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Dual Faculty Careers

Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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Not surprisingly, we found that early-career faculty typically decided where to go based on who received the first job offer. Considering that in the United States 35 percent of male faculty and 40 percent of female faculty are coupled with another academic, negotiating dual careers is becoming an increasingly important issue (Astin St Milem, 1997). Though it is possible to understand from a theoretical perspective the stressors for dual-career academics, their stories bring to life the trauma that many experience



The posting below looks at the experiences of several dual career couples in academia. It is from Chapter 2, Making It Work: Having Life Partners, in the book, Helping Faculty Find Work-Life Balance: The Path Toward Family-Friendly Institutions, by Maike Ingrid Philipsen and Timothy B. Bostic. Published by Jossey-Bass: A Wiley Imprint. 989 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103-1741 []. Copyright © 2010 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: The Chair's Role in Facilitating a Collegial Department



Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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Dual Faculty Careers


Aptly, Wolf-Wendel, Twombly, and Rice (2003) titled their book about dual-career couples in the academy The Two-Body Problem. The job market for academics is typically a national one, and newly hired faculty may have to move long distances. Given the scarcity of jobs in many disciplines, and the selectiveness involved especially in awarding tenure-track positions, couples may indeed face a \"two-body problem,\" particularly if the so-called trailing partner is also an academic. Regardless of the institutional affiliation of the men or women in our studies, the challenge inherent in two academics looking for work was prevalent. Fortunately, a number of institutions are beginning to acknowledge this reality.

Not surprisingly, we found that early-career faculty typically decided where to go based on who received the first job offer. Considering that in the United States 35 percent of male faculty and 40 percent of female faculty are coupled with another academic, negotiating dual careers is becoming an increasingly important issue (Astin St Milem, 1997). Though it is possible to understand from a theoretical perspective the stressors for dual-career academics, their stories bring to life the trauma that many experience.

Given that many of the men at early and midpoints of their careers have partners who work outside the home, they needed to learn to manage their personal and professional responsibilities accordingly. They had to make compromises in order for both people in the relationship to be able to pursue a career. Professor Ampofo and his wife, for example, face the challenges typical of scholars in similar fields. They were married in graduate school, and because he was the first to find a job after completing his dissertation, his wife moved with him to a small university. However, due to the rural nature of the location, her employment opportunities were limited. The couple decided to look for work in a geographical area home to several institutions of higher education and, indeed, both secured tenure-track positions. However, they now live about one hour from his campus and about twenty minutes from hers. They only partly solved the dual-body problem: their situation created problems that, as he put it, require \"constant negotiations.\"


Dr. Allison and his wife are both in the same department at a public comprehensive university. As the institution has no spousal/partner hire policy, he initially followed her to the area and taught as a lecturer at a university nearby. After her second year, he was able to obtain a tenure-track position in her department. He believes that their \"situation worked out well\" but is quick to point out that they have \"been lucky in terms of. . . two people who are in academe\" because he knows \"lots of people where it was not easy finding jobs in the same area.\" Dr. Mahoney at the same institution, for instance, is well aware of his career limitations because of the \"two-body problems.\" He did not apply for a position at a more prestigious institution because his significant other would have been unable to find work. Looking back at previous generations, he concludes, \"That is the kind of thing I could have done if it were a traditional arrangement. But you know you can't do that when you have a partner.\"

It seems that only in a few instances are both partners able to craft the kind of situation described by Dr. Allison. For most, managing two careers creates the need for compromise. Junior Professor Daughtrey worked out a job-sharing deal that allowed him to enter the tenure track. His wife has received tenure at the university before he obtained the job. He believes the institution's desire to keep his wife happy motivated it to find a solution to the couple's dilemma. The arrangement caused him to feel a moral obligation not to fail: \"People have to realize that every situation is different, that there isn't one size fits all, and everybody has to be open to creative solutions, and it all depends on the place you're at, too. There are a lot of places still that would never contemplate doing this type of arrangement. If I feel pressure, it's in that respect. I feel like I have to make this work; otherwise, I'll be sort of closing the book on people in the future.\"

Midcareer Professor Eggleston highlights the need for academic couples to make compromises. He and his wife went on the job market determined to entertain offers only from institutions ready to hire both of them. \"We were down to four schools that were willing to make offers to both of us. And so we really eliminated every other option. But each of us probably could have had a more prominent position if they didn't consider the offers available to the other one.\" Dr. Molina at the Community College knows that because his wife did not take on progressively more demanding positions when their children were small, she wants the opportunity to do so now. He finds himself agreeable to her desire to take an administrative role that requires him to shoulder more of the domestic responsibilities and thinks they \"might end up doing that back and forth over the next several years...I think that works really well.\" Clearly, he is willing to make the requisite concessions to enable his wife \"to have her turn\" in crafting the career she desires.

