Spousal Hiring is Unethical? Puhleeze.

May 20 2010 Published by under Ethics, Tribe of Science

I recently read over a bit in the Chronicle of Higher Ed that seemed to me to be a very thoughtful take on the practices of spousal hires in academia.
The author, David Bell, was a dean at Johns Hopkins University at one point and had gained some experiences of the advantages and disadvantages of policies which resulted in the hiring of the spouse of an academic that was the target of the primary recruitment.
Most of the issues are familiar to my readers. Academics who are married to another academic professional face special challenges on the job hunt. Our employment often requires a move to a geographically distant location. Frequently the hiring University or college is the only academic jobsite within reasonable commuting distance. Dual-academic-career couples are highly motivated to find two jobs at the same place.
Universities and colleges have long recognized this and have instantiated various ad hoc solutions. The goal, of course, is to be able to land their primary recruit who just happens to be part of a dual career couple. The recruitment cost to the University, in addition to the salary, labspace and other demands of the primary recruit, includes opening up another academic job, tenure track or otherwise. Big deal.
Personally I think this is a great solution to the modern reality of academic folks married to others in the business. [Discl: I'm in one such partnership]
But hoo-boy. The comments after that bit in the Chronicle just went nuts.

Love the idea that you can give my job away because I don't have a spouse/partner you want. Isn't it terrific that the profession hires, according to David Bell's article here, more than a third--a third!--of its faculty because of whom they sleep with. Damn this is a prescription for the meritocratic society I had been told I was being raised in.


and

Spousal hires are a crock of crap. Having been on the wrong side of a pretty egregious one many years ago means that I will never support one at any time in the future, and I don't care about the petty feelings of the qualified spouse. If a candidate cannot get a job on his or her own merits, he or she shouldn't be working.

and

Spousal hires have had the most profoundly malefic consequences at the univerisites I've been at. The consequences are far too varied to describe, and just when one thinks she or he can anticipate the negative consequences, a couple comes up with a fresh one.

are just the tip of the iceberg.
I'm really fascinated by this conceit that academic hires are somehow fair and unbiased in the first place and that opening up a job line that otherwise would not have existed is unethical.
Like it or not, a professorial hire is an investment on the part of the hiring department and University. They don't hire the "best" person in the pool (and it is a joke to think there is such a thing), they hire the best person for their department and University. Often times that means the person who will stick around and commit themselves to the institution for a whole career. So the hiring folks do a lot of thinking on factors other than just academic record of excellence. On factors, quite obviously, that might be seen as biased or unfair if your only focus is on some pure distillation of academic papers produced. The hiring institution wonders a lot of things. Will the person's personality fit? Will the person stay around?
This latter question becomes overwhelmingly important at smaller and less well regarded institutions. Given the difficulties in landing the first independent professor position, it is not unheard of for a person to apply for and take a first job at an institution s/he has no intention of staying with. This leaves the smaller institution investing startup and other resources in a promising young faculty candidate only to lose her after a short period of time.
Traditionally, the teaching heavy institutions of higher education have been very interested in peering into a candidate's interest in teaching instead of just focusing on her publication record as a grad student and postdoc. Institutions in rural locations may worry about taking on a city slicker. Institutions in urban locations never seem to think of this, but I know of several cases in which an otherwise successful young professor bailed on Big Urban U to get a smaller-town feel.
I think concern that a new hire intends to make a career at the institution is a totally legitimate factor when deciding who to hire. We all understand that negotiating the job conditions is a legitimate part of hiring as well- when it comes to salary and lab space and technician salary for the first three years and the like. Why is it so difficult to see that making a job available for an academic spouse is just part of this biased hiring process?
I really don't get why spousal hiring practices are viewed as unethical in and of themselves.
Now, as the original article notes, spousal hiring does suffer from a lack of consistency and transparency.

Yet while my experience as dean left me feeling that spousal hiring is clearly beneficial for colleges and universities, it also convinced me that the purely ad hoc, case-by-case manner in which Johns Hopkins--and many other institutions--have handled it leaves a great deal to be desired.
Most obviously, it has meant that we never even ask if we should be making the same efforts for all of the faculty members we want to recruit, or only for those we want the most. It is worth noting that while eight of the 17 senior superstars I profiled for the new president had spouses on the faculty, a far smaller proportion of assistant professors did. Yet the superstars generally needed spousal hires much less, for they were less likely to have school-aged children, and could more easily afford two homes and long-distance commutes. That was a troubling inequity.

This is a great point. If there is going to be a spousal hiring policy, it should be done via explicit procedure and as transparently as possible.
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90 responses so far

  • Lab Lemming says:

    Another thing that pisses me off about this whole debate is the implication that spousal hires have zero academic utility. I happen to know of one spousal hire who is one of the top cited workers in his field. It is only his wife's election to the national academy at a pre-grey age (and accompanying stellar academic performance) makes her the primary hire.
    If you ignore all goodness-of-fit arguments and reduce the value of faculty to a number normalized to the department's mean expectaton, then your average hire will have a value of one. If the department hires a primary with a value of 1.3, and a spouse with a value of 0.8, the department is still doing better than their expectation (average 1.05). Ditto if they hire a 1.9 and a 0.2. But many critics of the coupled hire dismiss the value of the spousal hire, especially when the spouse is not male.

  • Schlupp says:

    What Lab Lemming said. In some cases, either spouse by him/herself would be a good hire. If one university hires both, even though spouse A's subsubsubfield might otherwise not have been their top priority, they are simply being smart. I've heard of one case where both spouses had offers from different great places, but it was the not-quite-so-great place that offered jobs to both of them. That's not"unfair" to single people, quite the contrary: After all, the jobs at the great universities are still there for them.
    It's the spouses of top administrators I am sometimes a bit more doubtful about.....

  • apples & oranges says:

    I can't figure out why being married has to be necessarily connected with wanting or not wanting to apply for positions at the same institution. Individuals are individuals and they should be considered as such for all purposes. Hiring is supposed to be based on merit and credentials and should have nothing to do with your personal life (bonds).

  • Odyssey says:

    Hiring is supposed to be based on merit and credentials and should have nothing to do with your personal life (bonds).
    No, hiring into an academic position is not solely about merit and credentials. Read DM's post again carefully. There are many factors taken into account when hiring a new faculty member. Merit and credentials are just two of them. Having the best publication record and training is not always sufficient to land a position. You also need to be a good fit with the hiring department (and institution). Being a "good fit" can mean many things and varies from department to department (and institution to institution). And departments really do try to make an educated guess as to whether or not you'll stay for the long haul. New faculty are an expensive investment. Especially in the current funding environment.

  • Anonymous says:

    This just adds yet again to my impression that most of the commenters at CHE are angry white guys stuck at second rate schools.

  • dominich says:

    Can't speak for the US, but over on this side of the pond, anyone who failed to get a job because the person hired was given special treatment because of family affiliation would win the resulting court case before it even reached the judge.
    No issue of course if the spouse was the best person for the job, although you have to be super careful to avoid even the appearace of bias.
    Equally, creating positions just to slot in a favoured candidate is a big no-no (not to say that it doesn't happen)

  • expat postdoc says:

    in Germany, the DFG provides money to universities for spouses of full-professors (if they meet the qualifications of being hired ... usually habilitation or something equivalent).

