[This post is based on parts of last week’s post “How To Negotiate Your Tenure Track Offer.” Since some readers focused on the spousal issue may have missed that post, I am publishing this under this new title here. I welcome comments on any aspect of spousal hiring from both the institutional and candidate perspectives, both happy endings and horror stories. Comment away!]
The dreaded spousal issue…this is the hardest negotiation of all. In general, wait until you have a firm offer before you bring up the spouse. Any mention earlier than that could well work against you in the minds of the faculty, consciously or unconsciously. Once the offer is in hand, mention your spouse to the Department Head. Be aware that this is the one and only chance that you will have to negotiate for a spousal hire, so DO NOT WASTE IT! Push as firmly as you can for the actual tenure-track offer, and don’t be put off with the range of one-year, two-year, three- year, instructor, adjunct, and visiting positions that they will try to pawn off on you.
They may say something like “oh we can revisit your husband’s tenure case later, when this contract is up,” but DON’T BELIEVE IT. It is never, ever revisited after you lose the leverage of the initial offer (that is, until you gain the leverage of an external offer, and that’s a pain and time-consuming to manage).
Accept nothing in negotiations, but absolutely nothing in the case of spousal negotiations, that is not in writing. Any “informal” agreements or understandings that you may have with the current Head or Dean are meaningless if not in writing, because Heads and Deans change, and with no written agreement, all arrangements are void.
Make sure that your spouse is debut-ready. His or her cv should be spit-shined, the dissertation finished, and a polished research and teaching statement prepared. The spouse should have refereed journal articles published or in press, and overall, a record as strong and competitive as anyone on the market.
The spouse needs to be personable and agreeable, and should take every opportunity to appear a potential asset to the institution. I speak from personal experience here with my ex-husband, but a crabby, negative spouse who resents being characterized as “trailing” will likely derail the process entirely.
Be clear about the full range of departments the spouse would be eligible for an appointment in, and the full range of positions for which he/she is qualified. Be flexible about any offered position that is tenure-track. There are many painful and difficult negotiations that have to take place to line up a spousal hire, and some departments and department heads will play ball more than others. Some Heads are incompetent while others are savvy. To some extent you are at the various Heads’ mercy.
Be aware of how spousal hires are paid for. Generally, the original department will pay one third of the spousal hire’s salary, the Dean’s office will pay one third, and then the spouse-receiving department will pay one third. This obviously can have a great deal of appeal for the receiving department, especially if they are cash-poor, as they are getting one full line for 1/3 cost. However, they may resent being forced to accept a faculty member whom they did not go out and recruit on their own, and they may fear that the spouse hire will derail the prior hiring goals they had in place (ie, the Dean says, “since you got this full line this year, we can postpone your original search requests”).
Thus the initial department may have to knock on several doors to find a department willing to take this “free gift,” and may well find it impossible, in the end, to accomplish.
The important thing, once again, is to hold firm and politely repeat, “My biggest priority is a position for my spouse,” without any escalation or emotionalism or drama, day after day, to person after person, until you either get the spousal offer, or get a flat-out NO that you read as unmistakable. As long as they are still talking to you about it, don’t waver. Realize that this goal will very likely, unless you are some kind of super-star, take many other negotiable elements of your offer off the table, such as substantially higher salary, research funds, etc. The spousal hire is the big-ticket item, and when you count its value to your family in terms of added income, retirement benefits, and domestic peace, it takes precedence over all other perks.