2 People, 1 Job, 36 Years

Husband-and-wife historians at Earlham have spent more than three decades sharing a job.
January 22, 2010

Alice Almond Shrock and Randall Shrock met in the fall of 1964, freshmen paired up to dissect a squid for an Earlham College biology class.

While not the most romantic start to a relationship, it was an auspicious one for the two historians. They’ve been together for more than four decades, teaching at their Richmond, Ind., alma mater, raising two daughters and, from time to time, coauthoring papers and coteaching classes.

But the Shrocks are no typical faculty couple. Beyond sharing a home, a family and an employer, the Shrocks have since 1974 shared a job, a single faculty position in Earlham’s history department.

Though Alice and Randall Shrock are not unique in sharing an appointment, they were pioneers in forging a path for spouses hoping to balance dual passions of scholarship and family. They’re also unique for sticking at it so long. Many of the professorial couples who share appointments do so for a few years, sometimes while looking for full-time jobs elsewhere or while raising children.

From their early married years through raising their daughters and beyond, the 60-something empty-nesters have split the work and pay of their academic job, along with the responsibilities of their personal lives. They’ve spent semesters living in Europe leading college-sponsored study abroad programs and have been able to take on administrative work without pressuring their department to find an outsider to pick up the slack.

To some couples, a shared job might seem like a nightmare, but not to the Shrocks. “Our marital dynamics have reinforced our sense of teamwork on the job,” Alice says. “There have been far many more ups than there were downs,” Randall adds.

Professorships shared between spouses in contemporary academe are rare but not unheard of, especially at small liberal arts colleges. Earlham has had a few others during the Shrocks’ time there, but they were the first.

Greg Mahler, who has been Earlham’s academic dean for the last few years, says the couple’s long-term collaboration is “a really successful example of a couple working together, helping each other and their institution.”

Especially for small institutions in remote locations, shared appointments are “exactly how a college should deal with dual career couples where both are in academics, often in the same department.” Deans “have to be philosophically prepared to do this kind of thing,” he adds, “otherwise it’s at the institution’s peril.”

In 1968, after graduating from Earlham, both went on to graduate school in history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. As they prepared to enter the job market, they realized they wanted to teach at a small liberal arts college where they could spend lots of time working closely with students.

It might not have been so tough to find jobs together in an area with many institutions or if they specialized in different fields, let alone different subject areas. But since both were American historians, Alice says, “we never imagined we’d be able to teach together in a small department,” especially as newly-minted Ph.D.’s.

The Shrocks wanted to build their careers and lives together. They knew a husband and wife with jobs in Ohio and Boston who on weekends met at a midway point in Pennsylvania and didn’t want to be like them. “We both wanted to maintain a professional life,” Alice says, “but we didn’t want to have a long-distance commuters’ marriage.”

Alice had read about primary and secondary school teachers who shared jobs and didn’t see any reason why the same couldn’t be done in higher education. They had also heard of a couple who took a shared appointment at one of the Claremont Colleges in southern California in the fall of 1973.

Earlham had just created a new position in its history department and they applied for the job separately, hoping to share the position. They made the same suggestion to at least two other institutions that were considering them. The colleges “didn’t quite know what to make of it,” she says. “They asked questions like, who gets the office? Who votes in the faculty meeting? Who gets access to internal research funds?” At Earlham, the eventual answers were both, neither and both. (Neither because Earlham is a Quaker institution and its committees make decisions by consensus.)

Though Earlham had some of those same questions, the college and department were “much more excited and willing” to consider the possibility, she says. As alumni, they were already familiar faces with a clear allegiance to the institution. While paying the salary of just one faculty member, she adds, the college got “two professionals and two advisers,” a compelling enough argument, along with their scholarship, to get the Shrocks the job. Both started work in 1974, he in January and she in September.