  • Eric Lund says:

    Will the person's personality fit? Will the person stay around?
    Yes. These are absolutely important factors. I recall a search in my grad student department where one guy clearly had the best research record of any of the candidates interviewed. However, it was equally clear that he could not continue his research program if he moved from Big Time U, where he was a postdoc, to our much smaller department: he would have needed a facility we didn't have that would take years and millions of dollars to build. We hired somebody else (as it happens, somebody who quit abruptly a couple of years after getting tenure), and I later heard the first guy got a tenure track job at Big Time U.
    To take another example: One of our recent tenure track hires at the place where I now work happened to be the husband of a research professor who had moved here two years earlier. He was not the first choice for the position, but the search committee was confident he would stay at our semi-rural university because we were actually solving his two-body problem.

  • Jan says:

    Another, problem: how does one extend any formal policy to non-married couples, which should clearly be treated equally?

  • Anon says:

    People who are opposed to spousal hiring need to review the history of anti-nepotism in academia. It used to be extremely common that policies against hiring spouses were imposed in part to avoid hiring women altogether,since many potential candidates were married to other academics, as they are today.
    The practice of hiring spouses is hardly ubiquitous, often contentious within departments, and often not an option for many department in the first place, especially now due to funding crunches. People who are single and angry about it forget that they have an enormous advantage by being mobile, or at least having the appearance of mobility. Search committees who don't want to deal with spousal issues have an incentive bypass candidates they believe might pose a problem, whether it's true or not. How's that about merit? I have personally been quizzed directly during job interviews about my spouse, his work and circularly about his willingness to move. Multiple times. At my home institution where my spouse works, there is enormous resistance to and politicking regarding internal hiring, which I've also experienced first hand. Rock, meet hard place.
    I believe there is in fact some backlash against spousal hiring among faculty conducting searches, perhaps due to searches failing because spouses could not be accommodated to the satisfaction of the candidate.

  • Odyssey says:

    Another, problem: how does one extend any formal policy to non-married couples, which should clearly be treated equally?
    That's easy. Firstly, there are, to the best of my knowledge, no formal "two-body" policies as such. Secondly, it matters little if the relationship is formalized by marriage or not. What we look at is what's necessary to get the best* candidate. If that means finding a way to accommodate a spouse/domestic partner/girlfriend/boyfriend/goat, we'll do what we can.
    * "Best" according to the various criteria alluded to in the original post and comments above.

  • whimple says:

    I have personally been quizzed directly during job interviews about my spouse, his work and circularly about his willingness to move. Multiple times.
    Is that bad? It is a priority of the search committee to know the answer to the question: "If we extend our best reasonable offer, will the candidate accept?"

  • Pascale says:

    As part of an academic medical couple, I have gone through several job searches. Most often, I have been a primary recruit. I have been offered jobs that would have been wonderful for me, but they could not make a spot for my husband. Those institutions did not get to hire me. If they really really want me, they will find a spot for my spouse, because otherwise I am not joining their faculty. UNMC was not recruiting in my husband's section; however, they got a physician who has developed major programs and won awards for them, despite being hired outside of "the meritocracy."
    I am now in the interesting position of being the "trailing spouse" as an institution of higher learning pursues my husband. I met with a number of people there who had reviewed my CV, but there was no "job description" involved. Turns out they have a number of impending needs I could fulfill, and this may end up being a value-added hire for them (if it were to work out).
    In many states, you are not allowed to treat unmarried couples equally, regardless of their gender. However, if a department is trying to hire half of a couple, no job for the other half is usually a deal-breaker. It may be illegal to offer a couple "family benefits," but you better be able to hire them both if you really, really want to hire one.
    People pair up and build lives TOGETHER. While their careers may be separate, they generally want them in the same geographic location, which often means at the same institution, as noted in DM's original post. Offering a job to half of a couple and expecting their significant other to (a) find something else; (b) give up a career; or (c) maintain a stressful and expensive long-distance relationship will be a losing game for the academic enterprise.
    I have missed out on positions because I expected to live with my spouse. No single person (or one with a non-career significant other) has to say that.

  • BLG says:

    My graduate department became extremely strong in its field, partially due to their willingness to consider spousal/partner highers early on. It made for a very harmonious department, and allowed us to have many top-notch researchers that might not otherwise have gone to such an isolated college town. I shudder to think what the place would have been like without that policy . . .

  • gnuma says:

    "Those institutions did not get to hire me." -- Pascale
    Yep, you said it!

  • becca says:

    I think that the people who dislike this intensely fall into one of two camps:
    1) those that are under the illusion meritocracy is practicable given our current system
    2) those that have real estate in Boston or Northern Ca and want to see University of South Daokota SUFFER.

  • SciWo says:

    I like Lab Lemming's math.
    Another great post on this topic is "I am a spousal hire". She gives an example of an amazing department that basically would not exist were it not for spousal hires.

  • ABC says:

    I don't have any problem with the idea of spousal hiring. But the defenders are pointing out the importance of recruiting someone who can stay and contribute. If one has a non-academic spouse, that relationship also has to work out. So consider my situation: My husband is the trailing spouse in my marriage but he's not an academic. He left his job in a field highly hurt by the recession to move to a very expensive location to live on my pathetic (female assistant) professor salary. The university touted some program for partner career assistance. It was a joke. All they did was told my spouse to use google. I am not joking. This is all they did. On the other hand, I knew that there were divisions in the university related to his work that were hiring but they would only interview internal candidates and they wouldn't consider my spouse. So it really is odd to me that my university would have tried to create a position for my spouse if he were an academic hire but I get nothing but an insulting referrral to google for a non-academic spouse. Even when I pointed out a way they could help (let my spouse apply for the positions) they did not respond.
    My spouse is just as important to my ability to stay and work here as an academic spouse would be. If people are going to care about family lives of their hires, they should do so uniformly. Otherwise it's a bit hard not to be bitter about spousal hires, comfortably living on 2 academic salaries and the self-esteem the situation bring, whereas people in my position feel worthless & still live like grad students...
    Oh well, I'll be on the job market in a couple of years and when they ask me why I wanted to leave, I will make sure this is on the list..

