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Updated 3:00 PM August 7, 2008
 

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Family-friendly policies gain ground in higher education

Based on two national surveys of family-friendly policies in U.S. institutions of higher education, the most frequently offered benefit is paid time off for pregnancy/childbirth, according to the Center for the Education of Women (CEW).

The center recently released a research brief that examines the status of family-friendly policies in higher education, and assesses change and progress in the provision of such policies to faculty. It summarizes and compares the findings from the center's 2002 study "Faculty Work/Family Policy Study" and its 2007 study "Assessing Progress in Faculty Work-Family Policies and Career Flexibility at American Institutions of Higher Education," both funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Although 78 percent of respondents offered paid time off for pregnancy/childbirth, nearly one-in-10 of the respondents from all types of schools reported no policy or accepted practice at their institution regarding time off for pregnancy/childbirth for biological mothers. These institutions could be at risk for being out of compliance with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 if they offer paid leave to faculty members for any other medical disability.

The average number of family-friendly policies per institution has increased in the past five years — from an average per institution of 1.5 policies to 1.9 out of a possible seven policies.

Many institutions, however, still do not offer a range of flexible work policies.

Other frequently offered policies include:

• Tenure clock extension: Allowing tenure-track faculty a period of time, typically one year, that will not be counted as part of their tenure-probationary period, offered by 65 percent of responding institutions on a formal, institutionwide basis

• Phased retirement: Allowing flexible retirement options and incentives for faculty to move gradually away from full-time work and facilitate the transition into retirement, 47 percent

• Unpaid leave beyond the 12 weeks mandated by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA): Allowing faculty extended unpaid leaves in order to care for children or other family members or to receive personal health care, 44 percent

The research distinguished between policies that were formal, written and institutionwide versus those policies with less than universal coverage. These include written policies in some schools/departments or unwritten but common practices or benefits offered on an individualized basis. While these lesser policies apply to some individuals in some circumstances, their lack of codification and institutionwide application likely leads to spotty coverage and the potential for discriminatory practices.

The center predicts continued emphasis by institutions on policies such as phased retirement, tenure clock extensions and unpaid leaves after the period covered by the FMLA.

The full report is available at www.umich.edu/~cew/research/highered.htm.

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