For much of the world, paid parental leave is not controversial at all. In Japan, new parents are entitled to 52 weeks of paid parental leave. In Britain, new parents are granted 39 weeks and in some other countries the leave can be up to 82 weeks. Here in the United States, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, mandatory paid parental leave is non-existent. Although some companies and organizations in our country offer paid time off, it is not a national mandate and as a result, new parents continue to struggle to find suitable options for themselves and their precious children. This leads to incredible stress, reduced work productivity and serious deleterious effects on children.
My wife and I have two children, one biological and one adopted. I vividly remember the frantic planning and the incredible anxiety of juggling who could possibly stay home on which day to care for a sick child. We often negotiated multiple daycare options that were all less than wonderful, and the guilt that came with being at work and not home with a child we missed and needed. Far too many parents fully understand what I am talking about. It’s terrible to live with and completely ridiculous in a rich country like the United States.
It’s shameful, and I’m so proud of the fact that the New Mexico Highlands are an outlier. At a special meeting on December 28, the Highlands Board of Regents voted unanimously to grant meaningful parental leave to teachers with a new baby and/or newly adopted child. When we talk about Highlands as family, we mean it. It was a great day for our university.
Parental leave, however, is only one part of a workplace that values the quality of life of its employees. I strongly believe that no one should have to work two, three or even four jobs to raise a family. Again, in one of the richest countries in the world, this is simply not acceptable. In this regard, Highlands has made significant progress over the past year.
New Mexico Highlands recently adjusted its minimum wage from $12 an hour to $15. That’s an annual increase from about $25,000 to over $32,000. According to national studies, $15 is a “living wage” in San Miguel County for a single person. A living wage is not only good for many of our employees, it’s good for the quality of life of our community, by injecting more money into our economy. Also, no one lost their job at Highlands during COVID. Not one. The idea of adding financial stress to good colleagues already struggling with COVID was and is simply something I couldn’t do.
There is still a lot to do. I undertake to do so. My goal is to make HU the best place to work in northern New Mexico and to see it become one of the top employers in the country.
Dr. Sam Minner has served as president of Highlands University since June 2015. He can be reached at 505-454-3269.