Paid Parental Leave: a Faculty Member's Perspective
First, Some Basics About Paid Parental Leave
When I first joined MiraCosta College in Fall 2017, we did not have paid parental leave. As of July 1, 2018, Paid Parental Leave took effect, offering eligible faculty members their full salary for the first four workweeks for the birth, adoption, or fostering of a child (see contract articles F.1.0, F.5.0 for details). Thereafter, faculty may also receive 50% of their salary for up to eight workweeks. To be eligible, your initial date of hire must be at least 12 months prior to taking parental leave. Faculty are not required to have worked the minimum 1,250 hours in the 12 months prior to the leave to be eligible. The paid parental leave must be taken within 12 months of the date of birth, adoption, or foster care with the faculty member, but does not have to be taken consecutively. This means you could split the 12 weeks over two different semesters, but how you structure this is to be negotiated between you and your department.
Being a Tenure Track Faculty Member and New Parent
As a new hire, I was not eligible for California’s Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which requires employees to have worked at the organization for 12 months, with at least 1,250 hours worked in that time. I ended up taking leave without pay and missed the first five weeks of the semester for my on-ground courses and didn’t miss any days for my online courses. I was required to complete 75% of my contract days in my first cycle to continue in the tenure process. HR offered me a non-tenure track contract for one year if I needed more time off, but this would push the start of the tenure clock out to the next academic year, so I declined. My department chair at the time was extremely compassionate and accommodated me as much as possible. Despite the late start, I was unable to get an extension on my first evaluation cycle, and was required to complete all elements of the tenure review along with my cohort peers. While this wasn’t an ideal situation (in terms of pay, time off with my son, and the tenure review process), my supportive department, Tenure Review Committee, and I made it work.
It is important to note that taking the full 12 weeks consecutively (after cycle 1) could result in stopping the tenure clock. Another colleague was able to compromise with her department to take 8 weeks in one semester, and 4 weeks in the next semester without pausing tenure. For her, returning halfway through the semester meant 7.5 LHE, which was more manageable than a full load. It is clear that there are different options depending on the scheduling demands and flexibility available within the department. Also noteworthy is that the parental leave article within our current contract is a “re-opener” that could possibly be modified in 2019-2020, so potentially affected faculty will want to stay abreast of any changes that might arise.
They say that mothers should sleep when their babies sleep, but to get through my first year at MiraCosta, I relied on lots of caffeine and minimal sleep. It helped that my partner did most of the housework and both sets of grandparents live locally to help with cooking and childcare. I was even able to attend two conferences in my first year, which had its own set of challenges when trying to pump and store milk in a hotel. But at least I finally got some sleep! Although having a newborn and a new job was a lot all at once, my son Teddy forced me to be more conscious about work-life-balance. Being a new parent also helped me to be more compassionate to my students, in particular those with children and family obligations.
Halfway There with Baby #2 on The Way
I’m now in my third evaluation cycle, and expecting my second son this December. According to the contract, I can begin banking in my third (two-year) contract period, but I can’t unbank until I’ve been granted tenure as a regular faculty member. Tenured, full-time faculty members can bank and unbank in accordance with the FA contract to help supplement the paid leave for up to eight workweeks. Both tenured and tenure track faculty can use sick leave to supplement when only 50% of pay is received (and cannot exceed 100% of pay). I’ll be using sick leave at the end of the semester for any missed classes (hopefully just a few). I’m in a much better position this time around, with paid parental leave available to me, which I’ll use if I deliver early.
Paid parental leave is not available during intersession or summer terms, so if you are accustomed to non-contractual income, you will need to plan for this change. In addition, my department and I negotiated a flexible teaching load for Spring 2020, with primarily hybrid and online courses. The decision to not take more time off is all mine, and my department has been very supportive of whatever I would like to do.
I have read articles about the challenges and risks of taking parental leave as a tenure track faculty. The tenure review process is temporary, while my (growing) family is permanent. It helped me to look at the bigger picture of why I chose to be an educator, and how bringing my whole self into the profession, including motherhood, makes me a better teacher to my students, and to my children. Ultimately, you have to decide what’s right for you, and the new Paid Parental Leave is there to assist.