From APSU Public Relations and Marketing
Dr. Mercy Cannon, Austin Peay State University associate professor of English, has a friendly, positive demeanor, but in the winter of 2014, she admits life became a bit of a challenge.
That January, less than a month after giving birth to her second child, she returned to campus to serve as APSU’s associate dean of the College of Arts and Letters. She was still recovering from major surgery (a cesarean section), sleep deprived and anxious about being away from her baby daughter.
“I remember I was in a meeting with department chairs, and I was like, ‘Why don’t we have maternity leave?’” she said.
Austin Peay professors receive nine days of sick leave a year and no annual leave, so if they wanted to take parental leave after having a child, under the Family and Medical Leave Act, it was unpaid. That was pretty much the standard at universities across the state, but in 2016, during a meeting with APSU Provost Rex Gandy, Cannon asked how APSU could better support families.
“He got it,” Cannon said. “Dr. Gandy was such a champion of this.”
The provost put her in charge of finding a solution. A few weeks later, Cannon and Dr. Andrea Spofford, associate professor of English, formed a task force, and now Austin Peay has one of the most ambitious parental leave policies in the state.
“It took over two years for us to see this change; there was never more than a week during that two-year time period we weren’t working on this proposal, be it conducting research, making calls, attending meetings or brainstorming policy,” Spofford said. “We talked to peer institutions, attorneys, administrators and faculty and staff across campus. From initial task force to final policy, we approached this proposal from every angle. From the very beginning we had the support of chairs, deans, the provost, and now the president—without this support paid parental leave would not have been possible.”
The policy, which will begin for children born or adopted after Jan. 2, 2019, provides six weeks of paid parental leave “to give parents additional flexibility to adjust to their new family situation and balance their professional obligations.” Parental leave is available to APSU faculty and staff who are biological or adoptive parents and who have been continuously employed by the University for at least 12 months.
“I just had my first baby and while leave wasn’t yet in place when she was born, both Provost Gandy’s and President (Alisa) White’s willingness to support paid parental leave made me feel like I didn’t have to choose between having a child and my career,” Spofford said. “I want to work somewhere that values its employees, and Austin Peay is proving it does just that.”
Austin Peay is only the second university in Tennessee to offer such robust parental leave. Last year, the University of Memphis unveiled a similar policy, offering six weeks of parental leave.
Cannon credits APSU’s president with making the new policy a reality. One day last year, when it seemed as if the process was taking too long, White pulled Cannon aside and said, “I want this to happen.”
“President White was a champion for parental leave, and it was really her will to make this happen that saw it through,” Cannon said. “I don’t have any power or a budget. I was just an annoying, persistent voice. It’s up to a good leader to listen to that, and it says something about our campus climate that we have leaders who are concerned and care and are willing to make the right thing happen.”
Information on APSU’s parental leave policy is available at https://www.apsu.edu/policy/5s_personnel_policies/5034-paid-parental-leave.php.