The University of Illinois’ family leave policy was revised recently to remove a teaching requirement for tenure-track faculty members after the birth or adoption of a child.
The Modified Teaching Duties for Faculty Members with a New Child policy, revised in spring 2016 by the Gender Equity Council, permits tenure-track faculty members to request a period of modified teaching duties for one semester in the first year following the birth or adoption of a child. Specialized faculty are not covered by this policy, but are entitled to parental leave provided under federal law.
Tenure-track faculty members would still be expected to fulfill other professional responsibilities such as research, publication, advising students and committee meetings. This leave can be taken in addition to tenure rollback, which allows faculty members another year to concentrate on research and other responsibilities before they officially go up for tenure review.
Meghan Burke, an assistant professor in special education, and her husband will be flying to China this fall to adopt their first child. Burke, who took the modified teaching duties option for the fall 2016 semester, said the policy has helped her focus on publishing papers and finishing grants as she prepares to bring her son home.
“It’s been helpful not to be teaching so that I can get papers out, submit grants and get ready for him, which takes time even though he’s not here yet,” said Burke, whose research focuses on how parents of kids with disabilities advocate for services. “I’m hoping it gives me peace of mind so I can stay home with him, get on our own schedule and figure each other out.”
When Burke first started the process of adoption, she inquired about the family leave options available at Illinois.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction, for sure,” Burke said of the modified teaching duties policy. “I think other places don’t necessarily have this.”
Illustration courtesy of Creative Services, Women at Illinois Report 2015-2016
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Although the policy has been in place since 2002, the Gender Equity Council’s recent work includes language explaining that a department or unit head can only deny a modified teaching duties request by submitting an explanation in writing to the Provost’s Office.
Work on revising the policy started with former Gender Equity Council co-chair Kelly Tappenden, current chair and special education professor Amy Santos said. The Council, she said, wanted to give all faculty members a fair chance to access the modified teaching duties benefit without feeling uncertain that leave would be granted by administration.
“We value people having personal lives and families, and we put that into action through these kinds of policies,” she said.
Santos took the modified teaching duties leave about 10 years ago, after the birth of her daughter. She said she wanted the support of a reduction in teaching duties, but still wanted to be connected to campus.
“It was so helpful to have that flexibility to adjust to this new life that is now depending on you 24/7,” she said. “The more we can support women so that they can continue to have thriving careers the way they want and earn it, that’s important.”
Erik McDuffie, an associate professor in African American studies and history, said his daughter suffered from chronic ear infections as an infant and needed two sets of tubes implanted. McDuffie was nearly on a first-name basis with doctors and nurses at an area hospital.
With his partner also working full-time at the university, McDuffie said taking both tenure rollback and modified teaching were critical so he could both parent and complete his academic research – and do both well.
“Taking care of children is incredibly challenging, especially if you don’t have family in the area,” McDuffie said. “There are just moments and gaps in my memory of when both of my children were born because I was so exhausted. There’s nothing like additional time.”
Harley Johnson, a professor of mechanical science and engineering, took his modified teaching leave in fall 2007. Johnson and his wife, a tenure-track professor in the same department, decided their family needed more flexibility in schedule.
Johnson said some of his colleagues at the time questioned whether the modified teaching duties option was an unfair benefit.
“I invited them to come to my house in the middle of the night to change diapers if they wanted to experience that,” said Johnson, a member of the Gender Equity Council, “but I think it’s important that people understand why parents take this accommodation. I wanted to promote the idea that this is not an unusual thing for a father to request. There shouldn’t be a stigma for any employee.”
Santos and McDuffie, who also serves on the Gender Equity Council, said the revisions in the modified teaching policy may seem small, but it could make a big difference in recruitment and retention.
“To have flexibility in starting a family or child care, it’d be very beneficial to recruitment and retention of faculty of color and women of all backgrounds,” McDuffie said.
“This is an example of what makes this university unique, in that we really value being a family-friendly place of work."
For more information about the modified teaching duties policy, the Campus Administrative Manual policy can be found on its website. For other questions about the modified teaching duties policy, contact the Provost’s Office.