months of an intensive search, you've finally identified
the perfect candidate for that open faculty position. But there
may be one more hurdle. Chances are the candidate is marriedto
another academic. And it's likely that the candidate's
acceptance of your offer is contingent upon his or her spouse
or partner locating employment. But nabbing a job in a one-university
town in the middle of nowhere might be a tough task for a trailing
spouse. Offering him or her a position within the university might
be the only option to get the recruit to come on board.
The dilemma has become increasingly common on college campuses
across the country. Fortunately for married academicians, a growing
number of colleges and universities are addressing the dual-career
couple issue. If asked, about 80 percent of colleges and universities
said they would do something to assist a new hire's spouse
or partner in finding employment, according to a survey of 360
deans by Lisa Wolf-Wendel, an associate professor of higher education
at the University of Kansas and co-author of the upcoming book,
The Two Body Problem: Dual Career Couple Hiring Policies in Higher
Education. About a quarter of the deans noted that their institutions
had a written policy on the matter.
thought of tending to the needs of professional couples sounds
like a family-friendly policy, the accommodation is more a survival
tactic for higher education. It's really about recruitment
and retention of the best faculty, says Wolf-Wendel. From
a recruitment standpoint, it's good PR, and you may be able
to get someone you otherwise wouldn't have gotten.
It's a no-brainer, say many universities. If the trailing
spouse or partner is taken care of jobwise, it increases the likelihood
the recruit will accept the offer.
the deans said would occur comes in several shapes and sizes.
The university could create a tenure-track position. That's
a rarity, though, as it's not so easy to create a new faculty
line. In fact, Wolf-Wendel notes that conjuring up tenure positions
for trailing spouses is an option available mostly to large research
universities that can absorb the cost. To do so, these universities
develop funding formulas to share costs among departments and
the provost's office.
common among universities is an effort to find nontenure berths
or part-time, adjunct, temporary, or sabbatical replacement slots.
Some institutions create a shared, or split, position for the
two professionals. Even more of the universities say their assistance
comes in the form of connections and networkingwith other
departments within the university and with nearby businesses who
may have openings suited to the trailing spouse. Some universities
have teamed up with nearby or sister colleges to post joint job
openings, while others give a hand by sending informational material
like brochures and local employment ads to the trailing spouse.
has a two-pronged dual-career program that melds many of these
approaches. Begun in 1992, the Bridge Program supports couples
who wish to have both partners join the faculty. Given the complex
negotiations and discussions involved that cross departments,
the program is run under the auspices of the executive vice president
for academic affairs. Take a new hire in engineering, for example.
His or her spouse or partner might be looking for a post in, say,
English literature. If there is not enough money in the department
to fund a full-time position, the Bridge Program would pitch in.
Some departments don't have any money at all. Some
don't have any more faculty lines, says Tari Alper,
director of the university's spousal relocation assistance
program. This bridges everything.
up the other half of the dual-career program at Purdue. Her office
provides all sorts of support to trailing spouses, from the skinny
on elementary schools and car mechanics to contacts in the job
market and statistics on the local housing market. In short, her
office acts as a buddy to the trailing spouse. We help a
new hire focus on their new job rather than having to worry about
their spouse, who may be feeling pretty abandoned in a new geographic
area, says Alper.
At the Georgia
Institute of Technology there is no formal system in place, but
spousal assistance is integral to the hiring process. Part
of our strategy in recruiting a person is to do everything we
can to get the spouse work in the Atlanta area or at Tech or our
sister institutions, says Narl Davidson, interim dean of
the college of engineering. How so? We have a good working
relationship with the different departments, says Davidson,
which allows him to pick up the phone and discuss job possibilities
with his counterparts in other colleges. What's more, the
university has established an extensive network of contacts with
local companies to discern their job openings.
says accommodating trailing spouses also helps ratchet up retention
rates. In academia, it's not uncommon for dual-career couples
to take jobs in different cities, commuting weekly or monthly
to spend time with each other. The stress such a commute engenderson
top of the strain that being separated from a family entailscan
be trying on even the most committed relationships. We have
definitely lost people because their spouse is working in another
city, says Davidson. Spouses or partners in the same city
also make for better employees. Faculty are more productive
when they are leading whole lives, when half their life isn't
at the other end of the country, says Wolf-Wendel.
realize bolstering dual-career couples is beneficial to their
futures, couples deem it a quality of life issue. Julie Jacko,
an associate professor of industrial and systems engineering at
the Georgia Institute of Technology, was hired a year agoand
so was her husband. This wasn't a case of hiring one spouse
and then the other. The department actually had two openings suited
to both their skills, not surprising at a large institution like
Tech. (She specializes in human computer interaction; her husband,
in health systems). But Jacko can attest to the benefits of working
alongside her husband.
there is some overlap in the research the two perform, allowing
them to collaborate on a number of projects. And a mate in similar
employ means more meaningful interaction. We are able to
get each other's input and bounce things off each other that
ordinarily would be difficult to do if we had two entirely unrelated
jobs, says Jacko. We view it as a positive that we
can commute to work together and sort of rehash our days on the
ride home together. With the couple intertwined at the institution,
chances are they'll be there for the long haul. It's
more complicated to go, says Jacko.
seem that everything is hunky-dory for dual-career couples in
academia. Not so. Wolf-Wendel found that about 15 percent of the
deans surveyed would do nothingyes, absolutely nothingif
asked to help a trailing spouse or partner find a job.
a mistake, say some experts. Universities who put their heads
in the sand not only lose good people, they also can hamper efforts
to increase diversity. In a 1998 study of physicists and other
scientists, Laurie McNeil, a professor of physics and astronomy
and applied and material sciences at the University of North Carolina
at Chapel Hill, and a colleague found the spousal hiring issue
has a stronger impact on women than on men. For example, McNeil
notes that on a percentage basis, female physicists are far more
likely to be married to other physicists than male physicists
are. What that means is that if a woman physicist who is
looking for a job is married, it's quite likely that she
also has a husband who is a physicist who is looking for a job,
says McNeil. With the density of such jobs in any given geographic
area low, it makes it much harder to find a second job for
universities ignoring the problem to get real. If they want
to be able to hire the people they want, they are going to have
to address it, says McNeil. She recommends that universities
grapple with the issue now before it's too late to do so.
Hiring processes move very slowly, says McNeil. The
time that it will take to do that is probably longer than the
time frame the candidate is going to work with you on.
says some of the intransigence of universities stems from negative
views of the spousal hiring process. She's heard critics
rail on about the trailing spouse skipping over the normal vetting
processleading them to believe he or she is not as good
as someone who went through a typical search. They are therefore
of lesser quality and therefore being foisted upon them. That's
the perception and people are grumpy about that, says Wolf-Wendel.
They really perceive that person has a leg up and therefore
they are not as good.
drag their feet on the issue because they worry any step taken
will open a Pandora's box. What happens if a faculty member
gets a divorce and remarries? Will that spouse or partner expect
a job, too? Obviously, there are many questions to ponder as universities
sort out their options. The number of dual-career academic couples
continues to grow. It's only a matter of time before tandem
academics seeking jobs is de rigueur.
Margaret Mannix is a freelance writer based in suburban Washington,