A scheme to facilitate spousal/ partner hiring

Overall rationale:

There are many reasons why faculty partners have difficulty finding employment in the same area. One major obstacle, which this plan addresses, occurs when institutions, or departments within an institution, feel that partner hiring would require them to appoint to their line someone whom they wouldn’t have chosen in open competition. Another obstacle is the resentment that builds when partner hiring happens inconsistently, e.g., if only when the candidate or faculty member has clout, and through negotiations only before taking up an appointment. The plan and mechanism to follow depends not on ad hoc decisions, but on a pool of lines created as a “tax” on all, with the degree of tax adjusted according to perceived needs.

Basic plan:
1. Institutions should initiate the creation of a consortium of colleges within commuting distance of each other and this consortium should “create” (see Mechanism below) a consortium-wide pool of “partner hiring lines” reserved for spouses and domestic partners of current faculty and of people to whom a faculty appointment is offered in the future.
2. If, during a normal search, a department has short-listed a candidate (“partner I”) who wants their partner (“partner II”) considered for an academic job in the area, notice would be sent out to relevant departments in the consortium.
3. Any department could then interview partner II and, if satisfied that the person meets their standards, apply to appoint them using a line from this pool, conditional on partner I being offered and accepting the job for which they were a candidate. Similarly, someone already appointed could ask for their partner to be considered for a partner hiring line in the consortium.
4. The line stays with the department (and institution) only as long as the appointee does (irrespective of any change in the marital/ partnership status of the couple). The appointee goes through normal tenure and promotion decisions, free from the ill-feeling that comes from occupying a line that some people in the department thought might have gone to a better candidate, or at least to one more suited to the department’s perceived needs at that time.
5. This plan does not eliminate the possible stigma attached to a recipient of a partner hiring line, but given that the appointee is reviewed after their appointment on normal terms (see point 4 above), any stigma should be minimized.
6. The plan could be adjusted to cover partners who do not want to be on the professorial track, but instead to have long-term research appointments or lectureships.
7. This plan is not intended to redress all inequities or to supplant other efforts to address the problems of dual academic career couples, let alone dual academic-other career couples, in the same area.
8. Although this plan should not be linked with or substitute for other efforts to promote diversity and equity at these institutions, it would, given that a majority of the “partner II’s” will be women, help in such efforts.

Mechanism to create the pool:

1. No increase in the number of lines funded or endowed is required, nor are lines taken away from departments and institutions. Instead, a pool of additional partner hiring lines is “created” by delaying rehiring after retirements or resignations. This would work as follows:
2. Consider the faculty lines in the consortium as a whole. Suppose this numbers 2000.
3. The consortium decides on the ratio of partner-hiring lines to existing normal lines. Suppose this is 1:50. That is, once the plan gets going, there should be at any time 40 partner hiring lines either occupied or in the pool.
4. This pool should be built up over time by departments delaying rehiring for six months or a year longer than usual after retirements or resignations. (If there are already freezes related to budgetary conditions, the delay would be added to the length of the freeze.)
5. The exact length of the delay needs to be calculated using actual figures. However, suppose the average length of an appointment is 25 years, then delaying each normal appointment by six months should be sufficient to maintain a pool of partner hiring lines equal to 2% of the number of normal lines.
6. The size of the pool could be reduced if the need diminishes by not returning a vacated partner hiring line to the pool and reducing the delay time correspondingly. Conversely, if partner un(der)employment becomes (or is seen to become) more serious, then the consortium can decide to increase the delay time and pool.

Details & options

1. Small departments or departments with a run of vacancies may find it harder to cover courses and other tasks during the delay in rehiring. Contingency money (perhaps also drawn from the pool) to hire a recent Ph.D. student as lecturer (or adjunct or visting assistant professor) could be made available by application in these circumstances. In general, however, the “hole” from the hiring delay might be viewed by faculty as a shared burden, necessitated by the pursuit of partner employment in the same area
2. Competition for partner hiring lines. In any year — especially when this plan is first implemented — there may be more requests for partner hiring lines than are available in the pool. A deadline for requests could be set (say, April 1st). A consortium wide committee would then decide quickly the slate of departments authorized to offer the partner II’s an appointment (conditional on the partner I’s being offered and accepting their job), and which departments are alternates. The slate would not take into account calculations of the likelihood of candidates accepting the job offer if partner II is not offered a partner hiring line. Instead, the decision would be made by lottery, perhaps weighted towards those institutions and departments which have.not “won” in their previous entries into the lottery.
3. An alternative to delaying every rehire by a set number of months, say, 6, would be to delay every second re-hire by a year. In this case departments and institutions would have to take turns in proportion to their size (in faculty lines).
4. Although the procedure of filling partner hiring lines would not involve a nationally advertized search, the fact that partner hiring lines were “created” by the delay mechanism above should enable this plan or some equivalent to be implemented legally.
5. In order to keep some lines in the pool for new hirings, there may have to be a limit on the proportion of the partner hiring lines available in any year that are given for partners of existing faculty, say 50%.

**Please adopt, adapt, and critique this scheme**
(See related scheme to improve equity & diversity in faculty appointments and website on partner hiring.)

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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

One Response to A scheme to facilitate spousal/ partner hiring

  1. Pingback: Supporting interdisciplinary faculty members (Day 5 of Learning Road Trip) « Probe—Create Change—Reflect

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