The Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department (Course 6) has agreed to fund a third month of paid maternity leave for its female graduate students, beyond the two-month maximum through the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education (ODGE). The new policy will become effective in Spring 2014, according to department head Anantha Chandrakasan.
Course 6 is the second department to institute this policy — the Physics Department was the first to fund the third month of childbirth accommodation, beginning in 2008.
The change was led by Marzyeh Ghassemi G, co-chair of the Graduate Student Council’s (GSC) Housing & Community Affairs (HCA) committee. Ghassemi, who is currently pregnant, had approached her advisor, who was “incredibly supportive” and suggested speaking to Chandrakasan. A short meeting later, Chandrakasan agreed to fund a third month of maternity leave for graduate women in the department.
“It was disarmingly simple,” said Ghassemi. “I’m impressed with the speed with which they said yes and how happy they were to do this.”
“It made sense. We need to provide more flexibility,” said Chandrakasan. “The credit is all to the Physics Department who took the initiative, and we want to be supportive of our graduate women.
The department plans to implement the policy in the same manner as the Physics Department. Students who are approved by the ODGE for childbirth accommodation can receive a third month simply by informing the department of their desire to take the leave. Funding for the new policy will come from the department’s discretionary funds. The third month of paid leave will cover one month of the RA stipend (~$2500) and tuition (~$4800), summing to approximately $7300 per person, according to Chandrasakan. The department anticipates that three or four graduate women will apply for childbirth accommodation per year. Since implementation of their policy in 2008, three graduate women in physics have taken advantage of the Physics Department’s policy with the third month. According to a 2009 Institute survey of graduate women, 2.7 percent of women respondents (including master’s and doctorate programs) “plan to have children while at MIT,” and 7.4 percent were “considering having children while at MIT.”
Under the current Institute policy, full-time registered graduate women anticipating childbirth can request up to two months of childbirth accommodation, with approval from the ODGE. The two months of accommodation are funded by the Childbirth Accommodation Fund, and through that time, students can retain on-campus residence and access to campus medical facilities. The policy “does not apply to adoption or to men in support of their wives or partners during childbirth.”
According to their graduate student websites, Princeton University offers a paid 12-week accommodation for birth mothers or primary caregivers (men or women) for newborn infants or newly adopted pre-school children. However, Princeton only allows one parent to claim this accommodation if both parents are enrolled graduate students and defines primary giver as either a single parent or parent whose spouse or partner has returned to full-time employment. Both male and female registered PhD students at Yale University are entitled to “at least an eight-week period” after a birth or adoption, and those who take only eight weeks during the term of the birth or adoption are eligible to receive an additional eight weeks of stipend in a later term funded by the Graduate School. Female and male PhD students in Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences are eligible for six weeks of paid leave following a birth or adoption.
“HCA has had preliminary discussions with some of the deans about the possibility of a parental leave policy. We’re looking at what is commonly offered [in universities],” said Ghassemi. “My co-chair and I are planning to engage different department heads in discussions, and having a student who is championing it on a per-department basis is important. We are trying to engage with students in different departments and asking them to push this initiative forward.”