hiring and retaining faculty

Besides prepping for teaching, many orgheads are gearing up for the academic labor market, either as job applicants or as members of hiring committees.  On both sides, it’s blood, sweat, and tears, particularly if committees are committed to hiring colleagues they wish to tenure.  Job-seekers examine ads, network, and pull together packets, including letters of recommendations.   Hiring committees go through hundreds of applications, arrange on-campus visits, and navigate bureaucracy to get the necessary paperwork in order.  Both sides want a “good” fit and try to ask questions accordingly.

What is often overlooked – particularly on the side of the workplace hiring practices – is that individuals are never “just” individuals.  People are embedded in a network of relations that they seek to sustain or expand.  In some cases, this network involves a dyadic relationship, i.e. a job applicant may be part of a couple, or a larger unit such as a multi-generational family.  Or, the job applicant may be seeking an environment where s/he can form and sustain a network for a vibrant social life.

Back in 2008, Stanford University’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research issued a report about university hiring practices, with a focus on dual-career couples, that should be of interest to those on the market and those seeking to hire and retain colleagues.  Besides reporting the results of a survey of academics’ experiences in selected universities, the report outlines some steps that universities can take, such as participating in agreements to consider a dual hire among departments within the hiring university and with near-by universities or offering shared tenure-track/tenured positions.  In addition, the report notes the needs of single academics, who may be negotiating caregiving for children and aging parents.  The report also addresses the concerns of same-sex couples given different states’ policies on domestic partnerships and same-sex marriage.

What I found particularly fascinating was how the report illustrated how hiring committees can anticipate the likelihood of someone being paired with another academic, based on academics’ propensity for “disciplinary endogamy” (partnering within the same academic discipline).  With this knowledge, the hiring committees can try to investigate options that increase the likelihood that the desired applicant will accept an offer and remain with the university:
On p. 32, box 5: “A well-known physics department has advertised a job. The university has the resources to hire a partner, if sufficiently qualified. Because this is a junior-level position, time is of the essence, and the department chair would like to know whether candidates who make it onto the short list have partners who may need to be considered for a job. Even without asking, the chair can have a sense of how likely it is that a particular candidate will have a partner. One candidate on the short list is a woman: Because she is a woman, there is a 40 percent chance that she has an academic partner (Figure 2). Because she is a scientist,
there is a 48 percent chance that she has an academic partner (Figure 12), and if she has an academic partner, there is an 83 percent chance she is partnered with another scientist
(Figure 13). Because the candidate is a physicist, there is 58 percent chance that partner is also a physicist (Figure 14).”

Thoughts on what universities can do to better hire and retain faculty?  Put them in the comments.

Written by katherinechen

August 10, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Posted in academia

19 Responses

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  1. as an aspiring Ph.d (and hopefully eventual academic), this posting puzzles me a bit. everything i’ve read about academia has told me that getting a job is extremely difficult, and that if one wants a reasonable chance of employment one must give up any chance of choosing where one wants to live, etc. i read all the time about how a single job opening will have hundreds of applicants.

    in that light, universities’ ability to retain faculty looks like a non-problem in comparison. i’m not trying to bash this post, it’s just that i guess at this point in my life i worry a lot more about my (future) ability to get a job at a university rather than about the university’s ability to “retain” me (after all, who says they’ll WANT to retain me? isn’t tenure hard to get?).

    but then again, i guess we need perspectives on both sides of the hiring/tenure process. hopefully, in 10 years i’ll find this post very helpful and relatable!


    Andrew B. Lee

    August 10, 2012 at 5:43 pm

  2. Unfortunately, what I have seen so far in my experience as a job candidate and assistant professor is that many schools are not very concerned about retention.



    August 10, 2012 at 5:45 pm

  3. Andrew Lee: It is a two-sided game. On the one hand, yes there is generally an over-supply of PhDs and many people will have trouble getting jobs. On the other hand, there is an under-supply of “stars” who will have multiple offers and ready mobility. You don’t know for sure which class you are in until you hit the market, but in general, you are more likely to be in the second category if you have multiple publications in top journals, are getting your PhD from a top department, and are being lauded by a prominent tenured scholar who says you are one of the best students to come around in the decade. These are the folks who can expect to be courted and be able to bargain about spousal employment.



