Rice should lead in maternity leave policy
Rice has upheld vastly unequal maternity leave standards for its staff members and tenure-track professors for over 20 years. While tenure-track professors are able to take a semester off at full pay, staff members are offered only up to five or seven weeks — depending on delivery circumstances — at only 80 percent of their salary. While Rice is more generous than required by the federal Family Medical Leave Act, which mandates that employers offer at least 12 weeks of unpaid leave, the discrepancy between how Rice treats its different employees undermines the importance of staff.
Staff members are extremely vital to Rice and its students. From the offices of academic advising to financial aid, staff at Rice perform the work that makes daily operations possible for students and other employees. Staffers run operations unique to Rice, from Orientation Week to Beer Bike. To compensate them with a fraction of the benefits given to tenured professors is to deem them less valuable. Maternity leave should not be a reward but rather a right. Becoming a new mother is an experience completely separate from being an employee of Rice. So, why would it make sense to treat maternity leave as if it were some type of compensation that varies based on one’s job? Maternity benefits for any Rice employee should not be a function of the salary or esteem associated with their position at Rice.
While Rice is on par with its peer institutions in the United States, this is an opportunity for our university to lead on a national conversation. Maternity leave is a significant contributor to the gender pay gap that exists today. Not only do women miss out on the wages they could have made while taking unpaid or reduced paid leave, but they also may suffer in developing their long-term careers, especially if they need to take more time off than is expected or allowed. In light of investigations that showed female professors at Rice still face lower salaries than their male counterparts, Rice can uphold its motto of being unconventional by actively striving to reduce the pay gap — this includes equal maternity leave for all.
More from The Rice Thresher
For over a year now, it seems like each week has brought with it a new form of trauma and disaster for us to deal with as a society. We have gone through (but not really past) COVID-19, an election, an insurrection and now extreme gun violence has reemerged center stage of the never-ending news cycle that this decade has become.
On Rice’s campus, a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel finally seems to be emerging. The administration is optimistic about “a mostly normal fall semester,” according to communications sent out by Kevin Kirby. According to President Leebron’s announcement on fall planning, most classes are expected to be in person, most university housing is expected to be fully occupied and COVID-19 policies regarding gathering restrictions are expected to be relaxed. The road forward for many Rice students is clear: Sign up for a vaccine appointment as soon as possible and wait for more than 80% of the Rice community to be fully vaccinated so that COVID-19 policies can be relaxed.
This year’s Beer Bike Week looks quite different from years past, even in name. Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman encouraged Beer Bike coordinators to rename Willy Week to reflect the different nature of the event due to COVID restrictions. Individual college Beer Bike coordinators chose a variety of new, college-specific names; many told the Thresher that they were further motivated to change the name to distance their college from William Marsh Rice and that they may carry the name change into future years. Coordinators’ swift renaming of Willy Week reminds us that students have a lot of power at this university — and that we can and should use it to foster a Rice community that we’re proud of.