Hiring Couples (guest post by Felicia Nimue Ackerman)


The following is a guest post* by Felicia Nimue Ackerman, professor of philosophy at Brown University, on the practice of preferential spousal hiring. As with a previous guest post of hers, this one includes a poem and an essay, both of which were previously published in The Providence Journal (poem on July 27, 2014, essay on May 27, 2008).

NOTE: In comments on this post, mentions of or allusions to identifiable members of philosopher-couples in academic philosophy will not be allowed, except by the members themselves (unless they themselves invite such discussion by others). See the comments policy for more information about commenting here.


aristophanes-love

 

Proposal to Professor Superstar
by Felicia Nimue Ackerman

Come marry me! Come be my love
(Or fake it that you love me).
The job I crave is at your school,
But others rank above me.

The old boy system didn’t die.
It took a new direction.
Today the favored form of pull
Is marital connection.

To hold you fast when we’re a pair,
They’ll surely want to hire me.
When I get tenure, we can split —
There’s no way they can fire me.

♥ ♡ ♥

Hiring Couples — Love in the Groves of Academe
by Felicia Nimue Ackerman

Commencement is upon us, but many new Ph.D.s fear it will mark the end rather than the start of their academic careers. Commencement speakers, with their obligatory bland inspirationalism, can scarcely offer hard-headed advice for navigating a difficult academic job market. So I will. Improve your job prospects by making a strategic match—not an academic match, but a romantic one.

When I was a college student in the 1960s, married couples were even rarer on faculties than registered Republicans. Anti-nepotism rules were prevalent, rationalized in part by fear of cronyism, although such fear did not keep faculty searches from relying on old-boy networks. Nowadays, colleges and universities advertise jobs and conduct open searches. Hiring on “pull” is in disrepute, with one exception. Far from barring married couples, many schools pride themselves on offering jobs to the spouses or romantic partners of strong candidates. Sometimes the partners get favored for existing positions. Sometimes jobs get created specifically for them, deflecting funds that could be used elsewhere.

The policy seems paradoxical. The traditional old-boy system, for all its flaws, had a rationale involving merit. Professors trusted their fellow old boys to use academic merit as a basis for job recommendations. No one chooses a romantic partner on academic merit. Why should romantic connection be the one sort of pull that political correctness allows and even encourages as a basis for hiring? Why shouldn’t such connections be irrelevant?

Here are some answers I have encountered.

“Hiring couples benefits women, who are still underrepresented on faculties.” But favoring couples actually benefits women — and men — who are part of academic couples and harms those who are not. It is ironic that favoring wives of powerful men (one common form of couple hiring) has come to count as a progressive, feminist move.

“Couples face hardship when their jobs make them live in different cities.” Couples are scarcely the only people who face hardship in academia. The job market in many disciplines is so tight that when an applicant loses out to someone whose “credentials” include a sought-after partner, the loser often has to settle for a much lesser teaching job, if any. Why should professional opportunities for single people be sacrificed so that academic couples can live together without making professional sacrifices?

“When married couples get job offers only in different cities and reject a commuter marriage, it is generally the woman whose career suffers.”

This claim invites two questions. First, is there hard evidence for it? Second, when a woman gives her husband’s career priority over her own, what is the reason? Perhaps she genuinely agrees with this priority. Perhaps she knuckles under to a domineering husband. How could either possibility justify handicapping single job seekers?

“Some couples collaborate on research, giving legitimate professional grounds for hiring them as a team.” So do some people with no romantic connection. Appointment of faculty who collaborate on research should be based on intellectual, not romantic, relationships.

“Hiring an unimpressive partner in order to attract a superstar can, on balance, benefit a school academically.” So can firing someone to prevent his prestigious enemy from leaving. Unfairness in hiring and firing, like all unethical behavior, sometimes has practical benefit. So what else is new?

Back to the hard-headed advice: Maybe new Ph.D.s should try some unethical behavior of their own—the academic equivalent of “green-card” marriages, undertaken solely for professional reasons and dissolved soon after both partners get tenure. What will a school do then—fire them?

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Richard Zach
Richard Zach
4 years ago

“’When married couples get job offers only in different cities and reject a commuter marriage, it is generally the woman whose career suffers.’ This claim invites two questions. First, is there hard evidence for it?”

This is literally the first google result, and the answer is yes:
http://gender.stanford.edu/dual-career-academic-couplesReport

Joe
Joe
Reply to  Richard Zach
4 years ago

C’mon, Richard, we’re philosophers, we don’t do this a posteriori stuff. Google searches are obviously superogatory.

Report

Kenny Easwaran
4 years ago

As a member of a same-sex couple who was hired as a partner hire (by a state university in a state that didn’t at the time recognize same-sex partnerships) it seems to me that the focus on gendered arguments here is slightly misguided (though I suppose understandable in a predominantly heterosexual context).

It seems to me that there’s a important way to look at this in the context of work-life accommodations generally. Just as universities recognize that their employees shouldn’t be expected to work 100 hour weeks, and should be able to find housing within a reasonable commuting distance of the university (so that universities in expensive cities provide housing assistance), and might find parenting an important part of their life (so that parental leave is a standard benefit), universities also recognize that their employees might find their spouse or partner to be an important feature of their life. When the partner is a non-academic professional, universities usually have some local network that assists with finding a job somewhere in the city, but it’s usually not too hard to find a job for a lawyer or programmer or doctor somewhere in the metropolitan area. However, since many academics are known to have partners that are also academics, and since finding a job for an academic in a specific location is known to be hard, it makes sense that universities would want to do something to assist. There are different levels of assistance that various universities offer – they might open a position but require the partner to self-fund with grant money, or they might have floating positions that can be allocated to a department for a special case, or they might go out of their way to hire couples. There are reasonable debates to be had about the merits of specific policies here, but they involve different issues. (Some of these are very parallel to policies offering teaching relief to new parents; some involve far greater resource expenditure.) This post doesn’t seem to raise the specific questions about specific policies.

Also, in practice, it seems to me that in addition to the differences in type of accommodations made, there are also important differences based on the fields and careers of the two partners. There seem to be very different issues raised when the two partners are hired in the same department, or in different departments in the same college, or in different colleges within the university. A lot of discussion seems to focus on the case of different-sex tenure-track hires within a single department – this is probably the most common case (after accounting for permutations of all the variables), but I don’t know if it’s anything like a majority of all cases of partner hiring accommodations, and it clearly raises very different issues in departmental politics rather than general university and employment policy.Report

JD
JD
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
4 years ago

“but it’s usually not too hard to find a job for a lawyer or programmer or doctor somewhere in the metropolitan area.”

That’s like saying “it wouldn’t be too hard to find the academic spouse a position teaching at the local secondary school.”

The sacrifices of nonacademic spouses who have aspirations for their careers in law or medicine are just as comparable, if not more. Academics are not special.Report

KH
KH
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
4 years ago

There are a lot of bad arguments here as elsewhere in the thread. I only want to point out the most dangerous, namely, the one the compares a TT spousal hire with lesser accommodations like sick leave.

A TT hire has an economic value of several million dollars (probably $2m – $4m), when you factor in a normal length of a career with standard raises, benefits, travel, etc. A faculty member who asks for a spousal hire is, if you accept my valuation, not asking for something remotely like two months off to attend to an infant.

When my department hires, I ask my colleague to think of themselves as committing $3m in state and taxpayer funds, as well as deciding at least part of the educational fate of 8-10,000 students (a reasonable estimate of how many students someone can teach in our department of 30-40 years).

While it may be the case that a spousal hire is, from the standpoint of the department, ‘gratis’ (i.e., does not result in losing another line in the near future), it is not without impact on the university and community. The $2m – $4m that goes to accommodating a romantic situation will affect thousands of people in a variety of ways. To point this out is not to suggest that no spousal hires turn out well for the university, but only that partner considerations are at their very best a frivolous consideration. If you honestly feel that the best way for a university (that already pays you a living wage) to spend an additional few million is to make your own romantic situation more convenient, then you probably overestimate your rightful place in the world.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  KH
4 years ago

I don’t think there’s going to be a constructive discussion about this that refers to marriage/life partnership as a “romantic situation.” Report

KH
KH
Reply to  Matt Weiner
4 years ago

On the contrary, I already consider your reply constructive in regard to how I referred to marriages.

I apologize for the tone of the last sentence of my post. You and I might disagree about the importance that marriages – or marriage-like unions – should have in professional contexts. There’s a lot to be discussed there, so please let me rephrase the last sentence: in order to request or approve of a spousal hire, you would have to consider your own (or your colleague’s) marriage to have a very great degree of importance beyond your/ their so-called private lives.

As you gathered, my own position is that I’m mostly indifferent to my colleagues’ romantic lives, and somewhat skeptical of marriage as an institution. So spousal hires always seem outrageous, and from this view it seems that there has to be an easier way of accommodating the non-work life of our colleagues, one that does not involve a precious, rare, and multi-million dollar resource like a TT line.

But I’ll allow that I’m really missing something, about how a labor issue like tenure should be mixed with considerations about marriage. What is it? We can indeed have constructive discussions about it, but that demands that none of us take our view of these complex social issues for obvious.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  KH
4 years ago

Thank you for that very courteous and considered response, KH, to what was a fairly dismissive remark about your tone.