Unfortunately, even if both partners are open to compromise their careers in some ways, logistical problems may well increase the stress of dual-career academics trying to balance their personal and professional responsibilities. Dr. Dennison serves as an example. For a while he commuted from his place of employment on the East Coast to the Midwest where his wife had a faculty appointment. When the strain became too great, she found a position on the East Coast, but it is still a four-hour commute from his institution. He knows that the \"set of conflicts that we clearly resolved in one way [were not resolved] without consequences. It caused his wife to get \"quite depressed about where her professional life has taken her,\" and the compromise has left both feeling either professionally or personally frustrated. Because his wife's appointment is in a city so far away, she now stays gone for part of the week, rendering Dr. Dennison the single father of their five-old twins. He feels tremendously stressed and, in his own words, \"vulnerable.\" His marriage is slipping, and it has much to do with the extreme strains that the commuter and dual-career couples face. In order to get everything done, Dr. Dennison gets up at 4:00 a.m., and so he goes to bed right after he puts his children down. \"That means I do absolutely nothing at night,\" he says. \"That's a coping strategy; it also has painful consequences.\" His wife does not share his schedule, and so \"we're sort of crossing paths. Times for intimacy and times for exchanging information and thoughts and stuff are harder to come by because of my schedule. So it's coping in one sense, but the opposite in another.\"

Though these kinds of problems are more common nowadays, they did exist in the past. The women's study uncovered a harrowing story of a dual-career couple and the human cost it exacted because institutions were not concerned. Seventy-five-year-old chemistry Professor Amici has spent fifty years as a scholar in her field. Her native country is Italy, where she received her Ph.D. at age twenty-five. She worked in places that were at the top of her field at the time, such as Oxford University and the University of Milano. In 1960, she met an American scientist at an international conference. They got married, and she emigrated to the United States in 1961, where her husband had a university appointment. She was thirty-one years old. \"At that time, there were no women in [my field] in the United States,\" Dr. Amici says. \"There were some in Europe. Because Europe was about 20 to 25 years ahead of the United States in so-called women's rights.\" She was completely ignored, she recalls, and yet she wanted to keep working. So for 14 years she worked as an unpaid post-doctorate at her husband's institution, doing research and helping him. She worked essentially full-time, she says, but she did not have an academic appointment. The couple wrote books together that gained national recognition, but she was never granted a position at the university. When their youngest child was about two years old, Dr. Amici's husband intervened. She remembers:

My husband said if you wait any longer, it will be too late for you to start a career again. So, he said, I will spread the word, because he was very well known, that I will move if they give you a position. So he was willing to give up his very well established situation so that I could get a chance. He did get offered an endowed chair at a university, and they offered me a position as a full professor, because I was qualified. Even though I had stopped working, I had papers published and books written.

Considering the stress associated with dual-career academics and their quest for receptive institutions, it is not surprising that a number of publications address this issue (Ferber & Loeb, I997; Gappa, Austin, & Trice, 2007; Norrell & Norrell, 1996; Wolf-Wendel,  Twombly, & Rice, 2003). The need for policies that help support dual-career couples is clear, yet at the institutions where both of our studies were conducted, the absence of any effective policies was striking.

Regarding spousal/partner hiring, Public Comprehensive's faculty handbook states that \"the vice-president of the search for which the spouse is an external candidate is allowed to request of the president of the university that the spouse be hired.\" It is emphasized that funding for the position must be made available, and that consultation with the dean, provost, faculty, department chair, and so on have to occur before an informal offer may be made. Despite the policy's existence on paper, however, interviews revealed that no one on campus seemed aware of it. Process and policy are in place, but they do not seem to be communicated to people instrumental in the implementation process.

Metropolitan makes mention of spousal hiring in its guide to recruiting diverse faculty. However, the onus is placed on the search committee, which is encouraged to locate available campus resources and even set up job interviews. As a caveat, the guide informs search committee members that they do not need to broach the subject if the candidate does not bring it up. Thus, although both institutions are aware of the needs of dual-career couples, neither has a codified system for handling them.

Flagship University has no spousal/partner hiring policy that is obtainable. A spousal employment link exists on the website, but when clicked, nothing appears on the screen but an error page. Private Comprehensive does not have a spousal/partner hire policy. In an in-house publication about Private Comprehensive's policy, the interim provost stated that the institution tries \"to help when we hire a faculty member who has a 'trailing spouse.'\" In the case of the two HBCUs and Community College, the policy search turned into a depressing enterprise. No spousal/partner hiring information was to be found. Fortunately, there are institutions that possess more effective policies geared at alleviating the two-body problem. It is to the exemplary institutions that we now turn.


Astin, H.S., & Milem, J.F. (1997). The status of academic couples in U.S. institutions. In M.A Ferber & J. W. Loeb (Eds.), Academic couples: Problems and promises (pp. 128-155). Urbana: University of Illinois

Ferber, M.A., & Leob, J.W. (1997). Introduction. In M.A Ferber & J. W. Loeb (Eds.), Academic couples: Problems and promises (pp. 1-24). Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Gappa, J.M., Astin, A.E., & Trice, A.G. (2007). Rethinking faculty work: Higher education's strategic imperative. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Norrell, J.E., & Norrell, T.H. (1996). Faculty and family policies in higher education. Journal of Family Issues, 17(2), 204-226.

Wolf-Wendel, L.E., Twombly, S.B., & Rice, S. (2003). The two-body problem: Dual-career-couple hiring policies in higher education. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.