New policy to extend tenure clock for assistant profs with newborns

The University will automatically give assistant professors with newborn babies a one-year extension of the tenure clock starting July 1, one of a number of policy changes that aim to improve work-life balance for faculty and staff.

By Ella Christoph

The University will automatically give assistant professors with newborn babies a one-year extension of the tenure clock starting July 1, one of a number of policy changes that aim to improve work-life balance for faculty and staff. The changes, recommended by the Work-Life Task Force and announced this week, include a travel grant for assistant professors with child-care expenses and increased flexibility for faculty undergoing exceptional life circumstances.

Normally, professors are either tenured or asked to leave after seven years. The new policy would give professors a one-year reprieve for each child they have during that period.

Kenneth Warren, deputy provost for research and minority issues co-chair of the task force, said the initiatives would increase both faculty satisfaction and the University’s competitiveness in attracting faculty. “The goal was to do those things that we thought we would be appropriate for competitiveness, but primarily to do things that we thought would enhance the lives of our faculty and staff that are currently here,” he said.

Provost Thomas Rosenbaum convened the task force last January after a survey on faculty satisfaction in 2006 identified the University’s support for faculty with families as an area of concern.

The Stopping the Clock on Tenure Review policy gives assistant professors that are expecting a child and have significant care-giving responsibilities an additional year to receive tenure. The policy will be available to men and women, including same-sex, registered domestic partners; faculty can still choose to opt out of stopping the clock.

Previously, if they requested it, assistant professors could only receive a one-year extension, regardless of whether they had more than one child. By making it automatic, Warren said, it would help to prevent assistant professors from becoming less competitive or feeling stigmatized because they chose to “stop the clock.”

Associate Professor in the Harris School and director of the Center for Human Potential and Public Policy Ariel Kalil agreed. Kalil studies how economic conditions affect child and family functions. ”That’s better than asking junior faculty to have to ask their deans or chairpersons for permission,” she said. “That sort of possibility could make junior people reticent to ask for those opportunities. I think it’s a better solution to have the tenure clock solution be automatic.”

The tenure clock often becomes an issue at the same time that many women would like to build families, Kalil said. “It’s a statement of fact that for women the tenure clock and the biological clock are competing against each other,” Kalil said. “I think there’s a culture that in some fields, women feel they have to earn tenure first before they have children.”

Kalil said that national studies show that women still have more home responsibilities than men. Making the tenure clock automatic, Kalil said, could contribute to changing the culture of what fathers do at home. “Fathers can have this opportunity to participate without feeling their tenure will be jeopardized,” she said. However, Kalil added, men still might opt out of stopping the clock more than women.

While statistics on men versus women choosing to stop the clock aren’t available, Warren said that based on conversations with faculty and staff, it is likely that men will be more likely to take advantage of the measure if it is automatic.

Associate Provost of Program Development Mary Harvey, who co-chaired the task force, said that increasing flexibility for faculty and staff would also increase their productivity. “Our interest is in creating the conditions where faculty and our staff can be as productive as possible, and one where they have the greatest job satisfaction.”

Attending professional conferences and giving talks can be important to professional development for assistant professors, but for assistant professors with children, child-care costs can make travel difficult. The Dependent Care Professional Travel Grant Program will reimburse up to $500 of child-care expenses for junior faculty traveling for professional reasons.

The task force also suggested that the University establish an on-campus childcare facility, especially for children under three years old. The University plans to identify a location and initiate planning for a childcare facility in or near the Medical Center by the time the New Hospital Pavilion opens. Currently, the University continues to support the Child Care Initiative, which allocates $1 million to support the expansion or establishment of child-care center in and around Hyde Park.

Harvey said that while there are a number of options for professors with older children, they often struggle to find childcare for infants and toddlers. “A lot of faculty and staff who live in Hyde Park use either nannies or use students or others who come into their home for the day,” Harvey said. “Once kids hit three, there are a lot of options.”