I have written before about how hard it is for my institution to help prospective faculty members find suitable employment for their spouses or partners. We share this challenge with many small private colleges and universities in small towns and rural areas, and I have had many conversations with my fellow chief academic officers at comparable institutions about how to find or create viable options for partnered candidates who we have invited to join our faculty.
Though our possibilities in the spousal-employment area are limited, there is one thing we can do to show partners and spouses the life they might have were they to come to Storm Lake. This year, we have started to invite the selected candidate and his or her spouse or partner back to campus for a short visit to explore the town and get a taste of what life is like here.
Doing this has increased our search expenses somewhat, but after doing the math, I think it’s been worth it. This year, so far, we’ve probably spent an additional $5,000 or so bringing candidates and partners back to campus, which in the grand scheme of our overall budget isn’t much. And doing the calculations on the sunk cost of a failed search makes it look like an even better deal: re-advertising a job and bringing in a second set of candidates for even a single search would cost considerably more.
While my first priority in hiring is to get the person in the pool who looks most likely to do the job best, my second priority is to get a new colleague who’s happy to be here. Life in a small Midwestern town doesn’t suit everyone, and given the obstacles we face to helping spouses and partners secure solid employment, the happiness stakes rise even higher.
So far, bringing in spouses and partners has worked well. My colleagues and I have the impression that the candidates and spouses in question have gained enthusiasm for being here, and in a couple of cases have already made housing arrangements, which gives them a substantial head start. I believe, too, that inviting the candidate and his or her partner back demonstrates our interest in faculty having a happy life at the university, and shows that we will support them personally and professionally.
Bringing in partners is a down payment on satisfied new faculty. If the couple can imagine their life here, and make an informed decision to come, they’ll probably get a better start. Conversely, if the partner really can’t picture living here, it’s certainly better to find that out now rather than later.