    August 10, 2012 at 7:17 pm

  4. But Paul Wolfowitz and Shaha Riza, now, that was a scandal.

    I cannot imagine having an interview in the private sector where my marital status could be mentioned without fear of a lawsuit under federal anti-discrimination. Realize that I work as a technical writer and security guard – long career in computering; recent degrees in criminology – and my wife’s degrees (four associates and a bachelor’s) are in computer security and network forensics. We have been members of Infraguard together, had crim classes together, even. But there is no way, outside of a start-up maybe that I could imagine any firm of any size and reputation actually holding out to bring us in as a couple.

    And what would the university liberals say if this became a common corporate practice?

    Would people pair up in grad school, the MBAs and master’s in engineering, looking to market themselves as a couple? Maybe they could raise their children to perform certain clerical or research tasks as part of their schooling and hire the whole family in? I mean, it might be fine for science fiction…

    On the one hand, I feel that anyone ought to hire anybody they want by whatever standards meet their common goals, without interference from the government. But on the other hand, I do not make the laws (gratefully for all, I’m sure) and discrimination on the basis of marital status is against the law. … except for universities, it seems…


    Michael E. Marotta

    August 10, 2012 at 8:47 pm

  5. A couple of thoughts:

    1) While it is true that many academic are part of dual-academic couples, even more are part of dual-CAREER couples and could use help for their partners in finding new employment. Indeed, even institutions that do not offer employment to partners, whether due to resource constraints or anti-nepotism policies, could provide some assistance to partners in seeking employment in other professional fields.

    2) As I’ve been reading articles about how good K-12 teachers should be rewarded with bonuses, I’ve been thinking about how important recognition is and how it is possible to provide it even without spending much money. For instance, my institution has an annual staff award which comes with a special designated parking spot. There are lots of teaching and research awards that institutions give out, but many do not let junior faculty compete for these. Ways to recognize the contributions of junior faculty to the institution would, I think, really help with retention.



    August 10, 2012 at 9:21 pm

  6. Michael: You are absolutely right that it is illegal to ask anything about marital or partner status. It ought not to be asked, and I don’t think Katherine was suggesting that it should be asked. To the contrary, the presupposition is that anyone who asks may screen candidates out for having too much baggage.

    Some candidates offer the information. They are typically senior people who already have a job who make it clear that they will not consider moving if there is nothing for the spouse. They are sometimes junior or senior people who go to lengths to assure the interviewer that they are not encumbered. Or, if they are known to be partnered with another person in the field (this is a really small profession!), they may make a point of indicting a willingness to move apart from the partner.

    However, once an offer is made, the department chair will say, “What does it take to get you?” Trust me, at that point, department chairs find out all about candidates’ relationships, and most of what a department chair does these days is try to find jobs for spouses/partners.

    A department can well be planning ahead about trying to get a jump on this without discriminating against people who are encumbered. But it is a dicey game. All the probabilities Katherine cites about needing to open a vacancy for a spouse also can be used as a basis for ruling a candidate out, if their work isn’t good enough to merit two jobs.



    August 10, 2012 at 9:25 pm

  7. oh, re my last sentence: I should have made it clear that I think that is bad. It’s a two-edged sword, which is why asking is illegal, and speculating along those lines is also illegal. So I do think Michael’s point is a valid concern about Katherine’s post.



    August 10, 2012 at 9:32 pm

  8. Michael, if you download and read the report (see the embedded link in the post), it does not mention anything about governmental intervention or laws. The focus is on what universities can do to hire faculty given that all will have particular “constraints” that need to be addressed if candidates can seriously entertain a job offer (a partner who works in academia or other profession, single persons looking for quality of life).

    Several of the recommendations concern making policies well-known so that hiring committees and chairs, as well as applicants, know what options are possible so that they can be used as needed. Otherwise, faculty may leave their positions or go on the market because due diligence was not done when it matters – that is, before an offer is made, and the contract is signed.

