How does the University support new parents?

By BRIANNA DANG | September 6, 2018

The University’s Family Leave for New Parents policy, introduced last summer, offers paid leave to full-time and part-time employees who have worked at Hopkins for at least one continuous year. 

Under the policy, parents are guaranteed four weeks of leave with full pay after their child is born or placed through adoption. Employees who give birth qualify for an additional of six weeks of paid leave for birth recovery.

Prior to the introduction of the Family Leave policy, faculty and staff relied on short-term disability, which offered leave with reduced pay, used their accrued leave or took leave without pay.

According to Human Resources Data Analyst Janne Mosser, there have been nearly 700 Family Leave requests since the policy was implemented; the majority of these have been approved.

Genevieve Williams, the program manager of the Hopkins Malaria Institute at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, used the policy this summer.

Williams had been planning to adopt but was concerned about having adequate bonding time with her new child. As an adoptive mother, she was worried about qualifying for short-term disability, since she would not need the same body recovery period from a natural or caesarean birth.

In addition to granting adoptive parents four weeks of paid leave, the Family Leave policy increased the University’s assistance funds for adoptive parents from $5,000 to $15,000. Williams said that she appreciated that the new policy accommodated adoptive parents.

“The paid leave policy from the University was generous, progressive and allowed my family to have 20 full days of paid leave to be able to bond with our newly adopted daughter,” she said.

Siddeeqah Fichman, a Biophysics administrative coordinator, was initially excited by the prospects of the new policy when it was first initiated. However, she was ultimately disappointed because she was unable to qualify for it for the birth of her second child.

Although Fichman had worked for the University for over a year, she had taken a leave of absence for the birth of her first child. Subsequently, she was registered as working only nine months at Hopkins, as opposed to the full year required for this policy. 

As a result, Fichman used her accrued sick days and vacation to take care of her second child.

“There didn’t seem to be any care or consideration,” Fichman said. “It was disappointing and frustrating, it just felt like they were looking for any reason to not give me the benefits.”

Fichman, who had previously lived in Holland and gave birth to her daughter in Europe, stated that the lack of guaranteed maternity leave was a stark contrast to what she was familiar with.

While she praises Hopkins for instating a parental leave policy, Fichman believes that as an institution, it is behind the rest of the world.

“I don’t think it’s just a University issue, sadly — it’s a societal issue,” Fichman said. “We’re supposed to be so progressive, and we’re leading the charge in so many other areas. It would be lovely if we could do that for families as well, and be a great environment for families, and reflect forward thinking and catch up to the rest of the world.”

Fichman also expressed concern about the University’s daycare facility. With a rate of nearly $1,800 a month for an infant, Fichman stated that very few staff members can afford to send their children there.

Joanna Behrman, a graduate student who works closely with Teachers and Researchers United, an organization that advocates for the rights of graduate student workers, echoed Fichman’s sentiment.

Behrman explained that in addition to high daycare tuition, there is a lack of lactation facilities and changing stations on Homewood campus. 

Only staff and faculty are able to qualify for the Family Leave policy, while full-time graduate students and postdoctoral trainees are covered under the New Child Accommodations policy, which allows qualified students and trainees to request up to eight weeks of accommodations. According to Behrman, chief concerns amongst graduate students are health care and parental leave.

Prior to the policy, graduate students had to consult their advisors on an individual basis. Behrman explained that this could result in negotiations with potentially disagreeable advisors. 

Even after the instatement of the policy, Behrman expressed that there was still a lot of room for improvement in how the University handled parental leave for graduate students. 

She stated that clauses in the policy required graduate students to work with their advisor to find a replacement and keep up with coursework. According to Behrman, this area of the policy is potentially fraught with conflict, especially since there are no strict guidelines or available third parties to aid negotiations between the student and advisor. 

However, Behrman believes that the baseline amount of paid leave and guaranteed student status granted by the new policy is beneficial. 

Prior to the policy, graduate students risked losing their student status by taking unpaid leave, resulting in a loss of funding and health insurance. Additionally, people who lose their student status are required to begin paying their student loans.

Behrman explained that it is crucial for institutions like Hopkins to support women and parents in academia.

“Graduate students can also be parents,” she said. “Issues like this are a reason why there aren’t as many women in academia.”

While she remains hopeful that the University will continue to progress, Behrman added that there is no guarantee for an immediate change.

She added that while granting new child accomodations to graduate students is an important first step, the University still lacks resources for new parents. 

“After the birth, there is a child, who still needs care and Hopkins is still not really set up to help graduate student parents after the period of parental leave,” she said. “Child care is extremely expensive, like ridiculously expensive, on Homewood Campus.”

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