One thing I would say here is that we have to look at things institutionally. That is, if the general practice were that universities did not give spousal hires, and I told a university that I would not consider accepting a job from them unless they gave a tenure-track job to my spouse, then I would indeed be making a special demand multi-million dollar demand for myself. (For what it’s worth I am not married/partnered with an academic; this is the generic “I.”) So we have to ask, why is it that I among others think that our institutions should be structured so that they sometimes hire based in part on people’s family lives?

I’d argue that the hiring process can never be truly neutral with respect to family lives. If they disregard family lives completely, then the effect will be to place a great burden on dual-academic couples; and, assuming Richard Zach’s characterization of the research is correct, that burden will fall disproportionately on women academics who are partners with male academics. (Though as Kenny points out not all couples are different-sex.) My mother once told me that the effect of the old anti-nepotism policies was to drive many women out of the academy completely, because they were forbidden from holding any job at the university where their husbands worked (and yes it could work the other way around, but we should look at how these policies actually play out). A no-spousal-hire policy isn’t quite a no-nepotism policy, but it’s still effectively going to force many people to choose between being able to live with their partner and employment in their chosen field.

Another couple of points; in this case the request isn’t exactly that the tenure-track line and its couple of million dollars be lit on fire. The partner who gets hired presumably will be a generally qualified person even if they wouldn’t the first choice that the department/university would make for a tenure-track line (indeed, we can all probably think of cases where a partner hire went on to have at least as distinguished a career as the primary hire). So the question is, in a case like this, can we quantify the opportunity cost of hiring a qualified person who wouldn’t necessarily be your first choice otherwise? I don’t know how to quantify that.

The other point is that having an academic partner who you want to live with is still most likely overall a disadvantage on the job market. Many universities won’t or can’t make a spousal hire, or wind up hiring the spouse of their targeted candidate into a less desirable job. I don’t have any empirical confirmation for this (and don’t know how I’d get any) but I would reckon that any two academics going on the market singly would be more likely to get better overall jobs than the same two academics going on the market as a couple; the number of opportunities forgone because they would require permanently living apart will outweigh those cases in which one partner gets a plum job because the institution wants to hire another. By the same token, sometimes a single academic will get a job that a partnered academic didn’t take (or left) because their partner couldn’t get a job at the institution or the city; it’s not clear to me that even with partner hires our institutionalized hiring practices advantage couples over single academics. Again, I don’t have empirical data on this. You might say that it’s a choice for a partnered academic declines a job that won’t hire their partner, while it’s not a choice when a single academic loses out to a partner hire; but the reason I was grumpy about the phrase “romantic situation” is that I think we shouldn’t see living with your life partner as a mere choice. It’s a fundamental part of one’s identity.

I don’t claim to have made any decisive arguments here! It’s just a place to start thinking.

I do think Prof. Ackerman’s tongue-in-cheek suggestion that people enter into sham marriages in order to get partner hires doesn’t work even as a joke suggestion given how hard it is to get a partner hired. (And also, in the current situation where the governments of the US and UK are both extremely hostile to immigrants, it seems irresponsible to casually crack wise about sham green-card marriages; the prevalence of that stereotype causes real harm to immigrants.)Report

KH
KH
Reply to  Matt Weiner
4 years ago

You make a number of good points. I agree that it’s not obvious that being married is a market advantage in general; though it is sometimes understandable when people categorize a given spousal hire as discriminatory.

The point about looking at this institutionally is one I’ll great, but it raises another problem: if spousal hiring is such a good thing, why do we not make a policy of it? More often in my experience people either do it with a wink and a nod or deny it ever took place.

And what qualifications should there be? At my university there are some spousal hires, but many more people clamoring for them. Is this something that should be distributed meritocratically? Or does everyone on a TT with an academic spouse deserve one? The health care/ child care analogies fail their proponents here.

But the key point you raise, as far as our discussion is concerned, is that marriage+ is a fundamental part of one’s identity. I’ll admit I’m guilty of treating it as a mere choice. And probably to many people it is not. The question has to be, however, whether institutions should regard it as a fundamental thing such that they are responsible to …

The health care analogies are not helpful here. Someone in the thread compared having an academic spouse to having cancer in regard to the employer’s responsibility. But it seems to me obvious that even if marriage is a fundamental part of your identity, it’s very unlike getting cancer in the relevant sense.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Matt Weiner
4 years ago

“The question has to be, however, whether institutions should regard [marriage] as a fundamental thing such that they are responsible to …”

Aside from the questions of identity here, we’ve seen what happens when institutions treat questions of family etc. as purely optional choices. As Richard pointed out, the results are bad for women, at least in part because of the sexism of our overall society. Prof. Ackerman suggests that when a woman subordinates her career to her husband’s, this is because “she genuinely agrees with this priority [or] she knuckles under to a domineering husband,” which–well, I hate to mansplain, but in a society like ours are those really the most likely explanations, or for that matter distinct from the overall sexism of society? And shouldn’t our institutions try to mitigate that sexism?Report

D.C.
D.C.
Reply to  KH
4 years ago

“but it’s usually not too hard to find a job for a lawyer or programmer or doctor somewhere in the metropolitan area”
I would strenuously disagree, at least for two of those fields. A lot of “metropolitan areas” do not have significant software development, and a programmer would certainly have a lot of trouble finding a job. And it can be incredibly difficult for lawyers to find jobs right now, and that cuts across all career levels.Report

Not convinced
Not convinced
4 years ago

As someone who has no invested interest in the matter at least yet (no spouse + not on market), I don’t know how often the alleged “pro-spousal hire” arguments listed by the author are actually made or whether they are close to being exhaustive. I’d like to point out a couple of places where the case made in this article may be lacking in strength.

“‘Couples face hardship when their jobs make them live in different cities.’ Couples are scarcely the only people who face hardship in academia.”

But just because “everyone has problems” doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work towards alleviating some of them. There needs to be an argument that accommodating couples’ hardship increases the severity of someone else’s hardship. It might be true that “the spouse” has it easier than the single, but often the single also has it easier than “the superstar”. There might be an argument being made here that, overall, the single’s hardship becomes harder as a result of attempts at accommodating the couple’s hardship, but I don’t see it here, and saying “everyone has problems” definitely isn’t one.

“‘Hiring an unimpressive partner in order to attract a superstar can, on balance, benefit a school academically.’ So can firing someone to prevent his prestigious enemy from leaving.”

This just sounds like a typical slippery-slope argument. “Paying taxes can decrease inequality, but so does looting the rich and redistributing all their wealth amongst the poor!” While I don’t see the academic benefit argument as an especially good argument for spousal hire (though I don’t doubt that it’s often a reason), I don’t see how the author’s side as any more credibility either.Report

Joe
Joe
4 years ago

By the way, the one spousal hire with which I was directly involved benefited the department enormously, because the dean was persuaded to open up a second funded position to accommodate the department’s top choice. That funding was not earmarked for any future position and the department has to steadily made new hires every couple of years. Ackerman appears to be operating under the assumption that a spousal hire takes a position away from another person in the field, but as I understand it this is not always the case. Report

SH
SH
4 years ago

Prof. Ackerman’s poem isn’t just a simplistic rhyme–it’s also an unsupported and inflammatory argument. Is there any evidence that “academic superstars” enter into marriages of convenience in order to procure positions for… friends? acquaintances? Paying customers? Any evidence that spousal hires do not fairly earn tenure, or that spousal-hire couples are likely to divorce after tenure? These are rhetorical questions–of course there isn’t. And at any rate, such arguments could be made any time that benefits accrue to spouses–is Prof. Ackerman equally concerned that professors are entering into ersatz marriages in order to defraud the university of health benefits or tuition remission? If this isn’t a serious argument, what possible reason could there be to publish this clunky couplet?

As for the idea that single people are somehow subject to discrimination–can we retire this canard forever? It seems that certain people just can’t abide when anyone else gets a bit of justified accommodation–parental leave, spousal hires, time off to care for a sick relative, even a short break to pump breast milk. Presumably they are also jealous of all the extra health care and medical leave that cancer patients get. If these characters are longing for partners or children with whom to share their lives, I wish them the best of luck–perhaps they will make use of these benefits someday, after all. If they are happy with their single and/or child-free lives, then they ought to count their blessings that they are free of burdensome connections that would require special accommodation. Report

Ryan
Ryan
4 years ago

When schools make spousal hires, they do it because they think it is in their interests. This might be because making such a hire is the only way to recruit or retain an important faculty member. Or, it might be because the spouse represents a good opportunity for the university. They don’t do it to improve people’s marriages. The post is basically just a list of straw man arguments.

Report

Al
Al
Reply to  Ryan
4 years ago

The fact that schools do it because it is in their interests doesn’t settle the question. It isn’t permissible to do something which is in fact discriminatory just because it is in your interests. And on the face of it, conferring a professional benefit on someone either solely or partly because of who their spouse is appears discriminatory.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Al
4 years ago

I don’t see why spousal hiring is discriminatory. “Not being married to David” is not a protected category under most anti-discrimination laws. (And the very fact that universities do it fairly openly suggests strongly that it’s not illegal.)

