Nepotism is a huge problem in Spanish universities. Everything is about being connected to the right people, kissing ass, networking, and placing your relatives and friends in key positions. The damage this does to the system of higher education is enormous.
Italy, it seems, has the same problem:
One reason for the poor performance of Italian institutions in world league tables may be nepotism, it has been suggested. The practice has been blamed for a “brain drain” that has seen many of the country’s best researchers move to the US or the UK after failing to progress at home because of their lack of connections.
This is an open secret in Italy. The news magazine l’Espresso and newspaper La Repubblica have reported that in Rome’s La Sapienza University, a third of teaching staff are closely related. Questions were raised after the wife, son and daughter of Luigi Frati, La Sapienza’s chancellor, were hired by its medical faculty. At the University of Bari in the southern region of Puglia, Lanfranco Massari, a professor of economics, has three sons and five grandchildren who are colleagues in the same department. And at the University of Palermo, Angelo Milone, a professor in the architectural faculty, works alongside his brother, son and daughter.
Of course, a system of higher education that is structured this way will never produce valuable research or good teaching.
Efforts are being made to infect the American academia with the same kind of nepotistic practices. The system of “spousal hiring” destroys entire departments. The most offensive thing about this kind of unfair hiring practices is that nobody even thinks of informing the students that some of their professors did not get hired competitively and are only there because they happen to sleep with the right person.
The only thing that stands between us and nepotism is our own personal integrity. This year, for example, I chaired a panel that reviewed research proposals and decided which ones to fund. One of the proposals was by a person I really adore. Nobody at the panel knew about my feelings, so I could have easily done something nice for my friend and gotten their proposal funded. However, I couldn’t act in this dishonest manner. Which is why I declared my conflict of interest to the panel members and removed myself from the discussions of my friend’s proposal.
I’ve seen what nepotism does to individuals, departments, and universities, and I’ll be damned if I ever get tempted to become part of a nepotistic culture.
19 thoughts on “Nepotism: A Scourge of Higher Education”
University of Zimbabwe English department has only the ruling party’s cronies in it. A pity — because I would have liked to work there some day.
This is a truly international problem. 😦
Spousal hiring is a good, progressive practice that makes for a more just world without compromising academic standards. As an untenured professor I’d just like to add that the wife of the chair of the tenure committee is an absolutely first-rate teacher and scholar, and I’m glad that the department had the wisdom to hire her for a field in which she has no background. None of the other candidates even came close to her level of accomplishment, despite having done their dissertations in the field that the department advertised for.
🙂 🙂 🙂
My son’s honours supervisor was also supervising his own son.
We also have two maths professors that are married. The husband was head of school when he hired his wife.
I don’t really understand how either case can occur.
But by walking away from the committee, did you do a disservice to academia? Was your friends research proposal worthy of funding? Should she be punished simply because she knows you?
LikeLiked by 1 person
Nobody was punished. There were other people on the committee and they made a decision about this proposal.
Now we’re getting a little philosophical – was her proposal accepted, but shouldn’t have been? Could your intervention prevented a misuse and waste of scare resources? Just because you know her, doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically support her proposal. Denial may be the best thing for her career, and by withdrawing, you do her a disservice. I think we have to have some faith that intelligent, professional people can distinguish between professional responsibility and personal feelings.
“Now we’re getting a little philosophical – was her proposal accepted, but shouldn’t have been? Could your intervention prevented a misuse and waste of scare resources?”
“Just because you know her, doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically support her proposal. ”
-But it does, in this case. I know I couldn’t have been fair because this person can do no wrong in my eyes.
” I think we have to have some faith that intelligent, professional people can distinguish between professional responsibility and personal feelings.”
-Or they can know that in some cases this will not be possible for them.
If you husband had been offered a job at your university, would you have resigned and become a housewife? I saw people do exactly that when universities enforced strict anti-nepotism rules forty years ago. Whom a person is married to should make no difference, pro or con, in hiring. This is a real hardship for some families/couples who work in universities in small towns where there are no other employment opportunities.
When N was unemployed, we were offered several times to use spousal hiring to get him hired. Neither of us would ever do that, of course.
I don’t think that students and colleagues have to suffer because somebody wants to avoid hardship at their expense. There is no difference between spousal hiring and sleeping with the Dean in exchange for a job.
