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March 6, 2008

Senate group wants more campus child care

Faculty Assembly wants Pitt to designate a Chancellor’s office official to address insufficient access to child care on the Pittsburgh campus.

Last week, the Assembly voted unanimously to endorse that and other recommendations made by the ad hoc subcommittee on child care, part of the University Senate’s ad hoc committee for the promotion of gender equity.

Giuseppina Mecchia, who chairs the child care subcommittee, said that Pitt’s on-campus child care facility is woefully inadequate to handle the demand for child care by University employees and graduate students. “The University Child Development Center (UCDC) is a wonderful place, but to say the number of spots available is insufficient is a huge understatement,” Mecchia told Faculty Assembly Feb. 26.

Her committee benchmarked 10 peer institutions as part of a report that makes several recommendations to Pitt’s administration. (Those institutions are Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Virginia and Wisconsin.)

According to the report, UCDC has a two- to three-year waiting list for infants, with the ratio of spots being 1:7 (48 places and 358 applications). Compared to similar institutions, UCDC has less than half as many places available for infant child care.

“This wouldn’t be as bad if there were other places within a three- to five-mile range of the campus,” Mecchia said. “But it is aggravated by the fact that good day care places in surrounding areas are extremely insufficient and have long waiting lists as well.”

Mecchia argued that the dearth of available child care options on campus for faculty, staff and graduate students makes the University less successful in its teaching, research and service activities by causing stress and reducing productivity. “This creates a huge distraction for parents of small children, not knowing what they’re going to do with a newborn,” she said. “This impacts on faculty for recruitment and retention. It’s the same issue for staff. We have a wealth of anecdotal evidence that often experienced staff do not come back after the birth of a child.”

Moreover, she said, Pitt’s commitment to gender equity in recruitment and promotion is compromised by inadequate child care facilities, since research data show that having children is far more likely to impair the careers of female faculty than their male counterparts.

“It’s true that this is not purely a women’s issue; new fathers are affected, too,” Mecchia said. “And recent academic data show that, in the case of women, we have improved the numbers of PhDs in the last 10 years. But the gender gap re-emerges at every step of the process when women are pursuing an academic career, such as being admitted to the tenure stream, fulfilling the tenure process and getting promotions down the line.

“We’re not saying that the University has to help individuals face parenthood challenges. Our question is: Is the University doing what it reasonably can do to recruit, nurture and maintain talent that will contribute to the academic greatness and success of Pitt?” she said.

Among the recommendations in the committee report for the short term are:

• Designating a person in the Chancellor’s office to address child care issues, including creating a plan to increase the infant and toddler day care spots available for people new to the University; reviewing policies to ensure that the structure of University subsidies and the UCDC sliding-payment scale optimize equity and access, and creating an accessible clearinghouse to sources of information and support on the campus and in the community.

Longer-term, the report recommends:

• Increasing child care facilities on campus; making child care affordable, providing walk-in emergency/sick care for children, enhancing Pitt’s family-friendly environment and making child care expenses incurred during travel to conferences or on University business reimbursable.

“What we do not want is for this report to be the only tangible sign of what we’ve done,” Mecchia said. “We do want a commitment to make sure the situation is addressed by the University. We want to convey a sense of urgency to address this issue to our colleagues who are largely sympathetic — not necessarily expecting a radical change but for the situation to slowly get better.”

Mecchia acknowledged that her committee did not do a cost analysis of what it would take in funding, staffing and resources to improve the child care situation at Pitt, maintaining that task should be under the purview of the proposed child care officer in the Chancellor’s office.

She said her committee had determined that the University is quite generous compared to peers in subsidizing the few positions that are available at UCDC to help make child care affordable.

Mecchia added that she had had profitable discussions on child care issues with Ron Frisch, associate vice chancellor for Human Resources, who has agreed to meet with Faculty Assembly to discuss potential strategies.

“I take that as a very good sign,” Mecchia said.

University Senate President John Baker told the University Times that he will forward the report’s recommendations to Pitt’s senior administration.

“We will talk to the administration to get their input as to the best course for it,” Baker said last week.

The report is available online at

Assembly also heard a report on Pitt’s plans for the University Club. (See related story, this issue.)

—Peter Hart

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