'Dear Forums ...': Can My Partner and I Share a Position?

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Questions …

Am I Done Yet? Q (from master_of_revels): I'm currently putting the finishing touches (I hope) on the manuscript for my monograph (I”m in a humanities field), which is under contract with a major university press. As a somewhat unsure first-time author, I have two questions:

1) How do I know when I'm "done"? Absent a neon sign or hearing a voice proclaim it from the heavens, that is. I realize that at some point I just have to trust my work. Any words of wisdom from experienced authors about how to shake that nagging feeling that there's one more article I can find, one more archival box I need to look in, one more theoretical angle to consider?

2) The contracted length for the manuscript is 75,000 words. I'm coming in at around 70,000 now -- and that's without accounting for acknowledgments, a preface (to be written, hopefully, by a senior scholar in the field), bibliography, and index. To those who know about such things, does that seem like I'm in the right ballpark as far as living up to the terms of my contract?

I Wish I'd Stayed in Better Touch With My Former Ph.D. Advisers. Q (from natu1110): I’m recently tenured but going on the market. I need to keep my search confidential because my department is toxic. The only people I can think to turn to for "strong" reference letters are my former advisers. I also have one person in my current department who has agreed to provide me a letter (thus, hopefully, I can avoid raising a red flag). The problem is I haven't been in touch with my Ph.D. advisers for almost 2 years now, so I feel awkward about asking them for reference letters.

Any suggestions on how to approach them? Would it be rude for me to ask them for letters after all this time?

… and Answers

Can My Partner and I Share a Position? I work at a small, liberal-arts college. My partner has been an adjunct here since I was hired as an associate professor a few years back.

I was recently invited to apply for a job at a good R1, and I had a preliminary interview that went very well. My hope is that I’ll get an in-person interview and an offer and then be able negotiate something permanent for my spouse. If I do get an offer from the R1, I doubt they will offer my spouse a tenure-track line, but I may be able to negotiate a permanent lecturer position. My other hope is to ask for something like that at my SLAC, or perhaps even to split my position.

Any experience with that? Can I ask to have the SLAC hire my spouse in my own tenure line by splitting salary/teaching? I already have tenure. Have you seen this happen before?

Also, when is the best time to tell colleagues/admins -- at the time of the interview or if and when I get an offer?

A (from hazelshade): I'd consult your institution's faculty handbook to determine whether they have a policy on shared positions. Failing that, you may want to consult the handbooks of some of your peers to get a sense of what the norms are and what may be reasonable to request. (Here are the policies of Bowdoin College and Knox and Grinnell, though I'm not certain that the latter two are the most up-to-date versions.) Not to be grim, but if you're successful in negotiating this, I suggest that you come to an agreement with your partner and with the administration on what happens if you and your partner divorce (and one or both of you stays at your current institution) or if one of you dies. This both protects you and your partner and gives the institution less reason to fear the arrangement.

You'll be in a better position to negotiate with admin when you have an offer in hand.

A (from fourhats): Having taught and been an administrator at several SLACs, I'm puzzled by the proposal to split a tenure line. Are you suggesting that you would go to a part-time tenured position, and your partner would get a longer term, part-time teaching position without tenure? That’s the only way I could see this playing out, since your tenure decision was based on your own work.

A (from hazelshade): When I've seen this done (adding a partner to a tenured faculty member's contract), the tenured partner transitions to a part-time tenured position and the partner being added to the contract gets a part-time tenure-track position (with a tenure clock worked out when the contract is split).

A (from ruralguy): This happened once in my school's history about 35-40 years ago. The couple is still together and they’re about to retire together from my SLAC. In fact, I more often see them together on campus than separately. Also, they have been very regularly elected and appointed for decades to the most important committees (curriculum, tenure & promotion).

The reason this arrangement never happened here again is that everyone fears mission creep: Eventually, the partners will both ask for full positions (which this couple did) and we could be "forced" to accept this. People also see this arrangement as a power grab, since this particular couple was good at always having a hand in policy and tenure decisions.

So, I think my college is more afraid of too much of a good thing than divorce when it comes to split positions.

A (from brixton): I've been at a few SLACs that have allowed this kind of arrangment. I don't know the details of each contract, but usually one partner held the tenure-track position, and the courses were split between the two. The "pre-nup" focused on the fact that Faculty A received tenure on her merits and then split the job with Faculty B, who was not tenured, but approved by the department. Should Faculty A choose not to split the position any more (i.e., in the event of a divorce), B's contract would end. Ditto, if A died. The extra expense for the college resulted from having to pick up the medical-insurance benefits of both partners, but the salary line was the same. I have no idea how they handled retirement benefits.

So yeah, it's possible. If/when you're able to go in and negotiate, make sure you’ve done your research. Are there peer institutions that have done this, and, if so, how? Private colleges, particularly in the middle of nowhere, are often times willing to think creatively. So, it's worth a shot.

A (from mleok): What’s the actual financial benefit to your family? Wouldn't it be better to have some sort of permanent half-time lecturer position for your spouse instead? This sounds like it could get really messy, and if your spouse is already covered by your benefits, I doubt that your SLAC is going to double their contribution to your health insurance.

