In pre-eminent hiring, UF finds ways to accommodate trailing spouse
Published: Saturday, August 23, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 22, 2014 at 8:44 p.m.
Spiro and Candice Stefanou are in town from Pennsylvania this weekend to look around before they meet with University of Florida officials on Monday to discuss their coming here as a team.
Spiro Stefanou, a professor of agricultural economics at Penn State, is being offered the chair position in the agricultural economics department in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. He has an appointment on Monday with Jack Payne, senior vice president of agriculture and natural resources to find out the details of the job offer.
He's also asked for a spousal accommodation for his wife, an education professor at Bucknell University. She has an appointment to speak with the dean of the College of Education to see if there is any position for her over there.
"My experience is that these spousal accommodation programs work well if there is a commitment out of the Provost office," Stefanou said in an email to The Sun.
UF is trying to accommodate those "trailing spouses" by finding or even creating positions for them in their area of expertise or specialization if they are qualified as faculty.
"Spousal accommodations are the way to do business. These spouses are also stars, some are even pre-eminent," Payne said. "The challenge is to get the person we want and their spouse."
The university also has a dual career referral program for the non-academic partners of new faculty. It is also involved in a new initiative launched by the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and other organizations to find jobs for the partners of faculty who accept positions here but are not themselves in academia.
A system to accommodate trailing partners
For the first time in years, UF is recruiting faculty en masse over the next five years with $80 million it received from the Florida Legislature for meeting the 12 pre-eminence criteria established for the university system. President Bernie Machen has promised to match the state money with private donations, and the UF Foundation has launched an $800 million fund drive to create endowments for research professors and their staffs.
A team of UF administrators asked faculty, deans, and department heads for input on which areas they should hire new faculty. And out of that feedback they developed 26 areas in which to focus their recruitment and hiring efforts.
UF has recruited around 40 pre-eminent faculty to begin with the start of fall semester Monday. Machen plans to give the faculty senate an update on pre-eminence hiring Thursday.
Unlike other institutions, UF has a system in place for spousal accommodation.
When a department wants to hire someone and their spouse or partner, it requests a spousal accommodation. It enters into a two- or three-year agreement with the provost and the reciprocal department, in which the hiring unit pays a third of the position salary, the reciprocal department pays a third, and the Provost's Office pays a third.
"After three years, theory is they become so indispensable they keep them, or they leave — find something else — or the couple departs. We've had that happen also," said Glenn Good, the dean of the College of Education.
The spousal accommodation is a source of concern for the UF chapter of the United Faculty of Florida because it is not covered in the union contract, and there is a feeling it is diverting resources.
"Nothing in the bargaining agreement says you give special provision for hiring a spouse, but it is a long-standing tradition," said Oscar Crisalle, a chemical engineering professor and membership chair for UFF-UF. The university, he said, doesn't "want to lose someone because there is no place for their spouse so they try to find a position for them. Imposing faculty on us costs money."
Inter-department cooperation for hires
The hiring spree is coming after several years of state budget cuts that forced the closure of tenure lines and the loss of positions through attrition.
Just about every college and department has fewer faculty than it did eight years ago, Good said. Also, he said, there are not a huge amount of resources to accommodate trailing spouses so deans have to be more creative and collaborative.
"Deans have worked really hard to cooperate and help each other out," Good said. "If we help someone out this time, we will ask for their help in the future. We help each other out because things work much better if they do."
What makes it especially challenging with pre-eminent hires, Good said, is that they are not just starting out in their careers, and if they have spouses, neither are they.
For example, Good hired Carole Beal, an education technology professor at the University of Arizona, to be director of the Online Learning Institute — a pre-eminence hub that crosses other disciplines and includes the colleges of Engineering and Journalism and Communications.
Her husband, Paul Cohen, is pre-eminent in his own right but is currently in a job that he cannot get out of and wouldn't want to if he could — a tenured professor on loan to the Department of Defense doing research on aging.
"I think they understand it's hard to offer us a job in two or three years when he is available," Good said. On the other hand, Good said, Cohen is so pre-eminent in his own field that UF would be foolish not to offer him a job when he is released from the DOD.
Good is glad that Cohen's situation didn't stop Beal from deciding to come to UF. "She is doing cutting-edge research in technology and online assisted learning," Good said.
Things don't always work out, even when you find an accommodation. Good found a position in the College of Liberal Arts for the partner of Aleksandra Slavkovic, a Penn State professor he wanted to hire, but Penn State made a counter-offer they couldn't refuse.
Likewise, the College of Engineering wanted to hire Alexis Kwasinski away from the University of Texas at Austin but needed a position for his wife, Veronica Sardegna, an education professor there. Sardegna found another position at another university that was a better match for what she wanted to do than what UF could offer her here, Good said.
"Even when we are able to work out a position for a trailing partner, that doesn't always mean they will come," Good said.
Sometimes the accommodation is right in their own program.
Payne has offered jobs to a husband-and-wife team from Utah State. Ethan Smith, whose research is in macroecology, ecological theory and ecoinformatics, has been offered a job in the Bioinformatics Initiative, and his wife, S.K. Morgan Ernest, a community ecologist, has been offered a position in the Biodiversity Initiative.
"So, in this case, the spousal accommodation program is not required," Payne said.
Payne also has hired Ana Conesa, a bioinformatics scientist from Spain. "Her husband works for Bayer in Europe and he is so well thought of by Bayer that the company will continue to employ him after they move to Florida," Payne said.
Things are a little more tentative for James Anderson and his wife. After being out of academia for the past four years traveling the globe as a fisheries and aquatics adviser for the World Bank, he said he's looking forward to returning to a university setting.
Anderson recently accepted an offer to head up UF's pre-eminence initiative on food systems in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. The former University of Rhode Island professor is hoping that UF can find a job for his wife, Jingjie Chu, a natural resource economist, working in the Global Program on Fisheries and Aquaculture at the World Bank.
Payne confirmed the college is trying to find a place for Anderson's wife, but it is not a deal breaker. Anderson's job starts Dec. 1, while his wife can telecommute with her job until something comes available at UF.
"The fact (that) they understand that families matter and the dual-career problem is a difficult problem to solve, I greatly appreciate that," Anderson said. "A lot of universities are trying to do that."