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Both my wife and I are scientists in the same field. Approximately 4 years ago she accepted a tenure-track position, and in what seemed like a good opportunity at the time, we both decided it was a good move even without seriously discussing a spousal hire for me. At the time I was confident that my field of study and marketable skill set would make the transition a no-brainer "after the fact". By this I mean the dean and/or provost would see the long-term necessity (and benefit) of securing university employment for not one but both persons.

However, this has turned out not to be the case. This place is awash in administrative problems. Compounding this is our location: A realistic job search radius is a very short 25 miles or so. (Our city is also charmingly referred to as an "island".) At this point we are about 1-2 years away from her tenure (which appears to be a good bet), and I'm out of patience. From my point of view, I'm not being fully utilized in an environment where it makes very good long-term sense to do so. In other words, by securing the stability of both "units", one also works toward the stability of the whole. But the standard response is always, there's no money for that. (Given the wealth I see every day around me, I have a hard time believing that.)

My question: how would one approach the upper administration to seriously consider a spousal hire for an individual that fits very well into the research and teaching framework of the department I'm already serving as an adjunct in? My initial plan would be to put together a sales-pitch of sorts with the department head that would outline the creation of a non-fixed-term assistant teaching professor position. Included in the proposal would be a host of benefits:

  • The department would be expanded by 1
  • Connections and therefore resources are imported along with myself
  • The university would gain a research-capable faculty member
    • Output: papers
    • Input: money
    • Low equipment/space requirements
    • Very portable; no startup needed
  • The university would also gain a (badly needed) teaching professor
    • Improve the student/teacher ratio
    • Produce higher-quality problem solvers / critical thinkers
  • The stability of one of its existing faculty members would be improved (i.e. reduces "flight risk")

But all this seems to be wasted as an adjunct. I know instinctively that this effort will fail, but I need the satisfaction of having tried.

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    My sympathies... and/but you just don't have much leverage, I fear. If the local work culture is "there's no money for that", then improving things at modest expense has no appeal to management. If they've got you for cheap already, and spouse hoping for tenure (with a generally bad job market) why would they pay you more? Unless "flight risk" is credible, it's not good to bring it up... "Papers for a little bit of money" is rarely what administrations really care about. Maybe external grants... Some different "special" bait is needed... and I don't know what it would be, sorry. – paul garrett Oct 26 '15 at 17:49
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    I've known many married professor combos to move in tandem (in one case, they were from the same department). I think most people understand "my wife got a job offer 2000 miles away, so I'm expecting to move 2000 miles away". That's not unprofessional, as long as you don't up and vanish in the middle of the night with no warning. If one of you is an exceptional enough talent the department/university may try to go the extra mile of hiring the other spouse. Of course, you have to be willing to pursue the outside offers, at the risk AM's answer refers to. – zibadawa timmy Oct 26 '15 at 21:45
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    Start applying everywhere. Now. Both of you. – JeffE Oct 27 '15 at 0:41
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Unfortunately, I doubt this will be easy. You've already set the precedent that you are willing to work as an adjunct, and the administration is probably hoping that this continues as long as possible. They might not ever have to hire you long-term, and even if they do they'll at least have saved some money in the meantime. If they were going to do something out of sympathy for the difficult position you are in, they probably would have already. That means your only real line of argument is to convince them that hiring you would be better for the university. This means establishing either that the status quo cannot continue (so keeping you ad an adjunct isn't an option) or that hiring you would be better for the university than keeping you as an adjunct and spending the money on something else.

In other words, by securing the stability of both "units", one also works toward the stability of the whole.

Your best shot may be if you or your wife gets an offer elsewhere. This may or may not work, depending on the local culture: at some places, getting outside offers is viewed as a sign of disloyalty. However, the worst case scenario is having to take the other offer, and it's not clear that that would leave the two of you worse off than you are now. Without an outside offer, there's no clear evidence of instability.

If you're going to seek other offers, it's probably better to do it soon. Once your wife has tenure, getting another tenured job (or giving up tenure) would generally be harder than getting a tenure-track job.

Included in the proposal would be a host of benefits:

I'd focus on the "(badly needed) teaching professor" part. That sounds like it has the greatest potential for making an argument to the administration that the department is understaffed and really needs this position. By contrast, they are much less likely to go for the argument that they should hire you on research grounds.

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    Joel, it would be more of a commitment to hire someone with tenure than without, so, no, perhaps counter-intuitively, people typically become less mobile after getting tenure. – paul garrett Oct 26 '15 at 20:39
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    @JoelDeWitt: Unfortunately, Associate Professors applying for Assistant Professor positions usually aren't considered because the search committee fears they are not serious about their application since they can't possibly be willing to give up tenure. – Alexander Woo Oct 27 '15 at 1:36
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    At the average underfunded public university, most (though not all) students want lower teaching quality, since that correlates with lower standards and easier degrees. The administration also want this because the students want it, and it also helps retention. It's only the faculty who care about teaching quality. So I don't think the teaching argument would be a good one. Of course, if you're willing to teach full time for 25K/year... – Alexander Woo Oct 27 '15 at 2:16
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    @JoelDeWitt: The facts are (1) You are highly unlikely to get a permanent job where you are without the leverage of an outside offer ("Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?"), and (2) unless your wife is a star with $$$$$$$ in transferable grants, or becomes an administrator, or is in a field like accounting with a serious shortage of professors, she is highly unlikely to be able to get an offer after tenure. Beyond that, this is Academia.SE, not MaritalRelations.SE. – Alexander Woo Oct 27 '15 at 2:23
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    @JoelDeWitt: Don't feel bad about being taken advantage of by an uncaring and opaque system. I've tried to be realistic about the chances and what I think it will take to change things, but I don't mean to be unsympathetic. I really hope you find the position you deserve (and I think your university may become more accommodating if you have leverage from outside offers). – Anonymous Mathematician Oct 27 '15 at 14:35

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