“I’m sure when he was hired, Yale didn’t say, ‘What about your wife?’” Rachel Wizner said.
When her husband, Stephen Wizner, was hired as a Yale Law School professor in 1970, Rachel Wizner was working in the mayor’s office in New York City. At the time, spousal hiring “wasn’t on the table,” Rachel Wizner said.
According to a 2008 report from the Stanford University Clayman Institute for Gender Research, 70 percent of professors in American universities are in dual-career relationships. And as the amount of women receiving Ph.D.s continues to increase, a growing number of high quality female candidates for faculty positions are in dual-academic relationships.
Spousal hiring at a university poses a “dual-career problem” when two partners do not both receive positions at the same institution or city, forcing one of them to reject an otherwise desirable offer.
This week, both University President Peter Salovey and Provost Benjamin Polak referred to spousal hiring as the biggest challenge in recruiting faculty.
“[Spousal hiring has] happened every year I’ve been here, so I would say with faculty searches you can expect probably with one out of two or one out of three you’re going to have to work on this,” Divinity School Dean Gregory Sterling said.
Despite a lack of emphasis on spousal hiring in the 1970s, Wizner was eventually hired by the University based on her prior work, and she became dean of Pierson College from 1975 to 1980.
“Things have changed radically in my lifetime,” Wizner said.
Over three dozen faculty members and experts interviewed said the success of spousal hiring is determined by three main factors: collaboration between academic units, cooperation with New Haven employers and easing departmental budget restrictions.
School of Management Deputy Dean Andrew Metrick said collaboration is so critical because when the trailing spouse is also an academic, he or she often requires a position in a different department than the recruited spouse.
But this interdepartmental communication makes spousal hiring within the University complicated, School of Management professor Fiona Scott-Morton said in an email. She said, in particular, Yale lacks a “common currency” system that departments can use to compensate one another for hiring spouses.
Scott-Morton said that if one department was enthusiastic about a candidate whose spouse needed placement in another department, there would be no way to leverage the other department to hire the spouse as well.
Despite these complications, School of Management Associate Dean David Bach said Yale often approaches these problems relatively successfully. He recalled that when he was in graduate school at Berkeley, which had very strict constraints on faculty hiring, many candidates chose offers at Yale, which offered more flexible spousal opportunities.
Other faculty interviewed, however, noted that the Elm City itself provided challenges for spousal hiring at the University.
Yale does not offer many non-academic professional opportunities compared to universities in bigger metropolises, Sterling said. Because New Haven does not have as many employment opportunities as Boston, New York or Chicago, spousal hiring puts pressure on Yale.
“Compared with universities located in New York or Boston, there isn’t a huge job market here,” Polak said.
History professor Paul Freedman said he and many of his colleagues do not live in New Haven because there are very few opportunities for their non-academic spouses.
Still, Metrick said Yale has a history of working with firms around New Haven to find employment opportunities for these non-academic spouses. Though he said these connections, which include relationships with law and architecture firms, are not formalized in any way, the University is still often successful in working with them to acquire jobs for non-academic spouses.
Most faculty noted that departmental budget restrictions also limit the ability to hire spouses.
“The challenge is always finding funding because everybody has a finite budget,” Sterling said.
Polak added that this difficulty in faculty hiring has been exacerbated over the last five years because of the recession.
Still, Metrick said he remains positive about Yale’s spousal hiring policies.
“From where I sit, we’re doing about as well as we could do in a small city that has been growing and doing well and at a University that has many far flung units under budget pressure,” Metrick said.Although the dual-career problem is a family issue, all faculty and experts interviewed agreed that it disproportionately affects women.
“We know that the path to facultyhood has tended to lead to disproportionate losses of women from the pool,” professor of ecology and evolutionary biology David Skelly said. “Dual-career situations have to be one of the most severe bottlenecks they face.”
Anthony Carnevale, director and research professor of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, said that men’s careers are often considered to be the most prominent in the family. When couples must make compromises, they favor men, he said.
“The women move and men don’t,” he said.
Finding a job as a dual career couple is a personal matter, molecular biophysics and biochemistry professor Karla Neugebauer said. But, couples need to be trained to work as partners to make choices that are positive for each person in the partnership, she added.
According to Carnevale, the hiring process of trailing spouses is “culturally loaded.” Depending on the gender of the trailing spouse, he or she will be treated differently, Carnevale said. He noted that one solution universities sometimes offer to couples is an administrative position for the trailing spouse.
Ecology and evolutionary biology professor Linda Puth suggested that the issue of spousal hiring is also affected by outside factors, like the division of labor in the home.
Senior research associate at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and professor of economics Jessica Milli explained that women often take on the “care burden,” which includes caring for children.
“This problem does disproportionately affect women, largely because women in our society still bear more childcare responsibilities than men,” Puth said in an email. “One way that Yale could lessen the impact of the two-body problem is to expand high-quality, affordable childcare facilities close to campus.”
Skelly said during his time at Yale, the University has lost a number of very promising candidates because the school was not able to offer a position to a spouse. Meanwhile, other universities have been able to make offers to both spouses, making it very difficult for a candidate to choose to come here, he added.
“If we make spousal hiring a strategic priority, we will come into parity with other institutions for which we compete in a market for talented faculty,” Skelly said. Although faculty agreed that dealing with the issue of spousal hiring should be a priority for the University, they reached no consensus on potential policies to address the issue.
Metrick said one potential policy would be to reduce budget constraints on departments across the University.
“You could always throw more money at the problem,” Metrick said.
Law school professor James Whitman said easing tenure standards within the University would also help solve the dual career problem. If there is a clear possibility for junior faculty members to attain tenure, spouses are more likely to move to New Haven as a family for the long-term, he said.
“The solution [the University] has been groping towards is to make it easier for people to get tenure while at Yale,” Whitman said in an email. “This way both partners can make a career in New Haven and settle down.”
Beyond specific recommendations, history professor Frank Snowden said he would most appreciate a University-wide approach to the problem.
“I think the University would do well to develop an approach that is strategic, proactive and well thought out,” he said in an email.
But, some faculty interviewed cautioned Yale to tread very lightly if it chooses to change spousal hiring conventions.
Sociology professor Philip Smith said often there is an academic couple where only one of the individuals is highly sought. The other, he said, might be “middling and competent.” In order to hire the more desired spouse, a job might have to be found for the other as well, Smith said.
“It is a difficult balance between being a good or family friendly or efficient employer and avoiding nepotism,” SOM professor Shyam Sunder said in an email. “You are on slippery grounds no matter what you do. I think universities try to do the best walking a thin line between two wrongs.”