You say it should make no difference who your spouse is. But in spousal hiring that’s all that matters. Spousal hiring is precisely about hiring people only and exclusively because they are married to somebody useful.
Sorry – I was running off on a bit of tangent previously. Your right – hiring simply because you are the spouse of an employee is an egregious violation of fair hiring practices.
That being said – nepotism does exist across society, and can have value. Look at any industry for clear examples – producers use a core group of actors and tech staff in their productions. Researchers will want to work with staff they’re familiar with. Production managers hire support from previous jobs. Residents hire contractors they’ve used before.
If N. had been offered a position because they needed him, knew him, trusted him and he had the skills necessary for the position – what’s the harm?
“If N. had been offered a position because they needed him, knew him, trusted him and he had the skills necessary for the position – what’s the harm?”
-I think there is misunderstanding about terminology here. Spousal hiring is when people with no or almost no qualifications are hired only because they are married to somebody important. I had a “prof” who taught Hispanic Civilization without having ANY degree in the field. He had a BA in English. We had no idea why he kept saying really weird things in class until finally we discovered his “credentials.”
OK, in some cases perhaps. That is unfortunate. But I believe that the unoversity should not refuse to hire someone they really want just because of whom they are married to. I have seen this happen many times. When I began as an assistant professor, if two faculty members, both already working for the university, decided to get married, one was always forced to resign. I just think this is wrong.
Spousal hiring is when people with no or almost no qualifications are hired only because they are married to somebody important.
Actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that. It can mean lots of things depending on the situation. Sometimes it’s exactly what you describe. Other times a spouse with a PhD in the field (or whatever degree is relevant for the field and institution) is given an interview, and if they’re good enough, the spouse is hired. That sounds fine on the surface, but “good enough” in that situation can mean something different than “good enough” in a nationwide competitive search. The spouse may be fine, but there may be a bunch of other people out there who would be even better. That hire will probably do fine, if given the same support as any other new hire AND HELD TO THE SAME TENURE EXPECTATIONS, but if they know that they can’t be denied tenure they can also become a total pain in the ass, especially if both spouses are in the same department and one is already tenured.
In my institutions, I’ve seen a nightmare case (wife of a tenured professor is hired into his department for a field that she has no training in, and she becomes a nightmare for everybody except her husband and one political ally). I’ve also seen a case of a guy who was perfectly fine but might not have been hired were it not for the fact that his wife is in a very hot field, and I’ve seen a few wives for whom special positions (not tenure-track faculty) were created. For those wives, the positions matched the skills that they had. Ethically, you can say that they wouldn’t have gotten the jobs without their husbands so it’s a problem from that perspective, but one of them is quite excellent at what she does and the other I don’t know enough to say.
All of my experiences with husband-wife hiring for tenured positions have been dismal, and in both cases the husband was hired from outside to be chairman and the wife got a job in the department, one chairman’s wife as researcher, one chairman’s wife as practicing clinician. The wife with clinical duties turned out to be a menace to patients’ health. The word got out in our community, and her service cases dried up (she was the director and the main service provider, with only vacation coverage by clinicians at other hospitals) . Basically the whole department was in rebellion, and by the time the Dean announced the couple’s resignation, most of the clinical service providers in the department, including the majority of tenured clinical professors, had signed contracts with other universities or private groups and given the U. a month’s notice, or had left entirely.
I know what you mean. The spousal hires also tend to overcompensate for not being hired competitively. One I know went into administration and became the meanest, most annoying persecutor of faculty members. I’ve also known a group of them bandy together and start scheming and plotting like there was no tomorrow. Very divisive.
The senior professor in my story is a very nice, harmless guy (and incredibly smart and talented and hard-working). His wife, however, is determined to be part of everything going on in the department, even though she often makes a mess and many people find her difficult to work with. Unfortunately, she is very good friends with another worthless person, and they form an alliance. These two allies are currently trying to insert themselves into everything that a friend of mine (a woman, FWIW, hired on merit rather than marriage) does, making her work incredibly unpleasant.
If there is anything that puts me into an irrational rage, it is nepotism.
If you think academia is bad, you should see the private sector when contracts and sales depend on hiring some spoiled brat who is the son of a large customer.