Some faculty unsatisfied with parental leave policies

by Megan Anderson / Beacon Correspondent • October 8, 2015

Updated (Oct. 8, 3:30 p.m.)

Emerson meets the government’s minimum for maternity and parental leave, but these policies may not live up to the standards of the college’s employees.

In recent years, the issue of paid maternity leave in the United States has become increasingly debated. The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world that does not enforce the distribution of paid leave for new mothers at a federal level. There are also no national laws to mandate parental time off for new fathers or couples who have adopted a child.

Regulatory laws vary by state and employer. Emerson follows the standards made by Massachusetts, according to Maureen Murphy, vice president of administration and finance.

The Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act, enacted in 1972, requires employers to provide no less than eight unpaid weeks of leave for pregnant workers, according to the state’s website. After it was argued that this act discriminated against men, the commonwealth passed the Massachusetts Parental Leave Act in April 2015. This provides employees who are new fathers, or who have recently adopted, at least eight weeks unpaid leave, and guarantees reinstatement to their position upon their return.

While it is not required by the state, Emerson pays full-time employees up to 60 percent of their normal salaries during maternity leave, Murphy said. This does not extend to men or parents who adopt.

“The pay relates to the medical necessity [of birth],” Murphy said.

Catherine D’Ignazio, assistant journalism professor, said she is unhappy with current policies. 

“It could be so much better,” said D’Ignazio, a mother of three. D’Ignazio said she knows the importance of the bond between a parent and her newborn and believes that eight weeks is too soon to sever the evolving relationship. D’Ignazio said that both new mothers and fathers should be given at least three months paid leave so that both parents can be present while the child develops.

D’Ignazio said she said she would like to see Emerson follow in the footsteps of many technology companies in the country. Corporations like Twitter and Netflix offer all employees paid parental leave, the latter providing a full year.

“Let’s not make [new parents] choose between feeding their baby and keeping their jobs,” D’Ignazio said.

Mneesha Gellman, an assistant professor in the Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies, said that she believed having to outsource care of young children often disadvantaged the families and children in which they are raised. 

“Families look like so many different things these days that having a conventional maternity policy is a kind of gender discrimination that I think doesn’t keep up with the times,” Gellman said. “It certainly doesn’t keep up with a place like Emerson and the kind of philosophy that Emerson is trying to embrace.”

Gellman said she was doing a post-doctoral fellowship in Germany when she had her son, six weeks before she started her job at Emerson in January. She now brings him along to work and said she is happy with her experience.

“As much as the policies are problematic in terms of leave, the collegiality and the acceptance has been wonderful,” Gellman said.

Murphy said she is pleased with the college’s standards for maternity and parental leave.

“I think we’ve come a long way,” said Murphy, who received no pay when she left work to have her first child.

Federal change may come soon as the issue of parental leave plays a role in the 2016 presidential race. Some candidates, including Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have made promises to improve the country’s laws on the issue.

The college currently has no plans to change their policies, according to Murphy.

Correction: A previous version of this article reported that Assistant Professor Mneesha Gellman said that having to raise a child with outside care is harmful to children’s homes and communities. This was inaccurate, as Gellman actually said that she believed newborns deserved care from their parents, and did not condemn outside care for children of any age.