Sunday, April 8, 2012

How to Thrive in a Joint Appointment: Four Strategies You Can Implement

Are you in a joint appointment? Thinking of applying for or accepting a joint appointment? Here are my thoughts on how to make a joint appointment work for you.

When I applied for a position as an Assistant Professor at the University of Kansas in 2005 with a joint appointment in Sociology and American Studies, I had no idea what a joint appointment was. I did know, however, that I wanted a job at a Research I institution, so I accepted the joint position with few questions about that aspect of my new job.
My first year on the tenure-track in a joint position was difficult. I found it challenging to discern how much service I should do, how involved I should get with the politics in each department, how much emotional energy I should invest in the various conflicts that emerged, and how to create a publication record that would please both departments. Of course, the first year on the tenure track is difficult for most people. However, I think that the mere fact of having two departments at least means that you are twice as likely as a person with one department to find yourself negotiating messy departmental politics. Finding one sane, well-run department is difficult. Being lucky enough to end up in two is even rarer.

People often ask me my opinion on joint appointments, as I have had one for seven years. I think that there are costs and benefits to joint appointed positions, and that perhaps the costs outweigh the benefits. However, this post is not directed at administrators trying to make decisions about whether or not to create joint appointments. Instead, it is directed at those faculty members who find themselves jointly appointed and want to make it work.

Here are a few lessons I have learned along the way that have helped me to thrive in my joint appointment.

  1. Find good mentors. In each department, find a mentor with lots of institutional capital who can help you navigate service requests. I copied one of my departmental mentors on every service-related email exchange I had with my Chair to ensure that she was aware of what was being asked of me, and went to her for advice before accepting any service requests.
  2.  Make sure no one forgets you have a joint appointment. Although perhaps it should not be this way, it will often fall on your shoulders to remind your Chair and others in the department that you have a joint appointment. Make sure that you remind people whenever necessary. For example, in both of my departments, we are expected to set aside time to advise students during advising period. In Sociology, we are asked to set aside three hours a week. I set aside 1.5 hours, and remind the person making this request that I have a joint appointment and thus do half the advising hours.  In American Studies, each full-time faculty member is given 12 advisees, and jointly appointed people are given 6. As this is already the norm, I don’t have to say anything.
  3.  Pull your weight, but no more. Be sure you are pulling your fair share in the Department – as a jointly appointed faculty member.  If everyone in your Department is on two committees, then, as a jointly appointed faculty, you should only be on one. If everyone is on just one committee, then you should request one of the committee assignments with a lighter load, in light of your joint appointment. Feel free to be creative in what you ask for. One year, for example, I was on the Undergraduate studies committee in Sociology, which does both curriculum development and advising. I asked if I could just do advising, and the Chair agreed. That also worked out well for me because I find advising more rewarding.
  4.  Make it work to your advantage. Try to come up with ways that the joint appointment can work to your advantage. Here are three examples of ways I have done that:
    • At the University of Kansas, American Studies is considered to be in the Humanities, and Sociology in the Social Sciences. When we have internal grant applications, I can choose which area to submit my application. As the Social Sciences tend to have more resources, I usually submit my internal grant applications to the Social Science Division.
    •  I have a 2/2 teaching load, with one course per semester in each department. By teaching courses in both departments, I have a wider selection of courses to choose from and have been able to teach what I want when I want to by taking advantage of the wider range of possibilities than those that a singly-appointed faculty member might have.
    • As a jointly appointed faculty member, I can request resources from both departments.  Thus, when one department is not able to provide me with something I need, I can ask the other department.

The last thing I will say about joint appointments is that if your joint appointment really is not working out, keep in mind that you often can switch your line to be fully appointed in one department. Admittedly, you should have a really good reason to do this, but it is often an option if things are not working out in your joint appointment.


  1. Great post!! Is this a situation where Sociology was the tenure home or were both units involved in the tenure decision? Also, how did you do "face time" across both units? Is it necessary to have offices in both units?

    1. Both units made individual decisions on tenure, which can be problematic, although one could always move one's line out of the problematic dept.

      Because of limited office space, I only had one office. In the dept where I don't have my office, face time would have to be more formalized: lunch dates, meetings, etc.

    2. OK. Thanks! Very helpful!

  2. This is very helpful. I've navigated quite a bit of this already, however, the end of this first year basically threw most of my diligence, constant communication, and just plan being on my sh*t at all times in both places to the wayside. I think my review will be more than stellar but there are enough red flags going up to make me question my long-term vision. Even with all the positives that have occurred and challenges I've tackled well, if the channels of communication are inadequate on the most basic levels, what is the recourse for a joint appointee? It is impossible to grow a third hand to juggle your work, 2 departments and random bouts of "that slipped through the cracks".....

    Do you have any additional posts about navigating joint appointments? Are there books or forums for joint appointees. I need the assistance of a community.