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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Spousal Hiring Is Evil

As I keep saying, spousal hires are a huge mistake. This is what happens when you do it. In case you read the link, you need to know that it’s all egregious, insane lies spread by a spurned spousal hire.

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35 thoughts on “Spousal Hiring Is Evil

  1. At least, she was denied of tenure.

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    • I don’t get tenure at Yale unless you are a megastar.

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      • So Clarissa, who is/was she married to?

        I am sorry to be mean about Bob Basil’s sister. But I don’t think a whole institution should be bent to saving peoples’ marriages. And I think salaries should be high enough so you don’t need two to survive (at my institution practically the only way out of precarity is to marry).

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        • Anibal.

          What she doesn’t understand is that scholars who do get tenure at Yale don’t start out as “a friend’s wife tolerated on sufferance for his sake.” It’s simply not the way to become a major scholar, and definitely not within 3 years.

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          • I’m sure Bob’s sister is a lovely person. But I’ve seen so many disasters brought by this practice that I’m against it, not against individual people.

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          • Right. Well, it seems she’s been there 7 years, the regular time, and to have publications that are in fact enough and respectable enough for many places (such as the place she’s been hired) — but that aren’t megastar-level. I wouldn’t have sued for that although the sexual harassment situation at that place is a different question. The case that fascinates me more is of the guy they turned down a couple of years ago, in Portuguese — I don’t know him but looking at what his work is, I think I’d like to.

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            • There is no sexual harassment. It’s all a fabrication. She can’t even allege anything happened outside of “unsupportive comments” because 2 of the 3 people she is suing are heterosexual women. It’s all a ridiculous fabrication.

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              • But, didn’t she blow whistle on RGE or something — ?

                Anyway, look, OT: I am in Riga watching tv in Russian. I flew from Amsterdam and had I not known it wasn’t, I’d have though my seat mate was you. Really. Amazing. A little younger and the her red hair was natural, otherwise, your near twin. She was Lithuanian, though. Then I had dinner and there were all these scallions and radishes on the side. That I didn’t order specifically — they just came.

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              • She blew the whistle on him using bad words like joder and pendejo. 😁😁😁

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  2. I doubt my sister’s marriage would have survived without a spousal hiring. And I have known many academic marriages that have failed because of geographical distance between homes. (BTW, the university who employs sis and brother-in-law are still on happy terms.) (Crap-shoot, I know.)

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    • These jobs are extremely competitive these days. Imagine how it feels to people who are eminently qualified and who are passed by for a job in favor of somebody whose main qualification is having married the right person. I understand that it’s uncomfortable to people but the alternative is simply unfair. And when you look at it from students’ perspective, it’s even more so.

      Liked by 1 person

    • They shouldn’t have married another academic. I know that sounds harsh but what is this: a playpen for peoples’ romances or a workplace? What are these jobs? Work, or sinecures? It’s bad precisely because then you get the rest of the family working there as well, not just the two spouses. And you have to watch their entire divorce at work in slow motion. And they have mysterious powers. It is SO bad.

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    • Also, I hate to say it, but if your sister’s marriage is that weak perhaps she would be better off without it? And why does someone have to give up a job for a spouse, just so a rocky marriage can be “saved”?

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  3. The same thing occurs very often in the Québec’s government.

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  4. The department in my field in my home city was wrecked completely by a spousal hire. 10 years of misery for students. Now their misbehaviour became so nasty that they finally lost tenure!

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    • We have a rule agsinst spousal hiring at my current department. The only time it was broken was to give an instructorship to the new dean’s wife. The Dean’s goal was to destroy our department bevause he thinks teaching languages is a waste of money. The wife was used to spy on us. It was a mess. We became extra careful about what we said in meetings or in the hallway.

      She could have easily found a job in any of the local high schools that are desperate for teachers of Spanish, by the way.

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      • Yes, this is actually one of the things I hate the most, the deployment as spies. And the beholdenness to administration generally. Of course this doesn’t obtain when you have real stars and actually there is one couple at my university who is good, very good (without either being megastar) and it’s a fact that without both having jobs here they’d probably be elsewhere. So there are Cases. But the majority by far are destructive. This is a conclusion I’ve come to after much observation and that I didn’t want to come to.

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    • We had the exact same thing happen.

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    • I mean, the exact same thing as happened to zinemin.

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  5. JProf on said:

    What’s bad about spousal hiring is when another department is “asked” to open a tenure-track position to hire a spouse and that other department is not given a voice to say whether or not they would actually like to hire the spouse. In other words, the department gets a new tenure track position but actually loses it if/when they don’t want to hire the spouse. (And then let’s not forget about the fake search you have to do to make the hire.)

