Shared Jobs, Shared Lives

For faculy members in split positions, the trade offs are worth it.

by Paula Holzman '01
Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA, 17604-3003

Buzz Lightyear and a basket of action figures share space with sedimentology textbooks on Carol deWet's office shelves. Sharing is a theme in deWet's life- she shares an associate professor of geosciences position with her husband, Andy, and they share the responsibility of raising their children while leading professional lives.

"It has been an absolute thrill to be home with the kids and still have a career," deWet says. "I fell incredibly luck."

The deWets were the first couple to be hired for a split position at F&M, paving the way for several other such appointments. The deWets are regarded not just as pioneers at F&M, but as spokespeople for a growing national trend. THey have co-authored or been included in several articles and have spoken on the subject at conferences.  

The deWets say that having a professional life and taking care of their children, ages 4, 7 and 10, is all about being flexible. Andy and Carol arrange their schedules so that one of them teaches Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and the other teaches on Tuesday and Thursday. Although their time splitting seems simple, the deWets' arrangement has taken years to perfect. "I don't want to downplay how rough it was in the beginning when we both needed time at work," Care says. "There are still days like that, but not most of the time."

The world of academia, like most professions, has its own unique demands. Professors must work in enough tim for teaching, research, attending departmental meetings and aiding students outside the classroom. Career advancement, in the form of tenure, depends upon professors performing these duties well - and if tenure is not granted, the individual must find another job.

The deWets have had to cope with all of these pressures, with the added element of each having half as much time in which to accomplish everything. Both deWets point out that their careers have progressed more slowly because they have a split position."It's one of the sacrifices," Carol laments.

"Getting research going is difficult," Andy says. "It takes a lot of time to get a program going and you can't say I'll spend half the time getting the program going."

Geosciences itself has posed a separate set of challenges aside from the normal pressures of academia. Geologists must factor in lab time and time to do work in the field as well as in the classroom. While Carol concedes that lab time for experiments is generally flexible due to the nature of the discipline, she and her husband had to come up with a creative solution to tackle the issue of fieldwork.

"Andrew and I were fortunate (and sought out) interesting geologic problems to work on that are geographically close to campus to avoid long periods in the field." Carol says. "We have to juggle field times so that each person gets enough time out without family duties to make significant progress."

Professional meetings pose another challenge for the deWets. "Sharing a discipline means both people may want to attend the same professional meetings. We have taken the children, and switched off who goes to the talks, and who stays with the children," Carol says, "In other cases, we have had my parents come and mind the children so that we could both attend a given meeting."

Despite the hurdles they have come across, the deWets both describe their experience as having been overwhelmingly positive.

"I'm very grateful that I've been able to spend so much time with my kids," Andy says. "It's great to be a role model to students - a lot of them want professional careers but they are also looking at quality of life and saying what are the options?"

Harriet and Michael Flower, classics, have taken a slightly different approach than the deWets to splitting a position.

Michael was hired by F&M in 1986 for a tenure-track position, while his wife was finishing up her doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania. After she received her degree, he offered to take a pay cut and split his position with her.

He had recently received tenure, and she was set on a different schedule to receive tenure, which she earned during this past year.

"It would have been very difficult to find a job in Lancaster. One of us would have had to commute," Harriet says. "It also would have been more expensive. We would have needed two cars, we would have needed to find a places to spend the night if need be, and we would have been spending lots more on childcare."

Now, the Flowers live within walking distance of the College, and divide their time so one of them is free to take care of their children, one of whom is in third grade, the other who is in on-campus day care. Like the deWets, the arrangement took a long time to perfect.

Even so, each of them spends significant amounts of time at work, "We have to keep the job from becoming full time." Michael says. "It could easily become full time."

"If you have children, [splitting a position] may be worth your while," Harriet says. "You make less money but you have more time to spend with your kids. It all amounts to the different choices you make of what to do with your time."

From Franklin and Marshall College Magazine, Spring 2000. p.22-23

« back to Carol de Wet Split Positions