Faculty express discontent over partner inclusion policies

By SOPHIA MCDERMOTT-HUGHES

Over three-quarters of Middlebury faculty come to the college with a partner. But inadequate college policies for employing these partners and integrating them into the Middlebury community have led some faculty to consider leaving, according to a survey conducted by the Faculty Council Working Group on Partner Inclusion in March.

In response to the group’s report summarizing the survey results, President Laurie Patton announced at the Nov. 8 faculty meeting the creation of a new half-time five-year position that will be specially dedicated to improving partner inclusion policy and practice.

Partner inclusion, while mainly focusing on employment, also encompasses concerns about helping partners feel part of the Middlebury community. 

“Partners are not, contrary to popular belief, looking for a handout in the form of a tailored job,” wrote Sarah Laursen, assistant professor of history of art and architecture, in a 2018 internal report to the Faculty Council. “They are simply people who moved here with their partners in hopes of a better life but are continually faced with disappointment and rejection in the job search.”

Of the faculty who responded to the March survey, 90% said that an institutional partner hiring policy was important to them, and 76% came to Middlebury with a partner. Of these, there was a roughly evenly split between academic and non-academic partners.

The college’s current partner employment policy states, “Middlebury will strive to attract and retain the best faculty and staff. While doing so, Middlebury will also strive to increase the number of women and persons of color on its administration, faculty and staff.”

However, due to the lack of a robust partner inclusion policy, 18% of faculty reported that they are actively looking for other employment, according to the report. When accounting for faculty members passively searching for employment or those who have searched in the past, hypothesized the report, this figure is likely much higher.

“We moved from far away, into an isolated place with no network — a common story here — and so job hunting was difficult without having any college support,” wrote one faculty member in response to the survey. “[It] was a big letdown. The longer I’m here, the more I feel like my experience is not unique, and the college really doesn’t care about this at all.”

Issues of partner inclusion disproportionately affect female faculty, who, according to the 2008 Report of the Task Force on the Status of Women at Middlebury College, face uneven challenges in this area due to societal norms. 

The report found that gender discrepancies among associate professors were due in large part to Middlebury’s partner inclusion policy, since female faculty were more likely to leave before achieving tenure if they did not think their spouses would be employed by the college or in the area. Between the fall of 1997 and the spring of 2008, 60% of departing female faculty cited spousal employment as the main reason for their resignation, while the same was true of only 10% of departing male faculty, according to the report.

Under the current policy, the dean of faculty informs new hires that they can contact Human Resources for assistance in partner employment. However, 92% of the respondents to the survey said that they did not receive any support, though many tried.

Another respondent to the survey expressed dissatisfaction with the way their partner was treated when he applied for a job at the college after the respondent was hired.

“When my partner did apply for a position that he was well-qualified for, he was treated poorly by the HR process — long delays between app submission and first interview, and then before the second interview, with little communication in between, and long lag before final rejection,” the faculty member wrote. “We are not alone. A colleague in my area had a similar experience with her partner. Neither partner has any interest in reapplying to Midd.”

The lack of partner inclusion affects faculty morale, creates problems in drawing talented prospective candidates and takes a psychological toll on both faculty and their partners, according to Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Merrill “Mez” Baker-Medard. Baker-Medard is a member of the Faculty Council Working Group on Partner Inclusion.

“Every day, we faculty come home from our dream jobs to our demoralized partners, and we feel miserable that our success comes at the cost of their self-worth,” wrote Laursen in the 2018 internal report to the Faculty Council. “The constant job search and the stress of trying to survive on less income … puts a strain on our relationships, and we come to resent the College too.”

The lack of prospects for faculty partners causes heightened turnover of faculty and can also deter new professors from taking jobs at the college. This creates extra work for hiring committee members and causes financial waste within the hiring process, according to Kristina Sargent, another member of the Faculty Council Working Group on Partner Inclusion and Assistant Professor of Economics.

“I find it ironic that the school is so obsessively cutting budgets while they spend who knows how much on recruiting to replace faculty who would have stayed if their partners could have found even marginally satisfactory employment nearby,” responded one faculty member to the working group’s survey. 

According to Baker-Medard, faculty have raised concerns about the college’s faculty partner inclusion policy for the last 25 years with little to no change resulting.

“While my experience was over a decade ago, it looks like little has changed,” responded one faculty member to the survey. 

“The people we are hiring as professors today are not the same as 30 years ago when the model was originally set up,” said Sargent. “The world is just different, so the policy should be different.”

Following the group’s report and its presentation to the faculty in September, Patton negotiated with a donor to secure funding for the new five-year position. The Faculty Council Working Group on Partner Inclusion hopes to work with administration and faculty to design the job description for this role and finalize the hire by the end of this academic year, according to Baker-Medard.

“The person who had this task before, it was one of many, many other things they did, so having a dedicated person is a big win,”  Baker-Medard said. “I think it gives us a little bit of momentum. Maybe that person can also help us think about the no or low cost things we can do as well as the things we want to invest in financially in the future based on our recommendations.”

The creation of this new position addressed just one of eight recommendations from the working group’s report. These recommendations included having Human Resources proactively reach out to new hires about partner inclusion, offering courtesy interviews and introductions to partners to help them find local employment outside of the college, creating a formal process for two-year visiting appointments for partners, and creating better channels into staff positions for non-academic partners. 

According to the report, “Partner employment is not just an opportunity for partners, it is also an opportunity for the College. Faculty partners are often highly skilled and readily employable.”

The working group also recommended that Middlebury put more effort into including partners in college activities and events, “revise existing partner employment guidelines into a clear and transparent partner inclusion policy” and continue allowing the Faculty Council Working Group on Partner Inclusion to address these issues.

“There’s definitely interest and a willingness and openness around these other requests, but nothing’s been concretized yet,” Baker-Medard said. “I think the Dean of Faculty as well as other administrators, including President Patton, are aware of the issue and thinking about it in new ways due to this report.” 

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