The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a significant toll on the UC Merced community, including its faculty. The closing of schools and childcare facilities has forced parents to stay at home with dependents full time, while other forms of dependent care, such as elder care or care for family members with disabilities, have also demanded full-time attention. Early research published in both mainstream and scholarly venues suggests that working parents, especially women, with dependents are vulnerable to experiencing significant damage to careers, sustaining impacts that will reduce earning potential and leave them ineligible for promotion, salary increases, and other forms of advancement. While teaching releases for all who need them might mitigate these impacts and inequities, they would be cost-prohibitive given the large number of faculty caregivers at UC Merced and the COVID-19 related effects on the budget. Instead, to provide some assistance during these challenging times, we are offering an option for caregivers to temporarily modify their work-related duties.
The Academic Personnel Office, the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, the Chancellor, and the Academic Senate working with the Committee on Faculty Welfare and Academic Freedom (FWAF), have developed a modification of existing policies to help address the disparate impact of COVID-19 on faculty with dependent care responsibilities. This modification will be effective for two academic years beginning with the 2020-2021 academic year and may be adjusted after the first year. The dynamic nature of the situation requires flexible policies as we are likely to see oscillation in the severity of restrictions (e.g. periodic opening and closing of daycare facilities and schools). These policies will be in addition to and intended to coordinate with existing leave plans. As a temporary exception to policy, UC Provost and Executive Vice President Michael Brown has approved UC Merced’s interim program to manage COVID-related issues in 2020-2021 and 2021-2022.
Senate faculty under the purview of Academic Personnel Manual 760-28(a) and with dependent care responsibilities of 50% time or more will be eligible for up to two academic terms of Interim COVID-Related Dependent Care Modified Duties during academic years 2020-2021 and 2021-2022. Interim COVID-Related Dependent Care Modified Duties will cover dependents of all ages, including children and dependent adults and elders.
Full-time faculty members who are considered for Interim COVID-Related Dependent Care Modified Duties will remain full-time employees of UC Merced and continue to accumulate all benefits and sabbatical credits while serving the University. Furthermore, Interim COVID-Related Dependent Care Modified Duties will not be considered in assessing personnel cases or affect future requests for Active Service Modified Duties; it will not adversely affect how a candidate’s dossier is considered by the department, the dean’s office, or the Committee on Academic Personnel (CAP).
We realize this Interim COVID-Related Dependent Care Modified Duties can be implemented across different schools, divisions, and departments in dissimilar ways because duties of faculty members across the campus are often unique to a discipline. Such differences will be taken into account as Interim COVID-Related Dependent Care Modified Duties are developed for participating faculty members. Interim COVID-Related Dependent Care Modified Duties must be negotiated between faculty members, department chairs, and deans on an individual case-by-case basis with an eye to maximizing help to the faculty member while minimizing disruption of the academic activities of schools, divisions and departments.
Although decisions about if and when to request use of the modified duties rest primarily in the hands of the individual requesting modified duties, faculty members will need to request modifications from their chairs and deans with as much notice as possible. Chairs, with input from deans, will work to accommodate requests on a case-by-case basis, considering the curriculum of the department, the need to offer required courses, availability of alternative instructors, and number of individuals requesting these modified duties in the same term.
Interim COVID-Related Dependent Care Modified Duties might include any of the measures, or a combination thereof, on the following list, which is not exhaustive:
- Offer relief from service obligations and responsibilities for all or part of an academic term.
- Allow flexibility in classroom instruction modality, for instance, synchronous versus asynchronous, hybrid remote versus in-person, and scheduling. Note: Any requests for online classroom instruction modality changes require approval by the Academic Senate and should not be submitted via this program.
- Provide flexibility in department course offerings, for instance, reducing the overall number of courses while increasing sections of or enrollments in courses that will indeed be offered.
- Allow voluntary deferral of sabbatical leaves.
- Offer flexibility with instructional roles, for instance, co-teaching with others (Senate faculty, Unit-18 lecturers, advanced graduate students or postdoctoral scholars).
- Provide teaching release in return for temporary increase in course-load after dependent care can be secured.
Interim COVID-Related Dependent Care Modified Duties will place burdens on departments already feeling the strain of university-wide hiring reductions. Still, it is in the long-term interest of the campus to support its faculty, especially those who are early and mid-career, and to do what it can to prevent the exacerbation of pre-existing inequities within academia, especially those affecting caregivers. UC Merced has a strong commitment to diversity and equity. These measures will ensure that the campus remains competitive in a world full of new and unprecedented challenges. We will meet these challenges by continuing to look out for the welfare of our faculty, our students, and the entire UC Merced community.
We also acknowledge that the needs of faculty providing dependent care will not be one-size-fits-all. For that reason, we see the directives listed here as complementary to additional efforts on campus to reopen and keep open childcare facilities on campus, as well as to provide alternative fresh-air educational opportunities for elementary school children.
Faculty members who want to apply for Interim COVID-Related Dependent Care Modified Duties should fill out the Application Form. The application will be reviewed by the faculty member’s department chair, dean, and the Academic Personnel Office. All requests for Interim COVID-Related Dependent Care Modified Duties are due on or before October 25, 2021.
Revised: 6 October 2021; Issued: 15 October 2020