Sunday, August 15, 2010

Never Mix, Never Worry: A Brief (And Incomplete) History Of The Academic Couple

Push your way past the Katie Roiphe essay on page 2 of the New York Times "Sunday Styles" section today (yes, this conservative anti-feminist really does seem to own the column named "Cultural Studies," which is an irony, is it not, given what cultural studies represents on the academic left? Does Roiphe know this? One suspects not.) Make your way to "Modern Love," where Boston College Shakespeare scholar Caroline Bicks, who also blogs at Academic Shakespeare, writes about academic commuting. In "Is The Husband Going To Be A Problem?" she addresses going on the job market as a couple, commonly known in academia as "the two body problem." She also mentions what I think is probably a widespread experience: Bicks' husband was never asked about what would happen to her on his interviews; but whether he would be a "hiring issue" was an anxious subtext of her interviews, a question that was conveyed to her in a way that was highly informal, irregular and effective. No, no, she reassured them, via her advisor; he's not an issue. We are ready to do whatever it takes.

In case you wondered, this is how women are disciplined not even to ask for the things men just get (like being treated with respect); and how we are trained not even to think about what we might need or want to do a job and have a life at the same time, since we should feel so damned lucky to be there in the first place.

If you are about to go on the job market, or are already a young commuting couple, read this: it is a story that has its hitches, but it ends happily: they live together, in the same city, with a daughter who didn't sleep through the night until she was almost five.

Academic commuting is an historically recent phenomenon, but not so recent that universities have not had time to address the problem -- and drop the ball instead. Once women decided to stop baking cookies for their husband's seminars and type manuscripts for love and pin money, it occurred to them get their own advanced degrees (it was around the mid 1960s, when women's liberation really took off, Katie Roiphe) and have their own careers. Prior to the mid-1970s, in other words, there was no two-body problem: the wife, awarded to the husband some time after his BA but prior to his hooding as a Ph.D., came along in the moving van along with the furniture and books.

Legend has it that at Zenith, when women began to be appointed as tenure-track faculty, it was such a seismic shock to the system that no one knew what to do with them socially. The first few of these pioneer women were, legend also has it, put in the odd position of having to navigate well-meant invitations to a faculty wives' lunch club. Indeed, when Zenith alumni of my age and older recall the happy days of intimate seminars held in professors' homes, they may have only a very vague memory of the unobtrusive (little) woman who kept the children out of the way, cleaned and dusted the house, baked the cookies, and washed the sherry glasses at the end of the day.



It wasn't a pretty life for everyone. Growing up in the nexus of three well-regarded liberal arts colleges and one Ivy League University, take it from me that a lot of these women resented the hell out of their second-class status. More than a few were closet drinkers and maintained a low-level buzz all day (you know, the ones that "went to the bathroom" just a few too many times a day, and kept a bottle of vodka in a locked glove compartment in the car.) In the Mad Men era (which is exactly when I grew up) men were capable of spacing out a great deal, particularly when it was in their own self interest, but let me just say that Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is worth a little look-see for you couples out there who are considering ditching wify's career in order to live and raise your children in the same city.

There are a variety of reasons that colleges and universities have never come to some comprehensive solution to the two-person academic career, a problem that is now acknowledged to include queer people. None of them are good, and none address the stress induced by commuting academic careers that invariably falls hardest on women. A partner hire is most frequently thought of as an exceptional event akin to a prize: in order to get "him," you shoehorn another department or program into taking "her;" in order to keep "her" in the face of an outside offer, a department is cajoled into interviewing "her." The best possible scenario is the one least available to most of us: to be thought of as a "power couple" in the field, a kind of academic Ferdinand and Isabella scenario where 1 + 1 = more than 2.

Why can't we solve this problem? Well, two reasons.

Adding tenure-track faculty lines is far down, and in many cases not even on, the list of institutional priorities for most universities. There are very few exceptions to this rule, and the only one I can think of off the top of my head is Franklin & Marshall, a liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, which often agrees to create an extra half line for partner hires. Each member of the partnership is tenure-track and each occupies 3/4 of a line. Who is the big winner here? Franklin & Marshall, of course: they get two faculty for the price of 1.5 -- and who knows what it means to work 3/4 time at a liberal arts college? My guess is that both members of the couple are working full-time for 3/4 pay. Franklin & Marshall also gets to keep faculty who might otherwise want to escape Lancaster, PA, because what other schools have any partner hire policy at all?

