Widgets Magazine

Happily ever after

Married profs sound off on dual academic career hiring

Whether they have shared last names, work in similar fields or have completely separate academic identities, married professors are not uncommon at Stanford and add a certain “nerdy-romantic” dynamic to the Farm.

Sociology Prof. Andrew Walder and his wife, political science Prof. Jean Oi, were jointly recruited to Stanford and have collaborated on publications and other academic endeavors.

“We definitely wanted to work at the same school, not only for convenience, but because we share similar interests and it’s nice to already have a colleague you like to work with,” Walder said. “Harvard, where we worked before, was definitely more discouraging [of having married faculty].”

Current freshmen may be well acquainted with another academic power couple, Michele Elam, English professor, and Harry Elam, Jr., drama professor. Aside from moderating the Three Books talk at the beginning of the year, the Elams taught the “Beyond Survival” Introduction to the Humanities (IHUM) class together this fall quarter.

“We share similar tastes, interests and commitments and are close intellectual companions,” said Michele Elam. “We

English Professor Michele Elam, left, and husband Harry Elam, Jr., right, moderated Three Books, above, and lectured in Introduction to the Humanities (IHUM) last quarter. (Stanford Daily File Photo)

submitted a proposal together to teach an IHUM because we are both interested in diversity, art and politics. Students quickly realized that we were married, and I guess this led to some entertainment value during class when we would appear to disagree.”

The Elams also collaborate on research and are currently writing a book together. They said they are not fazed by the overlap between their professional and personal lives.

“No — I absolutely love working with my wife!” exclaimed Harry Elam. “We are excited by each others’ work, intellectual curiosity and love of teaching.”

Working closely together has only enhanced their relationship, the Elams revealed. They share an office at home and enjoy “talking about Stanford all the time.” And while occasional confusion occurs when students contact the wrong Dr. Elam, they say they are incredibly happy with their situation.

Christine Wotipka, education professor, shared similar sentiments about work with her husband.

“We’re both workaholics,” Dr. Wotipka admitted. “With such busy lives and two young kids, any chance to be together is appreciated. Even if it’s a meeting, work becomes time together.”

However, she and husband Anthony Antonio, education professor, also work in the same department, which has the potential to complicate matters.

“I feel like having an academic couple work in the same department would be less beneficial due to issues with voting,” Walder said. Michele Elam agreed, pointing out the increased opportunities for conflicts of interest as well as the constant — perhaps excessive — contact.

“Because we still work with different programs, there are no conflicts of interest,” Wotipka said. “Plus, I benefit from having a nurturing, ‘in-house’ mentor, which can be difficult for many junior faculty to find.”

The University also stresses the attention it pays to Dual-Career Academic Hiring.

“[It’s] a very serious topic,” noted Londa Schiebinger, history professor and director of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research. In addition to being the wife of Dr. Robert Proctor, a fellow history professor, Dr. Schiebinger published a detailed research paper and policy guide regarding dual-career academic couples in 2008.

According to her research, over a third of academic professionals are married to another academic professional, and finding suitable employment for a spouse is considered a very high priority by most. Over the past decade, the joint hiring of academic couples has increased significantly, and many universities have started to realize the potential value in having a couple work together to recruit and retain top talent.

The Elams and Walder agreed that they would have had no qualms about choosing a less prestigious institution if Stanford had not hired their respective spouses. Their opinions reflect Dr. Schiebinger’s research, which found that 88 percent of dual-career faculty nationwide would have refused their current position if their spouse had not also been hired.

This also supports the steps that Stanford has been taking in order to acquire top-notch faculty, which include creating a special administrative position to assist with dual hires, encouraging departments to find suitable positions for spouses and operating several databases containing information about available jobs on campus and in the area.

“It’s impossible to hire some of the best without hiring a couple, and Stanford does a really good job at this,” Walder said. “I can’t think of any place in the world that would be more open!”

Although they met and married at Stanford after being hired separately, Antonio and Wotipka left Stanford briefly to pursue promising positions and were only convinced to return when the University was able to make an attractive offer to both parties.

“If we were to come back, it had to be as a family,” Wotipka said. “Luckily, Stanford definitely has more resources and great staff to attract dual hires.”

Evidence suggests that dual-hiring might boost faculty satisfaction and retention rates and improve hiring for minorities and women, without many detriments. Even when a second professor is hired because their spouse was recruited, productivity levels do not drop, and Stanford in particular is still very strict about upholding its high standards.

“People come with lives — it is definitely beneficial to the couple and to the institution if a couple can receive tenure at the same place,” said Michele Elam. “Of course, both candidates still need to undergo the same rigorous vetting processes, but more priority or a second glance will be offered in a potential dual-hire. And it is important to note that this applies to same-sex couples at Stanford, as well.”

Students have also noticed advantages to having professors who are content and share good camaraderie.

Taylor Nguyen ‘13, who was a member of the Elams’ “Beyond Survival” IHUM, felt that having a married couple co-teach a class “actually added to the dynamics of the class.”

“They are both brilliant professors with a lot of valuable insight,” she said. “During lectures they were very professional, but [during discussions] you could definitely tell that the seamless flow of the discussion was aided by their years together.”

Also, it was just nice to see professors working together “who had such great respect and admiration for each other,” she added.