Well, not exactly, but read on anyway. From the mailbag at Historiann HQ:
I am a tenured assoc. professor at a mid-level university in what would generally be regarded as a decent location. I’m applying for a job at a decent SLAC in what would also be regarded by most as a decent location. While this is a fine job, the only reason I’m applying for it at this juncture in my career is because they also hiring in my husband’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) field, where his skills put him at a relative advantage in the job market (at least compared to a humanities Ph.D. like me). He is just finishing his Ph.D., and is applying for entry-level assistant professorships.
My question is, how do I word the cover letter to convey my willingness to accept a demotion without being presumptuous or insulting? (Since this is clearly not Harvard, they won’t assume that it’s natural for me to want to take an untenured position there.) Should I be up-front about my ‘two-body problem?’ Should my husband mention it in his letter?
Your thoughts, Historiann?
My advice, Tammy, is to be totally up-front about your personal situation. Since you’re tenured and apparently are happy enough in your present position, it’s best not to let search committees fill in the blanks as to why you’re seeking what amounts to a demotion at another college in another part of the country. (Has she been terminated for moral turpitude? Is she just a bitch-on-wheels? Are the villagers with pitchforks running her out of town? I’m afraid the reasons they’ll imagine or invent won’t be flattering to you, human nature being what it is.)
I also think honesty is the best policy in this case, because if being up front about your personal situation is a problem, then you won’t be happy working in that environment. You’re in a different situation than two unemployed people seeing entry-level positions within a reasonable proximity. You’ve got a job, and a tenured one at that. You’ve got nothing to lose by putting all your cards on the table, whereas I generally think it’s best for the Unemployed Ursulas not to mention two-body problems unless and until there’s an indication that a search committee is interested. In those cases, I think it’s best to let the hiring department get invested in Ursula’s candidacy and get excited about the prospect of hiring Ursula, wonderful Ursula, before Ursula lets them in on some of the complications that may involve.
But, I realize that I’m just thinking about Tammy here. As a tenured Associate Professor myself, perhaps I’m too concerned about giving strangers on the search committee something to gossip about. Readers, do you have other advice? Do you recognize Tammy’s plight, either as a job-seeker who gave up tenure or as someone on a search committee? Am I dooming Mr. Tammy’s career by counseling such shameless honesty? How would you finesse this to the benefit of both job-seekers?