Add to this the following fact: the bad job market is not a natural phenomenon. It is not going to magically correct itself when the economy improves. The bad job market has been entirely manufactured by colleges, universities and state legislatures who are unwilling to create the number of full-time positions that they need to teach the students they have. Until there is some kind of effective social movement of students and faculty to correct this, Boards of Trustees and administrations will continue to shrink faculties, particularly in the liberal arts. In this atmosphere of scarcity, the idea that faculty lines would be created for two-career couples is unthinkable.

The fiction that academic hiring is, and should be, a meritocracy in which those awarded jobs and tenure are understood to be the "best." Hiring, particularly in an expanded market, could be a mix of competitive searches and opportunity appointments -- which, in fact, is now the case at the most senior levels and at the lowest adjunct levels. But right now there is no constituency advocating for this, except the people who are running to the airport on Thursday at 3:30.

The worst offenders, in my view, are departments, who think the world is going to come to an end if they hires a 19th century economic historian rather than a 19th century political historian; or if the political historian spouse turns out to be an African Americanist ("Shriek!!! We've already got one of those!!!!") Departments are usually utterly unwelcoming to candidates -- no matter how promising -- who do not fit an exact niche that has been decided upon in endless department meetings, received the dean's stamp of approval, been searched for, and been vetted as part of a vast pool of candidates -- by them. Being a spouse of someone already on the faculty can hurt you as a candidate, because it launches grumbling about whether the department will be "forced" to take you. The hiring mentality often includes a form of magical thinking that goes like this: if, out of 100 candidates, we picked Assistant Professor X -- then we can be assured that s/he is the best!

You are getting my point here? "We picked hir = s/he is the best." If you don't go through "the hiring process," no one can be certain that you are the best.

But graduate students have drunk the Kool-Aid too, and are just as invested in the idea of meritocracy as faculty are, if not more so. Take a look at the job wikis, if you don't believe me, and the number of people who seem to honestly believe that they were objectively more deserving of a given job than the person who actually got it. How is it that people think they know they were the best candidate? Gave the best talk? Wrote the best dissertation? Wore the prettiest shoes? I dunno. I suppose this kind of hubris is a good way of maintaining your self-esteem in a brutal job market, but it is also insane. Thus, one of the constituencies that is most harmed by the "two-body problem" is also not likely to accept a solution in which people are awarded jobs without clawing their way to the top of the application pile and being brutally hazed by search committees first.

So good luck to all of you on the market this year. And by the way, if you are on a search committee, you might want to know that what happened to Caroline Bicks during her interview process is not just sexist, it's against federal law: asking about, or considering, a candidate's marital status part of the selection process is a major-league no-no, regardless of the candidate's gender and sexual orientation. Here's a complete list of things you can't be asked at an interview.

41 comments:

Winter said...

I was asked about my marital status in every single job interview I was on other than my current tenure track position. I think that was about 7/8 job interviews.

My husband is going on the market this year and our only real hope is for him to land a position at a school that is willing to offer me a spousal hire. (He's in solar research, I'm in the humanities.) Since his research is portable to industry, we're not going to take any position without something tenure-track for me. In my field there are a lot of departments with almost no women tenured or on the tenure track. If I were to be added to a department like that I would feel no guilt at all.

collegereadywriting said...

I'm going through this exact situation right now. I gave up my TT job because a) his was a better position and b) I'm in Engish, thus much more "employable," especially if I'm willing to adjunct. I spent the last year being miserable. I lucked out and got a full-time job as an instructor, but only because the budget line was approved at the last minute, and thus couldn't do a national search. I was then told by my new coworkers that there won't be another tenure-track line for a long time, and even if there is, it won't be in my specialty (which is pretty much a generalist at this point). In this market, I am thankful for a job, benefits, colleagues, and some research support (I have travel money!), but it still stings to be the plus-one "problem." Thankfully, my husband has no problem allowing my problem to become his problem and thus the university's problem.

Great post. Thanks.

PhDeviate said...

I'll be on the job market this year and if I get interviews (::hopes::) I wonder about this: Many many women report being asked about marital status. The interviews I've been to before this process were either when I was young enough (18-22) that no one thought to ask, or for part-time or other non-permanent positions for which I don't think that the *interviewers* think they have as much of a horse in the race of my marital status.

