Due to limited leave options this semester, CSUN faculty and staff with caregiving duties at home are working with the administration to create more accommodations.
Since the coronavirus pandemic led to a closure of schools, working parents with young children have had to take on caregiving responsibilities on top of their regular obligations. Those with family members who have fallen ill or been evicted have also been thrust into caregiving roles.
Leave options have eased the burden for many caregivers, but some of those options have run out.
Last March, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act was passed by the federal government. It included the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act, which entitled eligible employees with caregiving responsibilities up to 12 weeks of paid leave.
Coronavirus Paid Administrative Leave is another leave option that was created in response to the pandemic. It was available to CSU employees only.
CPAL and FFCRA both expired on Dec. 31, 2020.
Associate Professor of Communication Studies Jinah Kim is one faculty member who benefitted from the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act. A mother of two young children whose schools were closed due to the pandemic, Kim taught one course instead of her usual four last semester.
“[EFMLEA] made it possible for me to be a caregiver for my children,” Kim said.
Without the same options available as before, some faculty members are struggling more this semester, leading to the creation of a petition.
This petition was created by several organizers and supported by the Faculty Senate’s Educational Equity Committee. Among the petition’s requests are an extension of paid leave benefits for employees with caregiving responsibilities, a pause on faculty committee work and an end to tenure delay.
The ways in which women of color in particular are struggling during the pandemic were also highlighted in the petition.
“[People of color] have to go out and work. They have to, because of the way we’ve structured society, and women tend to be the main caretakers,” said Martha Escobar, a professor in the Chicana/o Studies Department and chair of the Educational Equity Committee. “So if you look at that intersection, women of color are disproportionately impacted.”
Several faculty members noted what a lack of accommodations for caregivers could mean for the posterity of women of color in academia.
“I think that a few years from now, when we notice that women of color and mothers are not the ones with tenure, or in leadership positions in the university, it will point to how, in this moment, we could have really acted proactively to protect these communities,” said Kim, who helped draft the petition.
On Feb. 8, several organizers and the Educational Equity Committee met with Provost Mary Beth Walker to go over the requests made in the petition.
The high probability of CSUN receiving more funds through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act was discussed. If the university’s request is approved, a large percentage of it will likely go to student aid.
The meeting also covered a potential extension of CPAL this semester, which is being discussed at the CSU system level, according to Provost Walker.
“We want to support our CSUN students, faculty, and staff in these difficult and very stressful times,” Provost Walker said. “We are hopeful that the falling number of cases in LA County will soon make a positive difference for all our community!”
No final decisions were made at the meeting regarding how the funds could be used to assist caregivers.
The organizers expressed their desire to be a part of the decision making and plan on pushing for transparency in what options are available to faculty, staff and students.
In the meantime, CSUN is still providing several resources for eligible faculty and staff with caregiving duties.
The Family and Medical Leave Act and California Family Rights Act are still available to eligible employees. Employees may also be eligible for leave under their collective bargaining agreements.
The Office of Human Resources is also offering free guidance, counseling and a Zoom support group called “Parenting in a Pandemic” through LifeMatters@CSUN. “Working Parent Brownbag” sessions, also offered by HR, will be held this semester over Zoom to provide working parents with a forum to discuss their challenges.
More recently, CSUN gave faculty the opportunity to employ instructional student assistants for spring 2021 only. These paid graduate students may assist faculty who have caregiving responsibilities and large class sizes by teaching classes, grading assignments or tutoring students.
Escobar is critical of this response, saying the extra work it takes to train an instructional student assistant and the time it takes to get approved for one may defeat the purpose.
Regardless of what decisions will be made to assist caregivers working at CSUN this semester, organizers have asserted that their advocacy for women, women of color and caregivers in academia is far from over.
“I’m hoping that we can have that larger conversation and it’s going to be ongoing,” said Escobar. “Systemic change doesn’t come in one day.”
Editor’s Note: Story was updated at 1:15 p.m. on Feb. 22 after Provost Walker responded for comment.