Northfield, Minn.–– Teresa Johnston Oden, the wife of Carleton College president Robert A. Oden Jr., has published Spousework: Partners Supporting Academic Leaders (iUniverse, 2007).
A newly appointed college president typically brings a wealth of insight and expertise to the role. That is not always true for his or her partner. Teresa Oden says that during her first years in the role of “the spouse,” she was as green as they come.
“For decades search committees have been telling the partners [of academic leaders] that they are free to do as much or as little as they like,” says Oden, a researcher and writer whose special interest is local history. “We are no longer expected to pour tea, but that kind of visible involvement was always the easy part. Behind the scenes, not much has changed. Your way of life is utterly transformed, in nice ways and not-so-nice ways. And there are still plenty of boundaries for the spouse, only now they are largely unmarked.”
During her first year as an academic leader’s spouse Oden found a surprise around almost every corner. “It all added up to something like culture shock,” she says. That’s when she started thinking that someone should write a book about the partner’s experience.
Drawing on 18 years of personal history and hours of discussion with other spouses, both male and female, Oden wrote Spousework: Partners Supporting Academic Leaders. The author maintains that there cannot be a “how to” book, because the spouse group is too diverse, and every institution presents a unique situation. Spousework is built upon the premise that all partners want to be supportive. “I hope to knock away some of the hurdles that can slow us up as we figure out how to both support, and negotiate with, our mates’ non-stop careers.”
Oden is currently developing a website, www.spousework.org, where partners from around the country can share their thoughts and concerns. “The male partners of women presidents, and gay and lesbian partners can feel particularly isolated. And spouses who are pursuing their own careers elsewhere can have a hard time connecting with college life in a meaningful way. Most of us want to take advantage of that opportunity if we possibly can. It helps us understand the leader’s experience, but beyond that, it is a tremendous privilege.”
Oden began working on Spousework when she and her husband came to Carleton. “Few people realize how chaotic life in a large, old and busy official residence can be. Spouses often pitch in to keep that chaos at bay, instead of doing whatever else they might want to do. Carleton gives its president the support staff that’s needed, without that I would never have finished this book.”
Spousework will open people’s eyes, Oden says. With her husband’s full support she hopes, in true Carleton fashion, “to shake things up a little.”
The book is available through the spousework.org website or via Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other book dealers.