President Christina Paxson announced her support for the general findings of the report published Friday by the Advisory Committee on Childcare, and recommended subsidizing child care for employees instead of bringing a daycare company to campus due to University budget constraints, in an email to the community Tuesday.
The committee, formed after the Taft Avenue Daycare Center closed Aug. 31, wrote in its report that “Brown currently under-supports the working parents among its students, staff and faculty and is not competitive with our peers.” The University arranged for a temporary subsidy to compensate for the center’s closure, but it will end Aug. 31, lending some urgency to the issue, Provost Mark Schlissel P’15 told The Herald.
Paxson promised to devote $250,000 to subsidize University employees for child care costs based on their financial needs, targeting those who need it most, Schlissel said. He added that this was especially significant given the University will be running on a tight budget next year, with a projected deficit of slightly more than $4 million.
The University will commit to setting aside $100,000 for child care subsidies to go toward graduate students, Paxson wrote in the email to the community. Schlissel said subsidizing child care for graduate students is particularly complex because government tax laws do not allow students to tap into pre-tax dollars the way employees can. The committee will explore the best way to subsidize child care for graduate students, Schlissel said, but one option might be increasing the stipend or scholarship graduate students receive while working on their doctorate.
For the current fiscal year, the committee advised a $250,000 yearly budget for subsidizing child care, the formation of a Childcare Planning Group to assess the possibility of an on-campus daycare center for small children, creating a central online resource for learning about the University’s childcare options, amending regulations so more graduate students qualify for the University’s back-up care plan and increasing funding to cover travel expenses for family members who accompany grad students, postdoctoral researchers and staff members on work-related trips. Of these recommendations, Paxson endorsed the proposed subsidy budget and creating an online childcare resource.
In her response to the report, Paxson attempted to strike “a balance between the needs of people with children and the cost of those needs,” Schlissel said.
Schlissel said he thought making subsidies need-based was a wise choice, because it would ensure that money were spent on those who needed it most.
But a faculty member at Tuesday’s faculty meeting criticized that decision, saying it seemed “strange that we have to have a Robin Hood effect whenever there’s a benefit.” Paxson responded at the meeting by saying unaffordable childcare would act as a tax upon young children.
Paxson did not endorse the committee’s suggestion for running a daycare company on the edge of campus as a goal for the near future, Schlissel said.
The Taft Avenue Daycare Center, which was located at 48 Taft Ave., was the only full-time childcare service exclusively for children of University employees and graduate students and had operated for 22 years before closing due to facility safety issues and new state regulations for cribs, The Herald previously reported. The University has been without its own childcare service for the young children of faculty members, staff members and graduate students for six months since the center closed.
A parent-organized petition to stop the center’s closure, signed by 1,700 community members, did not save the daycare center but prompted the formation of the 10-person committee to report on the issue.
While a daycare company on the edge of campus would be ideal, it would also be a difficult and expensive endeavor, Schlissel said.
“It’s not our core business to be involved in things other than education and research,” and having a daycare company on campus would be like starting a business in a new field without prior experience, he said.
Providing family-friendly policies to employees at the University is “not a brand-new issue” and was a problem even before Taft closed, said Schlissel, who formed the committee. Before the 2008 financial crisis, another committee had met to discuss family-friendly policies, but many of their recommendations were “put on the shelf” when the crisis hit, Schlissel said.
The University’s next moves following the committee’s suggestions will be the “strongest steps forward in recent memory,” Schlissel added.
“There’s nothing more important in life than feeling like your kids are well-cared for, comfortable and safe,” Schlissel said, adding that the University needs to do a better job if it “wants to be the kind of place where people can work and be productive at all different stages of their life.”
As a first step, Paxson suggested the University reach out to existing daycare companies to ask if they would like to partner with the University by setting aside a number of spots in exchange for being featured on the University website or in advertisements, Schlissel said.
“If money were no object whatsoever, then I think the University would be able to consider more seriously in the short term finding a company and providing them with physical space, but that would cost literally millions of dollars,” Schlissel said, adding that the committee will first need to “explore every other option.”
Paxson has also asked Schlissel to form a Childcare Planning Group that will include community members with children and determine the fairest way to allocate the subsidy dollars she has set aside, Paxson wrote in the email.
The committee issued a list of long-term suggestions, including reexamining teaching schedules so that faculty members with children are not forced to teach past 6 p.m., assessing the accessibility of on-campus lactation rooms, negotiating with local daycare centers to consider hours and yearly schedules that comply with those of University employees and shortening the four-year minimum requirement of continued service to receive paid maternity leave. Of these goals, Paxson agreed to change faculty meetings but not teaching schedules, to assess the University’s lactation rooms and to work with local daycare centers concerning scheduling. Paxson did not agree to reduce the four-year waiting period but supported the adoption of a gender-neutral “family leave” policy.
Paxson’s suggestions include a number of things that “were very simple and should have been done long ago,” such as forming the new website and scheduling the monthly faculty meeting to end by 5:30 p.m., Schlissel said.
Paxson thought reforming teaching schedules would compromise the goal of spreading out classes so they do not conflict with each other and so they make “optimal usage of all the different rooms across campus,” Schlissel said.
“I’m not incredibly optimistic that we can solve this problem,” he said.
Going forward, Schlissel said he will first assemble the advisory group and then collaborate to design the details of a plan for how to allocate the $250,000 in subsidy money, which will be available Sept. 1. Until then, the committee will have to figure out how to help graduate students with childcare, Schlissel said.
The steps they will take aim to “diminish the strain in psychological and financial burdens” for employees trying to organize and afford convenient childcare, Schlissel said. “It will make people’s lives easier, and in doing so it will make them more productive” as students, faculty members and staff members, he said.
—With additional reporting by Rachel Margolis