PhD or baby?
Taking parental leave in the arts department is a bad idea. You certainly won’t get an extension to conduct your research, even though you give up some of your salary.
That’s because the faculty doesn’t have enough money, board member Egon Dietrich says. He says you can easily plan a pregnancy.
Other faculties at the RUG freely give extensions for parental leave.
Such an awkward arrangement results in delays after having a child, employment expert Janneke Plantenga says.
The RUG appeals to the right of self-determination within each university faculty, but there is criticism of that approach.
Both the union and the university council have placed this unfair approach on their agendas for discussion.
Reading time: 6 min. (1290 words)
PhD candidates in the Faculty of the Arts must be crazy to take paternal leave. Although it’s technically possible, it will cost you in lost income. What’s more, you don’t get the ‘lost’ time back at the end of your research period. It’s frustrating, especially if you consider that PhDs in other faculties don’t have that concern.
Rika Plat, a PhD candidate in linguistics, is very familiar with the problem. She took parental leave under the assumption that she would receive an extension, but that wasn’t the case. Because the Central Employment Agreement (CAO) of Dutch universities does not require faculties that provide it, if the faculty where they work can’t afford it, then the PhD candidate is out of luck.
Arts faculty is poor
Plat got tangled up in a long mail exchange with the human resources department over the issue. Her research period was not extended, but she didn’t get an explanation about why it wasn’t. ‘A lawyer was brought in who cited the CAO, and human resources informed me that I would be better off to not get so frustrated about it. The arts faculty is just too poor to afford it.’
The resources counsellor for the arts faculty, Egon Dietrich, admits that it’s a question of money. You can take leave – the faculty cannot deny you that. But arts PhD candidates have to finish their research within the allotted time frame, no matter what. Besides that, Dietrich says, becoming a parent is something you can plan to do outside of your research phase.
Tell that to arts PhD candidate Audrey Rousse-Malpat. She gave birth in August and still has four years of research to go. She was 28 when she began her PhD and didn’t want to wait until she was done to have a child. ‘Why? After my PhD, I’m going to start applying for jobs again and then I’ll have exactly the same problem.’
Heading straight for a burn-out
Esmeralda Tijhoff , a board member of the former Centre for Gender Studies and arts PhD candidate, also dealt with that dilemma. She had twins in January, but couldn’t come to an agreement with her promoter that would allow her to work part-time.
‘Parental leave was invented for a reason, and the university can’t shirk their responsibility’, she says. ‘It’s really not a luxury. Becoming a parent takes up a lot of energy and by just keeping your head down and soldiering on, you’re heading straight for a burn-out.’’
If that happens, the university still loses. Every PhD candidate who doesn’t complete their research means the RUG misses out on money.
Dietrich emphasizes that he hasn’t seen many requests in the last few years, but Plat thinks that’s just logical. The faculty is very open about the fact that it’s better for a PhD candidate to save their energy and not even apply. ‘Among the colleagues that I know who have had children, none of them have dared to take advantage of their right to parental leave’, Plat says. ‘There’s effectively a policy of discouragement.’
Among all university faculties, PhDs in the arts are the most screwed. They only get a 90 percent appointment, which is 36 hours instead of 40. ‘That’s also a result of financial considerations’, Dietrich admits.
Remarkably, the situation is very different in other faculties. Making the rounds across the rest of the RUG, it becomes clear that an extension as a result of parental leave is something that you can’t make ‘substantial arguments’ against. For example, Mirjam Buigel-de Witte from the Faculty of Law says, ‘We look at what phase their PhD thesis is in and whether or not the request is sensible, given the research.’
Her faculty granted two extensions in the past two years, without fuss. ‘PhD candidates can have up to one year of extension,’ Buigel-de Witte says. The reason doesn’t matter.
For PhD candidates in the arts faculty, that’s a hard pill to swallow. ‘The law faculty is in the same building, so they’re literally very nearby’, says PhD candidate Rimke Groenewold. She gave birth last year and submitted her thesis two weeks ago. ‘It’s very unfair that they get an extension there. A career in research and having children doesn’t seem to go together. It underlines yet again how women in academia are treated.’
Marga Hids, a board member in the philosophy department, insists that a request in her department would be approved, although there haven’t been any in the past few years in the small faculty. ‘If someone gets pregnant, then she has a right to parental leave.’
Janneke Plantenga, a former professor of child care at the RUG and an expert in the field of employment of women and going on leave, is critical of Dietrich’s reasoning. ‘It’s only becoming more difficult to have children’, Pantenga says. ‘PhD candidates are often intrinsically motivated women who are very attached to academia.’ They often build up a career within the field of research and receive progressively more responsibilities. ‘A PhD is actually the easiest time period to begin having children.’ But the sloppily organized parental leave regulation adds a tendency to procrastinate when it comes to becoming a parent.
Situation is ‘scandalous’
Jan Blaauw, member of the staff faction of the university council, thinks Dietrich’s argument is too easy. People get their PhD during a time in their lives when it’s very normal to have children. ‘Every employee can plan parenthood, but you can cling to that argument until the end of your working life. Being a good employer means that you have to handle this for your PhD candidates.’
The RUG has shown little interest in doing anything about this uneven position so far. ‘Faculties are relatively autonomous within the RUG. Through the current CAO, they have room to decide for themselves whether or not to grant parental leave. Consequently, differences may exist’, RUG spokesperson Riepko Buikema emphasises.
But changes may be on the way. Abvakabo union member Marthy Schuurman hates the unbalanced approach within the RUG and calls the situation ‘scandalous’. ‘The fact that the RUG works in such a decentralised way is not a valid reason for the faculties to interpret the rule differently: that is simply discrimination.’
The subject is on the agenda for discussion in the upcoming meeting between the union and the VSNU.
The university council is also taking action. Last week, Blaauw raised the question during the meeting. The board of directors have promised to at least discuss it.