So what I wonder, since I present pretty readably queer, I would once have assumed that would lower the chance of being asked. However, I live in Massachusetts. Do you think that someone interviewers assume is a lesbian (many people do) will now be asked about marital status as often? And if so... um... yay progress?

Clarissa said...

I know very well what it is like to rush to the airport on Thursdays, right after my classes end. But as difficult that it has been to be a commuting couple, we refused the offer fo a spousal hire for my husband.

Spousal hires are unfair, wrong and detrimental to the academia. In every university where I studied or worked, I have seen the practice of spousal hiring employed as a result of the most egregious nepotism. The saddest part is when students come to class (and pay their tuition bills) completely in earnest without a slightests suspicion that their "professor's" only qualification for being in that classroom in the first place is that they are sleeping with the right person.

I have also seen fake academic searches being conducted when the decision has already been made to hire "the souse of our esteemed colleague." Of course, nobody informs the poor candidates who come to the campus visit in all sincerity, prepare their job talk and go through the grueling interviews that all they are doing is one huge joke.

In case when it is absolutely necessary to make a spousal hire (like when an academic star threatens to reject the offer if their spouse is not accommodated), I suggest that the catalogue of course offerings should honestly inform students of all courses taught by spousal hires. Of course, I don't think anybody will enroll in such courses, but don't we owe it to the students to be honest with them about this?

Clarissa said...

As for the questions about one's personal life, of course you always get asked those questions. And, of course, they are completely illegal. But how can one avoid answering them and still hope to be hired? When I went on the job market the year before last (and the year before that), the situation was so dire that, honestly, I couldn't afford the risk of antagonizing prospective employers.

Winter said...

Clarissa, your experience of spousal hires is different than those at the institutions I am familiar with. In fact, a worse problem is that excellent scholars married to excellent scholars have their work evaluated on a different scale because they were a spousal hire or perceived to be one. My experience, however, is exclusively at R1s.

But, then again, it seems like you have bought into the lie that academia is a meritocracy. From where I stand, people get jobs because they're white men, they get them because they're not white men, they get them because the school only hires from Ivies no matter the quality of the programs, they get them because they made a better impression at the search committee dinner, they get jobs because they have a stay at home spouse. And they get jobs because their spouse has a job.

I don't live in a world where any of these things can be corrected without a major overhaul of the academy, and until that happens I respect any scholar whose work is of sufficient merit for a school to want them.

Your second comment indicates, as well, that instead of trying to make the world a better place and rejecting the abuse and suspicion many institutions have about hiring female faculty... you tell us about how you couldn't avoid "antagonizing prospective employers."

KellysIrishRed said...

I'd love to say something articulate, but I'm just going to gush. This is a brilliant post, and as do many of your other posts, gets right to the heart of the challenge of being a feminist, and a professional, and actually wanting to share your life with something or someone beyond your ipod and maybe a goldfish.

I'm also in the position of being in the writing phase of my dissertation (European history) with a partner who is in Electrical Engineering (solar astronomy), finishing his PhD this summer, and starting a position in academic research in the fall. It's wonderful that one of us are employed, but his starting salary is already significantly more than that of a starting tenure track assistant professor in my dept at our home university. While I am thrilled that living in the middle of nowhere + his salary = I get to write full time for the first time, I'm nervous about what happens when I finish and the salary math is always in his favor. Fortunately we talk about it regularly and, having been raised by a feminist and partnered to me, we are both very careful to consider our partner's needs on par with our own -and that the $$ is not the end all be all if compromise is possible for both people to pursue careers. But we also recognize the reality of my job market and I'm scared about what happens to my career when we feel constrained by the societal reality (can I blame capitalism here?) that scientists/engineers are paid more than historians.

manan said...

TR, why are you so sensible? And why are you the only one? Could you please become president of every university?

Dr. Crazy said...

For what it's worth, in my experience at my university it's more frequently been men who've been hired on as trailing spouses, and then, awesomely, the woman who actually was hired in an open search becomes the satellite of the spousal hire, the dude whom "we're so lucky to have!"

When it's the reverse (dual-academic couple with wife trailing husband), it does seem that everybody's a lot more comfortable with the idea of the wife adjuncting, and nobody thinks we're lucky to have her or even gives her career aspirations a second thought. I mean, she's a wife first, right?

Tenured Radical said...

Great comments: Manan, we think alike as always.

