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July 21, 2011


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This is interesting. Would you advise against a male untenured faculty member taking FMLA leave for bonding? In one sense it's a cost effective way for the law school to grant a pre-tenured sabbatical. In another sense though, one is taking themselves out of the school/teaching/service cycle which, depending on the school may be held against the employee (secretly of course, no one would ever vote against someone's tenure and claim that as a reason, they would just vote no silently). It seems to me that taking FMLA leave while untenured could pose big risks if there is no history of the practice, and I think it could be especially risky for men. When I had a child I asked around about taking FMLA leave and was greeted with very skeptical looks and the advice was proceed cautiously if at all (many were under the impression that FMLA leave was only for women). Would love to hear your thoughts.


As follow up to my comment, I thought some of the information at this webpage was interesting:

And I know it's my right to take the leave, and I wanted to, but I'd rather have tenure than an actionable claim for discrimination. The grumblings were definitely enough for me to not push the issue.

Here are the excerpts:

A survey of 100 academic institutions found that more than one-third of their maternity and child-rearing policies were, or were likely to be, illegal.

In a survey of 500 colleges and universities, employment discrimination was the single greatest and most quickly growing cause of employment claims — five times greater than the number of wrongful termination claims and six times greater than the number of sexual harassment claims.

The costs of defending an employment discrimination claim can be hefty. For example, Oregon State University paid a reported tentative settlement of $495,000 in an FRD tenure suit.[6] In another FRD tenure case, Boston University was ordered to grant the plaintiff tenure and awarded her $200,000 in damages for breach of contract and $15,000 in emotional distress damages.

Jessica Owley

First, I hope that it did not appear that I advocate people *not* take a leave. I hold quite the opposite view in fact. When people take advantage of leave policies or lobby for better policies, I think it is more likely to increase the acceptance of parental leave. Here at Buffalo, we have 14 junior faculty. Let's say we all had kids, but the other 13 people did not take any leave. In some communities (not Buffalo I'm sure), my decision to take a leave might look bad .. "Why does Jessie need a leave, no one else did?" While I doubt many people would feel that way, there might be a few. BUT I think this is a reason to take your leave, not to forgo it. Taking parental leave (or other family medical leave) and stopping tenure clocks, helps solidify the fact this is is acceptable practice and part of law school culture. Perhaps there would have been fewer grumblings about paternity leave at anondaddy's school if other people had taken it in the past. Problem is of course that it is hard to go first, and we are a very risk adverse group. Hopefully, the ability to stop one's tenure clock at least makes up for any disruption from taking a 12-week leave.

Second, I would really shy away from calling or thinking of parental leave as a pre-tenured sabbatical. It is a 12-week unpaid leave you take to care for a family member. If this is taking care of a baby, I doubt you would get any sleep let alone any writing done. Even if you are an uberproductive person, that is not the point of the leave. The point is to bond with the child, no?

Third, the challenge for FMLA for our profession is that the 12 weeks might not fall on a convenient date. If you want your leave to start in March for example, it is hard to figure out the logistics for teaching commitments. My understanding of FMLA (and perhaps a family law person could chime in here) is that the employer has to work something out with you. They have to figure out what would be acceptable teaching (sharing a class, teaching a short course, taking on nonteaching duties). This complication may make it hard for administrators and may cause more angst when someone announces a desire to use this leave.

Finally -- anyone out there with a school that has a policy beyond FMLA? It'd be interesting to hear what other schools are offering.

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