculty members for positions in which tenure is not available?

In the case of faculty members who give birth, Penn has a "Faculty Maternity Policy" that treats pregnancy and childbirth as a form of temporary disability. It addresses the problem that the period of disability does not correspond to an academic semester through several possible scenarios: it suggests that "it may be possible to adjust teaching schedules or assignments to accommodate the period of disability," or, failing that, that "the University will either provide a mutually acceptable alternative schedule which permits the disabled faculty member to take normal disability leave and resume normal faculty duties without loss of pay or will cover the full loss of salary when such scheduling alternatives cannot be arranged."

The flexibility of this policy, while well-intentioned, can create--and anecdotal evidence suggests that it has created--serious difficulties, especially for untenured faculty members. The proposition that teaching schedules should be adjusted around the period of disability overlooks the unsatisfactory character for students and teacher alike of a course that is not taught continuously by the same person and the fact that the time of childbirth cannot be precisely predicted. Furthermore, inequality of power between a pregnant faculty member and her chair or dean may make it difficult for her to insist on a truly acceptable arrangement, and individual arrangements may vary unfairly depending on the administrators involved. Without clear guidelines, an administrator may feel the need to ask for as much as possible from a pregnant faculty member in order to maintain departmental or school functioning. The possibility of "scheduling alternatives" may lead to faculty members being obliged to take on burdensome extra duties before or after the period of disability.

It may be time to move away from this disability model and to develop a new policy that would respond more effectively to the realities of the teaching calendar and would give both prospective faculty parents and administrators a more definite sense of what is to be expected. The practical disadvantages of having someone teach for less than one semester suggest that we should consider a policy releasing a faculty member who gives birth from an entire semester's teaching at full pay and with no expectation that the time off will be made up at some other point. This would bring Penn in line with many comparable institutions, including Brown, Harvard, and Yale. Adopting such a policy would raise a number of issues: What provisions should be made for women who give birth during the summer or in between semesters, or in cases in which it is uncertain what part of the academic calendar a birth will fall into? Should there also be an accompanying release from advising and administrative duties, or can those responsibilities be negotiated on a case-by-case basis without too much danger of unfair inconsistencies or undue pressure on faculty members? What expectations can administrators have about the availability of resources to compensate the school or department for the loss of the faculty member's teaching?

1994-95 Senate Committee on the Faculty
Stephen B. Burbank (law)
Jean Crockett (emeritus finance)
Janet A. Deatrick (nursing)
Peter J. Hand (animal biology, Chair)
Morris Mendelson (emeritus finance)
Sheila H. Murnaghan (classical studies)
Janet Rothenberg Pack (public policy & management)

Ex Officio: Barbara J. Lowery (nursing), Faculty Senate Chair
William L. Kissick (medicine), Faculty Senate Chair-elect

Staff: Carolyn P. Burdon (executive assistant to the Faculty Senate Chair)

Faculty Maternity Policy (9/1/83)

[Handbook for Faculty and Academic Administrators, p. 44.]
By law, disability resulting from pregnancy must be treated as other disabilities with respect to paid leave. Nonetheless, there are two characteristics of disability from pregnancy which distinguish it from other disabilities. First, the disability period can be anticipated in advance. Second, the disability period is usually substantially shorter than an academic semester. In some cases, it may be possible to adjust teaching schedules or assignments to accommodate the period of disability. In other cases, such accommodation may not be feasible.

1. Where University scheduling makes it impossible for a faculty member to accomplish her teaching obligations in a time span less than the full semester, the University will either provide a mutually acceptable alternative schedule which permits the disabled faculty member to take the normal disability leave and resume normal faculty duties without loss of pay or will cover the full salary loss of the individual when such scheduling alternatives cannot be arranged.

2. As with other disability claims, the cost of pregnancy disability leave beyond one month is paid from the employee benefits pool and not from department budgets.

3. No faculty member can be forced to take leave because she is pregnant. No department can refuse to hire a faculty member because she is pregnant or might become pregnant.