And PhDeviate, although I know you mean well, but I fear you have drunk the gay marriage Kool-Aid: it is not progress for queers to be asked about their marital status just like straights. It opens the door to discrimination against the candidate (two bodies, or perhaps cast under a halo of suspicion for being middle-aged and still single -- what's wrong with hir?); or seen as "more stable" than the single candidates.

As an aside: I've interviewed plenty of straight people who "read" as queer to the stuffier members of the committee because they wore urban styles, but were not. Listening to people -- some of whom I would have imagined as capable of better - talk about that in code ("the fit isn't quite right") is really vile and is another strike against the idea of meritocracy.

Anonymous said...

TR, if memory serves me correctly, in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Elizabeth Taylor didn't exactly play the role you describe of "the unobtrusive (little) woman who kept the children out of the way, cleaned and dusted the house, baked the cookies, and washed the sherry glasses at the end of the day". I'm sure that the young couple who were guests that evening never forgot either one of their hosts!

Why should the powers that be create tenure-track positions to teach the students they have when adjunct faculty and other part-timers do a perfectly adequate job at a fraction of the cost? I am afraid that tenure-track faculty are in the same position as other American workers--having to compete with competent low-cost labor. It may not have toppled over yet, but tenure is dead.

JackDanielsBlack

Anonymous said...

"...Spousal hires are unfair, wrong and detrimental to the academia. In every university where I studied or worked, I have seen the practice of spousal hiring employed as a result of the most egregious nepotism. The saddest part is when students come to class (and pay their tuition bills) completely in earnest without a slightests suspicion that their 'professor's' only qualification for being in that classroom in the first place is that they are sleeping with the right person..."

"...But, then again, it seems like you have bought into the lie that academia is a meritocracy. From where I stand, people get jobs because they're white men, they get them because they're not white men, they get them because the school only hires from Ivies no matter the quality of the programs, they get them because they made a better impression at the search committee dinner, they get jobs because they have a stay at home spouse. And they get jobs because their spouse has a job.

"I don't live in a world where any of these things can be corrected without a major overhaul of the academy, and until that happens I respect any scholar whose work is of sufficient merit for a school to want them..."

Hmm...since you're cool with spousal hires, how about grad student stipends for "cosmetic" skin treatments and surgery when that's what it would take for a grad student to go from too-ugly-to-attract-and-keep-a-sex-partner to pretty-or-at-least-plain-enough to possibly qualify for a spousal hire? Adding one more type of stipend wouldn't be a major overhaul of the academy.

After all, no matter how skilled you are in research and teaching, you *still* can't be a spousal hire if you don't have enough sex appeal to be a spouse. You can't be a spouse if everybody available thinks you're too ugly to marry (and if anybody available who'd marry you sight unseen in an arranged marriage would think "too ugly to stay married to!" and demand a divorce after finding out what you look like).

"As for the questions about one's personal life, of course you always get asked those questions. And, of course, they are completely illegal. But how can one avoid answering them and still hope to be hired? When I went on the job market the year before last (and the year before that), the situation was so dire that, honestly, I couldn't afford the risk of antagonizing prospective employers."

I found some advice at these sites:

http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/10things/?p=229

http://jobsearch.about.com/od/interviewsnetworking/a/illegalinterv.htm

"...Your second comment indicates, as well, that instead of trying to make the world a better place and rejecting the abuse and suspicion many institutions have about hiring female faculty... you tell us about how you couldn't avoid "antagonizing prospective employers.'..."

How do you expect Clarissa to feed herself without being accepted by at least 1 potential employer (or potential customer if she leaves the academic track and tries to go into business for herself)?

*Do* you expect Clarissa to feed herself? Or do you think Clarissa's starved corpse might make a better statement for your cause?

Moria said...

Great post, TR, as ever. One thing: why the coy 'legend has it' regarding Zenith's early women faculty? Those women are still teaching at Zenith, and they are still telling those stories themselves, and they are only one short academic generation older than you are. That past is still very much present – it's not just a specter that haunts the current job market, it's ALIVE!, and intimately bound up with our current moment. Which, after all, is the point of your post, so: why be coy?

Another Damned Medievalist said...

whew -- great post as usual. I have to say, I like spousal hires, or at least the possibility of them. Right now, we have a brilliant administrator who is married to a brilliant teacher and scholar. I really want us to keep both, because they are so great for SLAC. And we have to jump through hoops to keep the spouse, when really, we're getting a bargain.


