APS News

Shared Positions a Creative Solution for Academic Couples

by Natalie Adolphi

The following question was posed recently on the Climate for Women in Physics electronic discussion group: What are some creative solutions departments can use to ensure that both members of an academic couple can find meaningful employment in their fields?

Recently my husband, Andrew McDowell, and I - both with Ph.D.'s in physics - were hired by Knox College in Illinois as a joint appointment. Each of us is expected to fulfill half of the duties of a full-time person. We are each paid half the salary for the position. We receive the same benefits for our family that one full-time person would be eligible for. The tenure review will be individual in the sense that each of us will be evaluated individually on our performance, with the expectation that each of us teaches a half-load, takes part in half the committee work of a full-time person, etc.

The tricky part, of course, is what happens if one of us qualifies for tenure and the other doesn't. The way the college has it written in our contract is the following: if one of us fails to get tenure, the college has the option of declaring the entire position open. I believe that they could keep the person who did qualify for tenure, provided all parties were agreeable, but basically the ball is in the college's court. Should one of us decide to resign for some reason, one of the following scenarios would occur: 1) if the position were already tenured, the person not resigning could automatically take over the full position, or 2) if the position were not yet tenured, the college would have the option of keeping the person who wants to stay or considering the position vacant.

In our opinion the contract is fair. We are actually quite happy with the arrangment. Explicit in our contract is a statement that if we teach extra courses we will be duly compensated (i.e., a full-time teaching load is two courses per trimester, if one of us teaches an extra course that person would receive an extra one-sixth of our total salary). So we don't feel as though we will be taken advantage of. I've heard of cases where there was an assumption that the members of a joint appointment would be willing to teach extra classes (without additional compensation) because they had "free time."

No doubt we will each put in some extra time, particularly in our lab, working with students - but this is exactly what we want to do. We get the benefits of flexibility (more time for our daughter and our lab), and ultimately the college may benefit from some extra research effort/advising out of us. This seems fair to me. We have made a point of having only one us attend meetings, unless it's absolutely critical for us to both attend.

We've only been here since August, so it's not yet clear how things will actually work out, but for now we are quite pleased and hopeful. Knox has also hired a couple in another department (biology) this year. These hirings were possible because the college already had an established policy on joint appointments well before we applied for the job.

If an administration hasn't yet decided on a policy, convincing them to come up with one in the midst of a job search (i.e., deciding in a week or two) will undoubtedly be quite difficult. ("What if they get divorced? etc. etc.") The easy way out for the administration is to simply say no, even if the department is extremely keen on the idea of a joint hire.

Thus I urge people who are in favor of joint positions to urge their institutions to develop a policy before job-searching/hunting season begins. I think that joint positions benefit both employees and employers in a number of ways, and that contracts can be written to deal with some of the special problems which might arise in a joint appointment.

Natalie Adolphi is an Assistant Professor in the Physics Department at Knox College.


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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin

The End of Generalists in APS?

Discussion of the demise of the General Meetings of the Society in APS News, October, 1995, APS/AAPT Joint Spring Meeting to Rotate Sites, is long overdue. For early recognition of the facts and a plausible analysis of the cause we should thank a former executive officer of AAPT, Jack M. Wilson. His editorial in the Announcer, 19 (1). 20 (1989), The Balkanization of Physics, described with telling accuracy the transformation of APS from a Society united by a devotion to physics to a federation of specialists. Today our disunity is plaintively recognized by sessions on the Unity of Physics.

The change began with the constitutional changes of 1966 which gave specialists the upper hand in the Council of the Society.

The question of the day is whether those effects of constitutional change can be undone by merely rotating the sites of our General Meetings. It is a remedy which has been tried and has failed before. To this observer it is like applying a band-aid to a cancer lesion. It seems reasonable first to diagnose a malady before prescribing a cure, and if my diagnosis is correct, what is called for is major constitutional changes back to where we were 30 years ago, when the General Meetings of the Society were thronged with enthusiastic physicists. Perhaps that is a forlorn hope, but at least is has a sound historical justification, and how we react will tell us much about our courage or lack of it in facing past mistakes.

Restoring the influence of generalists in physics will do much more than merely enhance the interest of our General Meetings. It will boost pride in membership in APS and in physics as a career, and should enlarge much-needed opportunities for employment. The alternative is the continued decline of the tradition of generalism in physics in America.

Lawrence Cranberg