Legal scholar Dr. Saskia Stucki announced her withdrawal from the University’s Fung Global Fellowship last month, citing sex discrimination as the cause of her departure. Stucki, who discovered she was pregnant shortly after her acceptance into the postdoctoral program, has made several allegations against the University surrounding the process of negotiating terms of her parental leave and subsequent childcare.
She went public with her story on May 17 in a series of tweets.
“It is beyond me why — from all available options — the @GlobalFung program directors choose to go down the most unaccommodating & unsupportive & inhumane path. Maybe they hate pregnant women? Perhaps they think women should be like men (i.e., not get pregnant) to succeed in academia?” Stucki wrote.
The Fung Global Fellows Program awards a one-year research position at the University to five international scholars of various disciplinary backgrounds. Fellows are selected based on a project proposal inspired by a common, pre-selected topic. The theme for the past two academic years was sustainable futures. Previous themes include interdependence and the culture of resentment.
The University, which includes the Fung Global Fellows Program, declined to comment on the matter.
A legal scholar currently at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg, Germany, Stucki specializes in public and constitutional law, animal rights, human rights, and the environment. She applied with the project “Transformative Greenstreaming - Greening Non-Environmental Law,” which would have explored the integration of climate considerations throughout all law and policy.
Stucki accepted the position on Feb. 13 and discovered her pregnancy shortly thereafter, notifying the program on March 22.
“I asked them to confirm — what I thought to be a formality — that they would be able to accommodate a pregnant fellow,” she wrote in a tweet from May 17. “This is when the stonewalling began.”
The University offered her 10 weeks of maternity leave — four weeks before delivery and six weeks after — and did not grant her other requests for accommodation, she says.
“I told them, six weeks and then returning to the office full time, that’s not feasible for me … that sounds almost inhumane, frankly,” Stucki said in an interview with The Daily Princetonian.
The leave would come with a maximum salary of $1,025 per week, roughly half of her original salary. In Germany, Stucki would have been entitled to at least 14 weeks of maternity leave — six weeks before delivery and eight weeks after — at full pay.
She formally parted ways with the program on May 17.
“It was never about me wanting European treatment,” Stucki said. “But just a bit more flexibility beyond these six weeks at less than half pay was my minimum threshold.”
Stucki’s original tweet about her experience gained traction, receiving 2,279 likes and 711 retweets. She noted how the online response, as well as women reaching out to her privately, have shifted her view of the situation.
Stucki’s situation is unique in that neither of the University’s primary leave policies — for faculty and for employees — apply to her.
University faculty are eligible for 10 to 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, or up to a full year of unpaid leave. However, the Fung Global Fellowship is not a faculty position, as it has no teaching responsibilities.
The University also offers fully paid family leave for non-faculty employees, who can take up to eight weeks. However, employees are only eligible after 12 months with the University, making one-year research positions like the Fung Fellowship ineligible.
Once notified of the offered plan for leave, Stucki asked the Fung Program about additional accommodations, including working in a hybrid model to make childcare and breastfeeding more feasible. This request was refused, she said.
Stucki also suggested delaying her participation in the fellowship for a year. She claims that administrators denied this request on the grounds that the program’s central theme is often changed from year to year — it was suggested that her proposed project may no longer align with the fellowship’s focus.
After more than a month of negotiation, Stucki felt that she no longer had time to secure a visa for the United States or housing in Princeton, which is notoriously expensive.
Stucki also told the ‘Prince’ that she has filed complaints with the University Title IX office and the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education.
Paul Frymer is a professor in the Department of Politics focusing on anti-discrimination law, including Title IX. “Title IX protects against discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, and it would include needing accommodations for an array of pregnancy-related issues,” he said in an interview with the ‘Prince.’ “It’s fairly straightforward.”
However, Frymer also said that Title IX protections are not necessarily a given for postdocs. “Title IX will protect employees in general, but sometimes universities can label a postdoc as an independent contractor, and if you’re an independent contractor, you typically don’t have certain rights,” he said.
Stucki says her experience made her realize the pervasiveness of gender discrimination in academia. Indeed, the field’s most senior ranks remain predominantly male; in the United States, 63 percent of full professors — the highest rung on the faculty ladder — are men, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The United States is one of only six countries in the world without a national paid family leave policy.
At the University, the disparity is even more stark: only 28 percent of full professors are female. Lower positions in the academic ranks, such as assistant and associate professors, are generally more balanced in terms of gender, although nearly two-thirds of University postdoctoral fellows are men.
It has been only 50 years since the University’s first co-ed graduating class, a milestone acknowledged at a Reunions panel led by Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80 and Majka Burhardt ’98 that discussed the relationship between motherhood and career.
In an email to the ‘Prince,’ Burhardt argued that institutions of higher education have an “obligation to be a leader in family leave and pregnant employee practices.”
“We cannot miss the opportunity to showcase this process and these practices to students as a way to influence the sectors these students will ultimately be inside of and, ultimately, leading,” she said, calling paid family leave “the bare minimum.”
Slaughter is the author of the 2012 Atlantic article “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” which reignited debate on obstacles to gender equality in the workplace.
“I still strongly believe that women can ‘have it all’ … but not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured,” Slaughter wrote to the ‘Prince.’ “[T]he decision to step down from a position of power — to value family over professional advancement, even for a time — is directly at odds with the prevailing social pressures on career professionals in the United States.”
For Stucki, the pressure is institutional.
“They [the Fung program] wanted me … and at the moment I told them I’m pregnant, they didn’t want me anymore,” Stucki told the ‘Prince.’
Tess Weinreich is an associate News editor for the ‘Prince.’
Miriam Waldvogel is an assistant News editor for the ‘Prince.’
Please send corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.