So this argument only works if there is some broader anti-discrimination principle being appealed to. And then there’s a need to defend that principle, and I’m not clear what the defense would be. Yes, it’s not “fair” if you don’t get a job when someone less good than you does because they’re part of a spousal hire. Likewise, it’s not fair if you don’t get (to apply for) a job because the year before you went on the market someone less good was hired for that position, or because that big donor gave their money to history rather than philosophy, or because your dissertation suffered from your family bereavement. Universities – like any other employer – don’t hire to maximise fairness, they hire to maximise success in their institutional goals, subject to the specific restrictions that exist on various categories of discrimination.Report

Al
Al
Reply to  David Wallace
4 years ago

“Not being married to David” is not a protected category under most anti-discrimination laws.
Sure. And ‘attending that particular mosque near the railway station’ is not a protected category. Neither is being Johnny and Sarah’s mother. But discrimination on the grounds of religion, parental status or marital status is wrong.
It’s true that universities don’t hire to *maximize* fairness. But we do place limits on the extent to which they are allowed to maximize their own self-interest in the interests of fairness, which is why they can’t (for example) ask a 30 year old woman if she is married and/or likely to have children soon, even if it would probably be in the interests of the university not to hire someone who is likely to take maternity leave.
The other difference is this: of course it’s not fair if your dissertation suffers due to family bereavement, or any of the other reasons you mention. We can’t get rid of all unfairness. But there is a difference between accepting that of course life involves unfairness, and actively encouraging practices which exacerbate that unfairness.
Obviously even if there weren’t official spousal hiring, who you are married to might well affect your job chances anyway. Just like even if a company doesn’t have an official policy of encouraging nepotism, beiknm cntkng the son or daughter of the CEO might well affection your job chances. but we should do what we can to discourage the practice of nepotism, (particularly in public insitutions, as many universities are). because in principle we think that it’s unfair that a person should have a better chance of getting a job than the next just because of who their parents are. It seems similarly problematic that who you are married to should improve your chances of getting a job, and so we shouldn’t encourage practices that entrench this unfairness.
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David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Al
4 years ago

I can see there might be a case that spousal hires count as discrimination on marital status, on the grounds that if you are married then you have some very small chance to be married to me, whereas if you aren’t married then you have zero chance. I’m far from convinced, but I’m no lawyer.

But the tone of your, and others’, posts, indicates this is a moral, not a legal, matter. The baseline assumption is that it is morally required or at least morally desirable to assess candidates for a job on the basis of who individually will perform the tasks of the role most effectively, and to set aside entirely collective effects, i.e. considerations like “what is the best overall way we can fill both jobs”. I’m just not seeing the argument for that. Report

MarriedandSeparate
MarriedandSeparate
Reply to  Al
4 years ago

But David is being too charitable, here. Even if being married slightly increases the chances you are married to him, that doesn’t change the fact that by preferring to hire someone who is married to David I am not discriminating against people on the basis of the fact that they are unmarried. I would be discriminating against people not married to David, not against people who are unmarried. (I’m also discriminating against lots of people who are married to people other than David.) Also, given that there is (hopefully) only one person married to David, it’s not like there’s even a significantly disproportionate impact to single people.

Suppose being single is a protected status. Taking being married to a specific person as a reason to hire someone is not discriminating against single people. (Just as hiring the female spouse of a male colleague partially because of that relationship status is not discriminating against lesbians.) Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  MarriedandSeparate
4 years ago

I suppose I ought to clarify that I’m using “married to David” as a flippant hypothetical. My (indeed, unique!) spouse is not an academic.Report

Al
Al
4 years ago

I do wish the people posting here would at least consider whether there might be a legitimate complaint, rather than (pretty uncharitably) treating a poem as a bad argument for the so-called ‘claims’ contained therein (rather as a tongue-in-cheek attempt to raise a serious issue) and dismissing as a ‘canard’ the very idea that there is discrimination against single people.

It seems to me there are at least some serious issues here: 1. Does being married to the right person increase your chances of getting a job? 2. Do we want to encourage a practice whereby being married to the right person increases your chances of getting a job? It seems to me that as a matter of principle, we should have an issue with 2.

The other issue – which I find pretty galling – is the idea that spousal hiring doesn’t effect single people. Look, there are two things in life which I would dearly love – a romantic partner who shares my interests, and a job in my field. The idea that because I don’t have the first (because I am presumably not attractive as a romantic partner) makes me less likely to get the second than another person who has already been lucky enough to get the first pisses me off. I also don’t particularly buy the argument that spousal hiring rarely or never affects the overall number of jobs available in philosophy. i know departments frequently advertise two jobs at the same time in order to attract spouses. It also seems unlikely, for example, that the teaching needs of a department will somehow increase because there are spouses which need hiring.

It would be nice to see at least a little bit of sympathy here for those who have been unlucky enough not to find a romantic partner who also shares their professional interests, and now (frequently) face years of moving around from place to place watching their chances of ever forming such a relationship diminish, while watching those that already hath (a relationship) given more (a job). Report

SH
SH
Reply to  Al
4 years ago

Although I don’t know you, I strenuously object to the idea that people are unmarried because they are “presumably not attractive as a romantic partner”. Plenty of unwillingly single people are single because they have justifiably high standards, or other priorities, or just because of bad luck. .In that sense, being happily married is a lot like being a philosopher in a tenure-track line; yes, you have to work for it, but that doesn’t mean it is meritocratic.

I actually *do* sympathize with the loneliness of single-not-by-choice academics. The constant uprooting of visiting positions is especially brutal, as are jobs in remote locations where prospects are slim. I have never heard any plausible proposals to improve their situation, however (with the exception of an idea a friend of mine spitballed, to provide affordable faculty housing that allows pets. Pets are wonderful life companions.) Let’s just look at the purest case of a spousal hire (one that I’ve almost never encountered in my life, but why not?)–a university uses a TT line that otherwise would have gone to someone else, and gives it to a less qualified spouse. Eliminating these spousal hires would make it more likely that a single philosopher (assuming that they are highly qualified) gets a job. But spousal hires make up a very small percentage of hires (in my experience, far more people drop out of market and seek other work so they can live with their spouse, to the benefit of single job-seekers) , so the benefit to the individual single philosopher is infinitesimal. This is similar to the argument regarding affirmative action, that plaintiff Bakke’s chances of rejection increased from 96.8% to 97.3% as a result of affirmative action quotas. A fraction-of-a-percent greater chance at getting a job is hardly a significant benefit to a single philosopher, whereas it could be be very destrcutive for a couple to be denied a spousal hire.

In my opinion the greatest service our profession could do to single and childless (not by choice) philosophers is by removing the expectation that academics be entirely devoted to our careers. This includes unrealistic expectations about numbers of publications, time spent working (some of us have learned that maximal time spent working =/= more publications), total willingness to accept jobs that are isolated or otherwise undesirable, etc. This produces the (false) idea that someone who has devoted themselves to work somehow “deserves” a job, or some other kind of recompense–especially compared to those who frittered their time away on a family. If graduate students and tenure-track faculty were encouraged to seek balance from the start, there’s no guarantee that they would succeed in finding love, conceiving or adopting children, etc. But I suspect that, knowing they had tried hard from the beginning of their careers to build the kind of life they desired, they would find it easier to enjoy the life they ended up with.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Al
4 years ago

I don’t think it’s true that not being married to a fellow philosopher means it’s less likely you’ll find a job. From everything I can gather from my friends who are partnered with fellow philosophers, it’s significantly harder for them to find positions on average because they’re less able to relocate when they take into account the interests of their partner. I mean, I take it this is precisely why spousal hires work as an attractive accommodation — it’s harder to find two jobs for people in our profession in one location.

If you are describing your own position, then I am sorry that you haven’t found a romantic partner when you want one, and I am sorry that you haven’t been able to find the kind of professional stability you want either — but feeling sympathy for you doesn’t preclude me from also thinking that sometimes spousal hiring is a reasonable accommodation that can do philosophers, departments, and institutions good. It could be abused, but almost any good can be abused. And it doesn’t solve everyone’s problems, but I think we should work on those other problems too rather than fail to provide solutions to some because they don’t benefit everyone. Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

There is a real issue to be concerned about here. In most cases, the spousal hire would not have won the job on their own merits, or there would be no point in making them a spousal hire. That is to say, generally the spousal hire takes a job that would have otherwise have gone to a better candidate. Ryan correctly points out that universities make spousal hires because they think it is in their interests. However, that’s compatible with some students getting short changed.Report

Tim
Tim
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

I’d love to see your evidence for this claim. Report

--bill
--bill
Reply to  Tim
4 years ago

I’d love to see evidence for pretty much all the claims in this thread.Report

C
C
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

“In most cases, the spousal hire would not have won the job on their own merits, or there would be no point in making them a spousal hire. That is to say, generally the spousal hire takes a job that would have otherwise have gone to a better candidate. Ryan correctly points out that universities make spousal hires because they think it is in their interests. However, that’s compatible with some students getting short changed.”

