We are happy to learn that Northwestern has been awarded a Seal of Distinction from the World at Work Alliance for Work-Life Progress for its improved policies for faculty and staff, including paid parental leave and adoption support. However, we remain disappointed that these benefits are not being extended to all members of the Northwestern community, particularly to graduate students.
Currently, graduate student mothers are granted six weeks of paid leave, just half the amount given to faculty and staff, and an awkward amount of time given that an academic quarter lasts 10 weeks. Fathers and same sex partners are not recognized at all under NU’s graduate student “childbirth accommodation” policy, which applies exclusively to “women graduate students prior to or following the birth of a child.” Even the language used for the two separate policies reveals their inequity. Using “childbirth accommodation” rather than “family leave” (used for faculty and staff) is not inclusive of fathers, partners or adoptive parents. Partners can petition for a leave of absence, but since this is unpaid, few graduate students can take advantage of it. This places the burden of childrearing exclusively on mothers, which fosters gender inequality in households that is likely to last a lifetime. We believe that graduate students deserve the same opportunities to bond with our children and have gender equality in our relationships as faculty and staff.
Not having equitable paid family leave puts an enormous strain on graduate student families, many of whom are surviving on a shoe-string budget. A family of four that relies on a single graduate student stipend for income lives below the federal poverty level. By not providing partners with paid leave, many spouses must continue working in order to provide for their families. And women who would prefer to take longer than six weeks to stay home with a newborn are often financially unable to do so.
More than 3,400 graduate students provide critical functions at Northwestern. We teach classes, manage labs and assist in research projects that bring in millions of dollars in grant money for the university. Many of us are in our late 20s and early 30s. In other words, we spend our childbearing years in graduate school. According to the 2012 Graduate Leadership Council Survey, at least 14 percent of NU graduate students are parents.
We feel that all children should have the opportunity to bond with their parents, regardless of what position those parents hold at the university. If NU truly believes in gender equality, it should extend inclusive paid family leave to graduate students.
Overall, we strongly ask that NU match our peer institutions by working to improve services and support that make having children in graduate school a viable option, such as affordable health care plans for dependents, financial support for low income families, child care subsidies, lactation rooms, and overall institutional support for graduate student families.
Thank you for your time.