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College alters policy on shared faculty appointments

May 13, 2022

In a memorandum to the faculty dated April 21, Senior Vice President and Dean for Academic Affairs Jennifer Scanlon announced that her office had revised the College’s Shared Appointments policy. The policy had previously allowed candidates for tenure-line positions to request that they share the position with another applicant, typically their spouse or partner. Scanlon cited the policy’s incongruity with strategic hiring objectives, financial unsustainability and unalignment with the policies of Bowdoin’s peer institutions as reasons behind the revision.

Under the former policy, both applicants interested in a partner accommodation were required to meet the criteria of the College and their respective departments. If hired, the pair split the workload and salary of a 1.5 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) position, and both would be eligible for tenure. Although the College considered it a “shared appointment,” candidates from different departments or programs could be considered for the appointment.

The updated Partner Accommodation Policy, which goes into effect July 1, eliminates the opportunity for a candidate’s partner to be considered for a tenure-line position. Instead, candidates may request that their partner be considered for a “two-year, part-time, benefits-eligible visiting assistant professor position” that would not be renewable after two years. Candidates may also split a 1.0 FTE position within a single department or program provided that they can both meet a departmental need. Under such an appointment, the pair would each work 0.5 FTE and split the salary of a 1.0 FTE position. Given the unlikelihood that a couple would work within the same discipline and meet the same specific departmental need, such appointments are likely to be exceedingly rare.

Members of the Committee on Governance and Faculty Affairs (GFA) initially probed Scanlon’s office for an explanation after the policy was suspended in 2021. The GFA received a draft of the revised proposal this spring and a final copy was sent to all members of the faculty this past week.

The previous version of the policy had two significant unforseen ramifications. First, it resulted in the establishment of unplanned tenure-line positions, which often deprived departments of the necessary funds to strategically establish new lines. Second, as a result of the complications of sharing lab spaces and offices, 86 percent of faculty hired under the policy were in the humanities.

“We did a long look in my office this year, and we determined that it wasn’t financially sustainable,” Scanlon said. “It ran counter to some of our strategic hiring efforts.”

She cited declining enrollment of prospective humanities majors and rising enrollment in STEM programs both nationally and at Bowdoin as part of the reason the policy no longer met the College’s strategic hiring initiatives.

“That policy was initiated without sufficient attention to the kind of longer-term financial components of the policy,” Scanlon explained.

The College first implemented the Shared Appointments policy in 2007, viewing it as a creative approach to solving what is known in academia as “the two-body problem,” in which partners struggle to accommodate the career needs of one another as both seek long-term appointments in their academic field. While exercising the policy was intended to be “relatively rare,” the College hired partners of 15 tenured or tenure-track professors into tenure-track lines between the policy’s adoption in 2007 and July 2021, when Scanlon’s office suspended the policy.

Although deciding to move to Maine can be a significant barrier for the College when recruiting faculty, the academic job market is such that Bowdoin can afford to offer a less generous partner accommodation policy.

“We feel that the policy that we have put into place—the Partner Accommodation Policy—is still generous compared to what our peers offer,” Scanlon said.

Although the updated policy is more in line with Bowdoin’s peer institutions, it will nonetheless bring about significant change.

“There are 30 of us,” said Associate Professor of English Emma Maggie Solberg, whose husband, Assistant Professor of English Morten Hansen, also works at the College. “That’s a part of the culture of the campus, so it will be a big cultural change.”

Edward Little Professor of the English Language and Literature and Cinema Studies Aviva Briefel and her husband, Associate Professor of History and Chair of the History Department David Hecht, were hired together under the policy as well.

“I’m worried that, going forward, Bowdoin will become a less attractive place for ‘partnered’ prospective faculty,” Briefel wrote in an email to the Orient. “Bowdoin is a fairly isolated place, and there aren’t that many academic options to look for at other surrounding institutions.”

The updated policy acknowledges Briefel’s concern.

“We may lose some candidates seeking long-term positions for their partners, just as peer institutions do,” Scanlon wrote in the frequently asked questions section of the memorandum. However, she cited the fact that in the 2021-22 academic year, three of the four candidates who had inquired about the position accepted offers despite the College’s decision not to offer their partners tenure-line positions.

According to Solberg, academics searching for jobs are desperate enough not to become “stale” that they may even be willing to split a full-time position between two people or accept a two-year position, knowing it would not be eligible for extension. This dynamic, reflected in the updated policy, is indicative of an oversaturated candidate market.

Although Solberg said that both she and the members of the GFA agreed that Scanlon’s office made a compelling case that the policy was not equitable, she nonetheless mourns the change. The old policy was not in line with Bowdoin’s peer institutions, but it established a particular spirit of the College that is now changing.

“It made a huge impression on candidates … Bowdoin seemed like this Shangri-La,” Solberg said. “It was generous. It will change the spirit of things [now] that this is no longer on the table. Like, sure it’s not on the table anywhere around us, but it was on the table here.”


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One comment:

  1. Class of ‘14 says:

    The college is yet again putting money first. Everyone should have known when they hired Rose that it was going to get run like a hedge fund. The idea of doing the right thing instead of the fiscally prudent thing never occurs to them.

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