Small point. I think that this is a sensible point, but it should -also- be noted that these are often situations in which the university couldn’t have landed the desired candidate without sweetening the deal. To determine if students are worse overall, we need to factor in whether the most attractive candidate would take the offer if no position was offered to her/his spouse. Students cannot say they were getting short changed if, say, they’d be better off with the package (top pick plus spouse) than they’d be with the lesser candidates if the top candidate wouldn’t accept without the sweetener.Report

Juliette Kennedy
4 years ago

Justin! I’m a fan as you know, but: Daily Nous is looking awfully Breitbartish these days. First a “fair and balanced” (ahem) discussion of white identitarianism (!) in the piece on the Stony Brook thesis, and now an attack on the very small number of female (we are usually female anyway) spousal hires.

My favourite line from this piece:

“The traditional old-boy system, for all its flaws, had a rationale involving merit.”

Wow. I mean, we know how that worked out.

It is hard enough to put up with accusations of nepotism that inevitably come our way, not to mention the serious disadvantages that accrue from having to avoid any possible appearance of benefitting from working in the same department/university as one’s spouse. But to be attacked from the front page of Daily Nous, that’s a new one.

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Juliette
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

Replying to Justin: If the original post would have presented the issue in a way that acknowledged the complexities involved, perhaps a good discussion would have ensued. Regrettably, the opposite was the case. Report

SH
SH
Reply to  Juliette
4 years ago

Justin, at the very least you might have solicited another piece offering a serious defense of spousal hiring, or requested first-hand accounts of experiences from your readers. Starting with an inflammatory, one-sided, and factually careless (see the first comments) article is, indeed, a Breitbart-ish move. Including a childish poem that accuses spousal-hire seekers of entering into mercenary marriages is especially trivializing. (Pardon me, I’m told it’s “tongue-in-cheek” but nonetheless “raises a serious issue”!) I am not in a spousal hire situation, but if this “issue” is as widespread as Ackerman alleges, you realize that she is mocking the marriages of many of your readers?Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

What are “similar topics”? You don’t generally post for-and-against arguments, but just invite a writer to express their view. I can see wanting to move to for-and-against arguments in general, but I don’t see what is so special about this case.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

I don’t think there’s any need for this. If people want to give the counter-case they can do so in comments; they have pretty generous word limits and if they’re not generous enough they can always offer a guest post. (This is roughly the origin of my guest post from last week; it grew out of a response to the “not a meritocracy” thread.)Report

Emily
Emily
4 years ago

I think the oddest thing about this whole article is the pervasive assumption that both members of a couple cannot be highly qualified candidates.

It seems to me that the job market sucks because practically everyone is highly qualified and frankly, one desirable’s spouse is likely as a good a scholar as any (single) other — not because universities are all hiring up idiots who somehow managed to bung their way to a degree while shacking up with the local gods. Report

JD
JD
4 years ago

Matt Weiner on the Duarte thread:
“It would be misleading to compare what happened to Duarte with what happens to fixed-term lecturers who are not married to tenure-track faculty.”

So now it would appear that some untenured are more untenured than others…Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  JD
4 years ago

If you have an argument, make it. Reposting out-of-context quotes from another thread is just trolling. Anyone who wants to see what I was saying in that thread can read it there.Report

Juliette
4 years ago

I have seen people on hiring committees hire their friends, their students, their friends’ students, their friends’ family members; their collaborators, their collaborator’s students, etc etc etc. In the cases I have witnessed, the hiring process functioned absolutely as it should have, i.e. the university hired the right person for the job. What is notable here is that the people in the community witnessing this generally trust the process, i.e. they agree (generally) that the right person was hired; that everyone involved behaved honourably and ethically, and for the good of the university community.

In other words, accusations of “friend nepotism” are a non-starter.

Now let’s go to the spousal hire (who is usually female, or so I assume; and who usually receives a minor position, or so I assume). What is the standard view here? Mistrust of the process. This is best articulated, I think, by Hey Nonny Mouse above (December 20, 2016 at 1:04 am):

“In most cases, the spousal hire would not have won the job on their own merits, or there would be no point in making them a spousal hire. That is to say, generally the spousal hire takes a job that would have otherwise have gone to a better candidate. ”

Just pointing out a difference.

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al
al
Reply to  Juliette
4 years ago

There’s mistrust because there is often a different process. People don’t usually ask departments to open up a special job just to hire their friend or family member. It would be an entirely different story if, on getting a job that was advertised in the usual way, I then went to the department and asked if they could hire my friend or my brother as well. Report

al
al
Reply to  al
4 years ago

In addition, it’s one thing to note that of course people do in fact hire friends, family members of friends, etc. It’s quite another to institutionalize a practice of doing so. A lot of people would probably really enjoy being able to work with their old friends from grad school. Would you be happy with a policy that institutionalizes the practice of hiring ‘grad school buddies’? of the current faculty members? As in, we actually encourage people, as an official policy, to get jobs for their buddies *because* these people are their personal friends?

I have to say I’m finding it a bit baffling why so many people on this thread are failing to see any issue with the practice of spousal hiring whatsoever. It seems pretty obvious that it is prima facie unjust to deliberately take into consideration who a person is married to when deciding whether or not to hire them, particularly if you are a public institution (for the same reason that who a person’s parents are should not be taken into account). Maybe there are other considerations that outweigh this, but no-one so far has presented any particularly good ones (aside from the rather bizarre claim that people married to other people are ‘disadvantaged’ on the job market. This is just obviously not true. It is not harder to get a job because you are married to another academic. It is harder to get a job that meets your other important personal criteria. But it is also difficult for lots of people to get jobs which meet their (important) personal criteria.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  al
4 years ago

“It is not harder to get a job because you are married to another academic. It is harder to get a job that meets your other important personal criteria. But it is also difficult for lots of people to get jobs which meet their (important) personal criteria.”

What criteria are you thinking of here that don’t also apply to members of academic couples? Report

beenonbothsides
beenonbothsides
Reply to  Matt Weiner
4 years ago

Matt– I have very deeply mixed feelings about the spousal hiring business. But in answer to your question above, I don’t think you’re being quite fair to your interlocutor. Think about the difference between the situation of a white, het, dual academic couple with some statistically average number offspring (2 say) and on the other hand, the situation of a single black queer woman. Working within commuting distance with one another will surely be of reasonably high personal preference for the straight academic couple. But that straight white couple is going to be able to lead a perfectly comfortable life in *many* areas of the country and departments where life would be at least very difficult for the queer black single woman.Report

al
al
Reply to  beenonbothsides
4 years ago

Here are some examples: a parent of a child with special needs who needs to be in a city with the appropriate resources. A person who needs to be close to their elderly parents. Or just think for the moment about the single person – if you’re in a couple. then your most important personal relationship is with your spouse, presumably. Because of that, living in the same city as them is important to you. If you are single, then your most important personal relationship – the person you rely on is not your spouse (perhaps its your sibling, or a very close friend). Living in the same city as this person is very important to you too. Just because a relationship isn’t marriage-like (romantic or sexual) it does not mean that it is less important. Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  beenonbothsides
4 years ago

bothsides and al — My point was that most of the things you describe can also apply to dual-academic couples. The reason the queer black woman will find it harder to live in many parts of the country than the het white couple is mostly because she’s queer and black, not because she’s single, isn’t it? And members of dual-academic couples can also have children with special needs, and need to be close to their elderly parents. So in this way the dual-academic couple just seems to have additional important personal criteria that they may need to sacrifice for their job.

I do think each of you has provided one plausible case in which the single person bears an extra burden that the married couple may not. For the queer black woman, it may be much harder to date in many parts of the country, which might make the issue more pressing for a single queer black woman than for a partnered one. For Al, it is a point that a single person may have a primary personal relationship with someone who is not their spouse.

In response to the queer black woman case, I’d say what SH said below, which is that the problems queer black women face in academia are so great that we would best address them directly rather than by the sort of triple bank shot of doing away with partner hires so that maybe one of the jobs in an part of the country where queer black women can live more safely goes to a single queer black woman rather than to someone’s partner. And for the case of someone’s primary personal relationship–it just seems like a fact that there are far more people for whom it would be intolerable to live apart from their partners than for whom it would be to live apart from their sibling or friend, to the extent that they plan their careers around being able to live together. Those single people who can’t live apart from their sibling or friend do face a burden that isn’t accommodated in the way that the married couple’s burden is (sometimes, but not always) accommodated. That’s unfortunate; but to abolish partner hires because of these cases is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There’s a reason why the right to marriage is part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (and even if like KH you’re skeptical of the institution, it’s an institution that we live with now).Report

beenonbothsides
beenonbothsides
Reply to  beenonbothsides
4 years ago

Matt — You asked yourself/readers whether the burden faced by queer black woman was on account of being queer and black, not single; then you went on to answer your own question– at least in part– by noting that a person of that description is going to have a harder time finding someone to date in a lot of the country.
But, respectfully, to put it that way is to really underestimate what life is like for single folks, especially ones who are not white, are not het, etc, in great swaths of this country. It’s not just a matter of dating–when the social life of everyone in one’s community revolves around church (and yes, that was meant in the religiously specific way it reads), child-rearing, and child-oriented couples activities, life for a single person with few dating prospects is at least as difficult as it is for a commuting dual academic couple. I know. I have been in both situations.
I also find it slightly odd (though perhaps not surprising) that everyone here is focused on the situation at hiring. IME a lot of the bad effects of spousal hiring (and I’m conflicted, I say again, about it) come long after the hire– in block voting in the department–especially if there are more than one such couple, machinations around the tenuring of the spousal hire that do in fact either lower (comparatively) the standard of tenure for the spousal hire or alternatively, raise the standard (I have seen both), pressure by the spousal hire to look for similar situations in future hires …
One last time, let me reiterate: I’m not univocally opposed. But I think we should not pretend that this is a cost-free and clearly virtuous practice.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Juliette
4 years ago

It is one thing to hire someone who happens to be a friend. It is quite another to hire someone because they are your friend. The latter would generally be considered corruption. A spousal hire is not the hiring of someone who just happens to be the spouse of another faculty member. Rather, their status as a spouse is taken into account as a factor in their favor.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

Sorry to be repeating a point that al just made more clearly. Al posted while I will still composing so I didn’t see their post!Report

Juliette
4 years ago

Maybe a little anecdotal evidence is in order here. Here is one way of dealing with spousal hires, in a department that I am familiar with:

The department sets up a firewall so that every decision regarding one member of the spousal couple takes place along administrative lines completely independent of the other. It is important to note that this has to begin with the hire itself, in the case that one member of the couple already works in said department.