  • Anonymous says:

    The whole world outside academia has to make it without spousal hiring. The academic ivory towers are governed by different principles (cozy tenures, spousal hiring, generous fringe benefits) because we are not as fully exposed to market realities as other people. Well, we can say "fuck these other people, we are the entitled elite" and enjoy our quite extraordinary perks, but don't tell me, please, that this is moral. I agree with the absolute minority of voices here, who say that spousal hiring is unethical.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    ABC- Let me suggest that the point about making spousal hiring policies explicit that I gleaned from the Chronicle article might help. It would be good for the Uni to think a bit (in constructing a policy) about what it is for, who it should apply to and how to tweak it if it is not working optimally.
    SciWo- thanks for the link, love that post and love the anecdote!
    becca- HAHAAHHA! (no offense to any USouthDakota readers)
    Pascale- great story, thanks for sharing. A good reminder that spousal hires are a career-long issue, affecting the more established people as well as the first-job seekers. Nice when the tradeoffs between halves of the partnership can both be expressed.
    #10 and #12- There is certainly a reality that certain interests of a hiring department fall afoul of state or federal anti-discrimination rules. "we are trying to snoop out spousal employment issues because we don't like spousal hiring situations" is black hat discrimination, I would think. "we are trying to snoop out spousal employment issues because we really, really want you and need to start jawboning the dean" is white hat...but how does this translate to a nondiscriminatory policy? Especially when it may vary from department to department within the university?
    9- yes, this would be a problem for formalizing the rule. probably no different from other situations where public and private policies are struck to try to be generous about non-married committed couples. It is not easy. There is a casual just-dating stage at which I would not support obliging the extension of benefits/rights. On the other end, I respect committed folks who are not married for one reason or another. and then there's the same-sex marriage issue, I would not be down with policy that excludes committed same-sex couples. A vast area of gray but this is in many aspects of US public and employment policy. Just have to muddle along on that one.
    Eric Lund- Yep, very critical in these situations to allow spousal hires the same latitude as any other. Some are not going to work out, just as some regular hires don't work out. Don't blame it on spousal hiring.
    6- The point is that these situations rarely involve competition for a job for which a search is underway. It is typically the creation of a new job slot. So who is injured? How could anyone else claim they were passed over if the job didn't exist. The only injured party I could see would be the spouse of a previous candidate/hire for a job at that university for whom a spousal slot was not negotiated. I say *negotiated* here because I don't think a Uni can do any better than try to make it work out. They probably should not force a department to take someone they really, really do not want. (otoh, what idiotic department is going to refuse a faculty member paid for by the dean? or even the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 deal that I hear about? seriously, they need their heads examined on that)

  • apples & oranges says:

    ABC,
    Thanks for saying what I wanted to say much better. As for the question posed:
    Is spousal hiring unethical? It depends.
    Is hiring the’best person’ in the pool versus the ‘best person for their Department or University’ unethical ? Difficult to answer because the "qualifiers" to the best person for their Department or University (other than merit and credentials) are unknown.
    My feeling is that hiring based on objective merit and credentials does not prevent any Department/University to have transparent policies to help their Faculty to integrate productively their academic and family lives.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    The whole world outside academia has to make it without spousal hiring.
    bzzt. Wrong.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Is spousal hiring unethical? It depends.
    You are dodging. The question at hand is not whether any policy or procedure can be implemented in an unfair or unethical manner. Obviously any policy can be twisted. The question is whether spousal hiring policies are in and of themselves unethical. The three comments I quote are but a tip of the iceberg and if you follow the links to the Chronicle article and the three blog entries at the end of my post you will see what I mean.
    The question is whether hiring departments and institutions have the right to define their hiring as they see fit or is it "unethical" if they do not adopt some random Internet commenters' idea of what is "merit" for a given job?
    Suppose I am hiring and I have a GlamourPI and a IncrementalLengthyMeatySocietyJournalPI on the table. The world seems to think that Glamour = Better. Is it unethical for me to disagree and prioritize other components of an academic arc?
    Suppose a P & T committee is arguing over people in nominally similar fields that have very different publication standards- I mean things such as single and two author papers being contrasted with multi-lab collaborations. Which is 'better'? Who is the more meritorious tenure candidate?
    What I find fascinating in the blogowebs is the revelation of how absolutely firm people are in their idea that their narrow conception of interests, merit and quality is the ONLY TRUE WAY THINGS CAN BE and that everything else is unEtHicalzElEV!!11NT!Y!!!

  • Anonymous says:

    Blah. If departments really want "the person who will stick around and commit themselves to the institution for a whole career," then why do you have to come up with a credible outside offer to get promoted, a decent raise, or any other substantial perk?
    I think the driving force is more often that the department doesn't want to make an offer and then be turned down. They're not thinking thirty years down the road....

  • YtoR says:

    @19 The whole world outside academia has to make it without spousal hiring. The academic ivory towers are governed by different principles (cozy tenures, spousal hiring, generous fringe benefits) because we are not as fully exposed to market realities as other people.
    Wrong, wrong and wrong again. You sure are deluded about the "real world" and also about the coziness of academia.
    One major difference in the academic world is its relatively small size and fragmentation. We have a two body problem and as in most cases small compromises are rarely possible. For instance, I can't just work for a smaller law firm etc but rather I'd have to give up what I do. And even in the most competitive fields the law of large numbers is on your side. 100:10,000 chance is different from 1:100 chance even though the probabilities are the same. For instance, in my wife's field there are about 3-5 job openings a year.
    And just to clarify some apparent confusion: Some of the posters seem to be under the impression that spousal hiring means that a spouse is automatically picked over better qualified candidates. That's certainly not the typical scenario. Usually there is a new "line" opened in the spouse's dept that would not otherwise have been opened. And even so most departments are rather reluctant to move forward unless the spousal hire is really good. Moreover, a spousal hire does not mean tenure! So the spouse has to still prove him/herself.

  • Anon#10 says:

    Whimple: regarding directly asking candidates about their marital status,it is bad when it is used to eliminate candidates based on assumptions about the candidate's seriousness about a position based on their spouse's situation. If you want to know if someone is serious about the job, ask if they are serious about the job, willing to relocate, but don't use marital status as a proxy for these things! If the search committee is asking so that they can start working on spousal accommodation, inform the candidate about the dual-career policies of the institution. If you are asking 'cause you're just curious, keep your mouth shut. While it is not (in most states) technically illegal to ask about marital status or family status, posing these questions opens the institution to anti-discriminatory lawsuits, precisely because they have been used in the past to discriminate in hiring and can have a disproportionate effect on female candidates. I am continuously shocked at how often people make the assumption that my spouse & I would never move to further my career with some sacrifice of his. Is it because his career trajectory is ahead of mine, or because he's male, or makes more money? Who knows, but it's galling. Has that perception put me at a disadvantage in competing for jobs? Hard to say it hasn't, but I can't prove it either.

  • whimple says:

    I didn't say to ask about their marital status. I said to find out if they were really interested in accepting an offer were it to be tendered. Lots of people apply to lots of jobs they don't want, either as a "safety" position, or to use as bargaining leverage for positions they really do want, or for being able to practice their job-hunting/negotiating skills, or because they haven't figured out for themselves what they actually want. We don't want to interview those people and we certainly don't want to waste our time, resources and political goodwill with the Dean to make them an offer! In that vein, if you disclose to us that your spouse just accepted a fabulous new position in venue-not-even-close-to-us, we politely thank you for your interest and put you in the kill file. We want to know if we have a legitimately genuine shot of landing you and we will try hard to find out.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    Hell, I wanted to bring my lab manager (a masters level whiz) to my new department. Her husband is an NIH funded senior investigator. I needed her so they hired him. He was the spousal hire! They made accommodations due to my need for my staff. All of the crying regarding inequity and fairness....Sometimes metrics aren't as important as who you need to make a program successful.

