Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dependent

From time to time, my husband and I have been been invited to be Visiting Professors (or Guest Professors or Visiting Scholars or various titles like that) at other institutions, for a sabbatical or for a shorter visit. Such invitations are always nice, of course, and we are fortunate to have some flexibility in how/when we arrange these visits. We are also fortunate to have a portable, adventurous daughter who is happy to visit new and distant places, as long as we eventually return to our home and our cats.

Some host institutions have money to pay visitors, some have funds to subsidize part of a visit, and some just have a stimulating environment (and a desk or two) to offer. If we have enough time to plan, we can usually raise (from grants and other awards) most or all of the money we need to offset the salary we are not getting from our home institution while we are away on a research leave. Particularly when visiting an extremely expensive (for us) place, however, it is great if there is at least subsidized visitor housing.

Some things you cannot plan for, though. Examples include MAJOR NATURAL DISASTERS (well, you can sort of plan, but you can't predict them) and MAJOR DECREASE IN THE VALUE OF THE DOLLAR (well, maybe you can also sort of plan for that, but not really).

Something else that I am never quite prepared for is how I am treated -- in an administrative way -- as a person who is both a visiting professor and the wife of another visiting professor. The first time we visited another institution as guest professors, I kept being surprised at how I was treated in some settings as an independent person and in others as a "dependent" -- that is, as someone not permitted to sign her own forms or make independent decisions in particular settings. I had never before had to sign forms on a special (lower) line labeled "Wife" before.

And now it's happening again, sort of. Although my husband and I are both invited to be visiting scholars with separate invitations to visit different research groups at a particular institution, I was recently surprised to find that I am listed as a "dependent" on an official university form. I only found this out when I was doing some paperwork, and this paperwork bounced back because I was not authorized to submit it on my own. Only my husband can submit this form on my behalf.

At least in this case, there is the possibility that one spouse (either one) is the primary person and the other is the dependent, so in theory I could be the primary filler-outer-of-paperwork, but we weren't asked what we preferred. The university decided that husband = primary.

Perhaps they are trying to save us all some paperwork by only processing one "family" form instead of separate forms for each of us. If these administrators knew us, however, they would put the more organized person as the "primary" applicant, and the person who hates all paperwork and who puts off any sort of administrative task as long as possible as the "dependent". But they didn't do that.

OK, so they don't know us, but it would have been nice if they had asked: which of you should be the primary form-filler-outer and which the so-called dependent? We make decisions like this all the time when there is a requirement that something be primarily in one name, with the other a co-signer. Sometimes I am the primary person and sometimes my husband is. For each situation, we discuss it and make a decision. But, as I said, we were not given this option in this case.

This is just an administrative detail, and unlikely to be an indicator of how I will be treated on a daily basis as a visiting scholar. I am sure that when I am interacting with my host research group, I will be treated as Me and not Mrs. Me. It's only when I have had to interact with government agencies and university administrative units that I have had to assume the role of Dependent. Designating this doesn't make it so, it just makes me annoyed that I can't be responsible for some (important) details of my own visit and appointment.

I hope that, someday, more of officialdom will recognize that some families have financially and otherwise equal members, and provide options for non-dependent (in a financial sense) partners to have equal responsibility for dealing with the wonderful world of bureaucracy.

18 comments:

nicoleandmaggie said...

When we bought our house, I was primary on the mortgage because I was the only one with a job.

When we refinanced, they switched the order of the names, even though my salary is larger.

If it's all about paperwork... it's odd that they put the man first as the woman is stereotypically the one who takes care of such things.

EuropeanFemaleScienceProfessor said...

Don't hold your breath.

I make it a point to write to governmental agencies and administrations about details like that. I have occasionally gotten things changed.

I even got the official tax forms in my country changed from "taxpayer / wife" to "taxpayer (or husband if married) / wife". Now that gay marriage has been legal, I wonder what they do? I must check before I sign next year.

The problem is, no one thinks when designing forms and then rules are made up for avoiding errors and then these get engraved in stone. Nothing will move if you don't point it out to them.

Andrea said...

When you need a good laugh over this sort of thing, watch I was a male war bride.

nightstrigiformes said...

