Faculty Family Leave FAQ

The following is intended as additional interpretative guidance for Northwestern’s Faculty Family Leave Policy. All members of the faculty are encouraged to discuss these and any additional questions with their respective Department Chairs, Deans, and/or the Office of the Provost.

You can also view a printable version of the Faculty Family Leave FAQ.

1. Why did Northwestern revise its Faculty Family Leave Policy?

Northwestern University is committed to ensuring a family-friendly work environment that will enhance the recruitment and retention of excellent faculty. The University expanded its accommodations for faculty parents for childbearing, adoption, and childrearing in response to recommendations received from the Faculty Family Leave Committee, a group of faculty convened by the Provost to provide advice on issues of concern to all faculty.In addition to formalizing the availability of 10 weeks (or one academic quarter) of paid childbearing leave, the new policy also provides eligible faculty members with: (1) paid adoption leave for either parent of a newly adopted child; and (2) paid childrearing leave for parents, male and female, who share equally the responsibility for rearing of a young child. These new provisions are in addition to the longstanding availability of a year’s extension of the probationary period for untenured, tenure-track faculty relating to the birth, adoption, or rearing of a child.

The University recognizes the stresses that balancing the demands of work and family places on faculty, irrespective of gender. The new family leave policy is a critical component in the University’s efforts to help facultybalance these competing demands and is essential to its goal of recruiting and retaining first-rate faculty. As such, the University encourages eligible faculty to take full advantage of the policy’s leave provisions, and to avail themselves of the services and resources offered by Northwestern’s Work Life, Child & Family Resources Office. The new policy became effective on September 1, 2006.

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2. To whom does the Faculty Family Leave Policy apply?

The following faculty members are eligible for childbearing, adoption, and childrearing leave under the policy:

  • Full-time, benefits eligible, tenured or tenure track faculty; and
  • Other full-time, benefits eligible instructional faculty who, at the time of the birth or adoption, have completed three years of continuous full-time service on the Northwestern faculty or who are serving on an academic appointment of three years or longer at the time of the leave.

Please note that individuals with research faculty appointments andpersons who hold faculty appointments but whose activities are primarily non-instructional (i.e. administrative) are ineligible for the leaves described in the policy. The policy also does not apply to administrators and staff who have courtesy faculty appointments, but whose primary function within the University is non-instructional (i.e. administrative).

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3. What if I do not meet the policy’s eligibility requirements?

Faculty who do not meet the policy’s eligibility requirements remain eligible for “Leave for Childbearing” as described in the Northwestern University Faculty Handbook. Policies relating to personal leaves of absence and family leave for staff can be found in the Staff Handbook

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4. What types of leave are available under the Faculty Family Leave Policy?

The policy identifies three types of leave:

  • “Childbearing” leave refers to paid leave provided to eligible women faculty members following the birth of a child;
  • “Adoption” leave is paid leave provided to eligible faculty members (both men and women) following the adoption of a child; and
  • “Childrearing” leave is paid leave provided to eligible faculty members (both men and women) who are at least an equal partner in caring for a newly born or newly adopted child.

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5. My partner and I have adopted a child. What leave is available to us under the policy?

Eligible faculty members who have adopted a child may take paid adoption leave and are also eligible for paid childrearing leave.

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6. May I use childrearing leave consecutively with childbearing leave?

Childrearing leave requires the approval of the Provost, based on the recommendation of the eligible faculty member’s school dean. Requests for childrearing leave are generally granted, depending upon the faculty member’s specific circumstances. If approved, childrearing leave may be taken consecutively with childbearing leave.At a minimum, the approved leave must commence within twelve months of the birth or adoption of your child. For more information regarding the timing of leaves and the approval and appeals process, please refer to Section III of the policy, “Length and Timing of Leaves”, as well as Question 14, below.

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7. My partner and I are both Northwestern faculty and we each meet the policy’s eligibility requirements. What leave is available to us following the birth or adoption of a child?

In the above situation, the faculty member who gave birth to the child is eligible to take paid childbearing leave. In the event of an adoption, both faculty members may take paid adoption leave. In either a birth or adoption scenario, both faculty members would also qualify for paid childrearing leave, subject to the approval of the Provost, upon the recommendation of their respective deans.

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8. After the birth of our child, my partner plans to stay home to provide full-time care for our newborn during the day. Does this impact my eligibility to take childrearing leave?

No. Northwestern does not consider the employment status of your spouse or partner in determining your eligibility for faculty family leave. As long as you will share equal parenting responsibility with your partner, you are eligible to take paid childrearing leave.

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9. What leave is available if I am hospitalized or placed on bed rest during the course of my pregnancy?

Faculty members who are unable to work due to a medically-certified disability related to pregnancy or childbearing are eligible for paid medical leave, as set forth in the “Medical Leave” section of the Faculty Handbook.

