Spouses win pay for efforts

April 16, 2004

US universities and colleges are increasingly formalising the workload that falls to the spouses of their presidents by putting them on the payroll.

Nearly a quarter of presidential spouses surveyed by the Council of Independent Colleges receive some kind of compensation, up from 11 per cent ten years ago. The average amount was $13,885 (£7,500).

"It started with the biggest universities, where being the spouse of the president is really a full-time job," says Richard Eckman, the council's president. "And as patterns in marriage in America have changed, where you often have two-career couples, the spouse really has to make a choice."

The survey found that about half of presidential spouses have their own full or part-time careers in addition to the responsibilities that come with being married to a university president.

When the trustees of Elmhurst College near Chicago came to visit the school last month, the job of shepherding their spouses fell to Jeanette Cureton, the president's wife.

Ms Cureton arranged a tour of the campus, introduced the trustee spouses to students and brought in a professor of history to describe a course he taught on the Vietnam war.

"The role of the president's spouse in working with the trustees can be vital, and one of the things many of us do, and I do extensively, is to plan a programme for when they visit," Ms Cureton said.

It is one of "a huge list" of responsibilities she undertakes for the university, which include hosting university events, travelling to fundraising dinners, "being an ear" for students and representing the school in the community, where she serves on the boards of a bank and a hospital.

"It's very much a 24/7 existence," she said. "We have events night after night. There's something going on all the time."

But Ms Cureton, a scholar in the field of higher education with a masters degree from Harvard University, is not paid for these tasks.

Diplomatically, she would not say if she wants to be or not.

"Spouses are increasingly being asked to do rather substantive tasks, sometimes in substitution for the president," Mrs Cureton said. "This is clearly a way that he or she can help his or her spouse by spreading the presidential couple a little further."

There is, however, "a counter-movement" against compensation from spouses who are saying: "I'm happy to help out, but I don't want to be obliged to do it and I don't want to be compensated for doing it, because then I'll be evaluated, and it will be a job."

In the survey, 63 per cent of spouses polled said they did not want to be paid. "This is true," Ms Cureton said. "However, the number who do want to be paid is increasing."

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