Offers and Delaying Tactics. I have a tenure-track offer from one of the first schools at which I interviewed this year. It's a solid offer, and a place at which I'd be happy, though it's not ideal in several respects.

I also have three interviews scheduled in the next two weeks, two of which are at schools where, I think (from what I know, without visiting), I'd be a lot happier.

I also have an offer to continue in my current position for another year, which takes some of the pressure off, and would give me another year to be more competitive on the market again.

The market was good this year, and I'm a relatively competitive applicant. I've had eight invitations for campus interviews (some of which I've declined post-phone interview), and another several phone interviews for which I expect campus invites. I'm in the bench side of STEM, in an area that's growing in faculty rather than shrinking, so there's some room to be discriminating.

The difficult part is when I asked about a timeline on the offer, I couldn't get a firm answer. It was in the "I want to know as soon as possible" range, along with "let’s negotiate startup funds."

I said I'd get back to them with what I thought was a reasonable timeline, along with some preliminary startup costs, but I'd appreciate any advice. I know no one can tell me for sure "what to do," but talking it around and around in my own head isn't really going anywhere.

A (from yellowtractor): First, congratulations, but second, third, and fourth, yuck.

My advice would be to play along with the admin's unprofessional approach. That is, thank your contact for the courtesy, assure him or her that you really will let them know "as soon as possible," and open a dilatory discussion of startup funds.

In many cases if one does these things with rhetorical panache and a bit of delay with each exchange, one can extend the window well beyond two weeks (which is the standard in my primary field). That will give you enough time to interview at the other three schools. You should, of course, tell all three schools that you have an offer on the table and are delaying your response -- but I would not tell them until you are on-site for the interviews. You want to galvanize them into loving you swiftly, not stress them into making a negative decision.

A (from kron3007): Agreed. Before giving them any numbers, I’d start asking about what shared/centralized facilities are available on campus so that you can come up with an educated starting point. Then, as suggested, I would start the discussion in earnest while you interview.

However, at the end of the day a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. I would be careful not to push it too hard and would make sure to have a job at the end of this. I understand that you have another year where you are, but personally I would be anxious to find something permanent this year, if at all possible, given the current political climate. Perhaps this is just paranoia, but I would rather be paranoid with a job than caught with my pants down.

A (from mozman): Here's my advice:

  1. Keep negotiating, and keep interviewing.
  2. If they finally give you an ultimatum, and you haven't gotten anymore offers, take it.
  3. Keep interviewing.
  4. If you get an offer you like better, renege on the first and take the better one.
  5. Move on with your life, secure in the knowledge that you have done well.

And if you ever have self-doubt or regrets about any of this, do yourself a favor and remember mozman's mantra: Look out for yourself. No one else will.

Help! I Have the Advance-Copy Blues. The warehouses are receiving first shipments; pre-sales have been going on for a while (I have no idea how many, if any, have pre-sold); and today, propped against the front door in its big manila envelope, was my advanced copy.

A red (read?) letter day. But then ...

  • What if my first academic book receives blistering reviews?
  • What if my first academic book receives NO reviews?
  • What if my first academic book contains some egregious and obvious error, misstatement, or misinterpretation?
  • What if no one actually buys my first academic book?
  • What if my first academic book embarrasses my dissertation adviser?
  • What if my first academic book is my only book from a university press?
  • What if, despite my several other ideas which I am actually working on, my first academic book turns out to be my only academic book ever?

I cannot bring myself to read the first page … but I did check the index out of curiosity to see how much they had changed ...

And then there is the job market. I had hoped that this publication might change my employment trajectory, but I suspect it will not at this point. The whole thing seems a little anticlimactic.

I am grateful to the editors who took a chance on my writing and helped me along the way, but the written word carries a lot of anxiety.

Anyone get the advanced copy/complimentary copy blues?

A (from watermarkup): Congratulations on your book!

Now to answer your questions ...

  1. Don't read any of the reviews until someone else tells you what a great review of your book they read/wrote.
  2. Won't happen. The press knows that reviews = sales and will send out copies to places that will review it.
  3. All academic books, even the best ones, contain errors. Your book wouldn't be interesting unless there were the possibility of being wrong.
  4. Enough libraries have standing orders with your press or have purchased access to digital subscriptions where your book will appear that you don't need to worry about sales.
  5. Your dissertation adviser had it coming.
  6. By publishing one book, you have already published more books than most people in book fields ever publish.
  7. The best evidence that you can publish a second book is that you have published your first book. Eventually a project will seize hold of you and you will write another book.

I can't offer much help with the job market. You may never get a tenure-track job. I know from personal experience, though, that a healthy publication list has kept me in the running for tenure-track jobs and led to nontenure-track job offers long after my Ph.D. should have expired. It seems paradoxical, but people hirers for teaching-intensive positions seem to take notice of significant publications. And if you eventually leave academia, you can leave on your terms. Because you didn't leave until your book was out, dammit.

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