I disliked the column because it mentioned, but didn't highlight, a really important issue for both halves of the couple -- even with a spousal hire, there is no guarantee that a person will get tenure. I'm pretty sure that's a crappy situation, too

dance said...

Anonymous@3:23EST: where did you get this notion that ugly people can't get married? I know plenty of unattractive married people. Strawman logic.

Cosign to Winter--the academy is not a meritocracy, and in my experience, contra Clarissa, partner hires are plenty qualified for the jobs they get.

@Clarissa, "detrimental to academia"? How do you mean? (honest question, I've not seen it phrased that way before) Certainly if partner hires weren't expected to strengthen the institution, they wouldn't happen. They are not done out of the goodness of some adminstrator's heart, but out of selfish motives, as the Franklin & Marshall example makes SO clear.

dance said...

PS. But props to Clarissa for turning down a spousal hire offer! That is walking the walk with a vengeance, and deserves honor.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous@3:23EST: where did you get this notion that ugly people can't get married?..."

From *being* ugly instead of plain, and getting bullied for it.

"...I know plenty of unattractive married people..."

That's why I specified too-ugly-to-attract-and-keep-a-sex-partner. Obviously these people you mention aren't *that* ugly.

feMOMhist said...

Having solved the two body problem (not very well but still) I read that piece in the NYT with some interest.

At MFRU the spousal hires had all the status of lepers. Never mind that they were perfectly respectable scholars in their own right, the only way a spousal hire occurred was if the other half was a rock star. In the time I was there, not of the spousal appointments worked out (all divorces!).

I also echo the annoyance at the "fake search" when a uni finally does pony up a job for some poor spouse who has been adjuncting for a decade. Heck give the person the job, by all means, but don't drag some poor fucks out there to pad the search to make it look legit.

I find the trailing spouse situation far scarier as it is so much more common. In our circle of friends, sciDAD and I are the only double TT couple (excepting folks who met and married after coming to TT jobs). In all other cases save one, it is the wife who adjuncts while the hubby has the TT position.

the non-academic academics said...

Like everyone else, my husband and I just went through this. I am a biologist; he, a physicist. We both hold degrees from elite ivy's (not that that should matter), and both have sailed through our careers... until now. I got the TT faculty job of my dreams... literally, the one place I've always wanted to go. Yes, they asked if "he" would be an issue. I was straightforward and told them we would need a spousal hire given the geography of the school (but he's highly competitive - he had many TT offers of his own, he came with a ton of grant money in hand, and yes - even first-authored Nature papers - 2 of them). The department was psyched! They were THRILLED to get him as well as me (in fact, I went through a moment of insane and irrational jealousy where I actually worried that they only hired me in order to attract him, but I digress). In the end, my department needed to convince a more appropriate department (physics, math, or engineering) that they wanted my husband - which was easy. It came down to $ - the school (a state school) just didn't have the $ to hire us both. And since the school was geographically located in a place with no industry.... we turned it down. It was heartbreaking.

My point is that even for faculty who "get it", there often isn't institutional support (money) to make it happen. And trust me, this department fought to the highest of levels, and my husband (though not interviewed by them initially), had everyone drooling with his CV.

On the flipside, we both now have positions that we LOVE in another city. The economy sucks - no school could solve the two-body problem for us - so I now run an academically styled lab in a corporate non-profit institution (where I am constantly reminded by my academic colleagues that though I write grants, train grad students, and write papers.... I don't teach classes, and I'm not at a degree-granting institution... so I'm not technically academia). My hubby now runs a division of a major industry company and is the co-founder of a successful start-up. We were both bred by academia, but now neither of us are there.

Success or failure? We're not academics, but we do academic-y things...in the same city...and we're happy. I say success! But you should know that one of my mentors still says failure because we're not traditional academics. But we're not academics because the Academy couldn't solve the two-body-problem for us. Sigh.

Historiann said...

Ugh. So sad. All of this. Thanks for the reminder about who's responsible for the crisis in academic employment.

The belief that academic hiring is a pure meritocracy should be shattered by the time one has seen a search from the inside. Strangely, some faculty continue to be addicted to this belief in spite of all the evidence. Given market conditions, departments are looking for (mostly specious) reasons to narrow the list of finalists. There is absolutely nothing meritoractic about this.

That said, all of my friends who have academic partners found jobs close to each other eventually (if not in the same department.) But, like Bicks and her spouse, they spent several years living apart before finding jobs together.

