Brian Leiter's Law School Reports

Brian Leiter
University of Chicago Law School

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Monday, November 28, 2005

Finding Academic Jobs as a Couple

A student at a law school that produces a lot of law teachers writes:

I have been doing searches on your blog to address the question of how should an aspiring academic couple proceed through the academic market.  I recognize that these answers very much depend on the school, but if you could provide a take on this or at least open it up in the blogosphere that would be wonderful.

My thoughts were that my spouse and I should try to enter the market at separate times so that one can leverage their position as an academic to assist the other in the market.  But it seems that on one of your blog posts you seem to describe the process by which some law schools "play ball" and make arrangements for the spouse at the hiring stage. Also it seems that it is more difficult to lateral than to enter the market. Do you think it is more advantageous to both attempt to enter the market at the same time and work it from that angle or is my initial impression that we should try to enter the market at different stages

While it is probably true that the vast majority of academic couples (at least those who aren't quite senior) secure jobs at the same institution in a sequential process (first one partner/spouse is hired, then later, the other), I'm actually not sure whether that reflects the best strategy or just the fact that in many academic couples, the decision to go into academia is made at different times.  I am inclined to think that a couple that both want academic posts should probably look for academic posts at the same time, perhaps making clear that two positions are sought.  Making the "joint" nature of the search known early can have the advantage that schools that might otherwise not believe themselves to be competitive in recruiting one or the other partner/spouse may see an opportunity in virtue of being able to hire both.

I'm opening this up for comments from others, as this is surely an issue on which many institutions and faculty have had experience.

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In my (admittedly limited) experience, as long as both spouses are well qualified for academic positions, it makes sense to go on the market at the same time. One of our new assistant professors at the University of Georgia Law School would never have accepted an offer here if the psychology department had not made an offer to his wife, as well -- they had dual offers at another school of equal prestige. I'm not privy to all of the negotations, but I know that our Dean, to her credit, actively encouraged the psychology department to make the offer. The key, of course, was that both spouses were very well qualified. The law school in no way had to strong-arm the psychology department; our new professor's wife was (at least) as desirable a candidate as her husband.

The only other point I'd make is that it's probably helpful (if impossible to control) for the lawyer-spouse to get an offer first, unless the non-lawyer-spouse is looking for a job in another professional school -- medicine or business. I don't know for sure, but I doubt that a social-science or humanities department would have much success in convincing a law school to hire a spouse, no matter how qualified, given that -- for better or for worse -- law schools tend to have more clout than such departments.

Posted by: Kevin Jon Heller | Nov 28, 2005 12:32:07 PM

The central administrations of some schools (the University of Oklahoma is one of them--at least it used to be) are offering to fund spousal hires. Thus, if one spouse already works at the school, the central administration will provide a new line for the other spouse in another department, assuming that spouse meets some (fairly high) level of quality and receives an qualified vote from the department. I can imagine this is expensive, but it's a great way to retain (or recruit) strong faculty and to strengthen a school. It's a great benefit to the second department, which gets an extra faculty member costlessly. I'd expect to see more of that kind of creative hiring in the future.

Posted by: Alfred Brophy | Nov 28, 2005 2:05:06 PM

I used to think this was a tough issue for couples when I was on the market. Looking at what's going on, and not generalizing too much, it's evident that males get more consideration if they bring along a spouse who will help diversify the ranks. I have a friend at a school that invited only two males to interview--both spouses. All the others (both at the meat market and outside it) were female. Oops, I mispoke. One candidate was a minority male. So it's good to go on as a couple is my guess, especially if the male does business subjects, where schools tend to be more "forgiving" on the gender issue.

Posted by: Anon | Nov 29, 2005 5:36:34 AM

If the Dean at Georgia opened up a slot for a new hire in the psychology department, then that would make it easier. In my experience, it is much harder to obtain a job in the non-law fields, whether in the social sciences or humanities. Because law schools typically search for multiple candidates each year, there is more "play" for consideration of a spousal hire. An English Department, however, is not likely to give up one of its precious once-in-perhaps-seven-years openings, just because the law school is interested in a candidate. Someone would have to make it worth that department's while --- or the spousal candidate would have to be a superstar in his or her own right.

Posted by: Anon | Nov 29, 2005 3:57:38 PM

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