  • grumpy says:

    Drug Monkey,
    you seem to be using the fact that most institutions in the US are private for your argument.
    What if all universities were run by the federal government and had a mission statement of "being the best research and education institutions in the world"? Would spousal hiring be ethical? Maybe, but it's complicated. I bet the supreme court would seriously consider banning it.

  • Rob says:

    Maybe I'm not seeing all the angles to this, but I see a big difference between a spousal hire as a recruitment/retention tool and a spousal hire in which a person at the university in question is using the powers entrusted to them as part of their job to influence the hiring of a spouse.
    In the first instance, a spousal hire is an aspect of the hiring package to be negotiated. If someone is willing to accept a lower salary and/or a position at a less desirable institution in exchange for a spousal hire (or not, if their spouse is highly qualified), I don't see any ethical problems with that so long as the hiring institution is agreeable to the arrangement. The leading spouse is only using the leaverage he or she has as a job applicant. There is no conflict of interest for the leading spouse because he or she is not an employee (or does not have the power to significantly affect the decision if used for retention rather than recruitment) and does not have a fiduciary duty to the institution. The people making the hiring decision do not have any conflicts of interest and are perfectly capable of determining whether or not the spousal hire makes sense as part of the hiring package.
    In the second instance, the individual (with some degree of influence corresponding to their job title) has a fiduciary duty to the institution. There is a conflict of interest between the person's personal interests and the interests of the institution, and this sort of spousal hire would be highly unethical, in my opinion.
    As far as trying to set some standard policies on spousal hires, I think this can only be done in the broadest sense. If a spousal hire is part of the hiring negotiation, it has to be treated on a case by case basis. The department has to take into consideration how much they want the couple as a whole and if this outweighs the costs. If there are discrepancies between spousal hires for junior vs. senior faculty, this may simply be because an established senior hire has much more to offer the instituion (existing grants, reputation, etc) to offset the costs of hiring a spouse that may or may not be the best applicant and not due to any impropriety.

  • Lab Lemming says:

    Re #9:
    See 28.
    If you think of spousal hire as a case of generic multiple hire, then it is clear that the reason for the multiple hires to link themselves isn't really relevant to the institution. A university may hire a three person team as a unit- or a group of 10 people- e.g. poach an entire department- because it is in their best interests. The reasons for which the people in the multiple hire choose to make themselves available as a group doesn't really matter. All that matters is whether or not the university benefits from hiring the group over their expectation of hiring the same number of people individually.

  • JaneB says:

    There seems to be an assumption that spousal hire into a department is into a new, created position - that's just not been the case at any of the (non-US) institutions I've worked at. Sometimes a line is moved forward (e.g. department A is due to get a new person this year and a new person next year - next year's post is brought forward and given to the spouse - saves a search, and if hire+spouse is a good package that's superficially a winner), or a line is created as 'premature replacement' (i.e. the next person to leave/retire from the department will not be replaced).
    The problem comes when the new hire, however excellent in their own right, cannot cover the needs that that post was for. In a department of mammal science, getting a great zebra person as a spousal hire is no issue if the need for the post that they are effectively getting was a horse person, maybe even an antelope person - but it's a nightmare if the need was for a monkey person or a seal person. It penalises the rest of the department, the programme, the students... potentially for a long time.
    Of course in R1 type US places I get the impression that that sort of thing is less of an issue because faculty teach less and more of the programme is covered by non-tt/adjunctised/grad student labour. But at SmallTownU, it matters.
    Whether that makes the practice unethical or not I don't know. But if hiring is made on grounds including but not limited to some 'pure merit' measure, which I agree is the case, then doesn't the long-term workload/distribution of the rest of the department, many of whom have already made the committment to the place, matter too? As a fairly middle-ranking faculty member, what I hate most about spousal hires is the way that they (usually) trample all over my ability to influence the discussion of what is needed by the department, of its future, and of the 'fit' of the spouse - if DrHire fits and is wanted, the spouse gets shoehorned in.

  • Bob O'H says:

    I really don't get why spousal hiring practices are viewed as unethical in and of themselves.

    I'm curious to know what ethical values you're using.
    For me it's important that anyone who is hired should be chosen because of their own merit - i.e. they should be the best person from the candidates available. I'm having difficulty seeing how being married to someone changes your abilities at a job. I find it hard to see how spousal hiring is ethical in and of itself (I'm assuming here that someone should be hired because they are the most able to do the job that they are hired to do: i.e. to do anything other than that is discriminatory).
    DM seems to be arguing that spousal hiring is a good idea for a university as a pragmatic measure. I've no problems with that, but please don't confuse ethics with pragmatics. Affirmative action is discrimination too, and hence unethical. But, as a pragmatic measure to improve representation (with the aim of reducing discrimination in the longer term) I would support it.

  • For what it's worth at this point in the discussion: PharmGirl, MD has a far more impressive pedigree than I and was at a "more impressive" institution than I when we first started long-distance dating a number of years ago. While she is only a few years younger than me, that difference was made greater by the fact that the longer lag time to launch a MD research career had me in a more senior academic position. However, I was at a "lesser" institution.
    When it appeared that I was to leave to "lesser" institution even after earning tenure, PharmGirl was aggressively recruited because 1) she is awesome and 2) my "lesser" institution wanted to keep me. However, family health issues required that I join PharmGirl in the distant town where she was a fellow-turning-faculty at the "more impressive" institution. There was, however, no aggressiveness in the converse of trying to recruit me to that institution even though I had a R01 (it was "only one R01" I was told). I did finagle a soft money position there for a brief time but it became clear in a matter of months that my half-life there would be quite short.
    Fortunately for me, I had other contacts in PharmGirl's town that landed me a more suitable position after about a year of full-time searching.
    I mention this because while I was kind of in a dual-hire situation (each institution trying to keep one of us), only one institution went out of their way to recruit one of us - and it was, as you might expect, where the more impressive, somewhat junior candidate was involved. However, it also bears noting that the "more impressive" institution was not willing to go out of their way to hire a somewhat less impressive candidate into a TT slot solely to keep a star junior faculty member.

  • Paul says:

    re: Bob - the ethics system being argued from is utilitarianism, which is certainly a pragmatic view point, but pragmatism does not eliminate something from being ethical. The idea is that a university's employee's primary mission should be improving that university. From a utilitarian point of view, it would actually be declining to hire the spouse (when applicable) that would be unethical: you're now left with an overall inferior staff, when your job was to make this university better. It's not the only game in town for an ethics system, but it certainly is one.

  • Bob O'H says:

    Paul - do you even know who Jeremy Bentham is? (answer honestly, without googling). Your answer reveals that you're clueless about utilitarianism: it is not the same as selfishness. In fact, its basis is the opposite of selfishness.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    Back in the 1950's the University of Texas had firm anti-nepotism rules. This lead to a number of graduate assistants living in sin so they could both keep their assistantships. I think this was an unintended consequence.

  • answer honestly, without googling
    oh, puhleeze: i google myself every morning to make sure i'm not dead yet.

