The Ins and Outs of Academic Relationships

Julia Nelson Hawkins (Ohio State University)

The life of an academic couple is fraught with several predictable obstacles yet blessed with particular advantages: on the one hand, the reality of coordinating two careers so that both people end up in the same time zone, much less the same city or university, can be a nightmare; on the other hand, academic couples enjoy live-in editors and colleagues who will listen to and critique endless ideas and arguments.

In this session, I will discuss some of the obstacles I and other “academic couples” have encountered and offer some advice based on my own personal experience. For example: how do the partners of an academic couple position themselves to be geographically close to each other? What are some of the pitfalls of working in the same department? Is co-publishing a good idea? How do spousal hires work? The good news is that academic departments seem to be increasingly supportive of spousal hires, so two Classicists have a much better chance of working in the same department than they did, say, 10 years ago. That having been said, it is crucial for academic couples, particularly if they share the same discipline, to prevent their academic identities and “voices” from blending into one another. This is especially the case for a younger scholar who is partnered to an older, more established colleague.

Some of the suggestions I will offer include: 1. the member of the academic couple without a job should get to know his or her partner’s colleagues. This is made easier if the jobless partner chooses to live in the same city as her employed partner, but either way, she or he should not feel reticent about what may be perceived as following along at the heels of the one with a job. These days academic departments are very savvy about the need to hire partners of valued departmental members, at the very least, as instructors. Even a temporary job can and often has led to a tenure-track job. 2. For those couples who are both blessed with part-time or tenure-track jobs at the same university, the difficulties are more complex. I recommend establishing separate “work identities”. Do not appear chummy at work, and avoid backing each other up too loudly at departmental meetings. Be able to disagree with your partner in public if necessary. Make sure your students understand that you do not discuss them with each other at home, since academic couples in the same department can be viewed as being more prone to gossip. These and other issues will form the basis for an engaging conversation about love lives in academia.

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