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  6. Shakti on said:

    So for the academics on this thread who are vehemently against spousal hiring:
    How do academics ensure they end up with non academic spouses who can do their jobs anywhere, are happy to move where ever, and are their intellectual equals?

    On the other side of this, I let a relationship with an academic wither when I realized it would entail permanently living in rural Georgia.

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    • How do academics ensure they end up with non academic spouses who can do their jobs anywhere, are happy to move where ever, and are their intellectual equals?
      Many male academics, and yes, even junior ones, are more than happy to have a spouse who will be a stay-at-home wife. I don’t want to talk about the women’s intellect because that’s neither here nor there, but I will say that the desired academic spouses are definitely very low on the professional-ambition scale. A few weeks ago, one junior colleague from another institution was basically boasting how his wife takes care of the kid, even buys his clothes and tells him which combinations to wear, so he can be at work 12 hours per day and not worry about home in the least. This reminds me of someone in the blogosphere saying, years ago, that academics with stay-at-home spouses should have an asterisk on their CVs, like athletes who are doping.

      Anyhow, female academics are many times more likely to be married to another academic (or another professional with an advanced degree), so being vehemently against spousal hires generally means you are making it extra hard for female academics to find suitable posts. (And I had a link somewhere showing that in a dual-academic-career situation, if someone’s career has to bite the dust, men are much less likely to give up their ambition and expect the woman to do it instead. In the words of a female colleague, the woman is always the one who gets (academically) fucked.

      Liked by 1 person

      • But my friend , we need to sacrifice the interests of the students and of the field in order to save the marriages where men expect women to be self-sacrificial to this extent? I don’t think it’s fair that a bunch of people have to suffer so that one guy doesn’t face the need to let go of his sexism.

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        • I agree, spousal hiring is not panacea, and it’s likely that, when it goes bad, it goes very bad. I’m just trying to bring out some reasons why it’s not a concept that’s necessarily evil from every facet. Sometimes, perhaps often, the secondary hire is very good so it’s a win-win all around, for the institution and the students. Sometimes, spousal hires help the academia not lose yet another good female scholar, which is very important, especially in the physical sciences where women are rare. But yes, sometimes, the spousal hire is poor and the students and colleagues suffer.

          But, to be completely honest, at my research institution, I have seen a number of faculty hires without the spouse, where the hire cares so abysmally little about teaching and considers it as a necessary tax to be able to do research, and is encouraged in this by higher administration which also only cares that he brings in money money money, that I can’t imagine this person is someone the students should pay good money to come see in the classroom. Also, these hires are hardly generous with their time when it comes to service and expect others to pick up the slack. What I am trying to say that there are many ways for people to be a net drain on academia and an overall poor investment by the department. Based on my experience, I don’t think, on average, spousal hires are worse in this regard than the rest of the hires.

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      • Shakti on said:

        See, I don’t get the desiring a stay at home spouse because academic incomes, as a rule aren’t great. My instinctual reaction is that it’s nonsense that academics work 12 hours a day for years perpetually because I grew up with a parent who installed a landline in the bathroom and I cannot fathom most academics needing that kind of tether for any reason. Also among the small number of people I know, I don’t know any couples where one person is a professor and the other is a stay at home spouse, male or female.

        I was thinking more of the difficulties of being in a very small town, where the university is the best and greatest and often the only employer. The academic has employment, but the other person can’t find anything suitable in or around town.

        The other alternative is to have long distance marriages, but I don’t think most people are suited to that and I don’t think most academics do the next order examination of themselves to realize whether that would work for them before they get far down the track of an academic career. Certainly, not the dude who boasts “my wife lays out my clothes like I’m a child.” What is that, anyway? He could wear the same stuff to work every day like Charlie Brown and nobody would care because nobody expects men to switch out their clothes.

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        • I don’t get the desiring a stay at home spouse because academic incomes, as a rule aren’t great.

          I really think it depends on the institution and field. Some academics are underpaid (and I am not even talking about adjuncts here), but others are really not. For instance, assistant professors in engineering at public research schools these days start in the $90k-low $100k range, and that’s for 9 month salary (which means they can bring in an additional 1/3 of that through grants). It’s about $20-30k lower in the humanities and some social sciences. (Yes, the more traditionally masculine the field is, the higher the salary.)

