Monday, May 24, 2010

Spousal Hire Dustups

I've been thinking about spousal hires since reading different peoples ideas in a variety of blogs. It's a complex issue.

Yes, it's good for people to be happy, and married people seem to be mostly happy when they can live in the same area and are appropriately employed (if they choose).

Some folks have argued that spousal hires take jobs from others, or countered that by saying that new lines are created for spousal hires.*

I live in a different world, because tt lines here are few and far between, and far more likely to be cut than added.

So what I want to ask: Are straight, married people systemically oppressed or discriminated against?

Do straight, married people need special treatment to address systemic oppression or discrimination?

I don't think so.

I also think that we need to recognize that straight married people are often given access to additional benefits? (In my world, this includes subsidized insurance benefits, tax benefits, inheritance benefits, hospital visitation, etc.)

Further, when departments in my world talk about "fit" in choosing the best candidate for the job, they generally mean "straight white people teach everything that's not specifically labelled ethnic or glbt." (In some departments, "male" is also part of the equation, but the English department I teach in seems to have been fairer in that area.)

In my experience, when a local department wants to hire a spouse, it hires the spouse as an adjunct and then when a line "comes open," sets up the search committee explicitly and the committee writes a job description for which that spouse is an ideal candidate. If a job description is written for a spousal hire, then that description pretty much excludes all unmarried candidates, including gay and lesbian candidates where they can't marry. (And my state is one that doesn't recognize gay and lesbian couples.) I think that's an ethical problem.

And that ethical problem goes beyond the objection that only one person could get the job, so the other applicants were mostly SOL anyway; the hiring in these cases has been predetermined. The other applicants were misled into wasting their money on sending their letters, and into wasting their energy preparing letters, interviews, presentations.

So while I recognize partners who want a job in the same area as a spouse, I think I'm ethically opposed to spousal hires the way they're done here.

*We also aren't really facing the superstar issue. If you're seriously considering a job offer here, you're pretty much by definition not a superstar. You may be wonderful, but you've already lost the superstar glow.


  1. I think you are correct in how spousal hires work in the real world. I also think you are correct when you say that having a sham search is BS, as is coercing someone (anybody) into an adjunct or VAP position with the implication that the next tt job is "theirs".

    What I don't think is implicitly bad is the concept of the spousal (maybe partner) hire. Assuming the "spouse" is qualified, it all hinges on the definition of the term "spouse". If it's limited to the legal definition, it perpetuates the huge disadvantages same sex couples face on a routine basis. If the institutional definition of spouse is more like "committed life partner", then there is no discrimination.

    I have other concerns about spousal hires, particularly when both people are in the same department. From my experience, what happens is you get one full professor for the price of two -- which seems to be quite unfair.... especially when both people get full paychecks, benefits and get to vote on department issues.

  2. I'd add that even when a new line is created for the spousal hire, sooner or later, when someone leaves or retires (or dies), that line will be taken back. There's no explicit linkage made: the Dean says simply that he can't afford to renew the line. But, in effect, the spousal hire is an inside hire in advance.

    It's not a bad as a regular inside hire. There is no search, so no-one is wasting their time applying (or, worse, interviewing). But it's still unethical.

  3. Bardiac,
    What you've said here so clearly is one piece of what I tried (and I guess failed?) to say over at my place. Thanks for outlining the issues that come up at a non-research university so succinctly.

  4. I totally agree with what you are saying here, and for the same reasons, I have to be ethically against spousal hiring. But in practice, I wouldn't be totally against someone spousally hiring ME :( /cognitive dissonance.

    Incidentally, in our department we have two instances of the opposite of the situation you describe where the dept pays for two profs and gets one: we have two couples who each job-share with their respective partner. The university is thus paying only slightly more than they would for one normal position (they pay a half time salary to each half of the couple, but the benefits end up adding up to more for two people). Each "half time" person works full time, though, since it's not as though grant committees or promotion committees care that you are only hired half time: they still expect the same number of publications as your peers are producing. In these cases the university is getting a very good deal, but I realise it's not the norm.

  5. Inside, I think spousal hires discriminate against single folks. I was trying to separate out the issues of ethics from practical stuff. I think sometimes when it's ethically right, you work through the practical stuff.

    Jim, Good point, thanks. The only inside hire I know of here was a spousal hire.

    Dr. C, thanks. I think you brought up a lot of issues, but I wanted to separate them out. Thanks for your post, though, because it got me thinking more clearly.

    Styley, Good to hear from you. I miss your blog. You make a good point; some spousal hires are wonderful colleagues, some not. I don't think that's actually the main issue in the ethics, though.

  6. What I appreciate here -- and I think a lot of us can agree on -- is that there is one kind of spousal hiring none of us like, and that is the sham search kind. My institution does not do those, to my knowledge, but the fact that these seem to be common in other places really bothers me. Disingenuous searches seem to be what create second-class citizens out of spousal hires, and create more fake meritocracy which only serves to hurt and breed resentment in all classes of people who want jobs.