Top universities are increasingly hiring professors who have other academics as partners. But even as this reality of the academic job market is clear, few institutions have formal policies on how to handle such hiring.
Those are the key results of a major study of dual-career hiring, based on data from 13 top research universities. The results are being released today in "Dual-Career Academic Couples: What Universities Need to Know,"  produced by the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research, at Stanford University.
While estimates of dual-career hiring were as low as 3 percent in the 1970s, the report says, it is clear that such hiring is common today, with 36 percent of those in the study having academic partners.
Partner Status of Full-Time Professors at 13 Top Research Universities
|Employed, non-academic partner||36%|
But even as such hiring becomes common, the report says, universities don't necessarily know how they are doing it -- or agree on what steps are appropriate. "Institutional approaches to couple hiring tend to be ad hoc, often shrouded in secrecy, and inconsistent across departments," the report says. "Faculty tend to be unfamiliar with key issues and solutions, and many know little about their own university's policies and practices."
Of all the professors in the study, 10 percent were hired as part of a couple, which the report calls "a small, but important proportion."
If colleges don’t do more to recruit academic couples, the report warns, they “are in danger of losing some of their most prized candidates if suitable employment cannot be found for qualified partners.”
This isn’t a theoretical concern, but a real one, the report says. It cites two independent studies by prominent research universities of failed faculty recruitment. Partner employment was first in one study and second in the other of reasons that the would-be colleague did not move. (Other reasons included salary and housing costs.)
While many universities haven’t typically focused on dual careers, they need to change, the report argues, to get the best talent. Perhaps the most obvious reason cited in the report is that plenty of the top recruits are half of an academic couple – and they just won’t move without jobs for their partners.
But more subtle reasons are cited as well. If universities are serious about diversifying their faculties, and hiring more female and minority scholars, the report says, they need to be open to changing the hiring process. “Institutions should not expect new participants to assimilate into current practices built around old academic models and demographics,” the report says.
Further, the study notes that professors today – men and women, those with academic partners and without – “are a new breed determined more than ever to strike a sustainable balance between working and private lives. Couple hiring is part of a deeper institutional restructuring around quality-of-life issues.”
While the report stresses that dual-career hiring benefits men, women and institutions, it notes that the issue may be particularly important in hiring women. Of those in the survey, women were more likely than men (40 percent to 34 percent) to have academic partners. This may be particularly the case in those science and technology fields where women continue to make up a distinct minority of professors. Women are much more likely than men to practice “disciplinary endogamy” in which they have partners in the same field. While 83 percent of female scientists in academic couples have a scientist as a partner, the figure for male scientists is only 54 percent.
And the top reason women cited for turning down academic offers elsewhere was the lack of a job offer for their partners.
So with all of this evidence, why are so many institutions slow to adopt formal policies? While evidence cited in the report says that partner hires don’t result in any loss of productivity for the hiring institution, there is still a “stigma of ‘less good’” that “attaches to the second hire,” the report says.
In the survey, many professors expressed concerns about dual-career hiring:
- 43 percent said that they believed partner hiring or retention efforts "prevents open competition."
- 29 percent said that their department "has hired partners I consider underqualified."
- 26 percent said that "couple hiring disrupts the intellectual direction of the department."
- 44 percent said that couples in the same department can create conflicts of interest.
- 37 percent agreed with the statement: "In my department, the second hire is treated with less respect than the first hire."
The best way to eliminate the stigma and promote equitable policies is to be clear about them, and to put them in writing, the report says. There should be a formal protocol, the report says, and that doesn’t mean that departments being asked to consider the spouse of someone being recruited should just have that person assigned to them.
“Departments asked to consider hiring a partner must do so carefully,” the report says. “Partners should go through a department’s full review process. This will help build consensus within the department and, should the candidate be successful, contribute to a warm welcome for the new colleague.”
Further, the report says that promises about partner hiring need to be made in writing to avoid the currently common problem of hires feeling like promises made about dual hiring are not being met.
While the report notes some skepticism and hostility among professors about hiring partners, it suggests that clarity is the best way to build support. Most survey participants said that they didn't know if their institutions had written policies on dual hiring. Those institutions with written policies and awareness of written policies had significantly higher levels of support for dual-career hiring. Says the report: "Awareness and clarity are critical to creating a positive climate overall."