Butler needs to refine dual-hire policy

Graphic by Erin DrennanAcademic couples are more common than ever. Butler University has seen a rise in academic couples too, and our hiring policies should change to reflect it.

Doubtless, academic couples have a lot to offer a university, including bridging otherwise academically distant disciplines. But we need to make sure that when a partner is hired that the person is fulfilling the university’s needs, and not just the other way around.

Academic couples make up about 36 percent of professors at American universities, according to a Stanford University report by the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research. The report adds that dual hires at universities have increased from 3 percent in the 1970s to 13 percent in the 2000s.

Today there are an estimated 16 married couples and domestic partners serving Butler.

Elaine Johnson, director of compensation and organizational development, said she was unable to release a comprehensive list of couples employed by the university. She added in an email that Butler has a policy called “Simultaneous Employment of Family Members,” but it merely states that the university can not limit the hiring of family members.

As we previously reported, academic couples haven’t always been popular on campus. Professor Jeanne VanTyle experienced resistance from fellow faculty members when she and her husband, who already were employed by the university, got married.

That was in 1982.

Now, along with hiring President Jim Danko, the university also hired his wife, Bethanie Danko, an immensely qualified woman who will serve Butler well as a university relations associate.

Clearly, things have changed.

But before we green light every spousal hire, consider tuition rates. Butler’s tuition rates have increased 252 percent since 1989, according to a recent Indianapolis Star article. Last year alone, The Butler Collegian reported a tuition increase of more than 4 percent.

Arguments made in favor of these increases usually hinge on keeping a university competitive. Universities must attract talented faculty to improve their reputation and ranking. While skilled educators attract the best students, the university grows stronger as a whole.

Basically, it’s a trickle-down theory of education. Spend money at the top, and the results will be felt at the bottom. It’s all about remaining competitive in a competitive market.

Now, consider that this is a similar theory applied to the hiring of a spouse. The university, in order to attract the best faculty and administrators, may also hire their spouses.

Of course, there are not jobs for everyone. And the university can’t afford to hire anyone unqualified. No business can.

That’s where the hiring policy comes in to play. What we need is a policy and a program to assist academic couples when one is hired by the university.

The program would not guarantee job placement for the other at Butler or anywhere else, but would help both partners in their overall relocation.

Butler wants to have things both ways—to be both a community of caring and a competitive business—two goals that are not always compatible.

Businesses often play a zero-sum game. If you win, you keep playing. If you lose, game over.

A university must walk a finer line than that, however. Students’ educations continue for years after leaving a university. And one thing everyone wants is for the value of that education to increase.

Yet without a dual-hire policy, Butler risks missing out on talented scholars who could make Butler even better. Because, really, why can’t we be a competitive community of caring?

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