Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Ask the Administrator: The Trailing International Same-Sex Partner

A longtime reader writes:

I am a junior faculty about to take a job in a top 10 department (denote by Top D). I am not American. I am gay. My life partner is also not American. My partner was until recently in our home country, let's call it X. He worked for an investment bank in country X, and had a very successful career (He's relatively young, so he'd be equivalent to a Senior Associate at a top investment bank). But we decided I would not go back to X, and we would instead try to both settle in the US (hopefully in the city where Top D is, which is a big big city, surely one of the biggest 5 cities in the US, and which I will denote as City D). City D is pretty good for my partner career-wise, but not nearly as good as NYC and maybe two other cities would be.

In order to gain time to engineer our move into the US, I took a 2 year postdoc in country Y. (Top D was nice enough to defer my starting date one year). Country Y is wonderful for us, since we were able to migrate into Y as a couple, thanks to (oh, irony) our civil union/domestic partnership (which we got in one of the few US states where one can get a civil union/domestic partnership, even if neither I nor my partner were residents of said state). My life partner is currently in school in country Y, getting an MBA. Now it's time for him to apply for jobs... in the US (our ideal country of location) and in country Y (where he'd have no trouble whatsoever getting a job/visa).

Chair and faculty at Top D are aware of my partner, and his need to find a job in
in city D). Chair has said all the right things about helping out my partner find a job (send his CV, I'll circulate it, etc)... but apparently has DONE nothing (he hasn't put us in touch with anyone, i.e. people in the school's business school, the two relatively big donors - or someone who works for them - to Top University we identified as potential employers of my life partner, etc).

Do you maybe have any advice for us? We're not yet desperate (we still have some time), but we might soon be frankly desperate (it's hard for a top flier like my partner not to have any idea of what he'll be doing in the next few months, and to feel so in the dark as to how to proceed). The interaction between being gay AND non-resident is giving us a real headache. Navigating the US immigration system seems daunting for us. My life partner is highly qualified (i.e. about to graduate from probably the top European Business School), but we have heard many horror stories about applying for jobs in industry in the US (i.e. employers losing interest THE SECOND they identify that a candidate would need an H1-B visa).

Do you think I should put added pressure on Chair of Top D to look into this? Shall I contact individual faculty members at Top D to see whether any of them have links to industry, i.e. via their spouse? (I have done this, but only in a couple of instances). Shall I contact the LGBT office of the university? The Dean (who I didn't interact with while being hired)? Or is my partner totally on his own on this one?

We don't even know what to do RE: seemingly minor things that could have big consequences. I.e. does he candidly state his visa needs in his resume? Or not? In the hope that if/when an employer interviews them they will develop enough enthusiasm for him that they will try to get him an H1-B visa? Say that he was Canadian, and thus eligible for a NAFTA visa (very easy to get, no expenses for the employer whatsoever, etc), shall he actively advertise this? I.e. a line in his CV stating "I am eligible for a NAFTA (TN) Visa"? (Downside is TN visas don't lead to residency down the line, but that'd be a good temporary solution for us to at least make it to City D, and then try to find an employer able/willing to hire my partner via an H1-B visa).

Excuse the rambling, and the odd question.

There's a lot here, but I think it's relatively decipherable if it's taken in small pieces. And I'll have to ask my readers for some help on this one.

I see this as a particularly complicated version of the basic 'trailing spouse' dilemma. As hard as it can be to find one good job, it's that much harder to find two in the same place. Some couples (both gay and straight) get around that issue by going the long-distance relationship route. From what I've observed, it makes the job searches easier, but at an obvious cost to your private life. You haven't mentioned that as an option, so I'll assume it's not the way you want to go.

Reading between the lines, I get the impression that your partner isn't really looking for an academic job. That's good, in the sense that few industries are as hard to break into as academia, but it does reduce the likelihood that your department chair will be of much use. I'm not at all surprised that your chair hasn't done much to help – chances are that even if s/he wanted to, s/he just doesn't have the relevant contacts. (And that's a big 'if' – at many places, if you're anything short of a superstar, finding a spousal job is really the candidate's problem. Very rural places can be an exception, to the extent that they're paranoid about flight risk. But since you're talking about major cities, that's moot.)