Requests for medical leave must be accompanied by a statement from a physician describing the medical reason for the leave and the estimated duration of the leave. This medical leave is independent of the leave provided by the Faculty Family Leave Policy and does not affect the amount of Family Leave available. In circumstances where a hospitalization or bed rest immediately precedes the birth of a child, medical leave ends and childbearing leave begins upon the faculty member’s discharge from the hospital following the birth of the baby.

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10. I am expecting twins. Can I take two childbearing leaves, one for each baby?

No. One paid childbearing leave is available per birth or adoption event.The number of children involved does not increase the length of paid childbearing, childrearing, or adoption leaves granted for that event.However, you may qualify for additional leave, as discussed in Question 11, below.

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11. What if I need additional leave?

The policy’s paid childbearing, childrearing, and adoption leaves are independent of leaves taken pursuant to the provisions of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Accordingly, faculty members also may be eligible for additional unpaid FMLA leave, assuming that they meet the FMLA’s eligibility requirements. For additional information on FMLA leave, please refer to the “Personal Leaves of Absence” provision in the Faculty Handbook.

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12. What responsibilities do I have to ensure that my existing academic commitments are addressed while I am on Faculty Family Leave?

As set forth in the policy, faculty members on childbearing, adoption, and childrearing leaves are not required to fulfill University service responsibilities, such as membership on committees, during their leave. During the academic year in which the leave is taken, eligible faculty members receive a reduction in their annual teaching load corresponding to the length of the leave. It is assumed that no faculty member’s teaching load will be reduced to less than one course per academic year because of childbearing/adoption and/or childrearing.

The faculty member’s School or Department is responsible for identifying and hiring replacement teaching assistance as necessary, with the cost for the replacement to be borne by the respective School. Faculty are not required to “make up” missed courses in subsequent terms. Faculty on leave retain responsibility for any necessary supervision to students pursuing such work as undergraduate senior honors, masters, or doctoral research.

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13. Can I extend my probationary period for tenure due to the birth, adoption, or rearing of a child?

Faculty members may request extensions of their pretenure probationary period due to the birth, adoption, or rearing of a child. A one-year extension is granted to mothers following childbirth, and to parents following adoption.An additional one-year extension for childrearing may be granted to a parent who is at least an equal partner in caring for a child.Extensions of the probationary period for childbirth, adoption, and/or childrearing are limited to a total of two years within a faculty member’s pretenure probationary period, regardless of the number of children.

All requests for an extension of the probationary period must be made by the faculty member in writing to the faculty member’s Dean and should be submitted prior to the beginning of the tenure review. Subject to the above two-year limitation, requests to stop the tenure clock for a one-year period following childbirth or adoption are automatically approved.Extension requests related to childrearing require the approval of the Provost, based upon the recommendation of the Dean.Such requests will generally receive favorable consideration, depending upon the faculty member’s specific circumstances. If the request is granted, the faculty member’s Dean will provide written confirmation of the extended probationary period. Additional information, including further detail regarding extension criteria and the procedures for requesting extensions, is available on the Policy on Extending the Probationary Period for Tenure-Track Faculty webpage.

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14. What is the status of my health insurance benefits while I am on Faculty Family Leave?

While a faculty member is on paid leave, Northwestern will continue to pay its share of health insurance premiums, and the faculty member will be responsible for his or her portion of premiums. Additional information regarding benefits is available on the Human Resources website.

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15. What is the procedure for requesting leave under the Faculty Family Leave policy?

For childbearing and adoption leaves, the faculty member is expected to notify his or her school’s dean at least sixty days prior to the beginning of the leave (for eligible faculty members with a primary appointment in the law or medical school) or at least sixty days prior to the beginning of the academic term during which the leave will take place (for all other schools). In cases of adoption, a shorter notification period is sometimes necessary.

For childrearing leave, eligible faculty members are expected to submit a request for leave to the school dean at least sixty days prior to the beginning of the leave period (for eligible faculty members with a primary appointment in the law or medical school) or at least sixty days prior to the beginning of the academic term requested as the leave period (for all other schools).These notice requirements are designed to balance the faculty member’s interest in taking leave with the University’s need to make appropriate contingency plans to ensure continuity in its academic programs and other services.

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16. If I do not believe my department chair or school dean is dealing fairly with me regarding my access to Family Leave, is there any opportunity for appeal?

Yes. Concerns about actions of a department chair should be directed to the school dean.If your concern involves actions at the level of the school dean, you should discuss your concerns with the Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs (847-491-7040) as soon as possible following the contested decision.

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17. Who should I contact if I have questions about the Faculty Family Leave Policy?

Faculty members are encouraged to discuss any questions or issues relating to the Family Leave policy with their respective Department Chairs, Dean’s Offices, and/or the Office of the Provost.

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18. What resources are available on campus to assist in work/life planning?

Faculty members are encouraged to explore the services and resources offered by Northwestern’s Work Life, Child & Family Resources Office.These services include: (1) child care referrals; (2) information regarding backup child care; and (3) checklists for evaluating quality child care. Additional information is available on the Human Resources website. Support for new parents is also available through the Women’s Center ((847) 491-7360 or (312) 503-3400) and through the Faculty-Staff Assistance Program.

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