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Students expecting a child in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences can now also expect far more financial support and leave time: $6,264 and 12 weeks off, to be exact.
GSAS administrators announced last week the school will ramp up its Parental Accommodation and Financial Support Program, which since 2013 had provided a stipend of $3,100 and six weeks of time off to expectant and adoptive parents.
With the intention of providing flexibility to the leave, the program will now allow students to spread 12 weeks off over the course of a year, instead of having to take the time off in one continuous block immediately after the birth or adoption of a child.
GSAS Dean for Student Affairs Garth O. McCavana wrote in an email the change resulted from a reassessment of the program and from students advocating for greater support.
To establish the initial program in 2013, administrators worked with the Graduate Student Council and Harvard Graduate Women in Science and Engineering. McCavana said he credits the new change to feedback from graduate students.
David A. Romney, co-chair of the GSAS Student-Parents Organization, said he is pleased with the generous increase in the stipend, but said the group had not officially met with GSAS administrators and credited in large part their efforts in making the change happen.
“As far as I know, it was of their own volition. We had plans to go talk to them and kind of evaluate how things were going with the current stipend, but we hadn’t met with them yet,” Romney said. “We were just as surprised as anybody by the news.”
Romney, along with other graduate students, responded positively to the increase in parental leave time and stipend.
“We really are really grateful for this; it’s amazing,” Romney added. “And especially since they did this without any pressure from us.”
However, Ph.D. student Nancy A. Khalil, a supporter of the efforts by graduate students to unionize, said she thinks student organizations have placed some degree of pressure on GSAS.
“I think in general these efforts of organizing—including the attempt to unionize—have been putting pressure on the administration, and they as a result have started to reconsider some of the benefits that they offer grad students,” Khalil said.
Khalil gave birth to her youngest son in 2011, before the GSAS implemented the parental accommodation program.
“It was just generally physically taxing. Time-wise I felt very crunched,” she said of her time attending the school with a newborn.
McCavana said expectant and adoptive parents have used the funds on everything from “buying an airplane ticket for a grandparent to come from overseas to help at the time of birth” to “purchasing supplies and baby gear, and paying for childcare.”
Romney said he used his $3,100 stipend to cover the cost of dependent health care for his now 18-month-old daughter under the Harvard University Health Services plan.
McCavana wrote that 51 students used the program last year, and he expects a larger number this year.
“As someone who, along with my wife who was also a Ph.D student at the time, had a child while in graduate school at Harvard, I understand the importance of this program,” McCavana wrote. “I was delighted to be a part of putting it in place and now to see it expand.”
Romney said the parents group still intends to continue conversations with administrators about family matters. The group’s most pressing concerns include child care subsidies, subsidized family housing, and coverage of dependent health care. But he sees the revamped program as a major step forward.
“Harvard beforehand had been kind of lagging in this area in particular,” Romney said. “I think especially double the time [off] begins to put us on par with the policies of other graduate schools of Harvard’s caliber.”
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