These administrative people make a lot of assumptions. I was listed as an international student on multiple occasions by multiple schools just because of my name, despite the fact that all of their applications require me to indicate my citizenship status. Sometimes ignorant things are just done and it's much bigger than just gender in academia.

Doc said...

That would never fly in my household. My husband is so scatterbrained that he once forgot to sign up for health insurance and then had to go 6 months without it. He never gets to be the primary on anything joint.

Anonymous said...

I am reading the book "Marriage: A History" by Stephanie Coontz. I recommend it. University policies seem to abide by the law for hundreds of years, that women cannot make decisions on their own within the marriage. Apparently only in the 60s banks were forbidden to require a husband's signature to open an account for a married woman. I doubt universities will change their policy of considering wives as dependents unless we insist on it.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of when my husband (then ABD, now PhD) and I (then ABD and soon-to-be PhD) combined funds to open our joint bank account. They never asked us who should be listed first, and he automatically was, even though I was (a) putting more of my money into the account and (b) had a higher salary at the time. I asked my married friends, and they all said their husband was also listed first, even though some of the women were making more money. I completely agree that we should be asked if we have a preference for the "primary" person. At least we can do this with our taxes!

GMP said...

The mortgage on our house is in my name alone (I took out the loan alone while my husband was making very little money and lived in another state working on his degree), yet my husband is automatically listed first on the deed for the house and I am sort of an appendix. It also ticks me off when he's automatically listed as primary contact on school or camp documents for our kids, since he is completely uninterested and uninvolved in that paperwork and I always have to do all of it.

Anonymous said...

Since our first joint tax return, the IRS has had trouble recognizing us as the joint couple listed with my (wife) name listed first. On the years we owe, the payment is always noted as made by the single me identity, and the joint identity gets a warning of lack of payment. Each time I have to call the IRS and tell them they indeed cashed the check. I refuse to list my husband first to solve this, because I am stubborn that way.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Our health insurance that results from my employment always gets the bills sent in my wife's name. It is simply that hers comes first alphabetically.

Bureaucratic stupidity need not be due to sexism.

Sally said...

A related annoyance: our accountant always puts my husband as "taxpayer" and me as "spouse" on our 1040 form. I make more money, as is obvious from our W2s. But I'm always "spouse".

frautech said...

How timely. I'm trying to refinance now. I handle ALL finances. So I'm on the phone with the woman at the bank and she asks who should be her contact on this, I say me. We even brought up whether I would need to "discuss with [my] husband" before locking in and going forward; nope, he prefers I handle it and make these decisions. He'll sign whatever I ask him to. So I get the paperwork and somehow he is the "primary" and I am the joint owner. Pft.

Anonymous said...

My husband's name is alphabetically after mine and he graduated a year after me - so why oh why does my college send pleas for money to us with him always listed first? Loved the school but told them when they called - I won't give you a penny until that changes and he won't give you a penny anytime so if you want anything from us that better change. It's been about 5 years and I'm still waiting...

FemaleAssistantProf said...

On the issue of arcane ideas about who is "primary": when I had my baby I was asked, for purposes of teaching load relief, who was the primary care-giver. What a bizarre question -- we are both primary. My husband and I share the care for our child completely equally. We are also both assistant professors. So, while I am not asking for double benefits, I do think we should each get half. There is absolutely no reason for one of us to declare him/herself the "primary" parent and the other the "primary" professor!

Gäst said...

Here is a story from one of the most gender-equal countries in the world (Google this) and a parent of the male persuation:
Changing school, I was informed by the new school of the paperwork attached to my son from his former school. It gave the wrong name of my son's mother (completely!!! wrong, placing her ethnic origin at a wrong continent), a local phone number although she lives in another country, and, here it is, she was listed as 'parent number 1'. So that's the story: Men are breadwinners and women are wifes and mothers and the main responsible person, even if you don't know their names or phone numbers or even resident country. Interestingly, these forms are all handled by female staff. Conclude.

Anonymous said...

FSP, what about your family's health insurance? Who is the primary and who is the dependent?

(my husband has always been the dependent on my health insurance)

Female Science Professor said...

We each have our own health insurance.

bk said...

Just legalize gay marriage, and you will find all sorts of paperwork becoming more gender-equal. Take a look at Canada.