A new gender-blind family care and maternity leave policy will be implemented for faculty next semester, marking, for many professors, a turn toward a more family-friendly university environment.

The policy originated from a Faculty Senate proposal that called for paid caretaking leave for both parents as well as minimizing interruptions to the academic calendar.

Modeled after a policy recently adopted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the proposal allows all regular full-time faculty to take a semester’s paid leave in any term they choose within one year of the arrival of a child.

The leave will be granted only to faculty members who will be a primary or co-equal caretaker, defined in the proposal as someone who performs at least half of the childcare duties.

Law professor Sue Deller Ross, who served as a committee member of the Faculty Senate Task Force, agreed that the implementation of this proposal will diffuse much of the pressure that traditionally applies to new parents.

“I’m extremely hopeful,” she said. “It’s a family-friendly policy, and that’s exactly what Georgetown stands for.”

Ross credits University President John J. DeGioia, the first layperson to serve as president of a Jesuit university, for many of these changes.

“He’s a father himself and has been very much supportive,” she said.

Under the old policy, birth mothers qualified for a paid medical leave of eight weeks in accordance with the university’s Short Term Disability program.

If a regular faculty member had a child join the family, either through birth or adoption, he or she could take family care leave at a maximum of four months with either half-time leave at half-time pay or full-time leave without pay. Non-tenured faculty could request an extension of his or her tenure clock for up to one year.

Following childbirth, female faculty members can still take eight weeks of Short Term Disability leave, which they can choose to be either concurrent with or sequential to their semester leave of absence.

Maggie Little, task force chair and a senior research scholar at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, said the Provost’s office had approved an “interim policy for the Main Campus” that closely reflected the faculty senate proposal.

“There has been some helpful emendation of language, but all in service of the goals laid out,” she said. Little added that Georgetown will be “among the moral leaders of higher education.”

“We’ll be joining the slow trend of universities who support children by supporting parents,” she said.

Little, a mother of two, also said the new policy will also solve the problem that faculty members are currently misinformed and unsure of the university’s official policy.

“Different departments were administering different versions of the actual policy,” she said. “The new policy will regularize this process and give everyone equal treatment.”

Additionally, the proposal calls for the appointment of a faculty member within each campus – main, medical and law – to serve as a “Parental Leave Liaison” to the administration and for the creation of a general fund to pay for replacements for departments that have faculty taking childbirth and parental caretaking leave.

Provost James J. O’Donnell said the administration will review the interim policy over the next semester.

“We are making sure we understand what would actually happen if we implemented it – who would be advantaged, who we might miss – is harder than it looks,” he said.

According to the proposal, it is estimated that four female faculty members and seven male faculty members will be eligible for semester leave each year on the main campus.

Far fewer men and women at the law center are expected to request such leave – less than two faculty members each year.

Using these numbers, the proposal estimates the basic cost of the new policy for caretaking leave will be $132,000. An additional $18,000 is expected to cover the annual costs of Short Term Disability.

At the Law Center, visiting professors, rather than adjuncts, will be hired to accommodate faculty members on leave. The estimated cost with the new proposal is $82,000.

Drafted originally for only the main campus and Law Center, edical Center officials are currently reviewing the proposal. When they complete an estimate of budget implications, the university’s administration will review the proposal for final approval.

Little said she is “highly optimistic” about the prospects of new policy. “These are tough issues to work out, but the administration, especially both provosts, have been exceptionally supportive,” Little said.

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