  • MosesZD says:

    Wash U (St. Louis) hired the PI of the lab in which my wife works to become their new Department Head. They also hired her husband to be a PI. He's a perfectly fine scientist and was also a PI who, while not as brilliant as his wife, is good enough for a solid-tier school, but probably wouldn't have been high on Wash U's list on his own merits.
    I can't see anything a reasonable person would find to be unethical. Yet the the quoted comments in the post would seem to indicate that it is, somehow, unethical to take the package deal because husband is a "lesser" scientist.
    What I see, in those comments in the OP, are people who have failed and blame others for their failure. Had they been brilliant/good enough, I'm sure they would have been retained. But, instead, they were marginal and were not retained and, instead of being honest with themselves and accepting their fate, they're pointing fingers and blaming.

  • Bob O'H says:

    MosesZD - as you admit, the male PI got his job despite some way from being the best candidate. The only reason he got the job, then, is because of who he's married to. Nepotism is generally seen as unethical. Is it unreasonable to think that people should be hired on the basis of their own abilities?

  • I think there is no ethical problem with spousal hires, and in fact, they should be encouraged! In my experience, there are many spouses employed at my University in non-academic positions. It is hard to get a spousal TT position--the target department has to agree to take the candidate, which is not always straightforward. In any case, the spousal is a new line, NOT in competition with the "normal" applicant pool, and is therefore evaluated vs. internal standards rather than against a pool. More thoughts here.
    @19 Have you ever been in the non-academic world? At my National Lab, we definitely had spousal hires. Spousals happen in industry too. When my spouse was being recruited to return to a prior employer, they supplied me with a local recruiter/head hunter at their expense to find me a job (spouse's company is out of my area of expertise). This is a standard part of recruiting at a large company.

  • NJ says:

    @40:

    Is it unreasonable to think that people should be hired on the basis of their own abilities?

    Asked and answered @4:

    hiring into an academic position is not solely about merit and credentials.

  • whimple says:

    The only reason he got the job, then, is because of who he's married to.
    Don't be stupid. They are a package deal: you take them both, or you don't get either of them. This happens all the time. They only reason *THEY* got the *PACKAGE DEAL* is because the University wanted *THEM* as part of the *PACKAGE DEAL*. It shouldn't be hard to understand that you can't buy the components of the package individually. If I want the cake, but not the frosting, I still have to buy the frosting.

  • Isabel says:

    Though I was swayed in favor of the spousal hire concept by the women who explained to me how it helps retain female candidates, I understand why others would object to the practice in such a competitive market.
    JaneB@32 brings up some obvious concerns regarding the insistence that these jobs do not take away from other jobs. She also brings up some other interesting concerns that I look forward to reading DM's response to:)
    At some point it does all seem to defy logic. If the practice becomes popular, and I have recently heard calls for it to be used more often in order to retain women candidates, how will these new jobs keep being created? Is this a sustainable concept?

  • Samantha Vimes says:

    You wouldn't want to hire Marie Curie to get her husband Pierre!
    Geez, not every couple is going to be that caliber, but when you say "No spousal hires", you eliminate them.

  • If you are a stellar candidate, no spousal hire will be your problem. If your quest for a TT position is unsuccessful, there are many other problems to address first before blaming other people's marriages and careers.
    (See more in this post.)
    Faculty are a major investment; by hiring the spouse, the university ensures a long-term return on the investment.
    A spousal TT hire initiative generally means the spouse gets to interview, they don't get hired if they suck. If the other department agrees to hire the spouse, it happens because the spouse has merit.
    I have seen very few TT spousal hires go through in my field, so I really don't see how they are anyone's problem for not getting a TT position; comparatively, way more spouses are in non-TT positions or simply used university resources to find a job locally.

  • Robert S. says:

    I keep seeing people say that spousal hires are new positions (which can't always be the case) and therefore don't effect other hiring. For those saying this, do your schools/departments have unlimited budgets?

  • @47
    My school does not have unlimited budgets, but does do spousals--spousal hires (at the TT level) are very rare. Far more common is a spousal hire at a non-academic and/or non-research position in the university.

  • Lab Lemming says:

    "For me it's important that anyone who is hired should be chosen because of their own merit - i.e. they should be the best person from the candidates available."
    So how do you get the best person, if she insists on a job for her husband?
    Ethically, what is the difference between giving the target candidate double the standard salary (and giving the spouse visitor status), vs giving him a standard salary and his spouse a standard salary? You are getting the same product for the same price in either case.

  • Bob O'H says:

    NJ @ 42 - that's not the answer to the question I asked. Lots of things happen in the world that are unreasonable.

  • @47 (Robert S.)
    There are special spousal hire programs, so that the trailing spouse's salary for several years (I have seen 3-6) is paid: a% from the Provost (or equivalent university-wide entity), b% from the department that hires the leading spouse, and 100-(a+b)% from the trailing spouse's host department. I have seen anywhere from a=100,b=0, to a=b=33.3 (1/3).
    So the money is not unlimited, and it needn't been unlimited anyways.

  • becca says:

    "You wouldn't want to hire Marie Curie to get her husband Pierre!
    Geez, not every couple is going to be that caliber, but when you say "No spousal hires", you eliminate them. "

    Entertainingly enough, Marie only got hired at all after Pierre died. But that was more of a 'no hiring women thing' than a 'no spousal hires'. Which of course doesn't apply now. Oh wait...
    "For those saying this, do your schools/departments have unlimited budgets? "
    To people who have only ever managed personal budgets, this is an intuitive perspective- money is fungible. To administrators who are familiar with University budgets, this question makes about as much sense as "why are you raising tuition when you are building new buildings???!!" (hint: have you ever tried to raise money for a university's general operating fund?? compare that to the number of big $ donors that want a building named after them...)
    Money is fungible, but university budgets are fragmented. Some pots of money aren't accessible for opening up new positions, but are accessible for attracting a supersteller candidate. This is not the case everywhere, but it's not a scenario that's so wonky it's not worth including in the discussions.
    @Bob O'H- technically, Bentham's utilitarianism is not selfish or selfless (the opposite of selfish). Your own happiness counts, just not more than others.
    Now, IF we were all to try to go by Bentham, I'd say the relevant ethical questions include (but are not necessarily limited to), for a particular incidence of spousal hiring:
    *Are the spouses happier both being hired? (usually yes, presumably; though somebody on another blog did mention divorce...)
    *Are their departments happier than without them?- this is the tricky one, in most people's ethical calculus. People in these discussions usually assume there is an opportunity cost of hiring a spouse.
    Of course, logically, you *can* end up with two people who are both *better* than what a particular institution would normally get. 'Has two positions open' can make a university seem more attractive to a couple, so it's not at all hypothetical.
    *Is the university as a whole better off with the two people (including the cost of not being able to hire somebody else)?
    and, depending on how you view the importance of the "who is a stockholder in this ethical scenario" question,
    *Is the research enterprise better off using a system of hiring that may ruffle feathers and lead to disenfranchisement amongst those that view it as unfair?
    *this* is a very difficult one for the university to calculate.
    In some subset of cases, there is the question of if the university as a whole is obviously better off with spousal hiring, but the research enterprise suffers because some good people throw in the towel (or just distract us all with gnashing of teeth), is the University being selfish?
    It is also important to note, however, that what is important here is the *perception* of unfairness, and corresponding unhappiness.
    If I view ANY system as unfair/awful/mean that does not recognize MY personal super special snowflake stellarness, and therefore proceed to GNASH and MOAN loudly, even if I've done *nothing* to deserve a job, theoretically, if I am miserable enough and make others miserable enough over this, that unhappiness counts JUST as much as if people who are discriminated against in a really obviously unjust way (say you have a stellar-performing woman who isn't hired JUST because she is a woman) are equally unhappy. That is, utilitarianism doesn't care for abstract notions of justice, just our little happiness meters.
    So, in summary,
    1) we don't have a collective agreement to use utilitarianism as our ethical system (and I'm not sure that's bad)
    2) even if you use utilitarian calculations, there's a lot of room for disagreements over spousal hiring.
    3) (unsaid, but hopefully obvious) I think whatever ethical system you use, you could come up with good spousal hiring and bad spousal hiring scenarios. That's assuming you use the literal meaning- any hiring of spouses (I've seen some people attempt to *define* spousal hiring as what happens when you ONLY want one person and not the other- I view that as ridiculous argumentation style, because it's not how things look in the real world where it's not as simple as WANT/Do Not Want)
    4) you ask: "Is it unreasonable to think that people should be hired on the basis of their own abilities?" I'm telling you it *is* unreasonable to think that's a *practical obtainable goal* without a more rigorous system for quantifying 'abilities' than we can currently get at.
    It's not necessarily a bad ideal, but I don't think it is the only important ideal. You can just as easily ask the simple question "Is it unreasonable to think that employers should hire people on the basis of how useful they are to the employer?"

