Tenured rock star in the humanities (we picked this name for her) asks:
Here’s my advice question. It’s a big one but you guys seem smart about thinking through decisions rationally and I think you and your readership might have some valuable thoughts. My husband and I are trying to decide whether to move. I am a recently-tenured assoc prof in a humanities discipline at a fancy private R1 university. I get paid well (for a humanities prof) and have modest research funds and a sweet teaching load.
My husband is the trailing spouse. He has been working as academic staff here in a job he does not like. His humanities field is insanely competitive (200+ applicants for every job; he has been a finalist 4 times). Meanwhile he has published a book with an extremely reputable academic press, published some articles, and started working in the field of digital humanities — doing his own new research project this way, teaching a class in it, and starting up a DH working group on campus. All of this on top of his fulltime academic staff job and with zero support from the school.
This year he was successful on the job market and got a TT offer from a second-tier, but very solid, public university in a neighboring state. It is too far to commute and this school is willing to bring me in with tenure as a spousal hire. We both like where we currently live [ed: A major city] and my brother and sister-in-law live in the same town. Second-tier but solid school is in a less-cool but still entirely serviceable and incredibly affordable large city (apartment here — with 2 kids — and big house there, etc.). We will still have our yuppie necessities: whole foods, trader joes, farmer’s markets, CSAs, bike paths, a bunch of cultural institutions, etc.
We feel like, given the humanities job market, we may never again have the chance at two TT jobs (we have, after all, been trying for 6 years), so this is a huge opportunity. But I can’t quite decide how important it is to be at an R1 and have that status, versus having both of us welcomed and supported at this other less-prestigious place. My husband’s current job is not only totally unenjoyable but is a career dead-end. We are trying to negotiate something better for him at R1, but it will not be and will never be a TT job b/c they just don’t play that way.
I’m currently grief-stricken because of health stuff going on with my Mom and I’m finding it incredibly hard to think clearly and to separate out reasonable fear of change/moving from that grief from trust-your-gut messages about what’s really right here.
Any thoughts from you and your readers?
This is a really tough decision, especially when you’re worried about family health matters. Our sympathies with you and your mother.
Our first thought is that when top women in our fields (and it’s almost always women) make these moves, they generally get their top institution to allow them to try it out for a year first. Your husband would then accept his job and you would essentially keep both jobs for a year. Technically you would be on unpaid leave from the hot-shot job. In a year you have a better idea of the differences between the two institutions and your own preferences. This doesn’t always fly, but it seems to be how most of the academic couples we’ve seen changing institutions make the move. It is very hard to give up tenure at a top school. (Websites like Sabbaticalhomes.com can help you find temporary housing, often furnished so you don’t have to move your stuff.)
Let’s say that trying it out for a year isn’t in the cards. From your email, we’re assuming that staying together is important, so we won’t discuss options that include living apart. For other couples, that might be a solution. (And we’ve seen this work out too, eventually.)
The main worry leaving your awesome school is that you will get to the less good school and find out that one or both of you is miserable, or your DH doesn’t get tenure and there are fewer opportunities for him in the new town than there were in your old city.
If that happens, all is not lost, assuming that you are still awesome. Because awesome people can move again.
So you need to make sure that if you move, your new position allows you to remain awesome.
What does that mean? Well, what is the teaching load like? (Include things like number of classes, number of preps, size of classes, grading support etc.) How much sharing of ideas etc. can you do with your new department compared to what you did with your old department? What kind of resources are they giving you in terms of travel bursary, research support, etc. compared to what you had before? How are the salaries different? (And is your current department countering with a better salary for you?) The new place doesn’t have to be as amazing as the old place, but it does need to allow you to continue to be a productive and happy researcher. Get things in writing. Negotiate. Don’t just be grateful to be a spousal hire– they’re very lucky to be getting you and you need to protect yourself. You’re a tenured professor at a top school– keep that in mind! (And no, you don’t have to be a jerk about it– you just have to politely explain why you need these things.)
One of us is at a school that has better resources than its ranking– she still has a higher teaching load than she would at a top school, but the other benefits keep her more productive than she would be at a less resource-rich school at the same rank (and it helps that the resource rich environment is attracting more colleagues in her specific field area). The other one of us is in a resource-poor environment and it’s difficult to even get travel funds. These things are important. Teaching loads are very important. If the new school is resource-rich, then you can mostly ignore the prestige question, but if the resources are less than abundant, then your career may be strongly negatively impacted.
I know several women who have made this kind of a move, and they’re all pretty happy. Of course, they’re also making huge salaries at the less-good universities and they have other kinds of sweetheart deals (running a center, being allowed to make new hires, etc.). You can’t just look a the question in terms of : one Tenured job at a fancy school vs. one Tenured/one TT job at a not as good school. You have to look at the whole package. (And given that you’re moving to a Public university, I am sure you’ve looked at the salary scale of people in the department that wants to hire you…)
If you do decide to stay put… I’m sure your DH knows this, but given that you live in a major city with several universities, he should be networking with folks in those departments… if they like him enough they might be convinced to write a job description for him one of these years. You can also go on the market yourself to places that have good spousal hiring policies, though it sounds like you’ve been doing so.
Good luck with your decision and best wishes to your family!
#2 would like to add that I support everything above and those are great points. Given everything you’ve said, I think you should definitely go for it, just do itte, as CPP would say (keeping in mind the options above about trying to take a year of leave, negotiating for more resources, etc.). I think whatever you decide can work out well for you and your family. hang in there. #1 is more ambivalent… the resources available at the new place are important, as is the counter-offer given by the current place. #2 adds: time for lots and lots of negotiation with BOTH schools. Play them against each other. If DH can get a lectureship, then stay! #1 says: Yes, tenure isn’t everything, but being productive is. Letterhead is also nice.
Grumpy Nation: TRS needs your help! What advice do you have for her? What should she be thinking about in making her decision?