Friday, March 04, 2011

 

Ask the Administrator: New Job, New Baby, New Town?

A new correspondent writes with a doozy:

I have been very stressed trying to figure out my job for next year. I
was offered a tenure-track position at University B during the month
of February. My husband and I were extremely happy, because it was a
good position in a great city with a very reasonable salary. I have
been working for University A for 8 years as a lecturer. I really enjoy
working at University A, but the fact that they cannot offer me a Tenure
Track position has been bothering me, therefore I decided to go to the
job market last January and find a more secure position, which
fortunately I found.

To make the story short, we just found out that I am pregnant and the
baby is due mid September. Human Resources web page at University B
states that they do not have the obligation to pay maternity leave to
faculty members who have not been in the institution 12 months or
more. The FMLA protects me, and I would be able by law take 6
weeks off, but of course, with no income, in a new city, where
everything will be new to us.

At University A, because I have been here for so long, I have
accumulated 12 weeks of sick leave paid which can be used towards my
maternity leave. After that, I will be on my own, because the
department will not let me come back and teach at week 12. I would
have to wait for the following semester. Obviously, I have my doctor
here in this city, my friends, and I just feel more protected within
my comfort zone.

My ideal situation, if I could choose, would be to postpone the Tenure
Track position at University B one year and stay one more year as a
lecturer at University A, even though I would not be teaching
Fall 2011. After Fall 2011 and Spring 2012 I would love to move to
University B with the baby, who will be one year old.

My question is: Can I ask for a year deferment at University B, how
do you think they will take it? Will that be offensive?

What if I take my maternity leave during Fall at University A and
start my Tenure Track job at University B during Spring? How do you
think University A will react? Is that ethical or should I stay with
them the whole academic year?


I’ll start with the easy one. Congratulations on the baby! In the grand scheme of things, a new baby and a new job offer are both good news. I know that’s slim comfort now, but it’s true.

And I’ll just put it out there that I’m not a lawyer. So I’ll just go with “what I would probably do,” and hope that my wise and worldly readers have something to contribute.

Tenure-track hires are time-consuming to select. By the time you’ve been selected, the department has made a significant effort to land you, and has quite a bit invested in actually reeling you in. Nobody likes losing their top choice. If you were the second choice and they lost you, they’d have to reopen the search (and take the risk of losing the position altogether).

In other words, you may have more bargaining power at this moment than you think.

It’s worth noting, too, that “due dates” are approximations. “Mid-September” could mean September 15, or September 1, or August 27. These things happen. It’s probably best not to assume too much precision here. A plan that relies on you being in place on, say, September 2 is not without risk.

You don’t mention your husband’s job, if any, so I don’t know how the economics of it all play out, but I believe you when you say that the Fall semester without pay in a new city is probably a bad idea. Those first few weeks are especially harrowing; being detached from support networks then would be really hard. People do it, of course, but we found it hard even with support.

All of that said, my first move would be to talk to the department chair, and possibly dean, about deferring your start for a year. University B wouldn’t be violating its FMLA policy that way, since it wouldn’t be granting you leave; it would be deferring your hire. The worst they could do is say ‘no,’ in which case you’re no worse off than you are now. I don’t imagine they’d rescind the offer, since you’d have a doozy of a discrimination argument if they did, but they could refuse the deferral. At that point, you could play the ‘failed search’ card and simply let them know that an unpaid semester in a new city is not an option for you, so if they can’t find a way to work with you, they’ll have to find a way to work without you.

The best negotiating position is always “willing to walk away.”

The risk, of course, is that they just might call the bluff. At that point, you’d have to either accept the awful deal or stay where you are now and take another crack at the market next year. Between those options, I’d go with the latter, though obviously your mileage may vary.

Good luck.

Wise and worldly readers, I suspect there are good options and angles that I’m not seeing. Do you have any thoughts that could help?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.

Comments:
I'd recommend looking seriously at a one-semester deferral and the possibility of getting there late in the fall so you can hit the ground running in January. They may even start you with Reassigned responsibilities in mid semester.

I don't understand the "ethical" question about using your sick leave. You earned it, it is your money, and under contracts I've had at different institutions, you would get the value of unused sick leave in cash when you left. Find out what your rights are.
 
The one-semester deferral that CCphysicist recommended seems natural. At worst it will force the department to cancel a couple of classes on the tentative fall schedule. Compared to a new search that sounds like a no-brainer (at least it was for our department when a candidate asked for a one-semester deferral last year).
 
I did both.

I got a year-long deferral on staring my job to take a post-doc (and wait for my DH to finish his degree). I was not pregnant at the time.

Then I started my job pregnant and got no maternity leave... and was teaching week 4 (would have been week 3 except for a freak snowstorm). Nobody minded that I was pregnant because it was no skin off their noses. I was excused from service responsibilities and given a one course reduction (their concession... plus one of my sections wasn't going to make so they just put all the students in the remaining sections).

I actually got pretty high teaching evals... it was the semester after that when my son started daycare and I was sick all the time that the evals dropped.
 
I just got back from my maternity leave -- I was told that FMLA actually guarentees up to 12 weeks off (unpaid.) Six medical, to recover from giving birth, and six more as "family leave" to bond with your newborn, if you choose. In fact my last two weeks of leave were taken under the latter claim type.

You might point that out when you're asking for your deferment -- they can either give you a one semester (or one year) deferment, or hire you and and then give you 6-12 weeks unpaid during which they have to find someone to cover your classes anyway. Not hiring you at all really is discrimination.

