Childbirth might be a miracle, but it's an expensive one.

Clare Glassco, a student at Carleton University and a new mother, has criticized the university for its policies on parental leave. Carleton treats parental leave like any other leave of absence, charging Glassco a $280 administrative fee to “save her place in the program” while she takes care of her newborn son. She does not have access to university facilities like the gym and library and must pay $388 if she wishes to opt into the student health plan.

On the one hand, Carleton is treating this situation like any other leave of absence, consistent with their policies — on the other hand, these policies might need updating.

Parental leave is an especially relevant concern for grad students, as the mean age of grad students corresponds with the mean age of Canadian women having their first child — about 28 years old.

As well, Carleton’s stance is a problem because being a parent is an exceptionally strenuous time, beyond the scope of an average leave of absence. Given the extreme stresses of, say, a single parent with a newborn, it would be reasonable (and ethical) for the university to make provisions for these students. Charging them a few hundred dollars, as Carleton did, is a barrier for new parents.

In the workplace, by parallel, parental leave is a legal right. Every parent should have the opportunity to leave work and take care of their child, and given the likelihood of grad students becoming parents, they should be entitled to the same right.

We are happy to note that Western is one of the universities (including the University of Alberta, Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo) with provisions in place for graduate students’ pregnancy and parental leave.

Graduate teaching assistants at Western, as employees, may be eligible for it under the Employment Standards Act.

But Western also has provisions for regular grad students: “the vice-provost (Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies) may grant a leave of absence for pregnancy/parental, medical or compassionate grounds normally to a maximum of three terms or 12 months, on the recommendation of the Graduate Program.”

As well, graduate students at Western are entitled to a $1,500 pregnancy and parental bursary per leave, and either parent may request up to three terms of leave.

Credit where credit is due: Western deserves commendation for these comprehensive policies. Graduate students who are pregnant or taking care of a child have to deal with a unique set of challenges, and universities should do their best to accommodate them. We hope other universities in the province, like Carleton, follow suit.

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