Once the couple is employed, if one member of the couple happens to serve as department chair/conference organizer/grant referee/promotions committee member etc. then in that capacity that person must never advocate, nor can they ever give any appearance of advocating for the other spouse, lest the impression form that the couple is conspiring to advance their interests.

Of course the couple cannot serve on the same committee, nor can they discuss committee business with each other.

And so on.

Now this is all to the good. And if it means that one half of the couple (the “weaker” half, as the perception often goes) never receives a promotion, or a raise, or anything else that would be due to the person in the normal course of things, so be it. Appearances are all important.

Now let’s add to all this the assumption of most of one’s colleagues (not necessarily people in one’s own department who may have formed a favourable opinion on the basis of daily interaction) that the woman—and in most cases I assume we are talking about a woman—got her job illegitimately, as some have expressed in the comments here, and as was expressed so very colourfully in the original post. On the scale of general world negativity, this doesn’t rank so high in the end. Still, it is a very demoralizing condition to live with. Certainly not one to be envied.

This is not necessarily my story. But it is one story.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
4 years ago

A large fraction of comments here (including the OP and most supporters of that post) seem committed to something like this principle:

If A is a better philosopher than B, it is immoral or unacceptable to hire B rather than A.

But that principle isn’t being argued for and doesn’t look plausible. (As an extreme counter-example, a university whose hiring policy was “pick at random from all applicants with a PhD in philosophy” is behaving stupidly but not immorally, or at least not immorally to the candidates.)

To be sure, a very large fraction of violations of this principle are for reasons which are themselves unacceptable. For instance:

– it’s unacceptable to hire B for nepotistic reasons, because that puts the interests of the hirers as individuals ahead of the interests of the university
– it’s unacceptable to hire B on racial grounds, because we don’t regard excluding candidates of a given race as a legitimate aim for a university
– it’s unacceptable to hire B because A’s pregnant, because as a society we’ve decided that women shouldn’t be disadvantaged in the workplace by (some) maternity issues and that employers should bear the associated costs

Can a critic of spousal hiring either give a defense of the general principle, or a specific reason to bar spousal hiring analogous to the reasons for blocking nepotism etc?

(I’m assuming in this argument that the reason spousal hiring happens is because the university regards it as overall more conducive to its goals, rather than because of some active principle of helping married people even at the expense of its goals. I agree with Ryan that the latter isn’t really plausible.)

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Dan
Dan
Reply to  David Wallace
4 years ago

It’s pretty easy to construct an argument for the general principle. In the crudest form, something like:

(1) It’s unacceptable or immoral to award a job to anyone but the most qualified candidate;
(2) if A is a better philosopher than B, then A is better qualified than B (for a job as an academic philosopher)
(C) if A is a better philosopher than B, it is immoral or unacceptable to hire B rather than A (for a job as an academic philosopher).

There might need to be refinements to (1). For instance, it might have to be reformulated to incorporate an epistemic condition (e.g. “It’s unacceptable or immoral to *knowingly* award jobs to anyone but the most qualified candidate”). But however this is best formulated, it wouldn’t make much difference in cases where the “trailing spouse” is known or at least reasonably believed not to be the most qualified candidate, or where no competitive search has been carried out to find a more qualified candidate, which I take it is the usual sort of case.

As for all of your examples of unacceptable hiring policies: perhaps ultimately it’s right that the best explanation of why each is unacceptable is going to be peacemeal, as your suggest. But it strikes me that there’s a much more attractive unified explanation, namely that these policies are unacceptable because they violate a principle of equality of opportunity (in particular, the idea that “careers are open to talents”). Of course, you might not find that principle plausible; but at the very least, it’s one that has considerable resonance within the liberal tradition.Report

JF
JF
Reply to  Dan
4 years ago

Wait really? Both of these premises are really dubious. For 1 see Nozick’s discussion of opportunity in ASU – if the job is mine to award then I am permitted to award it to a less qualified candidate. Or, if not convinced by that, simply notice that there can be moral reasons relevant to hiring not related to qualification; to take a fanciful case, suppose you know that an evil demon will destroy the university if you don’t hire some chump. You ought to hire the chump. For 2, see the entire idea of ‘fit’; which, it increasingly seems to me, is almost always as or more important than ‘how good a philosopher you are’. For example: maybe you’re a great philosopher but a shitty teacher applying for a teaching-heavy job. Or, maybe, though the job is in your area, and you are the ‘best philosopher’ among the applicants, your work too closely duplicated someone else’s, on the faculty. Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Dan
4 years ago

I pretty much assumed my principle was a special case of (1). It’s (1) that “isn’t being argued for and doesn’t look plausible”, on my account.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Dan
4 years ago

Come to think of it (and apologies for double-posting), the principle that N jobs should always be awarded to the most qualified N-tuple of candidates looks as (un)reasonable as (1), and fairly directly legitimates spousal hiring.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Dan
4 years ago

This argument is absurd on so many levels. Among other things, it implies that it’s wrong to hire an excellent ethicist to fill your open ethics position if you’ve also received an application from a logician who is an even better philosophers. Of course you can refine your principle to adjust for this, and I then we can identify even more very ordinary sorts of other factors that routinely affect hiring and are routinely regarded as legitimate. At the end of that process I suspect we’d end up just replicating for hiring Anca Gheaus’s account of why such meritocratic principles can’t be reasonably applied to conference invitations. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/japp.12088/abstractReport

Sergio Tenenbaum
Sergio Tenenbaum
Reply to  Dan
4 years ago

I also find principles 1 and 2 extremely implausible, and Dan and David have already pointed out some of the main problems with such a principle. But I think people oppose spousal hiring often based on similar thoughts, it’s worth giving a few, non farfetched cases in which at least one of these principles could be legitimately violated:

Candidate A is a better philosopher than Candidate B (who is also very good), but we know that candidate A will be unhappy with this job and we’ll try to leave as soon as she can. And we don’t want to bother with another search.

Candidate A is a better philosopher than Candidate B (who is also very good) but Candidate B does interdisciplinary work, and our Dean likes this, and she’ll give us extra lines if we hire people who do interdisciplinary work.

The best candidates apply late (and we know this to be the case), but we don’t want to wait.

We use a procedure that always select very good candidates, but never the best philosopher, but the procedure that selects the best candidate is much more time-consuming.

Candidate A is better than candidate B (who is also very good) but we know she is rude to the staff. We love our staff, and since they keep getting offers from other depts., we know they’d leave if we hired someone who is rude to them.

Candidate A is better than candidate B (who is also very good), and everyone in the search committee (which has full hiring powers) knows it to be so. But, for some reason, a group in the department who considers themselves marginalized will see hiring candidate A as a terrible attack on them. Hiring candidate B will keep the peace.

We run our search late so that we don’t need to compete with other departments. We know that many of the candidates who get hired earlier are better and some of them would have accepted our offer, but, since we think the job market is overcrowded with excellent candidates, we prefer to proceed this way than having to invite numerous candidates to campus who turns us down until we get to one who’s interested in coming.
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al
al
Reply to  David Wallace
4 years ago

I have been posting criticisms of spousal hiring, but I want to be clear here: I don’t hold anything like the general principle described above. But there is also no need to “give a specific reason to bar spousal hiring analogous to the reasons for blocking nepotism” – because spousal hiring just *is* nepotism. It’s wrong for all the same reasons.

Here’s something that is very important to lots of people: living in the same city as your grandchildren, so you can be an active part of their childhood. Now, it’s not all that uncommon for the children of philosophers to go into philosophy. And obviously if a child-parent pair were in the same dept, that’s good for the dept for all the same reasons that a married couple is – stability, commitment to the dept, etc. There is no reason to think standards would drop – the children of philosophers who go into the field are often extremely talented. And the overall numbers are quite small, so the job chances of those who aren’t lucky enough to have a philosopher-parent won’t be reduced that much if we institute a policy of child-hires.

