Some universities offer paid maternity and paternity leave for a few weeks or months for new parents. I don't know the numbers for how many universities offer paid vs. unpaid leave and the various durations involved, but I do know that at some universities that offer paid family leave, the answer to the question Who Pays? may not be entirely clear.
I hope we can all agree that maternity leave is a good and necessary thing, and that it also makes sense to offer paternity leave. Despite creating challenges for employers, family leave is important. Paid family leave is a way of further supporting families of working parents.
Universities have some particular challenges when it comes to paid family leave, especially for 'employees' who are not of the traditional sort (compared to employees at a company), e.g. graduate students and postdocs. If a graduate student or postdoc needs family leave at an institution that guarantees some paid leave, who pays? Central administration? The college or other mid-level academic unit? The department? The graduate adviser or postdoctoral supervisor?
In the case of postdocs funded by grants, in many cases the PI pays, even though this creates some complex ethical and accounting issues regarding paying someone who is not doing certifiable effort on a project during a time for which they are being paid on a grant. I am sure that some large universities or units of universities that have fleets of postdocs have this all worked out, but other universities/units leave it to the department and PIs to work out.
The situation is even more complicated for graduate students because students can be funded by a variety of sources: teaching assistantships from a department, research assistantships from a PI, and/or fellowships from a variety of sources. Does the department pay if the student is a TA (in addition to paying for a substitute) but the PI pays if the student is an RA?
This blog post is clearly not an authoritative presentation of the topic of paid family leave at US universities. It is based on anecdotal information and non-systematic web browsing, from which I have gleaned the following options (some in place, some being considered) for paid leave, in many cases of 4-8 weeks for maternity leave, for grad students:
- The adviser pays no matter what, even if the student is a TA.
- The adviser pays if the student is an RA, but the department pays if the student is a TA and works out an arrangement involving substitutes or team-teaching to accommodate the leave.
- The department or other administrative unit pays some or all of the leave salary as long as the student has guaranteed support of some sort. In this case, the leave may be paid from a fund to which all advisers contribute 'indirectly' from the indirect costs charged on grants. Another option I have heard discussed is targeted fund raising for a fellowship/scholarship fund that pays for family leave for students; this is done at the department or higher level.
Based on what I've learned from discussions with colleagues and by grazing around on webpages, it seems that some places currently work out a plan for each student on a case-by-case basis and others have a more systematic approach to paid leave. It makes sense for departments and various levels of university administration to have a plan in place that creates a more family friendly environment for graduate students and that is also fair to advisers, but given that situations can vary so much, it also makes sense to have a very flexible system.
My specific personal opinion is that I, as an adviser and grant PI, could pay for a student or postdoc to take a family leave of a month or two. Some students are unproductive on that time scale even when they aren't giving birth and/or caring for a newborn.
Twelve weeks -- the amount guaranteed for unpaid leave -- would be more difficult for various reasons (e.g., spending grant funds on someone not doing research). However, it should be possible to work out a situation involving part-time research, working from home, or something like that (depending on the project and the person). It's quite possible that a plan could be devised that worked well for all concerned and allowed a paid leave followed by a flexible work arrangement.
Note that I am discussing only paid leave here. Unpaid leave of various durations may cause some of the same difficulties for advisers/PIs in terms of research progress of their students and postdocs, but that's life (literally).
9 months ago