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New Childbirth Policy for Female Graduate Students

by Michael Pena with Gail Mahood

Michael Peña is Staff Affairs Reporter on the Stanford Report. Gail Mahood, professor of geological
and environmental sciences and associate dean for graduate policy at Stanford University.

June 2006

Stanford University has adopted a childbirth policy for female graduate students to accommodate
the demands of late-stage pregnancy, childbirth and the care of a newborn. The new policy will
allow the new mother to maintain full-time, registered student status, as well as facilitate her return to full
participation in class work and, where applicable, research, teaching and clinical training in a seamless manner.

The childbirth policy, effective immediately, was announced by Gail Mahood, a professor of geological and
environmental sciences and associate dean for graduate policy, during a regular meeting of the
Faculty Senate on Thursday, Jan. 26. Stanford is only the second major U.S. university to
offer such a policy, according to Geraldine L. Richmond, chair of the Committee on the Advancement of
Women Chemists and a professor at the University of Oregon. The Massachusetts Institute of
Technology introduced its “childbirth accommodation policy” in 2004.

One of Stanford’s top priorities is to increase the number of women pursuing advanced degrees that
will prepare them for leadership positions in academia, industry and government. And, as stated
in the Stanford Graduate Student Handbook, “it is important to acknowledge that a woman’s prime
childbearing years are the same years she is likely to be in graduate school,
doing post-doctoral training, and establishing herself in a career.”

“So our main goal in designing this policy was to make sure that we retain in the academic pipeline
women graduate students who become pregnant and give birth,” Mahood said on Thursday.

The Childbirth Policy has four components. All female graduate students—including those in
the professional schools—who are pregnant or have recently given birth and who are registered
and matriculated:

  • are eligible for an “academic accommodation period” of up to two academic
    quarters before and after the birth, during which the student may postpone
    course assignments, examinations and other academic requirements; and
  • are eligible for fulltime enrollment during this period and will retain access
    to Stanford facilities, Cardinal Care student health insurance and Stanford housing
  • Students also will be granted an automatic one-quarter extension of
    university and departmental requirements and academic milestones—with
    the possibility of up to three quarters by petition under unusual circumstances.
    (A Ph.D. qualifying exam is an example of an academic milestone.)
  • In addition, female graduate students supported by fellowships, teaching
    assistantships, and/or research assistantships will be excused from their
    regular teaching or research duties for a period of six weeks during which
    they will continue to receive support.

(Students will not receive a stipend or salary if none was received previously but are eligible
for the academic accommodation period and the one-quarter extension of academic milestones.)

The policy also allows eligible students to avoid interruptions to on-campus housing,
eligibility for student loans and deferment of student-loan repayment, Mahood said. For
international students, the provision allowing a new mother to maintain full-time status will
ensure that the status of her visa is unaffected, Mahood added.

“I want to emphasize that this academic accommodation period is not a leave of absence.
We are expecting that the woman, to the extent that her health and the health of the infant will
allow, will be in residence and will participate in course work and research—even if it is at a
somewhat lower level than prior to the birth,” Mahood said.

The new policy sets a minimum standard for accommodating female graduate students
who give birth, Mahood said. It is expected that advisers, academic staff and department leaders
“will work with sensitivity and imagination to provide more than this minimum, as some parts
of the university are already doing,” she added.

Last fall, the Chemistry Department unveiled a maternity policy for graduate students that
would allow pregnant women or new mothers to scale back their course work or research for
up to 12 weeks and still be paid. Instituted by department Chair Richard Zare, the policy—
along with Stanford’s—are among the most generous in the country.

“There’s nothing in this policy that replaces the communication and cooperation between
student and adviser and the good-faith efforts of both of them to accommodate the birth of
a child,” Mahood said. “And it’s our intention, in establishing this policy, to reinforce the
importance of that cooperation and to have the university provide the support that makes that
accommodation possible.”

Adoption, foster-care placement, and paternity leave are covered under existing
policies in the graduate student handbook that govern medical, maternity and paternity leave.
The handbook also states that birth mothers may opt to use medical and maternity leaves in
addition to or instead of the benefits provided by the new childbirth policy.

The policy will be administered by the Office of the Dean of Research through a
petition process. For the policy’s full text, please visit http://gsh.stanford.edu/childbirth.html.

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