Faculty Continue to Express Concern About Benefits

Faculty and staff continue to express concerns about the college’s retirement plans and the lack of support for faculty and staff with children. While changes to the retirement policy have come in in recent years, progress in childcare and maternity leave, have proceeded extremely slowly.

College employee retirement plans operate under a defined contribution program, in which faculty choose how much to save from their income and the college matches their contribution. Until 2013 Swarthmore offered around a hundred different retirement options, which invested savings in different ways and charged different amounts of management fees. Since then it has sharply reduced the number of retirement plan options, in a move mirrored by many peer institutions, as the high number of options confused many staff members and some of the options charged high management fees. Despite this change, some faculty still think the college could improve its retirement policies. Professor Richard Valelly believes the college should change the type of retirement plans it offers:

“A much better program, would be to provide a defined benefit rather than a defined contribution program. The College’s current program, allocates all risk and planning error (which is exceptionally common) to the employee. All of the social science evidence shows that retirees in defined contribution programs, no matter where such a program is located, are systematically worse off than retirees in defined benefit programs.”

Valelly admitted a defined contribution plan, which would guarantee every faculty member a certain level of retirement income, would be more expensive but said that the added cost would be made up for increased security for college employees.

To address the childcare concerns last year the faculty formed an Ad-Hoc Child Care Committee, headed by Professor Robert Weinberg which published a report last May reviewing the College’s childcare policies and proposing short and long term solutions. This year has seen the implementation of one of the short term solutions: a child care benefit payment for some low paid staff. But no comprehensive solution to the childcare problems faculty face is currently being undertaken

Some members of the faculty are also concerned about the  lack of an onsite childcare facility for faculty. Many professors find it difficult to raise children while also fulfilling their professional duties. Professor Cheryl Grood said:

“I have found (and continue to find) it enormously challenging to juggle raising children with my research, teaching, and service responsibilities to the college…family-friendly policies have not been a priority of the college during my time here.”

The Child Care Committee published a report last May for the faculty which found many of Swarthmore’s peer institutions, including Amherst, Williams, Trinity, Smith, Vassar, Bowdoin and Bryn Mawr have on-campus childcare facilities. As early as the late 1980s there were plans to establish an onsite childcare facility, but these plans never came to fruition due to concerns about where the facility would be and who would staff it. As the Phoenix reported last year, in 1988 $300,000 was put aside to build a childcare facility on campus. This money was kept in a low interest account rather than being invested like the rest of the endowment, meaning today it is worth only $600,000 instead of $3 million dollars. Current efforts to improve child care benefits for faculty employees like the childcare benefit for low-income faculty, are drawing from this fund.

Grood explained with the childcare center idea had always been a sticking point in these negotiations.

“For decades, the conversation has been shut down, in part because it has been framed as an all-or-nothing endeavor: that is, if we can’t build an onsite daycare center that is affordable for all faculty and staff who want to use it , we can’t do anything at all.”

The Childcare Committee Report noted the increasing severity of the problem and its implications for faculty quality of life. The report explained that the increasing number of professors, single parent households, and households where both parents work meant that the childcare needs of the faculty would only grow in coming years. The vast majority of faculty are not from Pennsylvania nor did they go to graduate school near Swarthmore and most do not have not family or friends in the area. It also pointed out how an internal report had noted that 10% of staff said that poor child care had led them to consider leaving the college.

Like Grood, German Professor and Associate Provost for Faculty Sunka Simon found having a child and raising one extremely difficult while working as a faculty member.

“[the lack of childcare] increases the anxiety levels of female faculty members specifically. It put a lot of strain on my partner and a lot of strain on me. I constantly felt I was being judged.”

Simon said that unless a collegewide solution is provided for childcare, the problem would never really be solved.

In the short-term, in addition to the existing child care subsidy, Simon proposed a Moodle connected site where faculty could put postings for babysitting jobs for students.

The Childcare Report concluded that the best permanent solution to the childcare problem would be an onsite facility, staffed by workers from Trinity cooperative daycare, which operates very close to the college, out of the Episcopal Church in Swarthmore. The report also suggested expanding maternity leave for faculty and staff: Paid maternity leave for college faculty is only one semester and for college staff one month. Faculty who adopt are not eligible for paid maternity leave. While the child care benefit for low-income faculty is being expanded for next year, it remains to be seen what else the college will do to help support employees who have children.

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