SAN FRANCISCO — There’s a good chance that your top faculty job candidate has a partner who will be looking for a job at your institution or in your town. If the job candidate is female and has a Ph.D. in physics, the chance that she is married to someone else with a Ph.D. in physics is greater than 70 percent.

“Academic deans have to respond to the challenges of stimulating career opportunities for partners,” said Greg Mahler, vice president for academic affairs and academic dean at Earlham College in Indiana. He and officials from several other rural colleges explained their strategies at the American Conference of Academic Deans Annual Meeting.

Many mentors warn applicants not to reveal that they are married or have an academic spouse, Mahler said. But finding out about the partner late in the hiring process makes addressing the issue even more difficult, he said.

The “two body” problem also exists when the partner is not in academia, said William Craft, vice president for academic affairs and dean at Luther College in Iowa.

Reviewing other institutions’ policies may help you determine whether your institution should try some new approaches to address dual-career couples’ needs.

Luther College

Luther officials don’t promise trailing spouses a job on the college staff, Craft said. But they do direct partners to the human resources website and invite them to send a résumé. They will also set up informational interviews for partners who want to learn more about opportunities. “When we have an opening, it’s flooded, often with people who are quite overqualified,” Craft said.

Luther administrators have cultivated good town-gown relationships, which have helped some partners get jobs, he added.

Job-sharing arrangements are approved only if the department is completely behind them, Craft said. The college has allowed two types. Sometimes both faculty members are on the tenure track. They each get an office and vote on governance issues. In other arrangements, one faculty member is on the tenure track and the other is not, he said.

Luther doesn’t use many part-time faculty members. The exception is in the music department because a large percentage of undergraduates participate in musical ensembles. But administrators make it very clear that these part-time positions will not lead to full-time jobs. “That can cause difficulty and unhappiness over time,” Craft said.

Davidson College

Clark Ross, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty at Davidson College, analyzed the issues of dual-career hiring from his perspective as a labor economist. “The issue of location has always been a factor in the desirability of a job,” he said. Some institutions were very attractive in the past because they were in locations that were considered wonderful for raising a family. But some of those institutions now have hiring challenges because partners’ job options are limited, he said.

Davidson officials are careful not to show bias by helping some two-career couples and not others, Ross said. They are also aware that if the candidate and the partner are in different disciplines, problems can arise. “Are you choosing a department member for us?” faculty members in the partner’s area ask if they are told about the faculty member.

But Davidson officials have had some success with these strategies:

  • Working with neighboring institutions to find openings.
  • Offering temporary positions to partners. Partners who teach a course or two have a chance to make contacts that can help them get a full-time job.
  • Reaching out to the community where positions might be available.
  • Hiring for shared positions. That probably works best if the faculty members are in the same department, Ross said.

Consider what does and doesn’t work in dual-career hiring

The College of Wooster’s faculty leave-time policy offers a good tool for accommodating faculty partners, said Provost Carolyn Newton. Tenure-track faculty members get one semester of fully paid leave for independent study after they have taught for six semesters, or they get two semesters of paid leave after teaching for 10 semesters. Tenured faculty members get a semester of leave for every five semesters they teach, or two semesters of leave for every eight semesters they teach.

Most of the positions are filled while faculty members are on leave, so abundant temporary teaching positions are available, Newton said.

After taking a position at the college last summer, Newton interviewed seven academic couples on campus to understand how partners got their jobs:

  • One took a one-year-leave-replacement faculty position, then a three-year-leave-replacement position, and then moved to the tenure track.
  • Three started as adjunct faculty members, then took leave-replacement positions, and then moved to the tenure track.
  • One started as an adjunct and has continued in that position.
  • Two accepted staff positions.

She asked couples how the college helped and hindered job placement. They shared good information.

What helped?

  • Open positions in the right fields. “You can’t plan that,” Newton said.
  • Fast action. Candidates for tenure-track jobs sometimes want to know if their partner will be employed before the deadline to accept the job.
  • Connections to positions. Job seekers need to know what faculty and staff positions are available.
  • Departments open to creative and flexible approaches.
  • Access to library resources.
  • Supportive faculty colleagues. Academics need those even if they’re not working full-time, Newton said.
  • Inclusion of adjuncts in departments. Being invited to meetings, events and discussions matters, Newton said.

What didn’t work

  • Stigma of the “academic couple.” After a bad experience elsewhere, one candidate was advised not to reveal her marital status until after getting an offer.
  • One-year positions that require national searches. Candidates are not eager to uproot partners for those jobs, Newton said.
  • Adjuncts not being aware of other positions. It’s important to continue communicating after hiring them, Newton said.
  • Adjuncts not being included at faculty orientation or on the listserv.

What should you do in an ideal world?

  • Offer incentives for departments that accommodate partners.
  • Consider creative solutions such as shared positions at the 2/3 plus 2/3 level.
  • Keep a database of employment opportunities in the region.
  • Improve communication between human resources (who hire for staff positions) and the provost’s or dean’s office.
  • Maintain a file of partners’ curriculum vitae in case positions can be offered strategically.

Consider job-sharing model

When Alice Shrock and her husband completed Ph.D.s in history in 1973, they had two goals — to join the faculty at a small, liberal arts college and to live together and start a family. “To combine equally the professional and private seemed the impossible dream,” said Shrock, associate academic dean for program development at Earlham College in Indiana. She spoke at the American Conference of Academic Deans Annual Meeting.

Other couples she and her husband knew were making hard choices about their personal and professional lives. One couple regularly drove four to six hours each to rendezvous at a turnpike exit.

Shrock and her husband proposed job-sharing to institutions with openings. Officials at three or so institutions decided there were too many questions to answer — who got an office, who was assigned a parking space, who voted at faculty meetings, etc.

But Earlham administrators liked that Shrock and her husband would bring a wider range of expertise to the department than the institution could gain with one faculty member.

Shrock and her husband have shared a position for 36 years. “I would recommend this to others,” she said.

A sympathetic department faculty, chair and academic dean are essential to making job-sharing work, Shrock said. “If they believe the situation has too many complications, it will,” she added.

Living on one salary has been the biggest challenge, Shrock said.

Earlham resolved issues that can arise with job-sharing couples with these solutions:

  • Office space. Shrock and her husband each have an office. Advising students is too difficult in a shared office, she said.
  • Voting. Earlham, a Quaker college, uses a consensus process to make decisions rather than asking faculty members to vote.
  • Professional development. Shrock and her husband both have access to professional development opportunities.
  • Teaching load. The teaching load is usually evenly divided between Shrock and her husband.
  • Contract. Shrock and her husband were considered for tenure as individuals. If one of them vacates half the position for any reason, the other has the right of first refusal to accept the full position alone. Salaries are paid separately.