Family-Friendly University Policies Don't Work as Well as They Should

New research shows they're applied unevenly, and that faculty members who use them are viewed as unserious about their jobs.
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Sonia Goltz was an assistant professor in the late 1980s, when the university she worked for didn't have very family-friendly policies. Despite a strong cultural current against the few female faculty having children, she went ahead and had her second child anyway.

Goltz returned to teaching a mere five days after giving birth, afraid that the university would "hold it against her" if she took a few weeks of leave. "I had to have an episiotomy so I had to go to class with a pillow for my first class," she explains.

Later, when Goltz was up for tenure, the university added a "stop the tenure clock" policy, which allows faculty to add time to their tenure track in order to compensate for lost productivity due to personal or family reasons. But Goltz was told she didn't qualify because only those up to three or four years into tenure track could apply. When Goltz was denied tenure, she filed a lawsuit against the university in 1996, alleging among other things that the lack of time off following childbirth meant she was held to a different standard than other colleagues. The jury ruled against her, and a federal appeals court denied to hear her case in 1998.

Still, Goltz says, "I'm glad I had my child when I did." She says she's heard from other women who waited until after tenure to have children, and then were unable to conceive. "They were just really, really upset. Seeing those difficulties, I'm glad I did it the way I did," she says. "And it really brought home how awful the current structure is for women."

Since Goltz's experience, more and more universities have adopted these family-friendly policies. Since such policies were first introduced at colleges and universities around the country over 40 years ago, more than 90 percent of research institutions now offer such a policy. It has become the gold standard in work-family balance in academia.

Catherine Hill, director of research at the American Association of University Women, says the policy is necessary to make colleges and universities an equitable hiring environment. "If the tenure clock happened at 50, you wouldn't see a gender disparity," Hill explains, saying that because the crunch for tenure occurs simultaneously with most professionals' child-rearing ages, and because women still disproportionately bear the responsibility for childcare, mother tend to pay a higher price for having children than their male or childless female colleagues do.

In fact, new research shows that those who use stop-the-tenure-clock (STC) policies for family reasons do pay a very literal price—a new study published in the Industrial and Labor Relations Review found that "faculty members who use STC policies for family reasons receive a wage penalty following use that cannot be explained by a change in publications." Those who used the penalty saw a 3 percent wage penalty the year following using the policy, though it didn't seem to affect promotions.

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Kay Steiger is the managing editor of Raw Story.

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