A difficult balancing act

University instructor and doctoral candidate Ruth DeFoster plays with her two-year-old son Anthony in the living room of their home in St. Paul on Thursday. DeFoster has faced criticism from some her graduate school peers for her decision to have children while attending school.

Liam James Doyle

University instructor and doctoral candidate Ruth DeFoster plays with her two-year-old son Anthony in the living room of their home in St. Paul on Thursday. DeFoster has faced criticism from some her graduate school peers for her decision to have children while attending school.

Taylor Nachtigal

Ruth DeFoster refused to have her baby in the winter.

The graduate instructor and doctoral candidate planned to have her second child in the summer to avoid researching and teaching while also caring for a newborn.

She strategically saved her research fellowship to use as a three-month maternity leave, an option some at the University of Minnesota turn to because of the school’s lack of accommodation for pregnant employees.

“It’s like build-your-own maternity leave,” DeFoster said. Like DeFoster, some faculty members take issue with the current policy’s limited amount of paid leave and inconsistencies in how leave is handled across departments.

Efforts to change the school’s parental leave policy have gained momentum in recent months as faculty members struggle to simultaneously build a career and family. But any policy change would confront a culture that shows little understanding of those attempting to prioritize their career alongside family life.

The University’s decades-old policy includes six weeks of paid leave for employees who bear children and two weeks for the other parent. Once they have a child, many seeking day care near campus face massive waiting lists at the school-sponsored facility.

Compared to its peers, the University’s policy is stringent. Many other Big Ten universities offer the same amount of paid leave for men and women. A few offer faculty members a full semester of pay without teaching appointments.

The 1993 federal Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually, but there isn’t a federal law requiring paid parental leave.

A handful of University faculty members are drafting proposals that would change the school’s policy guidelines.

“If the University wants to be seen as a leader in the community, [policy changes] are something they need to grapple with,” DeFoster said.

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