  • Isabel says:

    geekmommyprof, Your response@46 was a tad condescending. Who is this highly deluded person you keep addressing anyway? Is it YFS??
    You are very confident in your opinion, which we can hardly consider objective. Furthermore, you claim to have seen few spousal hires!
    We need some hard facts and figures here!
    It seems perfectly reasonable to suspect that what JaneB@32 experienced is more often the case than is admitted, and surely will be if spousal hiring becomes a more popular approach to balancing the male/female ratio in academia.
    I am not a bitter postdoc, just a curious grad student who is on the fence on this issue. Considering the rather unusual fragmentation of academic jobs, it does seem reasonable to have a program in place for academic couples.

  • Bob O'H says:

    So how do you get the best person, if she insists on a job for her husband?

    Well, that's where ethics is another consideration: is nepotism ethical? I say no. And a candidate who is unethical is surely not good. No?

    Ethically, what is the difference between giving the target candidate double the standard salary (and giving the spouse visitor status), vs giving him a standard salary and his spouse a standard salary?

    Nothing - both are wrong if the reason for doubling the salary is just because the person is married. I've never been offered double salary because I'm married (although I do get some benefits because I'm married, but that's government mandated).

  • @53 (Isabel)
    I didn't plan on sounding condescending in comment 46, and I apologize if that was the case. There is a link in that post where I detail what I think.
    Regarding objectivity: my husband is not TT. As comment 48 says, most spousal hires are not TT, but emotions seem to run rampant on the issues of TT spousal hires. I think I can be fairly objective on the issue of TT spousal hires, as I have seen a fair number of couples who seek placement this way (~20).
    Let me clarify: I have witnesses ~ 20 TT spousal hires being interviewed (you asked for numbers) in my department and a few others I have been closley affiliated with; compratively very few were hired ( post on how selecting candidates is done.
    Hope this helps, Isabel. I am happy to clarify things further via email. Good luck with your impending job search!

  • Greg Laden says:

    It would be so much easier if men would just accept their role as territorial guardian and stay home while their wives went to work.

  • Robert S. says:

    I was not arguing against spousal hiring, just against the idea that spousal hiring doesn't effect other job applicants. If a department only needed one more person and that person was a spousal hire, why would they seek another person. If there was already a decision to hire another person, and that didn't change with the addition of the spousal hire then the department would most likely go longer before hiring again. In individual cases spousal hiring may be the best deal for the university, and it might be that all the cases of spousal hiring were such, but that doesn't mean that there was no displacement of jobs based on who the spouse was married to. Again, that doesn't mean it is always, or even often, a bad idea.

  • Isabel@53: I sent a comment to this earlier, but it didn't take. So a shorter version here: the idea is not to be condescending @46, I apologize if that's how it came across.
    Although most spousal hires are not TT positions, TT spousal hires seem to be the problem discusses here. I have seen less than TT spousal hires 5 go through of the ~20 couples whom I have seen seek one in my dept or depts I am closely affiliated with. TT hires are not easy to do as you need to convince the other department.
    I also had a lengthy paragraph on what I know happes anectodally in Europe (superstart getting mind-boggling packages, and a job for not only wife but several senior staff), but cannot type now...
    My point is that spousal hires are not the source of all evil. The candidate should focus on improving their case and interview skills, as that's what they have control over. There is a lot of intradepartmental politics that takes place when applications are reviewed, and it's all out of the candidate's control... A nice post on the issue on prodigal academic's blog.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Bob O'H, you seem to be missing the point of my post here. The fundamental issue is that *your* concept of what constitutes "merit" for a given job is not the same as what each hiring department or University conceives as "merit".
    There are no universals, even if we tend to have a good deal of agreement within subfields.
    My greater point is that just because a job has been created, this does not mean that anyone deserves it based on their own conceptualization of what represents "merit" for that job. Or on your concept of merit. Or on my concept or RandomPostDocX's concept.
    oh, and affirmative action to make up for systematic inequality is not even remotely unethical. What is unethical and immoral, otoh, is willfully disregarding, denying and minimizing the impact of systematic inequality in an effort to whinge about the alleged maltreatment of those on the short end of affirmative action efforts.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Sure Isabel, I'll bite on JaneB's comments (now at #33).
    These same complaints are issued by everyone who is on the losing side of the discussion about what the real "needs" of the department are and who should be hired next. Bench jockey versus animal models person. Ecological bio versus lab bio. Clinical populations versus nonclinical studies. Even when a whole department lines up on one expectation...maybe this is just a recipe for conservativeness and a dean telling them they need to expand in X direction and she'll pay half the salary to make it so is a GoodThing.
    The fact that you are on the losing side of an argument about needs, qualifications and merit does not make it unethical.
    As I was trying to get at in the original post, there is plenty of room for the implementation of a policy to go astray and it seems to me (and the Chronicle piece author) that additional explicit and transparent policy would help to head off unethical implementation of spousal hiring.

  • Bob O'H says:

    The fundamental issue is that *your* concept of what constitutes "merit" for a given job is not the same as what each hiring department or University conceives as "merit".

    And where does ethics fit into this? You're explicitly saying that this isn't unethical, but never explain why. Is it too much to push you to explain yourself?
    Are you at least able to explain why it is ethical - i.e. fair - for someone to be given a job just because they are married to someone else? With no consideration for anyone else who may be qualified for that same job?
    I've blogged a bit more about my thoughts.