I wouldn't “pressure” the Chair at Top D. Instead, I'd ask different questions. Ask the Chair to put in a call to the campus Career Services office on your behalf, to get permission for your partner to avail himself of their help. (This should take about five minutes of the Chair's time, so I don't think it's out of bounds. If the Chair gets balky, just ask her to ask the Dean to do it.) If the university has ever had international students before – and I'd bet it has – then the questions about how to present visa status on an application have come up before, and the career services folk should be practiced hands at that. I'd also ask the Chair to arrange for you to have a brief audience (even if only by phone) with the Dean of Students, or whomever handles international students on campus. Someone who deals with immigration law every single day can offer much savvier guidance about the current rules and loopholes than could almost anyone else. Since these are on-campus resources and all you're asking for is referrals, I can't see anybody objecting that you're placing an undue burden on the department.

I don't know how useful the campus LGBT office would be; I'm not sure this is really in their wheelhouse. I'll just have to ask knowledgeable readers to comment on that.

Admittedly, these aren't nearly as good as simply calling the trustee's cousin and landing a plum gig at Behemoth Corporation, but such things rarely happen in the real world. Finding the job will still be your problem, but you'll at least have more resources at your disposal when you try.

Contacting individual faculty members strikes me as extremely risky. It would come off as trying to make your problem their problem, which is not a good first impression to make, especially when you're trying to get tenure.

Another option, of course, would be to look actively (for both of you) in more locations.

The trailing spouse problem in higher ed is real, and ubiquitous, and getting worse. It clashes directly with 'open search' laws, hiring freezes, departmental autonomy (when the trailing spouse is in a different department), and basic fairness to single people. That said, people have a funny habit of pairing off. I've written before about some particularly silly proposed solutions to the dilemma; I have yet to see a really good one.

Good luck.

Generous readers – what would you add (or correct)?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.

It sounds like trailing partner should hire a headhunter.
Ok... This is a heck of a dilemma. Soooo, as someone who has a same-sex partner, who's not too portable, I may have a few insights.

Expect NOTHING from the university. Academia is not really oriented to be supportive of "trailing spouses" either queer or non-queer. US Colleges and Universities still follow the norms of "Straight White guy is the prof" and "His wife is a housewife." Consequently, the organizational response for queers and female faculty with trailing spouses and children is pretty stinky. Some rural research U's do a better job at addressing these issues, but the bottom line is the U is hiring you--not your spouse. They won't care about your spouse and basically, they don't have to. Ironcially, it's NOT personal, though it feels VERY personal.

Also don't OVERSELL your spouse to your colleagues who really don't know anything outside of their own organization.

FYI: In my region, Ivy league MBA's are a dime a dozen. So, many businesses will greet another prestigious MBA with a yawn. Their career experience (including internships) are really important to list out.

On Immigration status: Your spouse needs to be CLEAR about their immigration status--if they are a Canadian citzen covered by NAFTA, then yes, mention that.

For your spouse, they should network through professional associations in the area. Also, contact a "head hunting" firm. This is probably the FATEST way to place your spouse. Generally, the firms bill the eventual employer, not you or your spouse, so it's a low risk strategy.

Generally, research u's are not designed to be supportive of families. Teaching u's are better, but it's clear you're not interested in pursuing a career at teaching u's.

LGBT student centers, which are overburdened and grossly under-staffed, are generally NOT structured to help LGBT faculty much less faculty spouses. Again, their speciality is serving LGBT young adults at college, not LGBT professionals who are job searching.

Good luck with this. It's a tough situation and you really CAN'T expect the U to help your spouse, who they didn't hire.
Kelly is right: hire a headhunter. "Trailing spouse" is going to have to deal with the visa situation before entering the country, so best to find someone who's used to placing and arranging visas for H1-B's. I agree with DD that your department isn't being obstructionist; they just have no idea of how to place someone like your partner.

I know one lesbian academic/nonacademic couple, German citizens, in the same situation. Luckily for them, the trailing spouse is a nurse. She got her visa faster than the academic did. :)
The trailing spouse situation sucks in any case, so the reader has my sympathies. My own husband is only now, after sixteen years in (Far) Northern Town with me, happy in a job (and it's a contract position so we don't know if he's on for next fall).

The headhunter sounds like a good idea. Talking to the placement people at his current school in country Y also helps (if they're so high profile, they are used to helping place people in the States). And for the resume, my advice would be to include citizenship on the resume itself if there's a hint of employability.

Unless your Chair is exceptionally and personally well connected, he or she will not be able to help your partner at all. That's the sad truth.
be optimistic: finance may be the only industry looking harder for smart and experienced people than Google is.
I'm the person who asked. Thanks may for the info. All very useful, and much appreciated. Makes me realize I might have over-estimated what the Chair/Dean could do for us (I do know they want me real bad, which led me to, I think, over-estimate what they can do for my partner).

