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Lehigh garners Sloan award for fostering a flexible workplace

Lehigh is one of just five universities nationwide to receive a $250,000 grant to create a more flexible workplace to attract and keep the best faculty.

Lehigh is receiving the 2006 Alfred P. Sloan Award for Faculty Career Flexibility for its efforts to break down a rigid tenure-track faculty career path to attract and keep talented educators and researchers.

“I am proud that Lehigh University is receiving national recognition for our ongoing efforts to attract and retain the best and brightest faculty,” says Lehigh President Alice P. Gast. “We want to offer Lehigh’s men and women more flexible work options to promote both successful and rewarding careers and family lives.”

According to the Sloan Foundation’s Workplace, Workforce and Working Families Program the five “winners demonstrated the ability to accelerate existing programs, quickly implement creative new approaches and model best practices in faculty career management.”

“There are two significant incentives for faculty to come and stay at Lehigh—our ability to help faculty take full advantage of family and medical leave, and our ability to help a partner or spouse also find a job in the area,” says Provost Mohamed El-Aasser.

Jean Soderlund, deputy provost for faculty affairs, lead a team of faculty in writing the winning grant proposal, designed to make the academic career of Lehigh’s faculty more compatible with family care giving.

Lehigh helps faculty take full advantage of family-friendly work policies

Currently, Lehigh provides its faculty with up to 12 weeks of family and medical leave over a one-year period for the birth of a child; adoption or foster care; care of spouse, child or parent with serious health condition; and for the serious health condition of faculty members who can not perform their duties.

Gast says this grant comes at an opportune time because one-quarter of the Lehigh faculty are in a pre-tenure period of their careers and 40 percent of the recently recruited faculty who are women.

“Today we have many faculty who are in a position to benefit from intermittent leave to continue their research while caring for their family members,” Gast says. “We need to do all we can to make sure that all our faculty understand and take advantage of Lehigh’s exceptional benefits.”

Lehigh will also use the grant to appoint a career transition advisor, who will work with departments to help Lehigh faculty best use the 12 weeks (60 days) family and medical leave, including the use of intermittent leave to maintain their research when on family or medical leave.

With this $250,000 “accelerator” grant, Lehigh will establish an Integrated Faculty Career Program, which will give faculty grants of $6,000 to help them continue their research while caring for a newborn, adopted child or other family members. Faculty can determine what services are most useful to maintain career and family responsibilities, including child care, housekeeping, graduate assistance, and travel for research or conferences.

Helping faculty’s spouse or partner find area employment

The second part of Lehigh’s grant proposal addresses another big challenge in recruiting and retaining tenure-track faculty, and that is finding jobs for the accompanying spouse or partner.

Lehigh plans to increase its assistance for these “dual career” families, by taking the lead to create a Higher Education Recruitment Consortium. The goal of this Consortium is to bring together universities, colleges, industry and nonprofit organizations to provide consistent information on career options for relocating partners/spouses, not only in the Lehigh Valley, but in western New Jersey and the greater Philadelphia area.

“These consortia are very important to an institution’s ability to recruit talented young faculty whose partners are looking for positions in the region,” Gast says. “This consortia will be a great asset to Lehigh and other employers in the area.”

The other winning institutions are Duke University; University of California (Berkeley and Davis campuses); University of Florida and the University of Washington.

All the winning proposals were reviewed and rated by a blue ribbon panel of retired university and higher education association presidents, chancellors and chief executive officers.

Prominent national education organizations part of recognizing Lehigh

Funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the grants were awarded by the American Council of Education (ACE), a major coordinating body for the nation’s higher education institutions.

The Sloan Foundation makes grants to advance science, technology and the quality of American life. Also involved in Lehigh’s selection was the Families and Work Institute (FWI), a nonprofit center that conducts extensive research on the changing workforce, changing family and changing community.

--Bette Phelan

Posted on Monday, September 25, 2006

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