Academic Couples

This post is an expansion of a comment I made to Tenured Radical’s post, “Never Mix, Never Worry: A Brief (and incomplete) History of the Academic Couple”. She wrote the post in response to Caroline Bick’s  essay in the Sunday New York Times, “Is the Husband Going to Be a Problem.”

That question arose in the mind of a professor interviewing Bick for her first academic position. Bick’s essay mentions this sexist thinking about her husband potentially being a hiring issue. However, this is not really the main point of the article, which is not about sexism in academia but is about the intersection of careers and relationships.

Her advisor reassured her potential employer, not Bick as Tenured Radical indicates. Bick wishes she could have responded. She would have told them that it would be no problem because she planned to chain him under the bed. Bick does acknowledge that the “adult” behavior expected of her in the moment would up influencing her choices for many years.

Tenured Radical and many of the commenters felt that Bick’s story had a happy ending because she, her husband, and their children live together in the same city. It is a successful conclusion from the point of Bick’s relationship with her husband. The husband’s first career ended and he had to reinvent himself. As I know from personal experience this can be very difficult. If the woman had to give up her chosen academic career but got to live in the same city with her husband and children would it still be a successful conclusion?

Tenured Radical feels that the issue of “academic commuting” is a recent problem. “Once women decided to stop baking cookies for their husband’s seminars and type manuscripts for love and pin money, it occurred to them get their own advanced degrees (it was around the mid 1960s, when women’s liberation really took off,…)” Was feminism really as straight forward and simple as women making a conscious choice to stop baking cookies and get PhDs? I guess there were not any social forces that kept them baking and no changes that enabled woman to have more options, in both career and personal life.

The post contains several pictures of Elizabeth Taylor from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and the reader might assume she represents the prototypical faculty wife. Honey, the younger woman in Edward Albee’s play, actually better fits the stereotype of the faculty wife.

Sandy Dennis, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Sandy Dennis, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Martha, the character Elizabeth Taylor plays, is an alcoholic, frustrated and vengeful woman. Her frustration does not seem to be related to her not having obtained an academic job. She does not really fit into the point Tenured Radical makes about  secret drinking by faculty wives.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

College campuses across America have scholarship funds for women returning to school, loans for students, funds for campus beautification, and wings in medical centers because of faculty wives. Apparently, these women found time to do other things besides baking cookies and becoming alcoholics.

Spousal hires are much more likely if one or both of the people are stars or if they are looking for jobs at large public universities. In general, small private liberal arts colleges cannot easily add a second line when trying to hire someone. In addition, spousal hires can often conflict with affirmative action goals.

Two people in the same field are unlikely to wind up with two jobs at the same institution.   Someone will have to give up and do something else; that is what happened to Bick and her husband.

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