I think it's important to establish yourself somewhere and demonstrate a commitment to your career if you want to have future employment options elsewhere. It's always a crapshoot, but I think it's much less likely that you'll ever find a job for your spouse (or at your spouse's institution) if you don't take a job and get your colleagues invested in your career.

Anonymous said...

GREAT post.

I was on the market ten or so years ago. ALWAYS asked about marital status. Husband was also on market in same field, never asked....

We finally ended up with good jobs together, as result of spousal hire.

Universities who are forward thinking enough to do spousal hires end up with two great people, both committed to the university, grateful for being given jobs together. Win win win.

I feel for person married to the engineer. Never let the money be the only reason for why one works. When our kids were little it made NO monetary sense for us both to be working with childcare costs etc etc. But it was never about the money, it was about equality and doing what one loves. Our relationship stayed great, while so many others floundered when one spouse gave up their career.

Difficult times I know. I feel for everyone on the market right now.

Ellie said...

"The bad job market has been entirely manufactured by colleges, universities and state legislatures who are unwilling to create the number of full-time positions that they need to teach the students they have. Until there is some kind of effective social movement of students and faculty to correct this, Boards of Trustees and administrations will continue to shrink faculties, particularly in the liberal arts."

Amen.

Urban Exile said...

THere you go, putting everyone's nose in reality again. You are incorrigible! Congrats on the New York Times piece!

FrauTech said...

Sorry I just wanted to clear something up...

It's not illegal to ask about a candidate's marital status. It's only illegal to make a hiring decision based on that. So a lot of things candidates are asked are not really "illegal" but of course HR departments suggest you never ASK those questions, because if you know the answer it's too easy to make a decision from that knowledge, and too easy for someone to sue you for making a decision off that (not that there's a lot of sueing in academia). Just wanted to clarify since a lot of people kept talking about that. Otherwise, great points TR, and agree with the commenter that said you need to be president of EVERY university!

Anonymous said...

Bicks is getting slammed at the Political Science rumor board, and mostly not for anti-feminist reasons. After a quick search determined this couple were NY Times wedding announcement sorts and she's a Harvard-Stanford daughter of the upper-classes, who has not been terribly productive, well, the merit-deluded posters have gotten pretty angry. A representative post:

"These whiny losers came from all that pedigree and privilege, parlayed it into 2 TT jobs, and managed to get 1 book written between the two of them? They had less written output than they had children. He deserved his fate and she should be retroactively denied tenure."

A bit harsh, but there is some truth there.
http://www.poliscijobrumors.com/topic.php?id=25413

Dr. Crazy said...

The thing about the poli-sci rumor board, though, is that those posting don't seem to understand that the research expectations in both English and in Classics are VERY different from in political science. So all of the venom being spewed seems to have very little to do with the actual essay or the actual merits of either Bicks or her husband.

Historiann said...

Right on to what Dr. Crazy said. No one on a "rumor board" knows what the tenure and promotion standards are where Bicks and her spouse teach, so they should STFU.

Besides, what is this, Lake Woebegone? We only deserve to have both a marriage and a job if we're all "above average?"

I h8 the internets.

Anonymous said...

"those posting don't seem to understand that the research expectations in both English and in Classics are VERY different from in political science."

I don't know about that. I just finished a 3-year term on our university wide faculty T&P board here at my unranked regional LAC. I saw the review files for 4 junior English faculty, and 3 had records better than Bicks -- that is, they had university press books and multiple articles in good journals. What they didn't have that Bick's does is Harvard/Stanford pedigree. Moreover, I served on the search we did for a classics position a few years ago, and we had 20+ applicants with books in print from good presses. So the assessment that her and her husband's work is perhaps a bit underwhelming is not unwarranted.

Dr. Crazy said...

@Anon 2:08 -
I see what you're saying. I don't really, though, see the point of debating Bicks' or her husband's cv. Whatever their cv's look like, the larger point of the article still holds, no?

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm lucky in that my spouse is an academic professional (i.e. non-faculty) and was still wrapping up a graduate degree when I was hired. After two years a position opened up and now we both work together at the same small liberal arts college.

That said, as a tenured department chair I have to agree with those who would panic at the idea of a "following" hire. I would never take someone in my department simply because some other department had hired her/his partner, nor would I expect the same of anyone else. While a full national search does not insure "the best" in any meaningful way, it has a much greater chance of finding the best fit for the department. In a small school like mine a department has no wiggle room in fields or specialties; we'd have to dramatically change our major if we were to hire someone outside the fields we target for a new position.