  • Isabel says:

    "( When I see I have witnessed few spousal hires, I mean FEW WENT ALL THE WAY THROUGH (less than 5 out of ~20)"
    Thanks, geekmommyprof, this clarification helped. It does seem true that spousal hires have been a positive overall in most people's experience.
    However, I must point out that once again your comments imply that anyone objecting is a bitter unemployed or terminal postdoc but I hadn't had that impression. btw I am a ways from being on the job market, and not really worried about it (yet). The one person I know who is vehemently against the hiring practice (feels that it is nepotism) is also not on the job market. Only some, but not all of those writing in the various blog posts and comments concerned about the subject recently (and Chronicle article) were postdocs.
    DM I would be really interested in hearing specifically how the process might "go astray" as you put it. Also, what would an explicit and transparent process look like? It SOUNDS good, but couldn't it restrict the negotiating power of the spousal hire, or violate confidentiality?

  • Odyssey says:

    Bob O'H@62 wrote:
    Are you at least able to explain why it is ethical - i.e. fair - for someone to be given a job just because they are married to someone else? With no consideration for anyone else who may be qualified for that same job?
    Why do think academic hiring is (or should be) fair? It isn't and never has been. The institution* doesn't really give a rat's ass about fairness as you appear to define it, or how the candidates feel about the process. Fairness to candidates has nothing to do with it. The bottom line is that the institution wants and needs to hire the person (or people) that will most benefit the institution.
    * Institution = department/college/university

  • Bob O'H says:

    Why do think academic hiring is (or should be) fair?

    It should be fair (or at least try to be fair) because I think equality of opportunity is a fundamental moral virtue. If you want to argue that's wrong, then you can't argue against sexist hiring policies: see DrugMonkey's follow-up post for a great example of why we should worry about these problems.
    I accept that hiring procedures are often not fair, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't strive to be better.

  • Anonymous says:

    I think BobOH has a point. Can you really say that frequent spousal hiring is not indirectly discriminatory against single people? There are obviously limited space/resources in academia so having policies in place that lead to hiring more spouses must mean that single people are going to end up being represented less than if such policies didn't exist.

  • steffi suhr says:

    I'm just wondering what the comparable incentives would be for a single person, or for someone who is married to a {gasp} non-scientist. Seems to me that if there was something even remotely comparable in value, it would have to be big and it would probably look bad.

  • estraven says:

    The University of Cambridge (UK) has a very strong prejudice against spousal hires. That is, they will refuse to even look at the cv of a spouse. They lost two Fields Medals (=Nobel in Mathematics) because of that in the last ten years.
    On the other hand, my husband and I did receive an offer from a top-level UK University. It wasn't a spousal hire: just two offers simultaneously (which we eventually declined, because of getting a better offer elsewhere).
    And a good friend of mine got hired in a top university in Canada got hired as spouse so that his Department (per University policy) got him at reduced cost for the five years. He subsequently gained both tenure and the full professorship fatser than normal, so good he is.
    Universities in several countries I know actually try and help finding non-academic jobs for spouses, indeed many more do so than manage spousal hires.

  • Odyssey says:

    Bob O'H @65:
    It should be fair (or at least try to be fair) because I think equality of opportunity is a fundamental moral virtue. If you want to argue that's wrong, then you can't argue against sexist hiring policies: see DrugMonkey's follow-up post for a great example of why we should worry about these problems.
    I accept that hiring procedures are often not fair, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't strive to be better.

    Bit of a leap in the old logic there Bob. I assert academic hiring is not a fair process to candidates (without mentioning whether or not I think that's right), and you decide I might be against equal opportunity? And neutral when it comes to (or even support?) sexist hiring?*
    Why does the institution have to do better in regards to fairness to candidates (keep in mind my comment was in regard to fairness to candidates)? Because some get their feelings hurt when they don't land a position they believe they deserve? As I said before, institutions don't give a rat's ass. Institutions hire candidates based on what they believe most benefits the institution. Deciding what benefits the institution means considering many things aside from just merit and credentials. And it won't appear fair to some candidates. Does that violate equal opportunity? No. All qualified candidates get to apply and be considered, and the best candidate still gets offered a position. It's just that it's the institution who decides what "best" means, not the candidates themselves.
    * For the record, I am strongly in favor of both sexist and racist hirings. I'm in favor as long as that means increasing the number of women and minorities in academic positions. Is this unfair to white dudes? Yes. By your rubric it is then unethical. I can live with that. Is it inconsistent with the preceding paragraph? No. Such hires can benefit institutions in a great many ways.

  • Anonymous says:

    "Is this unfair to white dudes? Yes. "
    It is also unfair to Chinese dudes and gals, Jewish, Indian, Eastern European and any other disadvantaged/formerly disadvantaged group I forgot to mention. Using just the "white dudes" (specifically meaning 'Anglo oppressors') example is convenient, isn't it? But it is also dishonest.

  • Bob O'H says:

    I assert academic hiring is not a fair process to candidates (without mentioning whether or not I think that's right), and you decide I might be against equal opportunity?

    No I don't. I'm looking at the logic of the argument, not you. You can be for equal opportunity, but you've undermined your position. I can't see how you can argue for equality of opportunity if you've already taken fairness off the table as a criterion.

    Institutions hire candidates based on what they believe most benefits the institution. Deciding what benefits the institution means considering many things aside from just merit and credentials. And it won't appear fair to some candidates. Does that violate equal opportunity? No. All qualified candidates get to apply and be considered, and the best candidate still gets offered a position.

    What about the post of the trailing spouse? For that post, it's simply false that "[a]ll qualified candidates get to apply and be considered". Only one candidate is considered.

    For the record, I am strongly in favor of both sexist and racist hirings. I'm in favor as long as that means increasing the number of women and minorities in academic positions. Is this unfair to white dudes? Yes. By your rubric it is then unethical. I can live with that.

    It is more complicated than that: preferential hiring of minorities can be seen as ethical overall.

  • Isabel says:

    "Does that violate equal opportunity? No. All qualified candidates get to apply and be considered, and the best candidate still gets offered a position"
    Not if the "position" was created specifically for a spousal hire.
    Anyway, the overall message that I am getting here is that absolute ethical considerations like this are irrelevant because the effect of spousal hiring on job-seekers as a whole is so small as to be non-existent.

  • Odyssey says:

    In my reply to Bob O'H's comments I have not once mentioned spousal hires. I did in an earlier comment, but not in reply to Bob's. I was addressing his assertion that the hiring process in general should be made "more fair." If I misinterpreted his comments and they all referred solely to spousal hires then you can disregard my comments.
    Anon. @70
    If they're disadvantaged they fall into the minority category. White males are by far the majority of applicants for faculty positions in this country. That makes most others minorities in academia.

  • BikeMonkey says:

    Sure Odyssey, but how many of them are ScotchIrishAppalacian-Americans, huh? Gotcha there.

  • Bob O'H says:

    Odyssey @ 73 -

    If I misinterpreted his comments and they all referred solely to spousal hires then you can disregard my comments.

    Read my post - I discuss other forms of discriminatory hiring too.

    If they're disadvantaged they fall into the minority category.

    So the black South Africans under apartheid were in the minority?
    I would guess that globally most people who are significantly disadvantaged are in the majority in their country. Such is the nature of a lot of politics, alas.