    But, as bedhaya intimates, many universities do not consider this retention issue at all. However, they should. The costs of turn-over, in terms of dollars and labor spent to replace the person (assuming that the line can be approved), is not insignificant. Universities have an incentive to retain faculty, particularly in the sciences where some faculty require expensive labs built to their specs. Moreover, these faculty bring in substantial overhead with their grants which go with them should they leave.

    Moreover, understanding that employees are concerned about the employment prospects of their family members is not an issue limited to academia. The military, for instance, has examined retention since military personnel are often located in areas that have few or no other employers. Military spouses/partners who seek work will have no options – so the military may lose personnel.

    Finally, just to clarify for those who haven’t read the report, it doesn’t advocate asking whether a person has a partner as a screening out process, nor does the report advise asking this question as a matter of course. Instead, the report suggests getting hiring committees ready to pursue these channels if needed, namely, by familiarizing themselves with polices that facilitate placements since time is often of the essence in putting together and extending an offer.

    Mikalia, yes, universities should know their hometowns well enough that they can suggest employment possibilities for non-academic partners. Recognition does help.

    Andrew, olderwoman gives a nice explanation. I would add a third possibility – check out the cvs and PhD affiliations of faculty at the prospective employers that interest you. This might help you understand whether certain universities have geographic “circuits” (in the US, for example, hires cluster in certain geographic areas, presumably because some want to stay in a particular area or it may be difficult for some areas to attract candidates from elsewhere) and what you might need in terms of pubs/pedigree to be a good fit for that institution. Although the intense competition for positions may imply that retention will not be an issue, some institutions are concerned about keeping their members happy enough to stay.



    August 10, 2012 at 10:56 pm

  9. Michael and Olderwoman are correct in noting this minefield. I have heard of a number of search committees who failed to observe the rules about asking these inappropriate questions. Sometimes the department gets punished — closing the position search.

    A much more benign campus strategy is letting department and college leaders know that there is a program in place for accommodating dual-career hires. A campus that I know well has a tripartite plan: if a department needs to have a second hire within another department to meet the dual career need, the position is funded 1/3 from the provost, 1/3 from the first department, and 1/3 from the second department. Financial pain is shared, risk is shared, and all of this is done without putting search committee amateurs into the two-hire mix.



    August 10, 2012 at 11:01 pm

  10. As a somewhat unrelated point bloggers here consistently emphasize that job candidates must have publications “in top journals”.
    I’m wondering if this is really the case. I’ve done some very hodge-podge investigations into who gets jobs at R1 programs and most fresh PhDs seem to have no more than a few (let’s say 2-5) publications and almost none of those are first authored papers in AJS, ASR or even SF. Mostly it seems like newly minted PhDs who are interviewing for good academic jobs have published in regional or specialty journals and even then we are talking only a few pubs. Maybe you might see someone who is the third author on an ASR or AJS paper.
    In another post Fabio recommended avoiding publishing in journals other than the top journals for PhD students; I’m not sure this is good advice. If a grad student can get papers into a regional or specialty journal I can’t imagine this hurting their career prospects especially over the possible alternative of no publications.
    Am I off base here?


    Silly Wabbit

    August 11, 2012 at 4:01 am

  11. Silly Wabbit: Not everyone who gets a job is a “star,” not even at “top” departments.* If you watch the new PhD market, what you’ll see is that the obvious stars get a bunch of interviews/offers early, then the market clears and other people start getting jobs. Once you are beyond the small number of sure things, it gets a lot harder to predict who will get offers and who won’t, and the same person who interviews at several places will be liked by some and not by others. I disagree with Fabio’s advice about avoiding publication in “other” journals; I think any publication is better than no publication for a grad student, unless it is bad work. But that’s really a different thread. This one is about spousal/partner issues in hiring.

    * Some people who are not coded as stars when they come out as new PhDs become so later, btw.



    August 11, 2012 at 4:28 am

  12. There are a number of factors (family, age, gender, religion, political views, climate preference, etc) which don’t (or shouldn’t) influence the hiring decision directly, but that will influence the decision whether an offer will be accepted.