And, for clarification, my partner is indeed looking for a job in industry. As of now, we're waiting for the contact info of some US alumni of his program, and his program has offered to put him in touch with someone in the biz school in the University where I am taking a job.

Thanks again.
I second the recommendation that partner work through the placement center in the Famous European Business School in country Y and his undergrad business school (in country C?). Undergrad schools often extend their career services to alumni, and two different foreign insights into visas and job hunting cannot hurt.

Remember, horror stories are just stories. There will be a lot of them if "only" half of overseas applicants get rejected. A placement service or headhunter will know that actual statistics and the tactics needed to deal with them.

I also second/third (whatever) the observation that the job hunt is primarily the job of the partner. He has an advantage that you are in the U.S. to help out, but the application has to come from him, and he has to sell himself.

I could be reading too much between the lines (and doing so in total ignorance of how foreign Uni's approach almost anything), but I sense a subtext in the questions that might reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of how US Uni's (top R1 or not) approach the hiring and tenure process. The Uni might have said some things in selling themselves to you, but all they really want is your research program and the publications and grant dollars that go with it ... at as little cost to them as possible. A European university might well do some of the things asked about in this question, but an American one will seldom do them.

Also remember (if you even know it, coming from Europe) that Dallas isn't Chicago. The people in a US Uni are often quite different from the ones living around it.
I would concur that the Dept. Chair and/or Dean are probably not able to do more than they already have. The university's HR office could, however, be of assistance. Increasingly, four-year colleges are establishing centers (or at least a designated staff person) to assist the partners of new hires with their own job searches. My experience is that departments heads aren't always aware of these sorts of resources, so it's well worth asking about...

I'd also agree with calugg that the LGBT center is unlikely to provide direct help. People working at the center can, however, provide great insight into the relative queer-friendliness of key administrators (something that should *not* be assumed, especially if it's a public school). They may also be aware of other faculty who have dealt with the same issues.
I know a same-sex couple in a strikingly similar situation. Trailing partner (not American) has two master's degrees and extensive experience in her industry while the academic partner is a US citizen who spent a number of years abroad doing her graduate work before returning to the states and securing a tenure-track position at a cc. After five years of struggling to get visas, citizenship, and a job for the trailing partner, they have finally given up and are immigrating to Canada this month.

Based on what I've witnessed with this same-sex couple, all I can say is best of luck to you. You've got a hard row to hoe.
I am the poster of the question. I, again, thank you all for your excellent advice.

Something I may not have been terribly clear in my original post is that I am taking a job at a top R1 university (not an Ivy, but one of the top three public schools). Hence I was hoping maybe, if I tried hard (but politely) enough by approaching the right people at my new Dept/University, the strength of weak ties (i.e. faculty X's spouse works as a consultant; faculty Y's spouse is in the development office and knows some big donors; former chair of the Dept is now a Provost...) might be of assistance for us.
I too would expect the "strength of weak ties" to be of use here. Perhaps the chair doesn't know anyone with ties to your partner's area and the dept doesn't have a culture of sharing such requests across the faculty. I wouldn't spam the entire faculty, but if you had good contacts with select people during your interview (your host, someone in your subfield, etc), I'd write and ask whether they know of anyone in the dept with a spouse/partner in your partner's area who might help with job leads. I've never seen such a question hurt a new faculty member with regards to tenure or reputation (including at R1 universities) so long as your question isn't demanding of unusual effort.
Academia is a funny place. You're in a position of strength until you accept the offer. The second you accept it you become a junior faculty member who will spend the next 7 years begging for tenure. The only way to get the power back is a great outside offer.

I second the advice to have the chair/dean get your partner access to the university's career services (especially the Business school's!). That said, it's very late in the year (October of last year would have been ideal), so I'm not sure how much you'll be able to do in time for the Fall.

It's fine to ask people in the department to let you know if they hear of any opennings and to pass along your partner's CV to folks they know in the field. It is *NOT* okay to ask them to help your partner get a job or to put in a good word. Those are enormous favors and neither you nor your partner know them well enough.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO DO IS HIRE A TOP NOTCH IMMIGRATION LAWYER. RIGHT NOW!!!!! You are on the verge of completely screwing up any possibility of getting your partner into the US on a useful visa. The system is very different today than 10 years ago and incredibly more hostile.
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