Response to the Report of the Advisory Committee on Childcare

Christina Paxson
March 5, 2013

Introduction

In the summer of 2012, Provost Mark Schlissel convened an Advisory Committee on Childcare, composed of faculty, staff, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students. The formation of this committee was prompted by our community’s reaction to the closure of the Taft Avenue Daycare Center. The University was forced to close Taft because of concerns about the Center’s ability to comply with changing state regulations and provide children with a healthy and safe environment. Although this decision was based on the best of intentions, the closure struck a nerve in the Brown community and brought to the fore long-standing concerns about the adequacy and affordability of childcare options available in the vicinity of Brown University.

The Provost asked the committee to evaluate Brown’s policies and practices regarding support for childcare and assess Brown’s success at cultivating a family-friendly environment for members of our community. Specifically, the committee was charged with:

  • Gathering information from the Brown community regarding childcare needs and the ways that families are meeting those needs.
  • Determining the level of satisfaction with the benefits that Brown provides.
  • Assessing Brown’s support for childcare needs as compared to that of peer institutions.
  • Developing a set of recommendations for how Brown might improve childcare and enhance the family-friendly nature of the Brown community.

The conclusions of the committee were presented and discussed at a meeting of the Brown University Community Council on Tuesday, February 26, 2013. The report is available online.

I agree with the broad conclusion of the report, that Brown’s ability to attract and retain the most talented faculty, staff and graduate students will benefit from enhancing the support we provide for childcare. Reliable childcare is essential if the parents in our community are to be as productive as possible. The committee has done an excellent job of laying out the challenges members of our community have in finding affordable and convenient childcare, and underscoring the special concerns of those with lower family incomes. The report also illustrates that many of our peer institutions provide more generous support for childcare, either through subsidies or direct investments in childcare facilities.

Although Brown can—and will—increase the support provided for childcare, the growth in support over time must be informed by our financial circumstances. Like other American universities, we face an uncertain economic landscape: research funding is expected to grow slowly, if at all, in the coming years; there is pressure to moderate tuition; and we cannot count on large investment returns from our endowment. My responses to the recommendations reflect a balance between a desire to support the committee’s conclusions and the need to be a careful steward of the University’s resources.

Recommendations for immediate (AY 2013-14) implementation

The committee made five recommendations for immediate implementation:

The first is that Brown should commit $250,000 per year to assist community members with childcare costs. I agree with this recommendation. We have set aside $250,000 in FY14 to be used for this purpose. This fund will support childcare subsidies to faculty and staff with infants, toddlers or pre-school aged children. Although there are many details still to be worked out, we anticipate that the subsidy will be determined on a means-tested (using total family income), sliding scale basis, as is typical at our peer institutions, and that it will be provided through a tax-advantaged flexible spending account.

Subsidies for graduate students must be treated somewhat differently: their status as students rather than employees means that they are not eligible for flexible spending accounts. In addition, we currently have very little information on the number of graduate students who are parents of infants, toddlers, or pre-school aged children. We will provide up to $100,000 in FY14 for graduate students, which will most likely be administered as supplements to stipends. If $100,000 is more than is needed for subsidies, the balance will go to fund dependent care awards to graduate students for travel to professional meetings.

I have asked the Provost to work with Karen Davis, Vice President for Human Resources, and Peter Weber, Dean of the Graduate School, to develop the details of a program, with the goal of beginning the subsidies in the fall. I have also asked the Provost to establish a Childcare Planning Group, with the representation of faculty, staff and graduate students, that will, over the next two years, provide advice as the parameters of the program are established. This group will work closely with the Human Resources Advisory Board, which “reviews and makes recommendations concerning policies, programs, and initiatives designed to support and promote the intellectual and professional development of the university's work force.” It is likely that the program will need to be fine-tuned after FY14, as we develop a better understanding of how many members of our community make use of the fund. The Group will be involved in revisions to the program in future years.

The second recommendation of the committee is that the Childcare Planning Group should develop concrete plans for an accredited, on-site daycare center that serves infants through pre-school children. The report describes two possible models that universities use to support childcare facilities. The first is the “laboratory school” model, in which the facility is owned by the university and has a close relationship to a school of education, school of social work, or department of psychology. Laboratory schools typically serve an academic need (in addition to providing care), by providing opportunities for student training and faculty research. The second option, which has been Brown’s strategy to date, is to affiliate with local providers. (Currently, Brown has affiliations with the YMCA/Mt. Hope Child Care Center, the Fox Point Center and the Bright Futures Early Childhood Center.) Given that Brown does not have a substantial academic focus on early childhood development or education, our practice of creating affiliations rather than operating a laboratory school makes sense, and we would do well to expand our affiliations before considering new facilities. I would like the Childcare Planning Group to work with Human Resources to examine opportunities for new affiliations with existing centers.

The third recommendation is to develop and maintain a comprehensive website on “family friendly” resources and policies. I agree with this recommendation. Currently, the University maintains a website “Family Friendly Policies for Faculty,” and there is a section on “Child Care” on the Human Resources website. However, there is no single destination site for faculty, staff and students that compiles all of the relevant information. I have asked Karen Davis to oversee the development of an expanded website that would provide comprehensive information for faculty, staff and students on all issues related to childcare, which would link to relevant websites for each of these groups (e.g. the HR website, the Dean of the Faculty’s website, and the Graduate School’s website.) I expect that the Childcare Planning Group will provide useful advice on the information that should be included on this site.

