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Progressive policies are creeping in everywhere despite you

We sometimes focus too hard on the struggle with the regressive jerks who squawk and scream on the internet, but I have to tell you — they are completely irrelevant to major policy initiatives in academia (note: this does not mean academics can’t be assholes, too, it just means policies try to be more enlightened). Every time I have to deal with the people managing the major granting institutions, it’s simply taken for granted that we will be doing our best to encourage equal opportunities for everyone. The blind stupidity we seem to encounter when dealing with leaders of major skeptical organizations just doesn’t happen — that behavior would get them fired.

Latest example: the NSF is expanding maternity leave opportunities. Why? It’s obvious: because sexist policies derived from the conventions of the 1950s drive good people out of science.

Instituted in 2012, NSF’s Career-Life Balance (CLB) Initiative is an ambitious, ten-year initiative that will build on the best of family-friendly practices among individual NSF programs to expand them to activities NSF-wide.  This agency-level approach will help attract, retain, and advance graduate students, postdoctoral students, and early-career researchers in STEM fields.  This effort is designed to help reduce the rate at which women depart from the STEM workforce.  Further information on the CLB initiative may be found on the Foundation’s website.

The purpose of this DCL is to announce a new opportunity for GRFP institutions to submit supplemental funding requests to sustain the research of  active NSF Graduate Research Fellows who have been granted an NSF-approved medical deferral for dependent-care (family leave) situations (see Guide for fellowship status options).  This gender neutral supplemental funding opportunity is in addition to the limited paid leave option for Fellows on Tenure with an NSF-approved medical deferral.  GRFP institutions are invited to submit supplemental funding requests to provide additional personnel (e.g., research technicians or equivalent) to sustain the research of NSF Graduate Research Fellows on approved medical deferral due to dependent care (family leave) situations.  The supplemental funding request may include funding for up to 3 months of salary support for the additional personnel, for a maximum of $12,000 in salary compensation.  The fringe benefits and associated indirect costs may be in addition to the salary payment and therefore, the total supplemental funding request per Fellow may exceed $12,000. The supplemental request also must include a letter from the Fellow’s faculty advisor supporting the CLB/GRFP Supplemental Funding Request.

Beneath the bureaucratese, it’s pretty simple: gender-neutral family leave opportunities are now available at all ranks of the scientific enterprise, from graduate students on up. And they don’t ask questions.

There should be no privacy related information provided in this request, i.e., the rationale for leave should not be disclosed to NSF.


  1. says

    “We, The Women Undersigned, Feel Welcome in STEM

    We, as women of the STEM community, find that our family situations are fully supported by the NSF already. We do not find the community to be misogynist. We feel safe and welcome here. While sexism might occasionally show itself in isolated incidents, as it would in any community, we do not find such incidents to be in any way reflective of the wider STEM field.

    We believe the underrepresentation of women and minorities in STEM fields should be studied objectively and discussed openly, without reliance on ideological adherence or appeals to emotion.

    We believe that if detailed dependent care (Family leave) policies are enacted, they must acknowledge all concerned parties without overstating the need for incrased funding for family leave. Some of us do not expect policy protections beyond that already provided by law and the current levels of funding: we feel empowered, as individual adults, to effectively manage our work-life balance.

    We have found ourselves marginalized by certain actions and moral proscriptions emerging from supporters of more funding for family leave. In regard to this sphere, we do feel silenced. This ideological camp claims to speak for women, but refuses to listen to us. It has also spoken hatefully of some people – women and men – without allowing them an opportunity to contest those claims. This behavior creates a divisive, unwelcoming atmosphere which has a chilling effect on open discussion for women and men.”

  2. says

    sorry, couldn’t resist.

    anyway, yay for the NSF for not just creating these grants, but for making them gender neutral. Which, dear PZ, means it’s not “maternity leave”; it’s “parental leave”. Anyway, I like the “dependent care” term, since the policy is specifically meant for any kind of family leave situation, be it for kids, parents, siblings, etc.

  3. says

    Sadly, that sounds like a statement that would have been issued by Stephen Harper’s PMO when they scrapped the former Liberal government’s universal childcare program. Sigh.

    i know. it wasn’t really meant as satire in the “look how over the top and unrealistic it looks” sense; it’s not over the top, is what those who don’t want a particular bit of gender equality are always saying, regardless of which particular bit it is. it was true for the vote, it’s true for parental leave, it’s true for harassment policies, etc.

  4. Ysanne says

    I like the “dependent care” term, since the policy is specifically meant for any kind of family leave situation, be it for kids, parents, siblings, etc.

    +1 for that.

  5. says

    But, but, but women want to leave the workforce and be SAHM. You’re taking their choice away from them by providing opportunities. Also, since women are naturally more involved in childcare this might be called gender-neutral but it’s plain and simply misandrist.

  6. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    Markita Lynda, it’s true but, for other reasons of politics, I just don’t see any Federal Government ever implementing universal childcare. I think it mostly has to do with equalisation payments and how Federal dollars are dolled out under the Health Canada Act; universal childcare, the Government might believe, is under the provision of the Provinces and Territories. If it seems like Harper scrapped thinking about it, he did, and any Member who brings the idea forth is, to be cynical, playing at politics.

    But that’s just my take.

    This expansion of grant policies is a great move by the NSF and I understand that they’re opening doors wide by not requesting information about the nature of the leave, however, they could ask for such information and make it clear that it doesn’t impact the decision. It is possible to collect such information anonymously at the same time as collecting the information most relevant.

    The reasons for taking the leave are not incidental and there is a research opportunity being missed, not to mention that merely compiling and releasing the eventual statistics on reasons for leave against the cost and benefit profile of the programme could be invaluable in persuading other organisations to adopt such policies.

    I don’t doubt the motives of the NSF, but I do think they may have missed an opportunity. I just hope there was some, even combined, logistical, bureaucratic or monetary reason rather than just lack of imagination.