Dr. Crazy put up a really smart and insightful post about the spousal hiring thing. You should read it here.
I think I'm more against spousal hires than Dr. Crazy is, but she makes good sense here.
I keep reading in a variety of comments that spousal hires are necessary because married individuals have individually difficult lives.
I think such an approach misrecognizes the reasons we do affirmative action hiring. We do special hires and affirmative action because we're trying to 1) provide equitable opportunities to people who are members of groups that have been systemically discriminated against. and we're trying to 2) redress systemic discriminatory practices.
Married people have not been subject to systemic discrimination because they're married. So there's no need for redress.
In fact, married people are the majority of adult Americans. They have the most power politically and economically.
Some of the objections have to do with difficult decisions people have to make. For example, one person might say that without getting special treatment through a spousal hire, that person might have to leave the profession.
To that, I want to say that about one third of people in my field (English) who finish PhDs have not gotten tt jobs in the field for a number of years. Why should people receive preferential treatment because they are married? The one third of PhDs who aren't getting jobs includes a variety of people. Can I say to any one of them who doesn't qualify for spousal hiring that people married to other academics deserve special treatment that others (single folks, people married to non-academics) don't deserve?
It's important to recognize that the single person who doesn't get a job because it's given to someone as a spousal hire is just as much out of work and just as likely to need to leave the field as a married (to another academic) person who doesn't get a job.
What's ethically necessary is that on our search committees, we make the best hiring decisions possible for our college or university community. And we have to recognize that "best" does not necessarily mean white or male or upper-class or ivy educated. Or married.
What's also ethically necessary is that we recognize that we academics are part of a systemic problem in a field that produces too many PhDs for the employment opportunites, and that the opportunity costs of accepting people to grad school adversely affects those individuals who (though wonderful and qualified) will never get jobs in the field because those jobs aren't there. We're also part of a systemic problem in schools that exploit adjunct labor because it's cheaper.
From my little office, I don't know what I can do to change the overenrollment of PhD students (and the exploitation of PhD students as cheap labor) at R1s. I know that I didn't have a clue about the problem when I entered grad school, and so don't think that's the responsibility of students entering programs. But how do I begin to get my state flagship to cut its PhD programs when they benefit from the cheap labor?
From my little office, I also don't know what I can do to change the use of adjuncts to teach a large number of courses. It's easy to say "take a pay cut, Bardiac, and your university will be able to hire another tt person with half of your pay." But in reality, I make about $45K a year,* so I wouldn't stay here at half my salary, nor would most PhDs be willing to move here to do my job for half my salary. (It's important to recognize that the $45K is what my paycheck says. My school also provides benefits, including nearly $8k in health and other insurance, plus social security and retirement. Our adjuncts have health and other benefits if they have 50% employment, and my department makes an effort to provide that level of employment to our adjuncts so that they have benefits.)
Maybe it's also easy to say "you should teach another composition class, Bardiac," but again, I don't think many PhDs would be willing to move here to teach 16 credit hours a semester for my paycheck (with the other research and service expectations).
My question is, what do we do to address the systemic problems in equitable and just ways?
*Yes, I recognize that I'm privileged to make $45K a year and that there are a whole lot of people in the world who would be in heaven with that paycheck.