Hey! What’s the Big Idea? – A Dual Career Policy

Watching Adams Commentary – 11/9/15

BigIdeaContrary to what some might assume, the majority of employees at Adams State believe the institution can be very successful because they know for a fact that Adams has brilliant faculty and staff with great ideas on exactly how to make this institution successful. In this first edition of Hey! What’s the Big Idea? we’ll explore an idea presented to administration by some of our colleagues and how it was dismissed before it was even reasonably considered: Policies to Support Dual Career Couples.

In 2010, a subcommittee of the Committee on Women in the Academic Profession compiled research demonstrating that institutions offering the opportunity for partner accommodation may be more competitive in the hiring process and can increase gender and ethnic diversity among its staff. Conversely, couples leave or do not consider those institutions that lack dual career policies, feeling lack of institutional support.

So what does a Dual Career Policy (DCP) look like? It looks exactly as an institution needs it to look in order to support its employees, adhere to its policies, and advance its mission. As exemplified by policy enacted at the University of Colorado, a DCP “shall employ persons solely on the basis of merit and fitness” and “may attempt to accommodate the employment needs of dual career couples when such accommodation may benefit the University” (emphasis added). A dual career policy never means a guaranteed job offer to a spouse.

In the fall of 2014, the Campus Advocacy Group (CAG) determined that a Dual Career Policy could be “a reasonable and easily-implemented best practice that could help Adams State University (ASU) with the retention of employees and, by extension, the retention of the students who form relationships with them” as described by one CAG member. At the time, there were approximately 30 potential dual career couples at ASU. Indeed, dual career couples within higher education have become much more common and a trend that is significantly affecting recruitment and retention of employees nationwide. Additionally, incorporating such policies have been useful retention tools at institutions located in isolated, rural areas like Alamosa, Colorado.

Into the spring 2015 semester, CAG presented a proposal and later a draft policy to ASU President David Svaldi. The policy draft was compiled using similar four-year public institutions in Colorado as examples. Dr. Svaldi was receptive to the initial proposal and draft, citing that the institution had been talking about it for several years. Svaldi then took CAG’s draft and presented it to ASU’s legal counsel who gave their approval so long as the policy language stated the words “may” not “will” as employment under such a policy is never a guarantee.

At the April 2015 President’s Cabinet meeting, CAG presented their draft of the DCP in hopes of obtaining feedback to improve the policy. Tracy Rogers, Director of Human Resources, responded that the policy was “vague.”

In two more attempts at feedback and discussion via e-mail, Rogers was unresponsive. Finally in May 2015, when CAG setup a meeting with Rogers via Google Calendar, she dismissed the request by claiming she had another engagement not already listed on her calendar and responded via e-mail with some valid concerns. Rogers stated she did “not support a system that forced an appointment,” even though the draft policy presented had been reviewed by ASU’s legal counsel and stated the policy was fine as long as it always says “may” not “will.” Rogers maintained that the timing was inappropriate given the hiring of incoming President Beverlee McClure.

CAG had taken this into consideration and requested a review of timeline for the draft and next steps. In an e-mail from CAG to Rogers they stated, “the Campus Advocacy Group is making best efforts to follow established shared governance channels with the input and guidance of upper administration.” But a request for subsequent input or guidance never occurred. For all intents and purposes, the Dual Career policy died on the desk of HR Director Tracy Rogers.

Institutions across the country are developing policies that work for them, like a Bridging Position that provides temporary employment for a spouse while a full-time line is created or they seek employment elsewhere. A Shared Position is one in which partners share a tenure-track position with responsibilities and criterion for tenure evaluations being clearly defined. Assistance to Graduate Students could provide facilities and educational support to a spouse completing their degree. Such policies demonstrably decrease employee turnover and boost morale among dual career couples able to secure full-time employment.

With the interest of a successful ASU in mind, it is paramount to have serious discussion on solutions to employee retention. The ASU campus should start the discussion with implementing a Dual Career Policy as soon as feasible.

Do you have a big idea? Submit yours in the Contact form here.