Last week, Lorraine Goffe-Rush, VP of Human Resources at MIT, announced the Institute’s new policy on parental care. She wrote in an email on Tuesday that MIT is “pleased to announce” that the Institute will provide “up to 5 days of Paid Parental Leave to eligible mothers and fathers,” within 4 months of birth or adoption. Goffe-Rush added, “We are delighted to have this opportunity to further expand MIT’s benefits to new parents in our community.”
Hardly a cause for delight, this ought to spark major outrage. While the policy allows for “up to” 5 days of paid leave, the really hardcore MIT mothers and fathers may choose to take only one, two, or even a half-day of leave — in true MIT spirit. While MIT does fund a childbirth accommodation policy for up to two months, it applies to female graduate students or employees anticipating giving birth and not to fathers or adoptive parents. This does not constitute an inclusive parental leave policy.
Since the current five-day parental leave policy is laughably unrealistic and downright insulting, parents in our community work around it. In practice on the academic side, graduate student and postdoc parents are at the whim of their advisors, with whom they negotiate a period of paid leave on an ad hoc individual basis. This is a recipe for inequality, coercion, and arbitrariness on a topic that’s far too important. The terms of paid parental leave cannot be left to academic advisors and must be dealt with through a fair, Institute-wide policy that applies to all graduate students and employees.
Last Friday, the Women@Broad association at the Broad Institute at MIT hosted a symposium titled “Unconscious Bias,” a discussion of the implicit assumptions that affect how we treat our colleagues based on gender, race, and unspoken stereotypes. This conversation is immensely important, and efforts like these should be applauded. We shouldn’t forget, however, that there are still many conscious and visible roadblocks, like MIT’s paid parental leave policy.
In the wake of MIT’s recent suicides and onslaught of mental health problems, we have heard administration officials wax poetic on their concern for the wellbeing of the community and its wholeness. Having a family, for those who wish to, is an integral part of this story. It’s now time for the administration to put its money where its mouth is. MIT should see this as an opportunity to innovate.
Yarden Katz is a postdoc at the Broad Institute at MIT.