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Penn administrators encourage faculty to make the most out of leave policies. | DP File Photo

In light of nationwide attention on paternity or maternity leave, Penn is placing new emphasis on opportunities for faculty members to take advantage of leave policies.

To combat pressure that faculty members may face to make progress towards achieving tenure, Penn encourages its faculty to take advantage of a long-standing policy that allows for a one- to three-year tenure clock extension for members with a new child in the home, an illness, caregiving responsibilities or a research catastrophe.

In order for tenure approval, on the sixth year of the seven-year track, a faculty member’s department will assess an individual dossier including letters from outside experts on the member’s academic performance, teaching evaluations and grant information. If the member is approved by the department, the dossier is passed on to the individual school for approval, then to the vice provost for Faculty Affairs, and finally to the provost and the Board of Trustees.

Quality of life issues surrounding parental leave have become a major concern for Americans in recent times, with federal paid leave a hot-button topic on the campaign trail. In addition to providing maternity leave, Penn offers all faculty members the opportunity to have a 50 percent reduced teaching load the first returning semester after a new child. These measures, as well as the new emphasis on tenure extensions, are Penn’s way of providing support through these complications.

Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Anita Allen noted that there has been an increased emphasis on following established guidelines regarding the process of obtaining tenure itself. While the process, known as “coming up,” is more or less uniform for most Penn faculty, the standards on which an individual is evaluated depends on the discipline.

“In history you’re expected to have a second book by the time you get tenure, whereas in law, you don’t need any books to get tenure. Your tenure could be entirely based on a group of law review articles,” Allen said. “A design professor, to give a different kind of example, doesn’t have to have a Ph.D. Tenure for a person in design might be based in part on tangible, artistic design projects as opposed to just books and articles.”

Such an exhaustive process is meant to ensure the highest level of scholarship at Penn, and recently the practical application of the process has become even more stringent, especially surrounding the mandatory six-year review.

“There had been a practice at Penn of allowing people the option of coming up in their seventh year, but in order to achieve a more uniform and fair system we now require that everyone comes up in their sixth year, which is what the handbook calls for,” Allen noted. “We want everyone to have the same standards.”

Many faculty in the Penn community find the leave policies helpful in finding work-life balance.

“Several people that have come up for tenure since I’ve been here have had the clock stopped for having a child. My department’s very family-friendly, and lots of us have young children, so this has certainly been something that people have taken advantage of,” Philosophy Department Chair Michael Weisberg said. “In fact, we encourage people to do it.”

“I think it relates to the nationwide emphasis on workplaces being friendly and humane,” Allen said. “These kinds of rules recognize that people have family, personal and health reasons to use a little bit more time.”

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