This article was published in Curtis D. Bennet and Annalisa Crannell, ed., Starting Our Careers, (American Mathematical Society, 1999).

Job Sharing in an Academic Department

Mark Montgomery and Irene Powell
Grinnell College

It is quite common these days for both members of a married couple to have the same level of professional training. Often they will both be trained in the same field. But for academic couples, there is a simple rule of thumb: if you have the same level of training, in the same field of study, then don't expect to have the same zip code. In other words, if you fall in love with another Ph.D., don't expect to whisper sweet nothings to him without the help of Sprint or MCI. A modern alternative to the long-distance marriage, however, is the sharing of one academic position. Or maybe the sharing of one-point-something academic positions. For example, the authors of this article each represent between .7 and 1.0 associate professors at Grinnell College, with an annual mean of .9, and a standard deviation of about .1. (This is not something we try to explain at cocktail parties.) Our joint contract stipulates that we teach no fewer than seven courses between us per year, and up to ten (full-time) if we and the college mutually agree. In this essay we consider the advantages and disadvantages of this kind of arrangement.

Not every college or university is ready to embrace the shared academic contract. In fact, it will only happen for one of two reasons:

    1) An angel of the Lord appears to the dean and demands he implement a shared contract policy,

    2) The school has trouble recruiting women.

Often both things have to happen. A place like Grinnell, where we teach, has a strong incentive to resort to shared contracts because it is a small college, in a town of 8000, deep in the heart of Iowa. Rural Iowa. A woman professor here may have trouble finding her husband a job better than the one Henry Fonda had in The Grapes of Wrath. If the husband is in the same academic field, a shared contract may be an attractive option.

There are goods things and bad things about shared contracts, of course. Obviously, a couple sharing a job earns less money than if both spouses had full-time jobs at separate institutions. As economists, we can't dismiss this as a trivial disadvantage. But the earnings differential may be smaller thank you think. Even if you share a single full-time job, you can usually pick up extra courses to teach. In any given year, there is nearly always someone in your department on leave. When we were recruited, our department was actively seeking a job-sharing couple to create some flexibility in leave replacement. Moreover, don't forget that there is complementary slackness between your budget and time constraints. If you earn less money its because you have less teaching to do. For two assistant professors who want to establish research records, the extra time is a major advantage. For example, the lower time requirements of the shared contract will certainly make it much easier for you to have children. (Actually we couldn't decide whether that's an advantage or a disadvantage of a shared contract, so lets just call it a "feature.") And finally, consider another terrific aspect of splitting a single job: you and your spouse will spend more time together every day than almost any couple you know. A lot more time. (Well, here again, better just call that a feature.)

All right then, lets suppose you and your spouse have abandoned the dream of twin endowed chairs at Stanford and are willing to try a shared position. You have found an institution that is open-mined, progressive, and in tune with cutting-edge innovations in personnel management. Or, at least, one that's out in the sticks. What should you negotiate in your shared contract? First, of course, find out how tenure and promotion requirements will be handled by your institution. Work this out up front. One position-sharing couple we know was told by their chair that he expected twice as much research from each of them because each would be only doing only half as much teaching. WRONG! [Loud Buzzer]. The point of a shared contract is not for the college to get four times as much research for the same salary. Technically, for a single paycheck, the college should expect that you'll each do half as much teaching, half as much research, and spend a lot more time watching Days of Our Lives. In fact, of course, you'll do more than that. The school will get more research and service than they would from a full-time professor, and that redounds to the greater glory of both the college and the couple. All well and good. But don't give them the right to demand it of you.

Along the same lines, how much college service will you do? At Grinnell, we typically each do as much student advising and serve on as many committees as full-time faculty members. We know a couple at Kenyon College, however, who have a similar shared contract, but apparently more brains, because they negotiated the right to limit their committee work.

Speaking of teaching, research and service, how will yours be evaluated: will they treat you as a couple or two individuals? For promotion and tenure Grinnell reviews each partner in the shared contract separately, which is how everyone involved seems to prefer it. In this respect the shared contract is not much different than two positions. But for the joint position there is an additional question of timing. One school of thought holds that two half-timers should get twice as many years to produce a tenurable portfolio as full-time faculty. Our friends at Kenyon, for example, were offered seven to ten years, at their own option. Usually, however, the institution is not opposed to your coming up in the regular time frame. The final important issue regarding tenure is what happens if only one of you gets it. Do both partners have to hit the road, or may one of you assume a full-time position? We have heard of at least one case where neither is permitted to stay.

Salary issues can be a little complicated, especially when raises are based on merit. Until recently, Grinnell insisted that we be paid identical salaries, prorated by the number of courses we taught. As it happened, one year Powell ranked 5 on the five-point merit scale, while Montgomery ranked only 3. So they averaged and gave us both a rank-4 raise. As a result, Montgomery became professionally jealous of Powell and Powell began to think of Montgomery as a drag on her career. Recent reform made it possible for a couple at Grinnell to opt for separate salaries. For us, financially, that should be very worthwhile -- those divorce attorneys cost a fortune.

There are lots of other details to work out with a shared contract, some of them things you might not think of. Benefits can be an issue, of course, such as whether you both get full life insurance, and whether you each get full research support, including travel to professional meetings. (At Grinnell, "yes" to all of the above.) Also, you need to determine how sabbatical pay is handled: is it based on one full-time teaching load, or on the amount of teaching you have both actually done. (At Grinnell, its the latter, averaged over the previous six years.) What happens if you eventually get divorced -- see the discussion of merit pay above -- may one of you automatically assume full duties? And how about parental leave and early retirement? These are all things to pay attention to.

For many young academic couples a shared contract is an idea worth considering, at least as a starting point for two careers. It may be very attractive when compared with having one partner languish in temporary positions so that the two of you can maintain one household. If one of you already works at an institution that doesn't have this arrangement, you might try suggesting it. If you do, be prepared for your dean to make a really funny face. (It may be worth mentioning it just to see that.) Anyone who would like a copy of Grinnell's contract arrangement can write to the authors at Dept. of Economics, Grinnell College, Grinnell IA, 50112. Our E-mail addresses are and