Jill Fisher and Torin Monahan have been together since they met in graduate school at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the early 2000s. Two decades later, they’re both tenured professors at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where Fisher specializes in social medicine and Monahan specializes in communications.

UNC is the third university the dual-career academic couple has worked at together. Monahan got his first tenure track job at Arizona State University, which later offered Fisher a tenure track position as a partner hire. But when the couple decided they wanted to move back East, Fisher said they knew “we’d only leave Arizona State if we were able to get jobs together.” After turning down several individual job offers, they eventually landed at Vanderbilt University and then at UNC.

“Other institutions just were not willing to create a position for one or the other of us when one of us got a job offer,” Fisher said.

The couple consider themselves lucky to have been able to keep their family intact without compromising either of their careers in an increasingly tight job market. They know it doesn’t always work out that way for some of the 36 percent of academic researchers who have a partner who is also an academic researcher.

Fisher’s and Monahan’s own scholarly work has built on prior academic research, including the oft-cited landmark 2008 study from The Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, that shows women are more likely than men to receive secondary job offers in a partner-hire scenario, and that women’s careers are also more likely to get derailed when the offer is a non–tenure-track position.

They joined a research team to produce the Partner Hire Scorecard, which launched Thursday, to help foster and promote transparency about partner hiring policies—which aren’t always clear from the outset of the application process, but could be a deal-breaker for dual-career applicants.

“We conceive of the Partner Hire Scorecard as a project in data feminism that visualizes meaningful inequalities and disparities that may have been previously hidden from view,” the authors wrote in an accompanying report about the scorecard, which ranks partner-hiring policies at the 146 Research 1 institutions in the United States.

Equitable partner hiring policies, they and other researchers have argued, can also be one tool for correcting the leaky pipeline of women seeking tenure, which is especially prominent for women in male-dominated STEM fields. Despite earning around 40 percent of STEM doctorates, only about 28 percent of associate and full professors are women, according to the National Science Foundation.

In addition to typically taking on a greater share of child care and other household duties, women are more likely than men to reject a job offer if their partner cannot find a nearby job, according to the Stanford study, which researchers still reference today.

But even when women get a dual-career appointment, it’s not guaranteed to foster maximum career success.

While 63 percent of the 146 universities the new scorecard examined claim to offer some type of support for dual-career couples, only 55 percent of the 129 universities with available partner-hire information (Colorado School of Mines, University of Missouri-Columbia and Temple University were among the 17 R1 universities with no information about partner hiring) specified that they could create tenure-track positions for partner hires.

“It’s not just whether or not universities accommodate academic partners in some way, but also that they’re accommodating them in ways that support their research careers,” Fisher said. “If you hire a STEM researcher into an adjunct position, they may have an institutional affiliation through teaching but potentially their scientific career has been stymied.”

Across all fields, women make up the majority of non–tenure-track lecturers and instructors, positions with historically lower salaries and fewer job protections.

In contrast, women make up about 44 percent of tenure-track faculty and 36 percent of full professors, according to the American Association of University Women. Women of color are especially scarce in faculty ranks, with Black women making up about 1.5 percent of full professors, according a recent report from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.

Tenure: ‘Where the Power is Held’

Offering partner-hires tenured or tenure-track positions is one tool for bringing more women and faculty of color into faculty ranks.

“The tenure track is where the power is held within the academy,” said Daniel Blake, an assistant professor of higher education at Georgia State University. “Using these policies to recruit women, get women to the tenured ranks, is so important for having their perspective on particular research areas. Likewise for faculty of color.”

The scorecard compared all of the institutions it examined to a fictional “Perfect Partner Hire University,” which the report noted does not currently exist and that all of the ranked institutions reviewed “have room to improve.”

Creating tenure-track positions for academic partner hires was at the top of the list of the ideal partner hire policy, which also includes the following characteristics:

  • Outlines a clear process for obtaining partner hires;
  • Does not restrict access to a partner-hire position based on immigration status, legally documented marriage or relocation to the area;
  • Has consistent funding available for partner-hire positions, including start-up funds.
  • Facilitates nonfaculty positions within and outside of the university for nonacademic partner;
  • Has an infrastructure to help handle dual-career needs for current and potential employees, including a dual-career office and staff.

The results varied by institution type and geographic region.

While 90 percent of public universities outline a process for creating dual-career faculty hires, only 63 percent of private universities do, though the report noted that more than half of private Research 1 universities had no information about partner hiring.

And within that data set, 63 percent of public universities offer dual tenure-track positions, compared to 32.4 percent of private institutions. Institutions in the northeast were least likely to offer tenure-track positions for partner hires, whereas 75 percent of institutions in the West and 64 percent of institutions in the Midwest offered such.

“There’s a lot that goes into recruiting and retaining faculty members in academic jobs, and having an academic partner is a really big part of that,” Fisher, said. “Institutions can certainly lose out on candidates when they won’t accommodate both partners.”

‘Conditions for Success’

But getting hired as a dual-career researcher—even on the tenure track—is only one part of the equation for dual-career success.

“Departments can create conditions for success if they treat partners as independent scholars who are equal and valuable members of the department,” Monahan, one of the scorecard’s creators, said. “For instance, partners should have access to the same resources and opportunities as similarly ranked faculty in the department, and they shouldn’t be tasked with additional—or undesirable—service or teaching responsibilities because of the conditions of their hire.”

That’s why the scorecard also examined whether an institution provides start-up funding for partner hires, which is especially important for STEM researchers who typically need additional money to establish their own labs. However, only 8 percent of universities were transparent that they indeed offer such funding to partner-hires, according to the scorecard’s accompanying report.

And because women are more likely to receive secondary job offers than men, that environmental support is also part of patching the leaky pipeline.

“Dual-career hiring can get them in the door,” said Sonia Goltz, a professor of organizational behavior at Michigan Technological University. “But you can still have that turnover problem if you don’t support women in other ways, and they’re still getting less square footage in their lab space, less pay and fewer salary increases.”

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