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A Family Affair

Wooing top profs also means finding jobs for their spouses

By Stephanie S. Garlow, Crimson Staff Writer

The wedding registry for a couple entering academia nowadays might include an unusual big-ticket item: two professorships in the same city.

Until the early 1970s, Harvard’s “nepotism policy,” which effectively prohibited the University from hiring professors’ wives, would have made the fulfillment of such a wish unlikely.

Although executive orders of 1970 and 1972 made the nepotism policy illegal, there remained little institutional support for helping the spouses of Harvard faculty members find jobs in the area.

But with the creation of the Office of Faculty Development in 2000, the University began devoting more resources to, in fact, helping spouses find jobs.

“I think we as an institution have become much more sensitive to those issues,” said Venkatesh “Venky” Narayanamurti, dean of the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The University now focuses on “valuing not only the person but the family.”


The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) extended 36 tenure-track job offers last year, 14 of which were refused. At least half of those who turned down offers cited the inability to find jobs for their spouses as a reason for not coming, according to Lisa L. Martin, the FAS senior adviser on diversity.

The need to find jobs for spouses is “one of the most challenging things we have to deal with,” says Laura G. Fisher, associate dean for faculty development. “The majority of recruitments involve some kind of spousal concerns.”

In wooing new faculty members, department heads and professors try to ensure that the potential hires feel welcome, according to Venky.

“We obviously wine and dine them,” he says, adding that he also sets up meetings with faculty members, works with a realtor to arrange housing, and helps professors find information on schools and childcare in the area.

But spousal hiring can be “a showstopper,” he says, adding that other obstacles, such as housing, can be fixed more easily because “it’s only money.”

And the problem is most challenging with “dual-career academic couples,” according to Fisher, as there is a particularly small number of positions available in academia.

“There are like 10 jobs in the world a year that I would apply for,” says Douglas Finkbeiner, who joined the Harvard faculty this year as an assistant professor of astronomy. “It’s hard to get one job and then to get two jobs in the same city is just that much harder.” Finkbeiner’s wife is a professor at Northeastern University.

And it is even more difficult when both members of the couple are looking for positions in the same field. Not only does the limited availability of academic jobs make a dual appointment within a department unlikely, but such a hire also presents a potential conflict of interest with issues such as confidentiality and voting on promotions, according to Venky.


FAS initiatives devoted to growing the faculty have made finding jobs for spouses an increasingly pressing issue for those at the University involved with faculty recruitment.

In 2000, Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles announced his decision to expand the faculty by 10 percent, from 635 professors to 700, by 2010. His successor, William C. Kirby, accelerated the plan in 2002, promising to increase the faculty to 750 by 2010. There are already over 700 professors in FAS.

Knowles created the Office of Faculty Development in 2000, in response to the decision to grow the faculty, according to Fisher. One of the office’s primary responsibilities is to help spouses find jobs.

“We don’t make jobs,” Fisher says. “We open doors and provide opportunities.”

As a first step in the job search, the office meets with the spouse to understand his or her personal needs, she says.

Members of the office then research potential job openings, mine their contacts, and talk to other nearby universities.

We “call anybody that has any relationship to anything the person does,” Fisher says, noting that the office is successful a “good portion of the time.”

Finkbeiner said that after Harvard offered him a position, Elizabeth Ancarana, assistant dean for faculty development, contacted him and his wife to ask if she could offer any assistance.

The office brought Finkbeiner’s wife, Erin Cram, up to Boston and arranged for her to meet with a consultant.

Finkbeiner asked to defer his position for a year to give his wife time to complete the job application process. Cram received an offer for an assistant professorship at Northeastern and both assumed their new posts this fall.

The office also coordinates with the departments and divisional deans, who often conduct their own research into potential job opportunities.

For Colleen M. Hansel, an assistant professor of environmental microbiology who came to Harvard this year, finding a job for her fiancé, Scott Wankel, was a “top priority.”

“I would not have come if he wouldn’t have been able to find a position,” she says. Wankel landed a postdoctoral position at Harvard.

Although Wankel ultimately found his position by contacting faculty members himself, Hansel says that DEAS was supportive, offering suggestions for postdoctoral funding sources available at the University.

Venky cites one instance of a junior faculty member whose spouse needed to be hired as a postdoc. In this case, Venky found a position by calling his colleagues to inquire about openings. “I arranged for that to happen,” he says.

This fall, Harvard and its teaching hospitals invested $200,000 in the creation of the New England Higher Education Recruitment Consortium, an online partnership of 36 academic institutions. The consortium, which is aimed at helping the spouses of faculty members find jobs in the region, offers a centralized database of job openings.

Before the database existed, Fisher says, Harvard had to contact each school individually, a task simplified by the consortium.


Despite the University’s efforts, finding two jobs is often a challenge—and sometimes it is an insurmountable obstacle.

The University has lost several prominent scholars because their spouses have preferred to work at other institutions or have been unable to find jobs in the Boston area.

Last month, Harvard lost the Civil Rights Project to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), when the center’s co-founder and director, Gary Orfield, decided to relocate to UCLA, where he will now co-direct the center with his wife, Patricia Gandara, also an education scholar.

Orfield and Gandara wed last year, and Orfield writes in an e-mail that once they were married and wanted to work together, they were “immediately and seriously contacted by many major universities” and chose UCLA because it extended the best offer. Both received tenure at UCLA.

Last year, Harvard Law School lost one of the nation’s foremost experts in election law, Heather K. Gerken, when she accepted an offer from Yale, which she said offered a better fit for her and her husband, David Simon, a scholar specializing in African politics.

Gerken said that while Harvard did everything possible to keep them in Cambridge, she had personal reasons for leaving. According to Tyler Professor in Constitutional Law Richard Fallon, Gerken chose Yale because it “seems a better fit for her husband.”

“My husband and I had offers at Harvard, [New York University], and Yale, and the Yale package made the most sense for us as a family,” Gerken told The Crimson last year.

—Staff writer Stephanie S. Garlow can be reached at

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