If you think that institutionalizing this kind of thing as a practice would be wrong then it seems to me you should also think spousal hiring is wrong.

Here’s just an example of how spousal hiring is likely to end up entrenching privilege in the same way that nepotism is: black women are much less likely than white women marry someone of a different race than them, and much less likely than white women to marry someone with an equal or higher level of education. Given that the majority of philosophers are white men, and (as people on this thread are claiming) the majority of spousal hires are women, it seems likely that a spousal hiring policy is going to be de facto discriminatory against black women. Even if you think ‘discriminatory’ is too strong, at the very least its the case that black women are much less likely to benefit from such a policy than white women. This is analagous to one of the reasons nepotism – when it involves hiring children – is wrong. Sure, white people might have children of a different race than them (either through adoption or because their partner is of a different race). But in a situation where the majority of people in a position of power are white then any policy which permits hiring of people’s children because they are people’s children will be de fact discrimincatory, because children of white people are much more likely to be white than black. Report

SH
SH
Reply to  al
4 years ago

For your argument to be remotely plausible, it would have to be the case that, in the absence of nepotism, there would be a good chance that a person of color would be hired into any given faculty line in philosophy. Since that is not remotely true, I suggest that you find more meaningful ways to enact your burning concern for the welfare of black women. Report

Al
Al
Reply to  SH
4 years ago

So you are saying, then, that because black women are already underrepresented in philosophy, you are fine with policies which are in principle de facto discriminatory because just as a practical matter they are unlikely to make the situation much worse? Perhaps if you spent more time reading arguments and less time making snide comments (as your comment about my ‘burning concerrn for the welfare of black women’ you would have noticed that the argument was an argument for the claim that such policies are in principle de facto discriminatory. Maybe you are happy with racist policies if they don’t really affect that many people. I’m not. Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Al
4 years ago

policies which are in principle de facto discriminatory

There doesn’t seem to be evidence that the policies are in fact de facto discriminatory. See p. 5 (p. 13 of the PDF) of the report Richard Zach linked:

“Couple hiring may help to advance not only gender equity but also racial/ethnic diversity, which enhances competitive excellence. Women and men from all backgrounds have academic partners; in fact, among underrepresented minority respondents to our survey, the gender difference in rate of academic coupling disappears (30% of minority women and 32% of minority men are partnered with another academic). And although the rate of academic coupling among underrepresented minority faculty is generally lower than that among faculty overall (31% versus 36%, respectively), the rate of dual hiring is the same (10% of all underrepresented minority respondents have been part of a dual hire at their current institutions). Dual hiring, in other words, may support institutional efforts to compete for the brightest talent across the widest spectrum.”Report

Al
Al
Reply to  Matt Weiner
4 years ago

It’s a shame that I have to say this, because engaging in a discussion with someone who disagrees with you without being nasty about it is a baseline norm we should expect in philosophy rather than supererogatory, but thanks Matt for providing those links and also managing to engage with someone who disagrees with you without making snide remarks that insinuate that the concerns for the welfare of minorities in philosophy are somehow insincere. Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  al
4 years ago

I’ll bite the bullet and say that *if* there was a situation where I, as Dean, could maximise the quality of the department by making a joint parent+child hire, I’d be as happy to do so as if I could similarly maximise it with a two-body hire. As a practical matter, it sounds pretty unlikely to arise, though, not least because the desire to be in the same location as your children is normally a much weaker draw, and just paying more money is probably a more effective strategy.

I might add, as a general principle, that I think a lot of hostility to spousal hiring seems to be channeling a belief that meritocracy is a *moral* good, that somehow the most talented people have a *moral entitlement* to the best jobs. I think on serious interrogation, liberals (though maybe not Nietszcheans) should resist that strongly. If the assessment standards of philosophy (rightly or wrongly) assess me as a Really Good Philosopher, lucky me! I’ll have the intellectual satisfaction of making a significant contribution to the field, earn the respect of my peers, and have a big leg up in the job market. Success is probably mine anyway; I don’t need to rub it in by claiming moral entitlement to that success. (At the least, I still await the positive argument that the most talented people have a moral entitlement to the job.)Report

juliette
juliette
Reply to  David Wallace
4 years ago

HI David,

About your:

“I might add, as a general principle, that I think a lot of hostility to spousal hiring seems to be channeling a belief that meritocracy is a *moral* good, that somehow the most talented people have a *moral entitlement* to the best jobs. ”

What’s the problem with a belief in meritocracy? I’m baffled.Report

Parent
Parent
4 years ago

Has anyone asked any students about this? It’s their education after all. Rather than the focus on ‘discrimination’, this is what often seems to be left out of the equation. Would your department tell students that their professor’s appointment was heavily and openly influenced by who they were married to? If not, why not? And what do you think they (and their parents, who are often footing the bill) might say about this practice? This is especially applicable when the leading spouse isn’t another philosopher, but someone else, say in the English department. This needn’t be a hypothetical: why don’t we ask them? Report

Juliette
4 years ago

What people don’t understand is that the bar is raised very high, in terms of qualifications, for both members of the spousal hire. This is done precisely in order to obviate accusations of nepotism of the kind voiced here. In fact in my experience, the bar for hiring is much higher than it would be in a normal hiring process.

Of course spousal hiring can be abused by people of bad faith. But universities that are functioning properly should not and do not hire underqualified people. Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Juliette
4 years ago

“What people don’t understand is that the bar is raised very high, in terms of qualifications, for both members of the spousal hire.” This seems to be a straw man. I see no evidence that any poster has suggested otherwise. What has been suggested is that a spousal hire is liable to be a worse candidate than whoever would have gotten the job otherwise. This seems obviously true. After all, if spousal hire could have gotten the job under their own merit, there would be no point in making them a spousal hire. This is presumably why we don’t allow “friend hires” and “relative hires”.Report

Kenny Pearce
4 years ago

Something I’m surprised hasn’t been brought up yet is that this is fundamentally a coordination problem. That is, there are huge numbers of cases where both spouses are sufficiently well-qualified that in the absence of spousal hiring policies they would both land jobs of a certain sort somewhere in the world. The question is about coordinating to get those jobs to be in the same place. A lot of the comments here assume that one spouse is underqualified, but I’ve seen no evidence that underqualified academics are regularly brought on as spousal hires. (This is in agreement with Juliette.) As far as I can tell, actual spousal hires are much more likely to be people who could have independently landed a similar job (or, very often, a better one!) at some other far away university, but, in the absence of spousal hiring policies, would not have been able to land in that geographic region.

Academia is one of several professions where people are expected to be willing to relocate wherever in the world the jobs are, regardless of geographic preference, and we often end up with suboptimal outcomes (e.g., where two people in the similar positions in different locations would, for geographic reasons, both be happy to ‘swap’ jobs if this were possible). If you’ve got a case where two academics are flexible about where they go in the world but prefer to go there together, that’s a situation that one university acting alone may be able to do something about. It’s much harder to do anything about the case where someone wants to be in one specific area, since there are only so many institutions there, and their needs are what they are, etc. Note, though, that hiring committees often do favor candidates they believe will be happy about living in the area where they are located! This kind of preference, which extends to single people as well as married people, is in someways similar to spousal hiring, and in fact the conventional wisdom I’ve always heard is that institutions that are worried about being able to retain the people they hire are more likely to have spousal hiring policies, since leaving is harder for couples than for single people.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Kenny Pearce
4 years ago

This is a fairly crucial point (and speaks to Parent’s concern too). No-one should be hiring *unsuitable* candidates on a spousal-hire basis, or indeed on any basis. The issue is (or ought to be): should we hire this entirely-appointable person who plausibly isn’t the *best* entirely-appointable person we could hire, if we think overall we’ll maximize the quality of our faculty by doing so?

(An addendum to Parent: If the spousal hire is in a different department then I’d hope that department’s chair would insist it’s an additional post, not a substitute for an existing post. That’s how it’s gone in the – limited number of – cases I’m familiar with.)Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  David Wallace
4 years ago

Yes, this. The whole idea of the *best* available hire seems dubious as something to rely on in these arguments. It’s not clear how to define the best available hire, and even if we could, hiring committees aren’t going to be able to identify the very very best candidate* with any precision or confidence. So it’s not like candidates are saying “We absolutely know that A will be a better philosopher than B’s partner, but A is out of luck.” We’re always somehow choosing between a lot of candidates who would probably do perfectly acceptable jobs.

*I want to say “Platonically ideal candidate” but I’m not enough of a Plato expert to pull that off. Report

Al
Al
Reply to  Matt Weiner
4 years ago

Sure. But it still seems to me that there are reasonable and unreasonable tiebreakers. (I’m using tiebreaker in the loose sense here – I’m not assuming that there is some metric we’re measuring according to which A and B are exactly equal, just that both would be acceptable). It wouldn’t be reasonable to say to B, look, you and A are both pretty much on a par, but we think A would fit in better here because this is a conservative town and you’re a gay man.