The fourth recommendation is the extension of eligibility for the back-up care program to graduate students. Our initial examination of this issue indicates that extending Brown’s back-up care plan to graduate students would be prohibitively expensive. The plan provides back-up care for children as well as adult relatives. Bright Horizons Family Solutions, the company that administers the program, charges a monthly per-person fee for each employee who is eligible to use services. If eligibility for back-up care is extended to graduate students, the fee would apply to all graduate students, regardless of whether they are parents. Provided we cannot negotiate substantially reduced costs, we cannot extend this service to graduate students.

The final recommendation is the extension of dependent care awards for travel to graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and staff. Although it can be difficult for working parents to arrange professional travel, the fact that travel is planned in advance means that parents at least have time to make arrangements for care. For this reason, this need seems less pressing than the other priorities identified by the committee, and may not be the best use of Brown’s resources. As noted above, if there are funds remaining in the $100,000 committed to graduate student subsidies, they will be used for dependent care awards for graduate students.

Recommendations requiring more lead time before implementation

The committee made five recommendations that would take time to implement.

The first recommendation is to explore changes in course scheduling and faculty meeting times to accommodate childcare needs. Ideally, Brown’s schedule would be arranged so that working parents do not have teaching assignments, faculty meetings or other work obligations that extend past 5:30 PM. The issue of scheduling is complex. The ability to alter the course schedule depends on the demand for facilities for teaching different types of courses, and is further complicated by the fact that faculty members often have strong preferences about the days and time blocks in which they teach. As the report notes, the Provost has asked a group of faculty to work together with Deputy Provost Joe Meisel and University Registrar Rob Fitzgerald to consider changes in the teaching schedule that would permit faculty to teach in more concentrated blocks of time. Although I suspect it will be difficult to make progress on this issue, for the reasons noted above, he has agreed to ask this group to integrate concerns about childcare into their work. He has also agreed to make sure that regular evening instruction blocks are not part of Brown’s schedule, and he will remind department chairs on an annual basis to be mindful of family responsibilities when making teaching assignments and scheduling departmental meetings.

The central administration should set an example for departments by restricting University faculty meetings to “family friendly” hours. Currently, University faculty meetings are scheduled to take place between 4:00 PM and 6:00 PM. I would welcome changing the ending time of these meetings to 5:30 PM, and I have asked the Faculty Executive Committee to consider this request and bring it to the faculty for a vote at our next meeting. Currently, University faculty meetings rarely extend past 5:30 PM. With some care in setting meeting agendas, it should be possible to complete all of our business in 90 minutes.

The second recommendation is to study whether the numbers and locations of lactation rooms on campus meets the demand. I agree with this recommendation, and believe we can move forward without delay. I have asked Karen Davis to include information on the location of lactation rooms on the website discussed above, with clear instructions on who to contact if the existing facilities are not adequate. (For now, this information is available on the following web site: https://wiki.brown.edu/confluence/display/advance/Privacy+Rooms.) This information should also be provided to women as they return from leaves associated with childbirth.

The third recommendation is to work with affiliated daycare centers to expand their hours to accommodate University schedules. Childcare centers that serve large numbers of Brown families may be willing to do this, especially if Brown agrees to include information on the centers and their hours on our website. As the report notes, other universities have also been able to negotiate discounts for their employees. The Childcare Planning Group can play a useful role in identifying childcare centers that Brown’s Human Resources department can approach to discuss these issues.

The fourth recommendation is to reduce the waiting period for maternity leave for staff from the current four years, and expand family leave to include all primary care givers regardless of gender.See Note [1] The rationale for the four-year waiting period is that this benefit is meant to help retain employees in whom Brown has already made a significant investment. Reducing this is not something we are currently prepared to do, and we will therefore maintain this policy. However, I agree that all provisions related to “maternity pay” and family leave should be provided to all primary caregivers regardless of gender. A shift to a gender-neutral policy will go into effect July 1, 2013.

The fifth recommendation is to develop “vacation day” care programs on campus or with affiliated centers. As we discuss expanded hours with childcare centers (recommendation #3), we can also encourage centers to align their calendars with Brown’s schedule. However, I suspect that the problem of vacation care is most acute for school-aged children, and the solution is likely to involve extensions in the services of before- and after-school programs to include vacation-day care. Unfortunately, Brown does not have the facilities or resources (for training, insurance, etc.) required to offer a high-quality “vacation day” program for a wide age range of children.

Conclusion

I want to thank the committee for its comprehensive and thoughtful report, and its bold stance on the importance of supporting a family-friendly environment at Brown. Although budgetary considerations make it impossible to accept all of the committee’s recommendations, I am pleased that we can move forward with a majority of them. My hope is that this marks the beginning of an ongoing conversation about how to make Brown University a more attractive place for parents to work and study.


Note [1]: Although all new parents are currently eligible for family leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, Brown’s current policy provides for paid parental leave only for women who work at least 975 hours per year and who have completed four years of continuous service at the date of birth or adoption, or to the certified primary caregiver in a same-sex domestic partnership regardless of gender. I assume that the committee’s recommendation refers to paid leave.


The report of the committee is available online.