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September 30, 2010

Senate Matters: Dependent care support

by Elsa S. Strotmeyer

The University Senate child care subcommittee (part of the ad hoc committee on gender equity) last year changed its name to child and dependent care to reflect an expanded mission including all types of dependent care. The caregiver role is often taken on by spouses or by children for older parents, with more women than men filling these roles — often during the peak of their career in their highest earning years. Dependent care also encompasses care for a child with a disability or chronic health condition.

The subcommittee examined all dependent care benefits and support services available to University employees. These include:

• LifeSolutions ( LifeSolutions can help locate dependent care services and provides other resources relevant to balancing work-life issues.

• Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account ( This lets you set aside money from your paycheck on a pre-tax basis for day care expenses for eligible children or elderly dependents. The limit is $5,000 annually (or  $2,500 if you are married but file separate federal tax returns).

Web-based resources for family and caregivers from Pitt’s Aging Institute ( These include a recorded workshop on elder care (

Long term care insurance ( This employee-paid benefit is available to faculty, staff and their family members.

A 2009 National Alliance for Caregiving/AARP report found that two-thirds of caregivers had arrived at work late, left early or taken time off during the day to deal with caregiving issues, and that one in five had taken a leave from work for these purposes. Experts say that one way to reduce the need for prolonged work absences is to offer a flexible work schedule. Because no direct data on caregivers at the University of Pittsburgh exist, collecting information on employee-related caregiving challenges and needs, perhaps through a brief web survey, might provide the most complete understanding of the issues caregivers face, as well as providing a sound basis for any University policy changes made to address caregiver issues.

Health effects of caregiver stress include increased mental and physical illness. By continuing to provide and expand support services to employees acting as caregivers, the University will contribute to employee wellness as well as increased productivity.

Due in part to other benefits offered to older employees, Pitt was named a top employer for older adults by AARP last year. We encourage the University to extend this sensitivity into the area of caregiver support and to strive to be a model for other institutions. Development of formal policies may be needed to better support those faculty who must take a leave for dependent caregiving. This could include, for example, changes to the tenure clock. The child and dependent care subcommittee plans to benchmark current University benefits and services against expert recommendations for employee benefits as well as those offered at peer institutions.

We encourage all those with suggestions or concerns regarding support services for caregiving or other issues relevant to the subcommittee’s mission to contact us at

Elsa S. Strotmeyer, chair of the child and dependent care subcommittee, is an assistant professor of epidemiology in the Graduate School of Public Health.


Some first impressions

by Patricia Weiss

We caught up with three new Faculty Assembly representatives after an orientation session  and their first meeting Sept. 7. (See Sept. 16 Senate Matters column introducing them.) Here are their impressions:

Willie Elliott: I am struck by the lack of racial diversity on the Faculty Assembly. I was the only African American in the group that I noticed. I understand that there may be reasons for this; however, it does suggest the need to recruit African Americans for Faculty Assembly. It also raises the issue of how well this group’s needs, to the degree that its concerns may be unique, are being met. This became obvious when we spent 15 minutes of spirited debate on inequality in women’s pay, and the potential for racial disparities never came up.

Colleen Culley: I had never been in Posvar Hall and was humbled to be walking toward the building with my campus map after 10 years. At the Faculty Assembly (FA) meeting, I was proud and relieved to be part of this University after hearing committee reports about our stable and competitive benefits plans and salaries. I am frankly grateful to be employed in this economy. I appreciated the FA outreach program report, since I thought I might be one of the only faculty members who did not understand FA and Senate. I was struck by how the lack of participation and understanding of University government is a microcosm of citizen participation in the U.S. government.

Kevin Kearns: At orientation, I learned about the University’s faculty and staff governance structure. I’m somewhat chagrined to say that I did not know that Faculty Assembly was different from the Senate, and for a few moments I did not actually know to which of these governance bodies I had been elected. It is a bit more clear to me now. At the Faculty Assembly meeting I was impressed by the clarity and thoroughness of the reports. The benchmark report on Pitt benefits was particularly well done.

Patricia Weiss is vice president of the University Senate.

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