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Rice devalues non-tenure-track faculty in primary caregiver leave policy

Courtesy Carissa Zimmerman

By Carissa Zimmerman     11/12/19 10:17pm

Last week, the Thresher published a piece highlighting the differences in Rice’s maternity leave policy for faculty and staff. What it left out was that not all faculty are treated equally under the current policy: Tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty receive different caregiver leave benefits. 

When I found out that I was pregnant, I was a non-tenure-track lecturer who taught three classes each fall and two classes each spring. Under Rice’s Policy 201, which governs the responsibilities and promotion of faculty members, I was not, and still am not, eligible for primary caregiver leave or paid time off; I would receive short-term disability benefits, which allowed me to receive 80 percent of my salary for six to eight weeks. My daughter was due at the end of January, which meant that I would teach my spring classes for a couple of weeks, leave to deliver my baby and recover from childbirth, and then return at the beginning of March to finish out the semester. 

In contrast, when a tenure-track faculty member gives birth or adopts a baby, they are eligible for primary caregiver leave — a full semester of time off with full pay. Furthermore, Rice’s caregiver leave for tenure-track faculty applies to both women and men; if a male tenure-track faculty member’s partner gives birth, that man can take a semester of fully paid leave. As it currently stands, male tenure-track faculty receive more paid leave than female non-tenure-track faculty, and non-tenure-track parents who do not physically give birth, including LGBTQ+ faculty, receive no paid leave at all.

The parental leave policy for non-tenure-track teaching faculty is not only worse than it is for their tenure-track counterparts, but also worse than the parental leave policy for staff. Staff members accrue paid time off (i.e. sick days and vacation days) that they can use to supplement their leave after it ends. Like tenure-track faculty, non-tenure-track faculty do not have sick days or vacation days; if we want to extend our leave beyond what is covered by short-term disability, we must do so completely without pay. 

The faculty as a whole is fortunate that Rice has a generous caregiver leave policy, but that policy systematically excludes a portion of our community. Non-tenure-track faculty are still faculty, and there is absolutely no reason for lecturers to be excluded from a benefit that is offered to all other faculty members. I have raised this issue with a variety of people in Rice’s administration and can only hope that some of those discussions contributed to the extension of the semester-long leave policy to the non-tenure-track teaching professor ranks. However, when  faculty members continued to object to the disparity in primary caregiver leave at a 2017 Faculty Senate meeting, our point was dismissed. The university could have used this opportunity to reduce the difference in benefits among faculty members, but instead it created more levels of inequality. 

Rice prides itself on the values of “Responsibility, Integrity, Community, and Excellence;” these values reflect our respect for one another and our desire to never stop growing and improving. The university should take this opportunity to truly embrace these values by making Rice a better place for the non-tenure-track faculty members in our community who contribute so much to our mission of unsurpassed teaching. 

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