Young academic couples-- to which I am very sympathetic --need to realize they are very unlikely to find jobs in the same zip code. If they are in the same field (both philosophers, say, or worse, both continental philosophers) the chances are close to zero. They'd have better odds finding another partner-- or finding one willing to train/retrain for some field outside academia.

That doesn't make it right but that's the way the world works now.

Adam said...

However the world works at the moment, it does seem like universities might better acknowledge or work for the advantages of sometimes hiring couples. I work at a very SLAC (300 students) and stability of professors is worked for and valued, leading to multiple couples in our group (three married couples, so six out of around 40 tenured faculty - fairly high percentage). This makes a number of them much more dedicated to the university than they might be otherwise.
As an undergrad, my philosophy department actually hired two continental philosophers (seriously...that is exactly their department and field) into a 1.5 tenure track position not unlike TR mentioned for Franklin and Marchall. Again, this seems to be of great potential benefit to the university and I have not seen such hires where one is underqualified - I don't understand the fear of trying to work towards family friendliness in the Academy.

My two cents.

Anonymous said...

"I work at a very SLAC (300 students) and stability of professors is worked for and valued, leading to multiple couples in our group (three married couples, so six out of around 40 tenured faculty - fairly high percentage). This makes a number of them much more dedicated to the university than they might be otherwise."

I hope your SLAC doesn't advertise any of its departments' specialties to their students. Imagine hoping to major with a specialty your school and department have actively offered for years...

...only to have that option vanish your sophomore or junior year when the professor of that specialty retires and the school replaces her or him according to who's sleeping with* some other department's potential new hires instead of according to the applicants they get who can teach that specialty.

For example, suppose you're a linguistics major at a SLAC hoping to focus your senior-year studies on the sign languages option your school has advertised since even before you chose a college and major, and then the ASL linguistics professor emerita gets replaced with a non-signing Romance-languages-specializing linguist because he's the guy the new molecular biology professor sleeps with.*

If the Academy is going to continue its spousal-hire custom then students with interests more specific than "eh, whatever the [insert name of subject] department happens to have this year" would be better off choosing larger schools with more faculty per department and avoiding SLACs.

"...I don't understand the fear of trying to work towards family friendliness in the Academy."

How family friendly is giving a job applicant less of a chance because she's a single mother instead of married to an applicant for some other job?



* and to anyone who retorts with "but lots of sexual relationships aren't marriages!" or "but there's more to marriage than sex!" yes those are both true but they do *not* mean that (a) marriage has nothing to do with sex and (b) a marriage wasn't most probably a sexual relationship at some point

CC prof said...

When I was at my second interview for a community college position, holding my PhD, they asked me why I wanted the job. They wanted to be reassured that I didn't intend to jump ship to a research institution at the first opportunity.

I told them I liked teaching, I also told them my husband worked in the next county. It answered the question on all levels.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

"I guess I'm lucky in that my spouse is an academic professional (i.e. non-faculty) and was still wrapping up a graduate degree when I was hired. After two years a position opened up and now we both work together at the same small liberal arts college."

Lucky indeed. Or more likely, either officially or unofficially, your position helped your partner land the job and it has worked toward better retention for you both. So it seems self-serving to state that it just so happened to work out for you, but you wouldn't want to help out anyone else unless s/he fit your very narrow criteria of what is "best" for your department.

Also, as far as the question of a good fit goes more generally, spousal hires can be excellent along these lines since often people know the institution fairly well through their spouse or as an adjunct prior to application. Everyone knows what they are getting into, as it were, as opposed to trying to determine whether or not someone who seems good in an interview really will thrive in the culture or not.

Not to mention, the ongoing stress and resentment that can occur in a once congenial department after a spouse has been rejected should not be taken lightly. Unless we want to continue fostering an environment of bitter, lonely academics we need to start realizing that the person need not be the "best of the best" to make for the best situation for all involved.

Doctor Cleveland said...

This is a wonderful post, TR. Your point, and Historiann's, about the market not being purely meritocratic, are right on the money.

The question "Who deserves the job?" overlooks the basic fact: there are always a number of candidates who deserve the job. Most of the people who get rejected deserve a job. But there's only one salary for all of those deserving people. You can deserve a job and not get even a preliminary interview.

