Rowan University Lacks Paid Parental Leave for Professors and Staff

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Rowan University does not provide any paid leave for professors who go on maternity leave. Instead, professors must rely on government benefits, state benefits, their accrued paid sick leave and donated leave from other professors to make ends meet while not working.

According to the Rowan University Human Resources Leave of Absence fact sheet, Rowan professors who need to take a parental leave of absence, whether they be mothers or fathers, may qualify for 12 weeks of unpaid job security through the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA). They may qualify for both benefits which allows them to take up to 24 weeks off of work — all unpaid.

Professors who have worked at the University for 12 or more months and who have worked at least 1,250 hours in that time are entitled to FMLA benefits. Professors who have been employed for 12 or more months and who have worked at least 1,000 hours in that time are entitled to NJFLA benefits.

The State of New Jersey has a program called NJ Family Leave Insurance (NJFLI) to support employees in the state who need to take a family-related leave of absence. This insurance policy will cover 85%, or up to $933 a week of a professor’s pay for up to 12 weeks during their maternity leave. Still, some professors find this insurance policy insufficient and Rowan’s current policies generally inequitable. 

“The lack of paid leave not only impacts your earnings during your leave, but also your health insurance costs, your salary moving forward and your pension,” said Professor A, a Rowan University professor who asked to remain anonymous in order to protect future career opportunities. 

Many Rowan professors have to resort to using their accrued paid sick leave as supplemental income during maternity leave. According to a report from the Rowan University Senate Parental Leave Taskforce, sick leave “must be used prior to other options” like NJ Family Leave Insurance. 

However, this sick leave can only be applied to the period of physical incapacity that comes after giving birth and cannot be used for caring for their newborn. That time of caring is commonly known as the “bonding period,” which is the immediate time after birth that parents try to connect with their newborn. Some professors may apply for short-term disability insurance to replace part of their wages if they are eligible.

Still, many professors struggle to support themselves during maternity leave because Rowan requires them to maintain responsibility for making payments on their health insurance plan during this time. According to the Parental Leave Taskforce Report, if unpaid leave exceeds three months, professors become responsible for paying the entire cost of their health insurance premium.

“Having to take an unpaid leave of absence to have a baby is, frankly, demoralizing,” Professor A said. “The lack of paid leave suggests your employer does not value your labor. If Rowan wants to promote gender equity and support women employees, it needs to implement a paid leave policy.” 

However, Rowan representatives cite the difficulties in maternity leave scheduling as one of the primary hurdles in offering paid maternity leave.

“Maternity leave, in general, is difficult to schedule because there are many variables. When leave is planned, there is no way of knowing if the faculty member will have a difficult pregnancy and need additional short-term disability leave,” said Theresa Drye, vice president of human resources and chief human resource officer of Rowan human resources. “Therefore, scheduling is less predictable than some other types of leave.”

The lack of paid maternity leave is a concern mirrored at other nearby universities as well. Rutgers University, Montclair State University and The College of New Jersey are just a few of the various colleges in the state that do not provide paid maternity leave to their professors. Many professors at these schools also use their paid sick leave, NJ Family Leave Insurance and disability insurance to support themselves before returning to the classroom but coordinating maternity leave financials prior to taking leave may place undue stress on professors. 

“Worrying about how you are going to pay your bills when you’re growing your family is incredibly stressful. It takes a huge toll on your mental health. That, in turn, can have a negative impact on your unborn child,” said Professor A. “It took [me] a couple of weeks to map out a budget, sell assets and move funds around.”

In response to the dissatisfaction regarding Rowan’s family leave policies for professors, the University Senate created the Parental Leave Taskforce.

“The Parental Leave Taskforce’s purpose was to research the issue of parental leave at Rowan, at peer and aspirant institutions and in general,” said Kaitlin Mallouk Ph.D., the chairperson of the Parental Leave Taskforce. “We then used that research to inform a policy recommendation to Rowan’s unions and administration that would greatly expand the available leave for faculty and staff upon the birth or adoption of a child.”

One policy proposed suggested a 12-credit release and full pay with benefits for professors who are required to teach at least 24 credits per academic year. Another proposed policy said that faculty whose workloads are defined by hours or weeks and are eligible for benefits should be entitled to 16 weeks off at full pay with benefits. 

“We recognized that the parental leave experiences of faculty varied widely and were largely dependent on a faculty member’s department chair or dean, rather than on a campus-wide policy,” Mallouk said.

Mallouk also added that these differences have led to an initiative from the task force to insure that its members share the “diverse roles and disciplines” required to have various perspectives when making these decisions.

“Everyone has different situations such as high-risk pregnancies, adoption, child illness and so much more,” said Karen Brager, a Rowan professor and a member of the Senate Taskforce. “It was important that the committee share varied experiences while considering the overall state of affairs in parental leave at Rowan and other higher ed institutions.”

Many professors are unsatisfied with Rowan’s current family leave policies according to data from the University Senate Parent Leave Task Force. Rowan faculty members were sent a survey and asked to rate their satisfaction with Rowan’s family leave policies on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “extremely dissatisfied” and 10 being “extremely satisfied.” The overall mean score was 5.22. The average satisfaction scores hover around the “lowest boundaries of satisfaction.” 

“I am currently working to get improved parental leave at Rowan, which would cover both professors as well as the staff … the [current] policy isn’t very expansive to cover fathers or adoptive parents,” Gerald Hough, P.h.D, the vice president of Rowan’s American Federation of Teachers union chapter said. “We are working with Terri Drye [Rowan VP of Human Resources] and also the Council of New Jersey State College Locals to find out what other colleges in our union as well as other NJ colleges have. We consider this a very important issue.” 

Not only could paid maternity leave benefit the professor in question but students as well.

“Offering paid maternity leave would help Rowan recruit and retain top faculty and staff. Students lose out when prospective or current faculty members take jobs at other institutions that offer better benefits and more support for working parents,” Professor A said. 

This concern is echoed by Mallouk as well.

“Without substantial changes to Rowan’s parental leave policies, we will continue to see inequitable treatment of new parents and may struggle to recruit and retain top talent as we strive towards R1 status,” said Mallouk.

A professor’s primary focus may not be evenly split between their child, themselves and their classes, but the university has to consider the professor going on maternity leave, the rest of the faculty and staff, the course and the students equally.

“We are concerned about considering the impact of the development of a policy for faculty rather than the staff … There are many times during the course of employment for faculty or staff when time off may be necessary including care for a parent, a child or significant other that may become ill and need care,” said Drye. 

If Rowan were to implement a paid maternity leave policy, the money used to pay professors would come out of the university’s pocket. 

“If paid leave is provided for all employees, how is this funded? Since it is not a requirement of the state, it would not be funded by the state,” said Drye. “The State of New Jersey offers benefits not provided by many other states.”

Although the University Senate Task Force released their Parental Leave Taskforce report which detailed potential parental leave policies that could be put in place in 2017, a new policy has yet to be established. There is no data available for when a new policy may be enacted.

“Rowan could offer paid parental leave. Rowan should offer paid parental leave,” Professor A said. “If the institution is truly committed to promoting diversity, inclusion, and equity, then it needs to make its parental leave policies more equitable for working mothers. Women are disproportionately affected by Rowan’s lack of paid parental leave.”

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