Supporting DU Faculty (and Staff) Caregivers with Family-Friendly Practices

Jan 30, 2022

Rebecca Galemba, Associate Professor, Josef Korbel School of International Studies
Kateri McRae, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology
Shannon Murphy, Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Anna Sher, Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Andrea Stanton, Associate Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Senior Associate Dean, Director, Middle East Center

Many DU faculty and staff are also caregivers who regularly navigate competing priorities around work—including teaching, research, service, and administrative tasks—and the needs of their dependents, often on limited salaries. DU units and the University at large can support employees by adopting some or all of the following “good practices.” Several of these options have been offered in the past, but have since been discontinued. In addition, many existing policies and practices are underutilized for a host of reasons (Shauman et al., 2018), so it’s important to consider how to effectively promote them.

Several of these strategies have been applied successfully at other institutions, with the effect of attracting excellent candidates, increasing faculty and staff retention, and even improving academic productivity (Keeney et al., 2014); and literature on family-friendly policies highlights their importance for gender equity (e.g., Gerten, 2011; Wilten & Ross, 2017). Although especially important for women-identified employees, all types of parents and caregivers can benefit from the following recommendations.


  • Schedule required meetings and professional development opportunities on weekdays between 9am and 3pm to accommodate school drop-offs and pick-ups among working parents. If the meeting is in person, provide a Zoom option so at-home caregivers can join.
  • Staff and pre-tenure, teaching, and professional faculty may feel that their positions are too vulnerable to say no to meetings scheduled at 8am or 5pm. If you are a tenured faculty member or administrator, point out the difficulties that others may experience (as well as the additional cost of childcare) when meetings are scheduled before or after these hours, and request that they be rescheduled.
  • If an evening meeting is unavoidable, provide childcare, but remember that childcare during COVID is difficult to find and parents may not feel comfortable leaving their children with unknown providers.


  • Provide faculty and staff members the autonomy to pivot to an online modality for a day/class when children or other dependents are sick or otherwise need to stay at home.
  • When developing teaching schedules, provide faculty members, including adjunct faculty, the option to request/avoid particular teaching schedules, and rotate unpopular teaching times equitably among faculty members.
  • When developing office schedules, support staff in developing work schedules that minimize the need to pay for both before- and after-school care.
  • Align the University teaching calendar with area school calendars, particularly around vacation weeks, school days off, and K–12 start/end dates.
  • Do not expect responses outside of working hours and communicate this expectation by putting a line in your email signature that welcomes recipients to respond during working hours.


  • Allow faculty and staff to use professional development and similar funds to cover childcare costs while attending conferences and other professional development activities.
  • Develop a parental leave policy for graduate students, and allow graduate students on parental leave to keep their health insurance.
  • Create a University dependent-care fund, like Brown University’s Dependent Care Travel Fund.
  • Create a “tuition exchange” with other universities, so children of faculty and staff may use their tuition benefit at other institutions with a reciprocal agreement. Other models include joining a network of schools (ACM tuition exchange program, Tuition Exchange), including all institutions in the same state (e.g., those at Michigan State or University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), or even expanding the benefit to any accredited university (e.g., Carnegie Mellon).
  • Provide faculty and staff discounts to DU Recreation’s “school days off” programs, which offer day camps when Denver public schools are closed and the University is open.
  • Consider reinstating the Ritchie Center snow-day-off program and/or providing faculty and staff the autonomy to work/teach from home on school snow days.
  • Provide discounts for childcare services, with both in-home and daycare options.
  • Continue subsidizing Bright Horizons backup care options.
  • Provide resources for elder care, including tips, forms, and University community support, like the University of Michigan.
  • Dedicate a cycle of FRF funding (or similar funding stream) to caregiver faculty for restarting research, scholarship, or creative work interrupted by COVID that prioritizes graduate students, and pre-tenure and teaching and professional faculty.

Consideration of Parental Leave in Faculty and Student Evaluation and Promotion Processes

  • Offer graduate students who take parental leave the option of a one-year extension of all departmental, unit, and University timelines for degree progress.
  • For consequential reviews that relate to salary increases (e.g., promotion with tenure or promotion to teaching associate professor): if a faculty member elects for the optional one-year extension of their probationary period after taking parental leave, and the evaluation is successful, they could receive a one-time payment equal to the salary adjustment received at promotion from assistant to associate, plus an additional amount equivalent to the retirement match of the prior year to reflect the value of the retirement benefits that would have been paid on that promotion salary increase. This will curtail any negative financial consequences due to the extension.
  • In order to reverse the negative financial consequences associated with taking a one-year extension after parental leave for consequential reviews (e.g., promotion with tenure; promotion to teaching associate professor), upon promotion, offer faculty a one-time payment equal to the salary adjustment for promotion and an amount equivalent to the retirement match lost during the extension year.

Further Reading

Feeney, M. K., Bernal, M., & Bowman, L. (2014). Enabling work? Family-friendly policies and academic productivity for men and women scientists. Science and Public Policy, 41(6), 750–764.

Gerten, A. M. (2011). Moving beyond family-friendly policies for faculty mothers. Affilia, 26(1), 47–58.

Shauman, K., Howell, L. P., Paterniti, D. A., Beckett, L. A., & Villablanca, A. C. (2018). Barriers to career flexibility in academic medicine: A qualitative analysis of reasons for the under-utilization of family-friendly policies, and implications for institutional change and department chair leadership. Academic Medicine: Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, 93(2), 246–255.

Smith, G. & Waltman, J. (2006). Designing and implementing family-friendly policies in higher education. Center for the Education of Women, University of Michigan. 

Support for tenure-track parents is still lacking, readers say. (2021, September 27). Chronicle of Higher Education. 

Wilton, S., & Ross, L. (2017). Flexibility, sacrifice and insecurity: A Canadian study assessing the challenges of balancing work and family in academia. Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 29(1–2), 66–87.


Photo by Helena Lopes

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