Paid Leave Letter

A graduate student recently had a letter published in The Register Guard discussing the importance of paid parental leave. His letter follows. Thank you, Jon, for speaking out on the behalf of your fellow graduate employees.

UO’s grad employees deserve parental leave

By Jon LaRochelle

AUG. 19, 2014

Since November 2013, the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation has been bargaining with the University of Oregon administration in order to receive a living wage, much-needed improvements to health care coverage and limited forms of paid leave.

In a sign of good faith, the GTFF Healthcare Trust went out to bid on GTF health care, obtaining the requested benefits while saving the University $500,000 over the next contract cycle. In spite of this major accomplishment, the administration has called for mediation, refusing to meet GTFF demands on wages and digging in its heels on paid leave — especially paid parental leave. Mediation is scheduled for Thursday.

Paid parental leave is vital for improving graduate employee well-being, increasing the accessibility of graduate school and continuing the excellence of undergraduate education at the UO.

Graduate employees work up to 20 hours per week while taking a full course load and managing the increasing demands of professionalization and individual research. There is social pressure on grad students, and grad employees especially, to “put life on hold” while pursuing their studies. Grads are advised to “dissertate before they procreate.” GTFs are told, “Wait until you finish your degree. The timing isn’t right to have a kid in graduate school.” Similarly, junior faculty are often expected to postpone having kids until after they gain tenure

By this logic, no time is a good time. Young academics should not have to wait 10 to 15 years to finish a degree and get tenure before starting a family.

Consider, for instance, the teacher who teaches for five to 10 years before returning to school to get an advanced degree. Now in her late twenties or early thirties and a skilled professional, she should not have to change her plans to start or expand her family because her employer tells her to wait until she finishes her degree. The university should not be involved in family planning. A skilled professional who is elevating the quality of undergraduate education at the university has the right to start a family.

The expectation that grad employees will put their life on hold is unacceptable when grads teach about a third of the instruction hours at the university, and thus bring in about a third of tuition revenue. Grad employees make a substantial contribution to the quality of education at the UO. The stress of delaying life plans and the financial burden of starting a family without institutional support are unacceptable.

These conditions are especially problematic for women who want to have children by natural means. The risk of decreased pay and loss of health care during pregnancy, childbirth and the months following are deeply problematic. There may be no time during graduate school when women’s health and finances are more at risk, yet this is the time when the administration insists on failing them.

The policy is equally important for male GTFs. As parenting expectations change, men are taking on greater responsibility for child rearing. By providing parental leave to both mothers and fathers, the university can encourage and enable sharing of parental responsibilities and ensure the success of all parents in the GTF community.

The administration recently announced an expansion of parental leave benefits for unrepresented faculty and officers of the administration. That policy mirrors the requested leave for GTFs. Now is the time to extend that same benefit to GTFs.

Scott Coltrane — interim president following President Michael Gottfriedson’s resignation and head of the committee overseeing the administration’s bargaining team — has refused to entertain any form of parental leave for GTFs. Ironically, in a recent visit to the White House as an expert on parental leave, he argued that paternity leave is important for both working parents and their employers. He said in a recent interview that “…businesses that want to be successful will develop the policies needed to allow employees to balance family and work.” In his new position, we hope that he will take his own advice.

In May, GTFs voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike in the fall. It is our sincere hope that the administration will work with us to prevent such a strike. We are deeply invested in undergraduate education at UO, and would much rather teach our classes than walk the picket line this fall.

Jon LaRochelle is a Ph.D. student in the philosophy department at the University of Oregon and a member of the GTFF’s bargaining team.


A discussion of the mediation session discussed in Jon is available here.