By: Kevin McDonnell
NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y. – It is 2019 and that means it’s been 100 years since women were given the right to vote in the United States. In honor of that, I have decided to do a series of articles looking at women’s issues on campus to see where we are now and where we still have to go.
Any meaningful series of articles evaluating the state of women’s rights on campus has to include at least one article on maternity leave. In the developed world, the United States is one of the few countries that does not provide or mandate some form of paternity leave. In the state of New York, a recent change in the law now requires employers to provide Paid Family Leave (PFL). PFL allows employees to take paid time off for the birth of a child or to take care of a loved one. At the federal level, employees are allowed to take time off under the Family Medical Leave Act, but pay during this time is not guaranteed. However, there is an option to use your allotted paid time off towards that period of time, with a maximum of 12 weeks. New York State’s PFL applies to both men and women and allows for a maximum of 10 weeks off with just under 60 percent of the worker’s salary being paid during that time.
In the case of Niagara University, the change in the law applies primarily to non-faculty members, as professors were excluded from the new policy that carried over from an existing provision in New York State’s short-term disability law. Therefore, staff at Niagara enjoy the benefits of the change in the law while faculty members do not. To put it simply as according to H.R. Director Donna Mostiller, “The university does not have a parental leave policy.” Rather, the university’s parental leave policy is comprised of a series of policies both institutional and legal that address the issue for different employees throughout Niagara’s campus.
However, just because faculty members were excluded from the law does not mean that they enjoy no rights to any maternity leave benefits whatsoever. The faculty union and the university negotiate the terms of the contract about every three years, the results of which are referred to as the Collective Bargaining Agreement, CBA for short. The CBA states that a faculty member who requests leave is granted up to 90 days continuation of pay upon the birth of the child in which, for benefits purposes, the faculty member is now considered to be on ‘disability.’ The faculty member is not guaranteed pay before the birth of a child or after the 90 days has expired, however, oftentimes faculty members are asked not to start a semester in preparation for their absence. So what are faculty members expected to do in that period of time outside of the 90 days? In this time frame faculty are presented with three options; paid leave, unpaid leave or a special project in service to the university. Past practice has been for faculty members to negotiate this time and special projects were utilized as a way to provide faculty members compensation in addition to the 90-day window. In a conversation with Dr. Tim Ireland in his role as provost he noted what he refers to as an “alternative way of managing,” maternity leave. As provost, Dr. Ireland is provided within the CBA a provision to grant special leave. This is what’s referred to as a permissible discretionary option whereby a faculty member may be granted a leave of absence paid or unpaid to care for a member of their family whether related or not. It is important to note that for the most part, these policies focus primarily on maternity leave, but Donna Mostiller noted while there isn’t a paternity leave policy “there’s been informal discussions about paternity leave and more broadly, parental leave.”
Dr. Levin was one of the first faculty members to take advantage of this “alternative way of managing,” as described by Dr. Ireland. She made a point in noting how Dr. Ireland has served as an ally in this area of his job as provost. So what does all this mean generally when looking at maternity through the lens of women’s issue on campus? To me, it showcases that even when an institution makes steps towards progressive reforms, that that road can often be bumpy and unclear. More broadly it shows that even when support is offered and provided in the terms of paid time off that our society as a whole has a long way to go in integrating family leave seamlessly into cultural experience. NU should certainly be commended in making the strides it has towards supporting it’s women employees through maternity benefits, but it cannot be overstated how much of a vital role faculty members play in the NU community. The hope is that future CBAs will provide faculty the assurance to grow their families knowing the university has their back. Faculty members support us students through our everyday lives I think it’s time we supported them for a change.