Campus & Community

Giving faculty a leg up the ladder

4 min read

New initiative designed to help professors meet family needs without sacrificing advancement

Harvard University is launching a new initiative for ladder faculty designed to help professors meet their family caregiving needs while succeeding throughout their academic careers.

Assistant and associate professors must achieve milestones within a limited time frame, one that can overlap significantly with childbearing years. And once they’re awarded tenure, the demands on full professors’ time only increase. Balancing this with the extremely high cost of quality child care in the Boston area can lead to hard choices, including whether to stay on an academic path, to leave the region in search of a less expensive environment, or to delay or forego childbearing.

“Harvard’s mission of learning, teaching, and research relies on our ability to attract the best scholars to our campus,” said President Drew Faust. “Investing in this initiative means keeping the academy open to parents, which is one of many routes to increased diversity in academia.”

The program, nicknamed Ladder ACCESS (Access to Child Care Excellence, Services, and Support), will make significant financial assistance to income-eligible ladder faculty with very young children. “We know that young scholars weigh quality-of-life issues along with professional opportunity when considering an appointment,” said Judith D. Singer, senior vice provost for Faculty Development and Diversity and James Bryant Conant Professor of Education. “Among faculty, those who are parents can be disproportionately burdened by the cost of child care in this region. We need to make sure this is not a deciding factor when faculty are offered appointments at Harvard or an impediment to a faculty member’s success in meeting the demands inherent in a challenging academic career.”

“This initiative goes some of the way toward leveling the playing field,” said Evelynn Hammonds, former senior vice president for Faculty Development and Diversity, now dean of Harvard College, under whose leadership the program was conceived. “In the extremely demanding realm of tenure-track academia, faculty with child care responsibilities face even more hurdles. This scholarship program will help people afford the types of care they need in order to meet academic challenges successfully.”

The new initiative is aimed at ladder faculty — assistant, associate, and full professors — who have children under age 6, when child care is most expensive. The program is open to all ladder-faculty families with household incomes of under $175,000, and applies a sliding scale that makes the largest awards to families with the lowest incomes. Applicants must be on a regular Harvard payroll. More information and a link to the online application can be found at

This program is being launched as a next step in Harvard’s comprehensive child care strategy, which has included efforts to increase affordability and availability of child care. “Child care supports are a key component of Harvard’s work/life package for all Harvard employees,” said Marilyn Hausammann, vice president for Human Resources. “Our approach is to offer a menu of supports because we know that one size does not fit all. Help finding and paying for child care is available to all employee groups through a range of programs, which we are continuously evaluating to be sure they meet the community’s needs.”

In June 2006, Harvard announced a round of work/life program enhancements designed to holistically support scholars and faculty as they balance the demands of work and family (See These include pilot programs to provide a range of backup care options, a more than 50 percent increase in staff child care scholarships, and the expansion of a campus child care center. The University is continuing to study several schemes to expand child care capacity on campus.

The pilots also included a small fund to support Ph.D. and doctoral candidates with children enrolled in one of six Harvard campus child care centers. “We see a need for child care supports at the beginning of the academic pipeline, during the graduate school years,” said Allan Brandt, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, which enrolls 80 percent of the University’s doctoral-level students. “We are currently studying programs to provide such support.”

“Programs and services that support faculty with young children help Harvard recruit the very best scholars,” said Singer. “And those programs help scholars have the support they need to do their very best work here.”