The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday  about a shift underway in academia: making the tenure track more family-friendly. It may seem like a small development, but it’s actually quite seismic.
The fissures of the old way are cracking, albeit one corporation and now a handful of colleges at a time. According to the story, Ohio State University, Princeton University, the University of Michigan, and the biggest fish of them all—the University of California system—have taken real steps to adjust to the reality that women want to work and raise kids, and that increasingly men want to spend time with their families too.
So what are colleges doing? MIT has instituted an automatic extension of the tenure-track for professors who give birth. The key here is “automatic”—helping ease the worries of female professors who otherwise were reluctant to ask for an extension. Ohio State now offers several weeks’ of paid parental leave for fathers, in addition to mothers. The entire UC system has implemented flexible part-time arrangements for faculty with family or personal needs, including an automatic tenure-clock extension.
America’s colleges are starting to build the village. Big corporations who have the resources have also responded to the needs of its workforce, offering benefits like child care, flex-time and paid leave. These are all signs of progress. But in order for most families to feel any relief from the financial and emotional stress of trying to be good parents and good workers, we’ll need more than our biggest firms and colleges to make the leap forward. We’ll need our elected officials to finally put some muscle behind the rhetoric of family values.