The question is, I think, not whether it is ever acceptable to hire the spouse of a philosopher – of course there area cases where it is, just like there are cases in which it would be acceptable to hire A for the position in the conservative town rather than B. The question is whether it’s permissible to treat the fact that a person is a spouse as a relevant factor. There are lots of things that it is not permissible to take into account even in tiebreaker situations, even in situations where you think it would be overall better for the dept (i.e, you don’t hire the young gay man because you have lots of conservative faculty, and they would prefer not to have a gay colleague). It’s pretty well established that nepotism (familial relationships), particularly in govt institutions, is not an acceptable factor to take into account when hiring. I take it people here who want some kind of spousal hiring policy are arguing for something more than just ‘spouses should be considered for jobs at the same institution if and when they come up’ because this wouldn’t be any kind of variation on normal hiring practices. So the onus is on them, then, to explain what exactly they are advocating for by way of spousal hiring, and why this kind of nepotism is acceptable (especially in a public university) when there’s a pretty strong presumption against nepotism being permissible in public institutions. Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Al
4 years ago

I agree with all this; the question is what tiebreakers are reasonable or not. As for the argument that spousal hiring is a reasonable tiebreaker, well, that’s what we’ve been discussing in the rest of this thread.Report

Al
Al
Reply to  Matt Weiner
4 years ago

But no one so far has presented any reason for thinking that it us an acceptable tiebreaker that defeats the assumption against nepotism. It being the case that it would make things better for the people who would benefit from the policy is not a good reason, because clearly impermissible tiebreakers would be better for the people who would benefit. It being all–things-considetred better for the department in question is not a good reason, because there are clearly impermissible tiebreakers which have this feature. Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Matt Weiner
4 years ago

The difference between spousal hires and nepotism is that nepotism generally arises from a simple desire to give a benefit to one’s friend/relative/whatever, while the spousal hire is often necessary to allow both members of a married couple to live in the same city without seriously harming the career of one of them (although, again, often one member’s career has been harmed by having to seek a position for which a spousal hire is available). Nepotism can operate at a remove; it is still nepotism when someone pressures another institution, far away, to hire their friend or relative. Spousal hires only make sense when the spouse is being hired at the same institution or a nearby one. Also, nepotism generally arises with a relative/friend of someone who already has power at an institution, not with a new hire. And spousal hires solve a societal problem that nepotistic hires do not, as was pointed out in the first comment to this post.Report

Tom Hurka
Tom Hurka
4 years ago

Surely it all depends on the case.

Let’s say we rate our top-ranked candidate as a 9 out of 10, the next best two candidates as 7’s, and the top candidate’s spouse as a 6. If the top candidate won’t come without her spouse and we hire the two of them, we get a total of 15, which is better than our next-best option of hiring the two 7’s. (Please ignore the over-simplification of the numbers.) So we are, as David says, maximizing the quality of our faculty and, regrettable as their situation is, I don’t see that the two 7’s have a complaint.

But now imagine that the situation is as above except that we rate the top candidate’s spouse as a 4. (I imagine the 4 is still qualified, in the sense of being above the threshold for an acceptable hire.) Now if we hire the two of them we’re not, by this over-simplified metric, maximizing the quality of our faculty. Some may say we’re entitled to make bad decisions and the two 7’s again have no complaint if we do, but I’m not sure. Taking a marital connection into account when it promotes overall faculty quality is one thing; using it to outweigh faculty quality is another, and I can see the two 7’s having a complaint. To me a marital connection shouldn’t make that kind of difference.

Some like Juliette may say my second scenario never happens, but really? To me it’s all too plausible that a department can be so overly impressed by a supposed “star’s” qualities that they exaggerate the difference between them and the next-best candidates’ or don’t look as carefully as they should at the spouse’s qualities. Does it always happen? Of course not. Does it never happen? That sounds awfully optimistic. While in some and perhaps many cases Felicia Ackerman’s concerns aren’t germane, I think that in others they are.

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Kenny Pearce
Reply to  Tom Hurka
4 years ago

I, for one, would not assert that cases like your second one NEVER happen, but I would say that I suspect (in the absence of data, so subject to correction!) that they very rarely happen. In any event few, if any, of the defenders of spousal hires are trying to defend anything like your second case. Certainly I don’t see any evidence to support the claim that anyone on this thread is trying to defend that kind of thing.Report

Juliette
Reply to  Tom Hurka
4 years ago

I would certainly be against burdening a university with a 4. Or even the two 7’s. On the other hand I don’t think you can rate candidates that way.

Look, I have been on both sides of this too. I get that hiring decisions are sometimes corrupted by inappropriate personal considerations.

What concerns me are the cases in which the woman (usually) who is married to a “big star” (I hate that phrase but people do use it) is frozen into an inferior position in the department, even after going through a rigorous vetting process, while at the same time she is thought of as benefitting from nepotism. Not to mention she gets ridiculed on the front page of the Daily Nous.

People posting here seem to working under the assumption that hiring committees never behave in ways that are informed by possibly irrelevant personal qualities—if it is even possible to divide the relevant from the irrelevant. That the decisions they make are somehow perfect.

But what I’ve heard over the years from people on these committees makes my head spin. For example, somebody flippantly confided in me once that s/he voted for the candidate because of the candidate’s religion. Let’s not kid ourselves, this kind of thing is rather prevalent.

Commenters will reply that we are discussing the question of spousal hiring in isolation from the facts of the world we live in. That one is trying to craft a general policy.

Good luck with that. All kinds of factors come into play in an academic hire, and they always will. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

Signing off here.
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David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Tom Hurka
4 years ago

This seems very much the right analysis. The only thing I’d tweak is that I don’t think the two 7s have a complaint even in the second case, but the university’s students, donors and research funders do: they have a reasonable expectation that the university is trying to maximise faculty quality, not just keep it above some acceptable threshold.

I don’t know how common the second case is (I’m inclined to share Kenney Pearce’s view) but in any case I don’t think it would be acceptable.Report

al
al
4 years ago

This is a reply to Matt Weiner at 11:32 above (for some reason I can’t reply in thread).

“The difference between spousal hires and nepotism is that nepotism generally arises from a simple desire to give a benefit to one’s friend/relative/whatever, while the spousal hire is often necessary to allow both members of a married couple to live in the same city without seriously harming the career of one of them ”

Why is this morally relevant difference? In both cases, giving preferential treatment based on family relationships is a good for the people involved. (For example, in the parent-child case, hiring the child of a parent working in the dept.is often necessary to allow the parent and child to live in the same city without seriously harming the career of one of them.

“Nepotism can operate at a remove”
Why is this a morally relevant difference?

“Also, nepotism generally arises with a relative/friend of someone who already has power at an institution, not with a new hire”

The mere fact that someone is able to negotiate a spousal hire implies that they have some level of power (institutional pull) at the institution in question. But again, why is this a morally relevant difference?

Again, spousal hires (if by which you mean hiring someone who doesn’t just happen to be the spouse of a faculty member, current or prospective, but because they are the spouse of such a person), *is* nepotism, because it involves favoring someone in the hiring process because of a family relationship. There is a pretty well-established moral norm against nepotism, particularly in public institutions. If you want your argument to be convincing, you need a satisfactory defeater of this norm; or to point out a morally relevant difference between usual cases of nepotism and the case of spousal hires. None of the difference you’ve pointed out are clearly morally relevant. Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  al
4 years ago

I think I already offered an answer to this, in effect, but to reiterate: nepotism is bad because it advances the interests of the person whose family member is being advantaged, at the expense of the interests of the organisation. The case for spousal hire that I and others have been advancing is that it advances the interests of the organisation, by letting it make a desirable hire it couldn’t otherwise make.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  David Wallace
4 years ago

I have a different view here. In my view, it is acceptable for a hiring institution to make policies that shouldn’t take into account the interests of the person it is hiring. (I also think that this is in the long-term interest of the hiring institution, but I don’t need that.) When a college hires someone for a starting salary of $50,000 (say), we don’t say “In this case they didn’t have any other offers and would’ve taken a starting salary of $45,000, so it was the moral obligation of the college to negotiate them down.” It is not the university’s obligation to screw over their incoming hires as much as it can. The institutional pull the new hire has need only be that they are a new hire that the institution wishes to treat decently.

The ability to live in the same city as your partner, without the partner’s doing irreparable harm to their chosen career, is such an obviously fundamental interest that it is permissible for the university to take it into account when hiring. The ability to have the institution make nepotistic hires is not, because of the reasons I put forward. In particular, the ability for a parent and their adult, PhD-holding child to live in the same city is not a fundamental interest in the same way. (Unless the parent is also the caretaker of the adult child; in such a case I wouldn’t find it objectionable to hire them as a package.) Pretending that these interests on a par–that people take the ability to live in the same city as their adult children to be of fundamental importance in the same way as the ability to live in the same city as their spouse–flies in the face of people’s expressed preferences, and is so implausible that it seems like the sort of thing that philosophers come up with when we’re trying to make sure our theories don’t have anything to do with the way things like gender, family, and race work in the real world.

Which reminds me, the people arguing against spousal hiring haven’t even tried to engage with the report Richard Zach linked in the first post.

Anyway, shorter version: As I see it, nepotism is bad because it is an attempt by a powerful person to give an unfair advantage to someone in a hiring situation. Spousal hiring is an attempt by an institution to give decent treatment to a newly hired employee and respect their fundamental interests in a way that nepotism does not. Spousal hiring is better the more it is done in line with a universal policy, so that it does not amount to an exercise of power by people who have more institutional pull coming in. And one of the benefits of spousal hiring is that it makes it less likely that women will have to choose between career and family, as pointed out in the research Richard Zach linked.

