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MIT wins kudos for work-family policies

MIT is one of several institutions named as a Leadership Campus for its "family-supportive" policies in a study of US colleges and universities. Among the 94 such campuses, MIT ranked in the top third.

The study examined the employer roles of the nation's 3,400 colleges and universities. It revealed that many campuses-which are often the largest employers in their communities-face many of the same complex economic, social and technological changes faced by corporate workplaces. They also take into account other factors that may affect family policies, such as academic calendars, autonomous departments or colleges, career paths and tenure tracks, and competition for research grants.

According to the study-which was conducted through a collaboration between the College and University Personnel Association Foundation and the Families and Work Institute (FWI)-Leadership Campuses including MIT have an average of 30 policies or programs designed to help employees (both faculty and staff) balance their work and personal lives. The study used a survey to create an overall measure of "family friendliness," examining both policy provisions and campus culture. Those that scored in the top 25 percent of survey respondents on this scale were rated as Leadership Campuses.

Among the most prevalent policies found on Leadership Campuses were family leave, part-time work schedules, flextime, employee assistance programs, flexible spending accounts, workshops on family topics, opportunities for faculty to start and stop the tenure clock, child care services and training for supervisors on work-family issues. Other schools in the top third of Leadership Campuses include Harvard, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Stanford, and the Universities of California, Chicago, Delaware, Miami, Montana, Pittsburgh and New Hampshire.

In the report, MIT's parenting education programs are singled out as a "model initiative." The document includes a profile of the MIT Family Resource Center's parenting seminars and briefings, which number more than 50 each year. Staff for the seminars come from the Family Resource Center, the Medical Department, other administrative departments and the faculty, as well as from outside MIT. The report notes that each model initiative that it described "is valued because it demonstrates the campus' commitment to work-family issues."

One of the reasons for the success of MIT's parenting programs-which have more than 1,000 participants each year-is that they fit in well with MIT culture, according to Rae Simpson, parenting programs administrator at the FRC.

"Many people in a university think in terms of learning by attending seminars and classes. It's a familiar way of getting information for a significant number of people in the MIT community," she said in the report.

"However," Dr. Simpson added last week, "we also have many other services for those who prefer to get information other ways, including individual consultations, books, materials, on-line resources, and referrals to other resources inside and outside the Institute."


Another key finding is a correlation between the schools with the most comprehensive work-family agendas and those that have recently experienced some change, such as restructuring, downsizing, or a change in top leadership. Other studies have found the same correlation at corporate workplaces. At MIT, the report notes, the FRC is expanding its services to address reengineering, with events and resources "that help families cope with changes and transitions."

"For many campuses, the upheaval created by major change efforts and concerns about cost containment are used to justify moving work-family issues to the back burner," said FWI researcher Dana Friedman. "But when an institution examines its priorities, it often finds that problems like reduced recruitment and retention are a window of opportunity for work-family programs. The institutions we've called Leadership Campuses are often the ones that see family-supportive initiatives as an effective and inexpensive way to address these other issues."

MIT was also spotlighted along with Stanford University for its "model initiative" policy of extending health benefits to same-sex domestic partners of employees. About one-quarter of all Leadership Campuses-"mostly located on the west or east coast, where the social climate tends to be more liberal, according to the report-offer cash benefits to employees with domestic partners.

"A primary reason for expanding benefit coverage is fairness and equity," the report said. "Not offering these benefits, some institutions believe, is contrary to the philosophy of supporting a diverse work force and does not recognize the different family constellations in their communities."

Other findings of the report:

  • A school's work-family agenda evolves over a period of several years, usually beginning with some type of institutional needs assessment. Of Leadership Campuses, 82 percent have engaged in such a process. MIT was one of the first US universities to conduct a work/family assessment. The study completed by the MIT Ad Hoc Faculty Committee on Family and Work in 1990 led to the establishment of a permanent, presidentially appointed Council on Family and Work.
  • Though the number of institutions with focused work-family agendas is still relatively small, many believe that such initiatives will expand. Eighty-four percent of Leadership Campuses expect work-family activity to grow.
  • ������������������Smaller schools have fewer work-family programs and policies than larger ones, but they are just as likely to have a work culture that is supportive of the personal and family needs of their employees.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 15, 1997.

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