Move-In 2016: Parental leave for grad assistants a reality

 Katherine Lininger, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Geosciences; Grace Lloyd Miner, postdoctoral fellow, Department of Soil and Crop Sciences; and Cheryl Bowker, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management, helped develop the new parental leave policy for graduate assistants at Colorado State. Photo by John Eisele, CSU Photography.

Leading the charge for further work-life balance at Colorado State University became a passion for three graduate students last year. The idea to create a parental leave policy for graduate assistants was rooted in their involvement in the Northern Colorado Chapter of Graduate Women in Science.

“At any level that we can support professional-personal balance, everyone wins,” said Katherine Lininger. It’s a theme that unified her and two other graduate students,  Grace Miner and Cheryl Bowker, in ensuring their peers and future graduate assistants would benefit from parental leave.

To provide graduate assistants who become parents with additional time off to adjust to their new family situation, CSU has implemented a Graduate Assistant Parental Leave Policy, effective Fall semester 2016. The policy grants eligible graduate assistants three to six weeks of paid leave.

Creating an inclusive policy

As Lininger, Miner and Bowker navigated the process of moving a parental leave policy from idea to implementation, they immersed themselves in researching related policies currently in place at CSU, conducted a survey resulting in feedback from more than 1,100 graduate students, investigated parental leave policies at other institutions, and ignited conversations with peers.

In the process, some overarching goals were identified.

“We wanted to further encourage a culture that values and supports everyone,” said Bowker. “This policy is a step in the right direction.”

“Giving parents options that promote professional-personal balance allows them to excel in their academic pursuits,” added Lininger. “Financial support is an important piece of the equation.”

The women drew from both personal experience and the findings of their research to make their policy recommendations.

“Working on the policy opened our eyes to a myriad of issues we had not fully considered initially,” said Bowker. “One of the most striking takeaways from the survey was the wide range of experiences students had in their departments and the need to develop a policy that was inclusive to both genders as well as adoptive parents.”

“In my situation, I had amazing advisors who were personally supportive, but were limited in the ways they could support me economically immediately after the birth of my daughter,” said Miner. “Hence, I was back to teaching within just a few weeks. The new policy empowers graduate students and allows all advisors to better support their students.”

Leadership and shared passion

After the students began working with the dean of the Graduate School, Jodie R. Hanzlik, a task force was formed at the request of Provost Rick Miranda to evaluate the possibility of the implementation of a university-wide paid parental leave policy. The task force gathered input from many sources (graduates on assistantships; Graduate Student Council; Faculty Council’s Committee on Scholarship, Research and Graduate Education; Deans; Associate Graduate Education Deans; Business and Financial Services; Human Resources/Benefits Office; President’s Commission on Women and Gender Equity; and the Office of Policy and Compliance) to best create the new Graduate Assistant Parental Leave Policy.

“I applaud the work and dedication of these insightful graduate students. Their advocacy created impressive momentum in the development of the policy,” said Hanzlik, who chaired the task force. “It’s through the leadership of these students and shared dedication of many entities across campus that we were able to provide a significant new benefit to our graduate students who become parents.”

“We believe the policy demonstrates the progressiveness of CSU, and will aid in attracting and retaining quality graduate students,” said Miner. “As students are reviewing their [graduate school] options, we believe this policy provides a glimpse of a culture committed to advancing and supporting graduate students.”

Beyond CSU

The impact of this policy goes beyond CSU for these graduate students.

Work-life policies are essential in all workplaces, Lininger said. “One way to start is to create what you want to see at the local level, with the long-term goal of larger societal changes. As institutions of higher learning and innovation, universities’ policies should be progressive and reflect the changes we hope to see on a national level.”

“We are proud of the policy and the example it sets,” said Bowker. “Hopefully this will pave the way for implementing other inclusive policies.”

For questions regarding the policy, contact the Graduate School at 970-491-6817. Human Resources can assist with administrative procedural questions related to completing the Parental Leave Application at 970-491-MyHR (6947). Additional information available on the HR website.