  • rork says:

    You see Bob O'H, as with bribing judges and other agents of the government, we rationalize it as OK, even necessary, when the other folks are doing it too. Such are the ethics of pragmatism, flapping with each gust of wind.

  • @Steffi
    Single people don't have to consider another person with a job when they move. That is why they don't need an equivalent benefit. I would have applied to many more positions if I didn't need to consider my spouse's employment needs.
    As for non-academic spouses, that is BY FAR the most common situation. It is really easy to find a non-academic position for a spouse, and many places will also have resources to help trailing spouses make local contacts to find jobs. In that respect, a university is no different from any large company out there. Helping a spouse find a local position is a really cheap and easy recruitment tool.

  • Isabel says:

    "Single people don't have to consider another person with a job when they move. That is why they don't need an equivalent benefit. "
    Come on, having a spouse is not like having a disability. Maybe they should offer to find the single person a spouse. That would be a good recruitment tool.

  • JaneDoh says:

    @Isabel 78
    Come on, that is like asking for something to offset the spot in campus daycare offered to someone with kids as a recruitment incentive. My husband worked at a place (in industry, alas) that did "buffet" style benefits, where employees can select fewer frills and get higher pay. Even there, though, spousal relocation assistance was not considered a benefit and was offered to potential employees with spouses or same sex partners. Some of this assistance took the form of a job with the company.
    If a single person can think of something to negotiate for that would convince them to take the job, they should ask for it. I know that I wouldn't move to a location that my husband can't find work at (fortunately, those are few). If a university at such a place wanted me bad enough, they would have to solve my spouse work problem, or I wouldn't take the job. It is that simple--an employer is looking out for themselves. If the price to recruit an employee (whatever it is--a spousal hire, a daycare slot, a higher salary, domestic partner benefits, etc) is lower than the perceived benefit, the employer will generally try to offer it.

  • Alex says:

    Come on, having a spouse is not like having a disability.
    There's a bad joke waiting to be told here.

  • Anonymous says:

    The whole world outside academia has to make it without spousal hiring. The academic ivory towers are governed by different principles (cozy tenures, spousal hiring, generous fringe benefits) because we are not as fully exposed to market realities as other people. Well, we can say "fuck these other people, we are the entitled elite" and enjoy our quite extraordinary perks, but don't tell me, please, that this is moral. I agree with the absolute minority of voices here, who say that spousal hiring is unethical.

    Rubbish.
    I've worked at two very big, very prestigious tech companies. And spousal hires is a subject that has come up frequently around job interviews.
    My wife got an interview at her current job, in part, due to my then employer wanting to keep me. She ended up being a whole lot more valuable to them than I was. I've since left that job, and she's still there, and being paid significantly more than I ever was. (and deservedly so.)
    It's no different from academia: if you want to get a particular candidate, you do whatever you legally can to make the job attractive for them. I've seen that range from finding a position within the company for which the spouse is a good fit, to hiring headhunters to find a position for the spouse, to working with local universities to find a position for an academically inclined spouse.
    Spousal hiring is just a matter of facing reality: people's professional lives are constrained by factors from their private lives. Potential employers sometimes have to address personal factors.
    I used to have a friend who was had a medical condition that made him get severely ill when he was exposed to sunlight. He needed to have a job where he could be guaranteed of not having to spend any daylight hours in a windowed room, and not need to go out of doors during daylight. This caused serious difficulties for several schools that would have liked to hire him - they couldn't address his needs. The place he wound up made special arrangements, which were seriously difficult. (For a trivial example, faculty meetings couldn't be held in a meeting room with a window!)
    I've got another friend currently who is profoundly agoraphobic. He teaches in *one* classroom, which he also uses as his office. He comes in, and stays in that room *all day*. He attends faculty meetings by phone. He does office hours by skype. Again, that causes a lot of trouble for his university. But they make it work, because he's so damned good at what he does. He'd probably be able to get treated with medication and overcome his illness - but he's not willing to do it.
    How is addressing his needs - needs based on personal phobias - which cost the university significant amounts of money, and cause significant problems - any worse than helping find a job for a spouse so that the candidate can move to the university's location?

  • fiddler says:

    Instantiated? Huh?

  • Isabel says:

    "If a university at such a place wanted me bad enough," I guess everyone contributing here is a star. Either that or the "order of magnitude" oversupply of PhD candidates is a myth.
    @81 thanks for showing us how having a spouse is not comparable to having a disability:). ps. You sure have some interesting friends. I would have been annoyed to have to suffer through faculty meetings in a windowless room thanks to that one guy. How could just having a window in a room injure someone?

  • becca says:

    Isabel- Pubmed or google "xeroderma pigmentosum". You need to watch more House, too (it's never lupus though).

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Maybe they should offer to find the single person a spouse. That would be a good recruitment tool.
    Funnily enough it is a recruiting concern for some institutions that their surrounding community is too small / parochial. Therefore that single people may not come or may soon leave due to lack of dating / spousal locating possibilities.
    not kidding.
    of course, I am unaware of any institutions actually being able to do anything about this one. yeah....no.

  • Isabel says:

    becca, wow that's pretty high maintenance disorder. I must have missed that episode.
    It's surprising that reflected UV rays, from a north window, when a person is wearing sunscreen (and hopefully not sitting right by the window) could still cause DNA damage but I guess it's technically possible. I wouldn't mind sacrificing the window for the meetings for him, but it would be a drag in a regular work area for long hours.
    There are probably other remedial steps that could be taken that I would actually like, like removing light colored and reflective furniture and fixtures...how about a north window, lush greenery directly outside, and dark-colored soft fabrics only in the meeting room? Still no???
    DM, those companies could offer free maid service and rent subsidies to singles. It's always more expensive living alone, and a drag having to do all the cooking and cleaning. Then they will have money and energy to do fun things and travel to fun places where they can meet someone who the university can find a job for!

  • Orballo says:

    Hello,
    I came to this web page looking desperately for some advise about spousal hiring. My husband and I have work together since undergrad. We are in non-tenure track assistant professor positions in a big research university but we are planning to move on and look for our first tenure-track position. We truly develop our projects and ideas together, we have one grant currently and have a big project sent for review recently. We are cooking another one but it is not ready to be sent yet. In the best case scenario (don't want to think in the worst right now), if we get the big grant awarded, how "marketable " are we as a "lab team" is that even possible?

    Thanks in advance for any advise provided!

  • drugmonkey says:

    I have known of at least one such couple to get hired together in the past few years. So it *is* possible. I also know of a handful of established labs that are like this but I don't know the history of how they came to be.

    The key is going to be for you to have a very clear argument for how this would be a great move for the hiring department.

  • ORBALLO says:

    Thank you for answering so fast. We truly work together, which many people thinks it is odd. We have tested this model for many years and we are considerably more productive and effective working as a team than separately. Basically we have absolutely complementary skills and approaches. We also have our students co-mentored and they seem to be very happy with us. Working as a "lab-team" is not for everybody but certainly works great for us.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Yes but the department needs to know why it is going to devote two salary lines to one area of research. One startup package? Might work but then you might see that as unfair. One TT and one nonTT appointment? Maybe.

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