Few Perks for Faculty with Kids, Profs Say

Students and resources are big draws, but some say Harvard falls short with parent benefits

In a “100 Best Schools for Professors” list, faculty members say Harvard does not achieve the number one ranking in the “benefits” category.

Although professors overwhelmingly cite Harvard students and research resources as the University’s greatest draws, and the University Benefits Office website highlights the “generous benefits, tuition assistance, and work/life balance” available for faculty members, professors say that the perks they actually receive pale in comparison to those offered at peer institutions.

“I’m not complaining, but I certainly don’t feel that Harvard faculty are especially pampered or privileged compared to faculty at other, similar universities,” Elizabeth Spelke, who is Berkman professor of psychology and has worked at Penn, Cornell, and MIT in the past, writes in an e-mail.

Professors with children say they do not have sufficient access to daycare and do not receive the same financial support that their colleagues at other schools get for their children’s tuition.

And many female professors say they are especially concerned about what they call Harvard’s lack of attention to gender equality when it comes to child-bearing.

STICKER PRICE

While schools including Princeton and Yale subsidize half of the tuition costs for their faculty members’ children—at these schools or another undergraduate institution—Harvard offers no tuition discounts to professors’ progeny.

According to Lisa Martin, chair of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Standing Committee on Women, Harvard’s “tuition assistance” consists of interest free loans to help with education at any institution.

Princeton pays half tuition at any undergraduate institution for the children of faculty who have been employed at the school for at least five years.

And Yale offers a 50 percent tuition discount at undergraduate institutions to the children of full time employees who have worked a minimum of six years, according to the Princeton and Yale websites.

Dean for the Humanities Maria Tatar, who has two children currently enrolled at the College, says tuition cuts might raise equity issues for professors without children.

But Peter Salovey, Dean of Yale College, writes in an e-mail that he is “delighted” that Yale provides a tuition cut incentive to faculty.

“What better message could an institution of higher education send about the value of a college education?” Salovey writes.

Emery Professor of Chemistry Eric N. Jacobsen, who has been at Harvard for 13 years and is the father of three young children, says he is surprised by Harvard’s policy. When he came to Harvard and asked why the school does not offer tuition discounts, he says he was told by someone in the upper administration at Harvard at the time that “they didn’t want to create a situation where Harvard faculty thought they should be entitled or get special consideration getting into Harvard.”

According to Director of Admissions Marlyn McGrath Lewis ’70-’73, approximately 12 to 20 children of faculty apply to the College each year and are accepted at a significantly higher-than-average rate. Faculty members’ children are given “particular care by the admissions committee,” Lewis says. But given their familiarity with the school, she says, faculty are less likely to have their children apply if they do not think Harvard would be a good match.

But despite the high acceptance rate for children of professors, Lewis says she is unsure how faculty feel about special admissions consideration for their children.

“I think a lot of faculty don’t think their children should get special consideration,” Lewis says. “I think a lot of faculty are interested in merit-based admissions.”

Jacobsen also says he does not think faculty can expect their children to gain special admissions consideration, but he does call tuition relief a “serious incentive” and “symbolic” because other universities provide the benefit.

“It’s striking to me that Harvard doesn’t do that at all,” says Jacobsen.

NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND?

In 2005, Working Mother magazine ranked Harvard as one of the 100 best companies for working moms. Among other perks, the magazine cited “six university-sponsored on-site or near-site facilities” for child care.

But the magazine “seemed to miss the bigger picture,” says Martin, who is also senior adviser to the dean of FAS on diversity issues and FAS’s representative on the University-wide Faculty Development and Diversity Committee.

There are six Harvard-affiliated child care centers in Cambridge and Boston. But Martin says the centers’ waiting lists are so long that most professors’ children cannot gain admission.

According to the Report of the Task Force on Women Faculty published in May 2005, the “wait list in Cambridge and Allston could be between 150 and 300 distinct names/children.”

More current and more specific statistics concerning these waiting lists, however, were unable to be provided by the individual child care centers, Work/Family Specialist Sarah Bennett-Astesano at the Office of Work/Life Resources, or Task Force Chair and Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity Evelynn M. Hammonds.

Martin, whose five-year-old daughter attends daycare in her hometown of Lexington, Mass., says she did not even complete the formal application process for Harvard’s child care facilities because she did not think her daughter was likely to be admitted. One center did not invite her for a tour so as not to get her hopes up, she says.

According to Martin, Harvard’s provisions for the care of faculty members’ children do not compare favorably to those made by other schools.

She cites MIT as one school with more daycare centers at closer proximity to professors’ offices, what Martin refers to as “more of the corporate model.”

Professor of English and American Literature and Language Elisa New says that younger, untenured faculty members—both men and women—who have children are at a “distinct disadvantage” compared with incoming senior faculty and their families because the University does not provide, or sufficiently subsidize, child care.

Junior faculty members “must give up time they would otherwise devote to scholarship to scrambling for child care,” she writes in an e-mail.

REMEMBER THE LADIES

For female faculty members in particular, having children presents physical difficulties and interrupts the tenure process—a situation these professors say Harvard could do more to recognize.

“All the studies show that the group of faculty, not just at Harvard, having the hardest time getting tenure are women with babies,” Martin says.

Tatar, who came to Harvard in 1971 and has raised two children since then, says the College’s parental leave policy should acknowledge the biological differences between men and women.

Tatar supports the implementation of “a maternity leave that would recognize the physical challenges of pregnancy and giving birth,” which she says require extra time off.

Martin and her colleagues are looking to create such a maternity leave policy for women having babies. Although the University currently offers a one semester teaching relief policy to any parent who is a primary care giver, this new policy would “recognize the disability and time needed for giving birth.”

If instituted, this maternity leave would supplement two existing child care funds created by Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby: a dependent care fund that covers childcare expenses for professors traveling for research purposes, and another fund that new faculty members can use for childcare referral services.

Until then, Jacobsen says, Harvard’s tuition and childcare policies don’t “invite people with children to see Harvard as an especially welcoming place.”

—Staff writer Emily J. Nelson can be reached at ejnelson@fas.harvard.edu.