Emerson faculty deserve improved parental leave

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • October 8, 2015

Emerson’s approach to parental leave lives up to its name—it leaves much to be wanted, like more time, more money, and more of what could be called compassion, but in a reasonable society is called fairness. The school’s current plan meets the regulatory standards laid out in the Massachusetts Parental Leave Act of 2015, but this legislation sets the bar relatively low. 

Presently, Emerson’s policy only requires eight weeks of leave and pay is not mandatory but rather “at the discretion of the employer.” The language of paternal leave laws across the nation portrays childbirth as a medical burden thrust upon the corporation and, predominantly, one that women are responsible for. The laws are inherently sexist and relics of a time period we should have surpassed in gender politics. It is also important to point out that the policy could have disproportionately negative impacts on women of color. Since the policy only pays up to 60 percent of the employee's salary, and black women, on average, earn 64 cents to every white man’s dollar (this rate is 54 for Latina women and 78 for white women) the financial cost of childbirth would be even greater. The policy is only contributing to a cycle of economic injustice experienced by people of color in our country. 

The administration does not seem inclined to revisit the policy. It is a logical expectation of the faculty to ask for their employer to at least consider altering the current plan. Upon reevaluation of the current offer, especially taking into consideration the dissenting opinions of the staff to the present policy, the school should be able to make a sound decision.

It is evident that faculty and staff at Emerson desire more inclusive and beneficial maternal and paternal leave policies. Some have spoken up regarding the length of leave being too short to allow sufficient bonding time with the newborn, while others voiced concern that the policy is not inclusive—a main cornerstone, supposedly, of Emerson’s philosophy. 

The policy is discriminatory in the first place. It’s a manifestation of socially constructed ideas of masculinity and sexism, and it perpetuates destructive gender norms, mainly the antiquated notion that women are responsible for child rearing and men are the breadwinners. All parents should have the opportunity to be with their children. Institutions should respect and value their employees’ families, and provide the ability for parents, regardless of gender, to spend essential time with their children. But the policy also discriminates against families that don’t resemble the conventional nuclear family structure. There isn’t one type of family, and a conventional maternity policy is dated and non-inclusive. Paid paternity leave should not be considered a privilege, but a right. 

While it may at first seem like a huge tax on the school’s limited funds, the benefits that parental leave can bring are invaluable. Many of the parents who work here are pushing for reform for more time to bond with their newborn in life’s most crucial relationship. The more dedicated time professors have to raise their children, the more comfortable and productive they’ll be upon their return. An entire year of parental leave—as Netflix provides—might be a luxury that an academic institution can’t afford, but any more time would be an improvement over the wholly inadequate eight weeks that we currently give. When Google extended its paid maternity leave to 18 weeks in 2008, the rate at which new moms left the company fell by 50 percent. Increased retention rates amongst employees should be music to any company’s ears.

Emerson asks a lot from its professors—from grading those first-ever college papers to enforcing our school’s stringent attendance policy—so it’s only fair that they ask this of the college. Raising a family and working full-time is difficult, and if members of the faculty are unhappy with the current limitations of parental leave, it’s time to revamp it.