So basically, they *have* to give you at least a semester off. They can do it as an FMLA claim or they can do it as a deferment -- it's up to them. You might point this out when you're negotiating. What do they have to lose by giving you the deferment, under those conditions?

FWIW: I spent a lot of energy worrying about combining pregnancy and maternity leave with a career, and it turns out I should've been worried more about combining parenthood with a career. Pregnancy in itself didn't really affect my work, and maternity leave was over in the blink of an eye. It feels now as if I was never gone. Six weeks unpaid would be 11% of your paycheck for the year, and if your husband makes a similar amount, more like a 5-6% hit to your household income. Does this tenure-track position come with a raise?

Of course, moving is expensive and having a baby is expensive, and if you have less income temporarily, you might have to take on some debt. But if you think about the next couple of years, will that six (or eight or whatever) weeks really make that much difference to your financial position at the end of them?

Maternity leaves are short: careers are long.
 
To riff on Mary: parenthood is forever!

I'm always struck by the complex nature of the negotiations that go on around mat leave in the US (I'm in Canada) and by the fact that 6 weeks, or even 12 weeks, is considered adequate. Or even sane. This is one of those areas in which America is completely out of step with most of the rest of the world; from the outside it is hard to imagine what the hell people actually do to make this work under 'normal' circumstances, let alone the ones described in the OP.
 
Take the TT job at University B. TT jobs are hard to come by. Having a steady position will put you in a better position 5 years down the road than having a lectureship where ever you are now. (I say this as a lecturer, myself, also at an institution where I enjoy working but where I'll never land a TT job.)

HR policies found on their website are not the same as what happens on the ground in negotiation over your entry into the TT job. A lot can be done to make things work for you, if the University actually wants to do this.
 
FMLA covers only employees who have been employed at the institution for at least 12 months, so Uni B does not have to give FMLA leave.

However, I started my first tenure-track job when I was 7 months pregnant, and I was able to negotiate a maternity leave as part of my hire, even though HR policies stated that the college offered no maternity leave. It definitely can be done.
 
Congratulations on your pregnancy! If I am calculating it correctly, you are two months along. I have heard the advice given by folks in HR--including the always smart Evil HR Lady--say that it's generally a good idea to wait until you're out of your first trimester until notifying employers or potential employers of pregnancy as that's the time when things are still the most contingent. If I am correctly calculatating how far along you are in your pregnancy, you might consider trying to delay this conversation about the deferral or whatever else you decide to do until you're into at least the 12th week of your pregnancy. I sincerely wish you all the best with your pregancy. Good luck with this exciting time!
 
I was thinking just what many commenters said: look at a one-semester deferral, and start in January at the TT job (deferments are reasonably frequent with TT positions--I deferred my current position for a year b/c it got offered late, off-regular-cycle, and I just couldn't move myself and family so quickly). But I am also wondering what the actual policies are re: maternity leave, or sick leave. What is the "maternity" leave available to faculty?
 
I agree with Dean Dad who said to talk with your new chair and dean about working something out. They don't want to lose you at this point. Also, there might be room for teaching online classes or sharing the load with a T.A. or other professor. Make sure you explore all possibilities before you make a decision.
 
Congratulations of the baby and the TT job!

Here's a thought: if the new school is not willing to work with you regarding maternity leave, they certainly won't be understanding about parenthood. You wouldn't want to work for a university/department that isn't willing to work with you. A one semester or one-year deferment is perfectly reasonable.
 
Susan, in the US "maternity leave" is generally just the medical leave available to recover from giving birth. It's generally 6 to 10 weeks. Family Leave guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but they don't have to hold your job for you. They just have to have "a" job for you, equivalent to your old job.

My husband (Canadian born) is disgusted with the normal policy here that starting a new job gives you two weeks of vacation per annum. He's 50 years old with 25 years of experience, but he starts with the same amount of vacation as a recent college grad. And then they squint at you funny if you actually *take* vacation.

Work rules in the US. We live to serve.
 
Congratulations!

Others have noted that FMLA will not, in fact, protect you if you take the new job as you'd have needed to have been there for a year before it would kick in. I agree, though, with Dean Dad and other that the department/dean will likely to willing to be flexible about your actual start date.

You don't mention the proximity of your extended family to either location, but I've found having mine available once I became a mom to be, well, priceless (obviously this reflects in part the quality of my extended family, which is exceptional -- in a good way. I recognize not everyone is similarly blessed, so YMMV). If taking the new job moves you away from family, I'd consider not doing it (in your shoes).
 
What about being on leave but appointed to both institutions? Take your sick time from University A and unpaid leave for the remainder of the semester. Careful here though - our contract only allowed us to take 6-8 weeks off on sick time with the rest unpaid or vacation. Take unpaid leave from University B for the first semester but establish your contract / presence there so that when you move into your position in January, you won't be dealing with all the HR "I'm new and things go wrong" crap. If you feel like it, you could even go to the new faculty stuff they have at the beginning of the semester and start networking / meeting people.

If you don't want to talk about being pregnant you can ask for a medical leave. Tell your chair you have recently received word from your doctor that you have a urgent but non-threatening medical condition that requires surgery and the team you need to do the job will be assembled some time in August/September - exact date to be determined. You can get medical leave paperwork that matches this description - frankly, it's no one's business but your own what your status is.

Last but not least, one thing you might want to scope out while you are negotiating your office space is the options for breastfeeding / expressing milk. We had one room on campus reserved for this purpose and it was pretty far from my office. Having a female officemate made things easier for me.
 
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