    I am a post-doc (in another social science) right now with no experience with hiring from the other side so I wonder whether the likelihood that an offer is accepted factors into the decision to make an offer in the first place and whether that opens the door for above factors, like dual searches, to influence the hiring process, albeit indirectly ?
    And if so how to best disclose information from an application perspective without putting the hiring committee in a bad spot ?

    Also should (and do ?) recommendation letter writers influence the decision by disclosing particular information about candidates that are only relevant for the likelihood to accept ? (so what will a hiring committee do if a letter writer discloses a dual search without the knowledge of the applicant ?)



    August 11, 2012 at 11:00 am

  13. Flo: Committees always want to consider their likelihood of getting someone if they make an offer. At “lower-ranked” places, they may screen out candidates that they think are unlikely to accept them because they have too many publications or are from too highly ranked a school. People do use rumors about whether someone is happy or unhappy at their current job or rumors or stereotypes about their lifestyle preferences to guess whether people are serious about coming to their locale. That’s why this is such a tense issue, and why there are all these debates about which factors are legitimate and which not.

    if you want a dual search to be part of your process, you can tell people so. This is done all the time. It is not illegal for you to say your own priorities. It’s the other way around that is a problem. I’ve known people who felt disadvantaged in the market because it was known they were part of a couple in the field, even when they’d agreed that living apart was an option. Letter writers ought not to be mentioning coupleness one way or the other at all unless the candidate has asked them to do so.

    By the way, over the years, we’ve lost quite a few single people whose stated reason for choosing another locale was the lack of potential partners in our relatively small place. I quite seriously thought at one point that our university should be willing to offer to pay for a reputable mate-finding service just like we already pay an employment service to help find spouse jobs.

    Katherine & Randy others’ general statement that hiring/retention committees ought to know their locale’s strengths and weaknesses and universities ought to publicize the general retention resources available are the ways to go. Also note that Katherine’s original post emphasize retention (keeping people after you have hired them), which is less fraught with risks of hiring discrimination.



    August 11, 2012 at 4:26 pm

  14. I think the most important thing that research universities can do to retain faculty is to give them adequate financial and research support. If faculty members feel that they are given good support and that they don’t have to come begging every time a need arises, then they’re much less likely to go looking for greener pastures and they’re more likely to stay put when an attractive offer comes their way.

    Too many universities have a policy of simply waiting to match (or hope to match) market offers. If that is a university’s policy, then those market offers will surely come because faculty members know that this is the only way to get a raise, get more research or travel funding, or other goodies. A university that is truly committed to retaining faculty will reward good researchers and teachers before they are sought after by competitor schools. Hopefully, the universities will win some loyalty in return for their efforts to retain.


    brayden king

    August 12, 2012 at 1:52 am

  15. OW: Thanks for the reply. At the pace I am going I should have roughly 7-10 pubs when I wrap up my PhD but none in ASR or AJS (mostly specialty journals and a few in economics not sociology…..) so I was worried this would hurt rather than help me. My apologies for pulling the thread in an unrelated direction but it was worth it to hear your informative reply!


    Silly Wabbit

    August 12, 2012 at 9:10 pm

  16. Silly Wabbit: If you’re already publishing that much as a graduate student, I’d highly recommend slowing down quantity to focus on quality. You’ve laid down a good base that shows you can publish (3-4 papers as a grad student would be plenty for that)–there’s diminishing returns at job search time for more than that (though not for later reputation and impact necessarily). So now show that you can publish in higher impact places. 1 of those papers would take the place of 5 others, easily.



    August 12, 2012 at 9:38 pm

  17. […] few days ago, Katherine wrote a very thoughtful post on  spouses and the academic job market. (BTW, buy the Grad Skool book!). In the comments, a commenter, “Silly Wabbit,” wrote: […]


  18. I wonder too if there is a gender wrinkle here. Of all my colleagues who are women they ALL have spouses/partners that work but that is not true for all my male colleagues. Could this be part of the story that leads to gender differences in tenured faculty appointments? I didn’t read the report but I would imagine that is thrust of the Clayman Institute’s findings.



    August 15, 2012 at 4:07 pm

  19. […] last post on hiring and retaining faculty generated a spirited Q&A.  Brandy asked about differences by gender and partnered status.  […]


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