The couple got the job, Alice says, because “administrators were willing to listen to the idea, take a risk and be flexible.” The college’s small size and few layers of bureaucracy made it possible for administrators to bend traditional faculty rules to make them work for a shared appointment.

Over the years, Len Clark, the college’s academic dean from 1981 to 2007, has been questioned about how Earlham has made the Shrocks’ shared appointment work. “Deans from other institutions have repeatedly expressed some amazement and sometimes bewilderment about how such an arrangement could work,” he says. “They wondered about the political implications of having spouses in close working professional relationships with one another and how others in the department handled it.”

Though the Shrocks say Earlham’s institutional flexibility has made the partnership work for all these years and Clark agrees, he also thinks the couple’s own willingness to cooperate has been central to the success of their shared appointment. “It just requires maturity and thoughtfulness,” he says.

In every way other than pay and courseload, “we were and have been treated as two full-time professionals,” Alice says. They earned tenure on their own and, “if Alice should decide to leave the job, I would have the right of first refusal to take over her position,” Randall says. The same would be true for her if he decided to leave.

Over the years, the Shrocks’ contract for the history professorship has remained exactly the same, as they raised their children and now that their children have grown. But, from time to time, both have taken on other responsibilities. Randall is director of Earlham’s Master of Arts in teaching program and Alice is associate academic dean for program development. Randall was also able to take on Alice's half of the job while she was working on a fellowship. Their paychecks from the college weren't any different, he says, with all the money "going into the common pot of the Shrock household."

While raising their children, the Shrocks typically alternated semesters teaching and didn’t take on administrative duties. If Alice taught three courses in the fall, Randall would teach three in the spring. Their older daughter was born in 1977, their younger one in 1981, and the shared appointment gave them flexibility in taking care of their children and in building their careers. “We never wanted to be in the position where one person had all the professional opportunities and work to do,” Alice says. “But we were able to share parenting as well as teaching and our professional lives.”

As a child, Amy Shrock, the couple’s older daughter, thought her parents’ arrangement was “normal.” In a typical academic year, each parent “got to spend half the year with me and my sister and it was great for us.” Now 32, she realizes “most people don’t have the same opportunity my parents had to share a job.”

The shared appointment also gave the Shrocks a chance to travel outside rural Indiana for extended periods of time. They’ve led more than half a dozen off-campus programs in England, Germany and Austria, as well as in the United States at Chicago’s Newberry Library. Though it would’ve been difficult logistically and financially for a small history department like Earlham’s to send two professors overseas at the same time, Randall says that their shared job was “what made it possible.”

They were able to spend time teaching and researching off-campus without one spouse forsaking a career opportunity or burdening the other with childcare responsibilities. “It was wonderful for our children to grow up in more than one environment, to get to see more of the world,” Alice says. Amy echoes her mother’s assessment: “It was great to be able to travel, live outside the country, with my parents.”

Especially while traveling, the Shrocks were able to conduct research and teach courses together. “We’ve been collaborators for so long on so much,” Alice says, “and it’s always opened up new areas of research and teaching that we wouldn’t have found without each other.”

At Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, Elizabeth J. Deis and Lowell T. Frye have shared a position since 1983. A decade into the arrangement, they published an article on their experience, “Balancing the Personal and the Professional: A Shared Appointment, the 50-50 Solution,” in the journal Written Communication.

“We feel strongly that our joint appointment has benefited our professional lives,” they wrote. “Anyone who has collaborated more than once or twice on a professional project knows both how difficult it is to work jointly with another through a series of explorations and compromises to reach a conclusion and how gratifying the results of a smoothly running collaborative effort can be.”

The same is true for the Shrocks, who have, over the years, offered advice to many couples considering a shared appointment. They’ve also inspired a few students who went on to earn Ph.D.s to do the same. "We just tell them there have been far many more ups than there were downs," Randall says

Alice concedes she and her husband have had arguments, personal and professional, but says that when faced with problems, “we’ve just worked it out -- we just keep listening and talking to each other.”


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