Dual-career academic couples

There’s a new report out from Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research documenting the change in hiring practices at research universities with respect to dual-career couples. In their study, “academic couples comprise 36% of the American professoriate,” and the rate of couples-hiring “has increased from 3 percent in the 1970s to 13 percent since 2000.”

Chronicle subscribers can click here for the write-up; otherwise the executive summary and full report are both available online. The Clayman Institute has also launched a blog devoted to the logistical challenges of what used to be called the two-body problem, and even a Facebook group.

The report’s main conclusions–this is a big deal (of the 72% of surveyed faculty with employed partners, half were academics), employment status matters to couples, and universities need to be prepared for this–seem entirely appropriate.

Although A and I are both in the same department, we were not a couples hire in the sense used by this report; rather, A won out in a national search a couple of years after I was hired. And so we can vouch for the report’s conclusions in one sense: that employment status matters a lot. With 2 tenure-line appointments, it’s pretty unlikely that we’d ever move–or, at least, it would take a comparable situation for us to even begin to think about it. One way for colleges to compete for faculty is definitely to attend to partner hires. And, without getting too specific about this, I think it’s fair to say that we also believe that universities should think more seriously and explicitly about couples hiring than they usually do. There are hard questions of faculty recruitment and retention, fairness, faculty control over hiring, the balance between an optimistic view of academic partnerships, and the realities of contemporary divorce statistics–relying on the good intentions of people is not enough. (For example: A national search that results in a spousal hire will *always* be interpreted in diametrically opposite ways: some will say that it validates the candidate, while others will say it wasn’t a ‘real’ search, that various thumbs were on the scale.)

That we’ve been treated well by our own department doesn’t moot the problem.

Update: Be sure to check out Bill Wandless’s thoughts on this issue, viewed from the idiosyncratic position of the single male professor. I think that the correct answer to this problem is for grad students not to pair up, and for professors, by and large, not to mack on students, but both developments seem unlikely. (I know from experience: I met A in graduate school, and I also had a very early marriage . . . to a professor.)

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