Every job search makes a preferential selection from among the (pretty large) number of qualified and richly deserving candidates. As TR says, many

(It's funny because this is exactly how elite college admissions work ... choosing the students the school likes best from a much larger pool of candidates who would do well at the school. Many academics, who were chosen through exactly this process for their undergraduate schools, seemingly refuse to grasp how it works.)

The idea that spousal hires/affirmative action hires/opportunity hires somehow cheat "the deserving candidate" presumes that a single candidate is the deserving candidate, as if there were some magically clear and indisputable list, with the deserving arranged in a transcendentally lucid order. Complaints about "fairness" are often complaints about people being hired instead of people who are imagined as higher on the imaginary list ... but no such list exists. There is not a most qualified person. There are a number of exceptionally qualified people, almost all of whom would turn out to be fabulous colleagues.

Amy said...

It is a successful conclusion from the point of Bick’s relationship with her husband. The husband’s first career ended and he had to reinvent him. As I know from personal experience this can be very difficult. If the woman had to give up her chosen academic career but got to live in the same city with her husband and children would it still be a successful conclusion?

Was feminism really as straight forward and simple as women making a conscious choice to stop baking cookies and get PhDs? I guess there were not any social forces that kept them baking and no changes that enabled woman to have more options, in both career and personal life.

College campuses across America have scholarship funds for women returning to school, loans for students, funds for campus beautification and wings in medical centers because of faculty wives. Apparently, these women found time to do other things besides baking cookies and becoming alcoholics.

I have a longer version of this comment on my blog amymittelman.com/musings

hopeful WGS/History lecturer said...

Oh this is all so very disheartening! If anyone is still following this thread, I have a question for which I'd be very grateful for your insight(s): Is it any more likely that a partner of someone being recruited for a tenured or tt position, especially if that partner happens to be in a teaching-centered discipline with a great deal of teaching experience under h/ir belt, might be able to negotiate a lectureship rather than a tt or an adjunct position? Am I totally naive to believe that if a stable position with respectable pay (not great, but not insultingly low adjunct pay/status) were on the table it could be seen as mutually beneficial to all? I mean, what humanities dept. isn't constantly trying to find people to teach intro level and survey courses? Couldn't a case be made to the powers that be that money would be saved in the long run with a qualified lecturer, and (not that everyone cares about this) the quality of teaching would perhaps be vastly improved to boot? Moreover, what if more than one program or department could fund the lectureship if the applicant/partner-of-tenured person crossed disciplinary lines with h/ir work and teaching? Wouldn't that be a position of strength in which to find oneself?

Please tell me this little scenario isn't crazy as this will be my situation in the academic year following this upcoming one and I really need to believe my choices won't be to either return to adjuncting (after years of holding a lectureship at an elite insitution) or give up on teaching altogether because it's all just become way too infuriating to endure! (Never wanted a tt job so that's a non -issue.)

Tenured Radical said...

It's not entirely crazy -- in fact, here at Zenith, my particular crowd does what we can to draw on well-qualified partners for replacement courses - although I can only recall once hiring a trailing sppuse as a full-timer.

My advice? Cut your deals coming in, whenever you can -- and rather than departments, which are fussbudgety about independence, look to the chronically understaffed programs for help with this.

hopeful WGS/History lecturer said...

Thanks, TR, for your sage advice. I am going to try to seek you out at the 2011 Berks (assuming you will be there) and tell you in person how much I enjoy your wisdom and wit. I've been following Tenured Radical almost since its inception and I hope it will go on for a very long time. I would write more about all the reasons I admire you but I have to go read a post about academic advising, as I do that and feel I could benefit from your insights.

Tenured Radical said...

*blush*

JoVE said...

catching up on blog reading after thunderstorm induced haitus. This is brilliant. Great points. Especially about meritocracy (which many seem to be sidestepping).

This: "the bad job market is not a natural phenomenon. It is not going to magically correct itself when the economy improves. The bad job market has been entirely manufactured by colleges, universities and state legislatures who are unwilling to create the number of full-time positions that they need to teach the students they have."

Needs to be put in the comments of every single article on the job market published in the CoHE and IHE.

And faculty associations/unions/whoever need to start seeing adjunct pay as their concern. I actively discourage PhDs from doing sessional teaching unless there is a very clear benefit (other than paying the rent, which they could do slinging lattes).