UMN employees push for parental leave equity

Some University governance committee members are seeking support for a resolution to increase parental leave.

by Natalie Rademacher

University of Minnesota employees are seeking support for a movement to make the institution’s parental leave policy more inclusive.

Several governance committees have endorsed a resolution calling for equal amounts of leave for all parent-employees. Its proponents hope to present the document to the University Senate in the spring.

Under current University policy, eligible birthing female employees are allowed six weeks of paid parental leave while other parents — like fathers and adoptive parents — receive two weeks of paid leave.

Some University community members say the policy is inequitable. The resolution, passed by the University Professional and Administrative Senate last spring, calls for six weeks of paid leave for all parents. 

“The language is currently gendered,” said Lauren Mitchell, president of the Council of Graduate Students. “Not everyone that gives birth identifies as a female.”

This semester, P&A Senate Chair-elect Ian Ringgenberg has been speaking at faculty governance committee meetings, encouraging others to adopt the resolution before it goes to the University Senate this spring. Several have voted to support the document. Next week, he will bring the resolution to the Social Concerns Committee. 

“Through University governance, we can’t write policy but we can ask and organize,” Ringgenberg said. “We have gotten a lot of support already.” 

The resolution was motivated in part by concerns about offering sufficient paid leave for adoptive parents. 

“Adoptive parents should have the same leave as birth parents,” said Randy Croce, a member of the Social Concerns Committee. “It takes time to travel, complete the adoption process and help the child acclimate to their new environment.”

Research on parental leave policies at the University’s peer institutions informed the committee’s resolution writing process, Ringgenberg said.

“Our current [parental leave] policy is not good on a national scale,” he said. 

For example, both Ohio University and the University of Michigan grant six weeks of paid leave for any parent, according to their policies. 

While advocates hope changing the policy would better support University parent-employees, Croce said more action is needed. 

“While policy may say that a mother can take six weeks off, many women don’t feel they can take it because they can’t find someone to cover the workload,” said Michael Kyba, Senate Research Committee member.

Additionally, other employees struggle to find child care for their kids once they return to work, Kyba said. Daycare facilities at the University are unable to accept children under three months old, and the centers often have months-long waiting lists. 

Members of the University community have also tried to address other parent-employee issues in the last few years.

In 2016, while chair of the Senate Research Committee, Kyba fought for the University to create a pool of funding for unplanned parental leave. 

He said this type of funding would especially benefit people who are funded by grants, including fellowships, who may not be eligible to receive paid leave. Due to the cost of implementation, this proposal was not adopted.

This year, the Council of Graduate Students has been working to find other ways to support fellowship-funded students who aren’t paid by the University and, as a result, don’t qualify for parental leave benefits. Mitchell said this ineligibility may discourage women from applying for fellowships.

“This is a problem for graduate students who may want to start a family,” Mitchell said. 

Parental leave advocates University-wide hope the push for policy changes will lead to positive outcomes for families.

“I would like to see an acknowledgement in the ability of families to spend time together and really supporting people in having families,” Ringgenberg said.