As Co-Chair of UFF-UF’s Faculty-Family Council (FFC), I am writing to update you on our progress as we continue to advocate for a semester of paid parental leave here at the University of Florida. I ask that you consider signing our petition where you can simply list your name in support, or provide a testimony based on your own experience. (You may share a testimony without providing a name.) Some of you may remember that the FFC distributed an online survey in October of last year. The results were extremely telling, with over 76% of respondents identifying paid parental leave as the top work-life balance issue facing faculty on this campus. This is an issue that directly affects faculty of any gender who become parents or guardians through birth, adoption, or other means.
When I submitted the paperwork for my own parental leave in the fall of 2014, I was encouraged to see how supportive my department was. However, I was shocked to discover the limitations of UF’s parental leave policy. My options were: use accrued sick or vacation time, borrow 6 weeks of leave that I would then have to pay back later, or take unpaid leave that could place me in danger of losing my benefits. As a new faculty member, I was extremely lucky that I had worked for the university as a staff member for several years prior to my appointment and had accumulated a large amount of sick leave. I know many faculty are not so lucky. Anyone who has had children knows it’s not a sickness, and it’s certainly not a vacation. Yet many of us have to cobble together our rightfully earned sick or vacation time or borrow leave hours, which puts us in debt to the university.
Several of my colleagues assumed a top-tier university such as UF would offer paid parental leave. Federal law (FMLA) guarantees an employee can take up to 12 weeks of parental leave (unpaid) without losing their job – that’s it. I also learned that many of our peer institutions, such as the University of North Carolina and Ohio State, and even some SUS institutions, including the University of South Florida and the University of Central Florida, provide paid parental leave for their faculty.
Lisa Scott, associate professor and preeminent hire in the Department of Psychology, recently wrote a letter to President Fuchs detailing how she believes UF’s current policy is detrimental to faculty success at UF. Here is an especially compelling excerpt from that letter:
“It is my understanding that UF’s family leave policy is one of the least supportive in the state and also does not fare well compared to other peer institutions. Although the current policy allows up to 6 months unpaid leave, for most faculty an unpaid leave (or any reduction in pay at all) is not an option as mortgages, daycare bills, basic utilities bills, and even student loans, would not get paid during the unpaid time. This adds additional stress on families to make ends meet. Faculty often cannot take unpaid leave and so then young, primarily female faculty are making arrangements within departments and are then teaching overloads to ‘pay back’ their courses in the semesters following the leave. This policy puts women at a disadvantage in terms of making progress toward tenure and promotion and research productivity (for research active faculty members) is compromised.”
We believe this is a great university that can do better. If you feel the same way, please consider showing your support by signing our petition and, if you wish, sharing your own experiences with parental leave, the need for it, and/or the lack of it here at UF. We won’t use your name, but we will draw on your stories in letters and op-eds, as well as at the bargaining table.
April Hines, Co-Chair
May 23, 2016