          For instance, here’s the salary link for UIUC, the public research flagship for Illinois, located in the twin towns of Urbana and Champaign, which are lovely and surrounded by corn fields (so low cost of living). Again, these are the numbers from the state budget, so the 9 month salaries; in some fields, faculty are expected to bring in grants for tenure and promotion, and with grants come some salary support which can go up to an additional 1/3 of the 9-month salary.

          http://salaryguide.dailyillini.com/#/search

          Go to the UIUC website, and pick an assistant prof and look up their salary. I just did, and you will see representatives from physics (mid $90k), school of molecular and cell biology (mid $80k), Spanish (low to mid $70k), English (low $70k), psychology (low to mid $70k), mechanical engineering (~$100k), and computer science (mid to high $90k). Again, these are pre-tenure numbers; senior people make or can make considerably more.

          Anyway, my point is that it’s quite possible for an academic man, especially in a macho field, to make a comfortable living for the family in a low-cost living area, with a wife who doesn’t work for whatever reason (maybe she can’t find anything suitable, maybe he’s convinced her that it’s in everyone’s best interest that the whole family is devoted to his professional success… Whatever). But there are definitely tiers of income in academia… And we haven’t even looked at the salaries at private schools (for public ones, like UIUC, the salaries have to be publicly available; not so much for the private ones).

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  7. “for the academics on this thread who are vehemently against spousal hiring:
    How do academics ensure they end up with non academic spouses who can do their jobs anywhere, are happy to move where ever, and are their intellectual equals?”

    That’s where the magic comes in.

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  8. I am not opposed to spousal hires because in my experience it’s a way to bring in some top people who would otherwise go elsewhere. Also I have seen a number of couples where the trailing spouse is every bit as good or even overshadows the primary hire. I am sure there are some subpar spousal hires, but in my experience it’s much more likely that both are excellent and the university gets two excellent people who are unlikely to move for decades as opposed one who will leave as soon as a favorable spousal situation arises elsewhere.

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  9. fluffymog on said:

    AS a long term single, I try not to get too involved in these discussions, but my experience of spousal hire pairs has been very poor.

    In all cases they do/did not behave as if they are two separate professionals in the workplace, which seems to me the minimum required. And that would be hard, but surely that’s a small price to pay for having posts together? I am SICK of only one of each pair ever being expected to attend any out of hours event (because childcare… our single parent/long-distance-relationship-so-single-parent-during-the-week colleagues do NOT get out of such events because of THEIR childcare needs). I am SICK of a conversation with one authomatically being passed on to the other, of not being able to deal with each one separately, of a small issue with one leading to the other being wierd/difficult too. It’s uncomfortable for everyone.

    I’m sure it CAN work, but I think the people involved need to make huge efforts to be very, very professional about it, and to restrict their work choices so that one is never the manager of the other, recuses themselves if they have a chance to allocate tasks or rewards the other might want etc., just as one should in any other nepotisim-type situation, and I’ve never seen anyone do that. There are sound reasons why the vast majority of functional businesses/workplaces forbid spouses to be in the same management chain…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly.

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    • I am in the sciences/engineering and have seen very, very few spousal hires in the same department. I also know that the potential host departments for the trailing spouse are encouraged to interview the spouse, but are certainly not required to hire. For example, we have a junior faculty member whose fiance was interviewed by three different departments in the medical school here, and nobody wanted to hire them. We can’t make anyone take on a potentially weak hire, and obviously the fiance has been found seriously lacking in a way that indicates they’re probably not competitive for a faculty position at any research school. So now the two have a long-distance relationship (the fiance found a postdoc or similar position elsewhere) and we are aware that we might eventually lose the junior faculty. He’s not the only one in that situation, we have another one whose significant other wants a very specific type of job that is available only in a few select metropolises; we might lose this junior hire, too. (Each new hire in STEM costs a ton of startup money and we don’t like losing them without breaking even.)

      We do have a spousal placement office that helps spouses find jobs with the industry in the area, which I think is a very good thing; we also have a mechanism that incentivizes academic spousal hires (provost, primary-hire dept, and secondary-hire dept each pay a third of the secondary hire’s salary for some number of years). However, nobody wants to bring in someone who can’t raise money or publish or get tenure and they are not forced to. Perhaps that’s why I am generally in favor of these hires, because the way I’ve seen them implemented they are generally a positive thing for the university.

      But people’s experiences probably vary a lot among fields and institutions.

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      • JaneB on said:

        I’m also in sciences (at the less engineering/maths end) and all spousal hire pairs I have experience of have been into the same department. Of course nominally the department has the right not to hire the second person, but it very rarely seems to work out that they don’t (and in a couple of cases it has been blatent “hire the postdoc I have got together with as faculty or I am leaving and taking my Big GrAnts with me” – at a regional university that can be seen as a genuine threat/risk in a way it isn’t at an elite in a popular location…)

        Very context dependent, I think…


        https://polldaddy.com/js/rating/rating.js

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