(By the way, when the replies get nested so deeply that you can’t reply to an individual post, just scroll up to the last post that you can reply to–it should be the last post that’s not indented quite as far. Reply to that and your post should appear at the bottom of the relevant thread.)Report

Johnny_Thunder
Johnny_Thunder
4 years ago

“What concerns me are the cases in which the woman (usually) who is married to a “big star” (I hate that phrase but people do use it) is frozen into an inferior position in the department, even after going through a rigorous vetting process, while at the same time she is thought of as benefitting from nepotism. Not to mention she gets ridiculed on the front page of the Daily Nous.”

I think a lot of tenured or tenure-track people in this thread are underestimating how great their jobs are. If you are tenured, then you earn enough to support yourself and your spouse comfortably. You can even support a child on that income. So, first, spousal hires are unnecessary as special “accommodations” for deep aspects of people’s identity. You can remain married, and live together, without both partners having what is possibly the best career in human history. Second, the spouse who would benefit from the spousal hire is not forced to accept the job–not even close. Rather, he or she (based on my own experience, I don’t assume it’s a woman benefitting from her husband) can decline the offer.I realize Juliette raised the caveat that there are bigger problems in the world, but I must say that to worry about spousal hires being dissatisfied with their tenured careers is a bit obscene when so many worthy adjuncts and lecturers are toiling in poverty with crushing teaching loads and no job security. Perhaps more extensive experience with poverty and job insecurity would reveal the option of a spousal job for what it is: an *option* that, if chosen, reveals a preference for the uniquely excellent combination of pay, work, leisure, and fulfillment that comes with tenure (or the tenure-track).Report

CW
CW
Reply to  Johnny_Thunder
4 years ago

If you are tenured, then you earn enough to support yourself and your spouse comfortably. You can even support a child on that income.

For clarity, what salary range are you supposing here?Report

CW
CW
Reply to  Johnny_Thunder
4 years ago

“If you are tenured, then you earn enough to support yourself and your spouse comfortably. You can even support a child on that income.”

For clarity, what salary range are you supposing here?Report

Johnny_Thunder
Johnny_Thunder
Reply to  CW
4 years ago

The averages–about $60,000 for assistant, $70,000 for associate, etc.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Johnny_Thunder
4 years ago

“spousal hires are unnecessary as special “accommodations” for deep aspects of people’s identity. You can remain married, and live together, without both partners having what is possibly the best career in human history.”

This basically amounts to saying that tenured jobs are so good that one job per cohabiting couple is good enough; and that if a couple wishes to live together, they ought to be perfectly happy to have one member of the couple sacrifice their career for the sake of the family. In our society, we know very well that when we force a choice between work and family, by absolutely refusing to accommodate family in our work policies, that the effect is going to be harmful to women. That’s not OK.

“I must say that to worry about spousal hires being dissatisfied with their tenured careers is a bit obscene when so many worthy adjuncts and lecturers are toiling in poverty with crushing teaching loads and no job security.”

To the same extent that worrying about adjuncts and lecturers is a bit obscene when children are dying of malaria.
Report

Johnny_Thunder
Johnny_Thunder
Reply to  Matt Weiner
4 years ago

“This basically amounts to saying that tenured jobs are so good that one job per cohabiting couple is good enough; and that if a couple wishes to live together, they ought to be perfectly happy to have one member of the couple sacrifice their career for the sake of the family. In our society, we know very well that when we force a choice between work and family, by absolutely refusing to accommodate family in our work policies, that the effect is going to be harmful to women. That’s not OK.”

Not giving someone a specific job =/= refusing to accommodate family.

The point you’re making about family accommodations helping women in their careers applies to parental leave, which I support. I’m not aware of any evidence that spousal hires in academia are important to women’s career prospects, much less that it will have a non-negligible effect on the number of women in academia at this point. In fact, given women’s now disproportionate success rate on the job market, one would expect it to go the other way around. But you might be right. I just think the “it’s good for society” defense of spousal hiring is different than the idea that providing someone’s partner with a specific job is an accommodation along the lines of parental leave. (I think relying on spousal hires could easily be made superfluous by a strong affirmative action policy, but that’s a different question.) Once someone has a tenured job, they can stay in a relationship with their partner and even have a kid. So no accommodation required to maintain that aspect of identity. Here’s another way to look at it: I see being a parent and being a spouse as protected groups requiring accommodation. Being married to someone in the precise career they want to work in is not a protected group.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Johnny_Thunder
4 years ago

“I’m not aware of any evidence that spousal hires in academia are important to women’s career prospects, much less that it will have a non-negligible effect on the number of women in academia at this point.”

You could at least acknowledge the existence of the link in the first comment to this post.Report

Johnny_Thunder
Johnny_Thunder
Reply to  Matt Weiner
4 years ago

“acknowledge the existence”

This is a very strange phrase to apply to someone who’s unaware of the existent in question–it sounds like you’re upset at me for not having read the comment (one of more than 90). But you’re right, I am able to do that, and hereby do so: the link exists. I would thank you for bringing it to my attention, but I guess we’re not interacting on that level at this point.

Although, as I explained, the issue is irrelevant to our specific disagreement, it’s obviously still interesting. The study linked to constitutes a good reason to assume that spousal hiring benefits women, as you claim, but I think a lot of caution is in order here, on the grounds that the study is from 2008 and the relative success of women on the philosophy job market, as documented by Dicey-Jennings, is likely to be a more recent phenomenon; it’s likely to have emerged as the emphasis on diversity grew in academic philosophy roughly from 2008 to the present.Report

al
al
Reply to  Johnny_Thunder
4 years ago

It’s also worth pointing out that when we say that spousal hiring benefits women, we don’t mean ‘women in general’ – we mean a specific group of women who are already in a position of relative privilege, given that marriage – especially marriage to someone who shares your profession and so who can understand, sympathize and help you in that profession – comes with a host of social and economic benefits. Report

Johnny_Thunder
Johnny_Thunder
Reply to  Matt Weiner
4 years ago

““I must say that to worry about spousal hires being dissatisfied with their tenured careers is a bit obscene when so many worthy adjuncts and lecturers are toiling in poverty with crushing teaching loads and no job security.”
To the same extent that worrying about adjuncts and lecturers is a bit obscene when children are dying of malaria.”

Nah, to the same extent a millionaire is unhappy about not being a billionaire.Report

Juliette
Reply to  Johnny_Thunder
4 years ago

To Johnny Thunder:

About your:

“I must say that to worry about spousal hires being dissatisfied with their tenured careers is a bit obscene when so many worthy adjuncts and lecturers are toiling in poverty with crushing teaching loads and no job security. Perhaps more extensive experience with poverty and job insecurity would reveal the option of a spousal job for what it is: …”

It took me 9 years to get tenure at my university. Before that I was on temporary/ substitute lines on a year to year basis. This had to do with avoiding charges of nepotism, i.e. the case had to be crystal clear.

Still, I agree with you my brother: the spectacle of tenured people throwing a pity party for themselves on DN (meaning me, not the others who are arguing here in favor of spousal hiring) is not a very nice sight, when so many good candidates are up against such terrible conditions. And when the world is burning up around us.

My bad. The OP riled me up.

I only tried to say that if hiring committees want to put their house in order, maybe spousal hiring is not at the top of the TO DO list, if it is at all. And to please spare the beneficiaries of spousal hiring the contempt. This isn’t doing anyone any good.

(I really enjoyed the post of Unmarried Feminist Philosopher though. In fact I would give my right arm to have someone like her in the philosophy department of my university.)Report

Johnny_Thunder
Johnny_Thunder
Reply to  Juliette
4 years ago

Thanks, and I agree on all your further points. Nothing about the propriety of spousal hiring could justify contempt towards people who benefit from spousal hiring.Report

Al
Al
4 years ago

I think we’re getting into diminishing returns here – it seems to me that there is just fundamental disagreement about the wrongmaking feature of nepotism. But I do have a constructive suggestion that I think would vastly improve these kinds of discussions. When you make your arguments for spousal hiring, try not to be so dismissive of single people as some of the posters in this thread. If you wouldn’t tell someone who was involuntarily childless that they are ‘advantaged’ on the job market because they don’t have to worry about finding a job in a good school district, don’t tell someone single that they are ‘lucky’ they don’t have a spouse to worry about. It is not ‘lucky’ to not have something most people really value – a relationship with a partner. Try not to ignore the fact that even though single people may not have a partner, this doesn’t mean they don’t have close personal relationships of other kinds that are fundamentally important to their well-being. And If the sort of argument you’re running is that spousal hiring is all-things-considered good for the profession, at least acknowledge that you’re therefore asking single people to take one for the team – you’re asking them to accept a lesser chance at getting either a stable job or a partner in order to give some other people a greater chance of getting both their desired career and a life partner who lives in their city. Report

Juliette
Reply to  Al
4 years ago

Hi Al!

About your:

“It’s also worth pointing out that when we say that spousal hiring benefits women, we don’t mean ‘women in general’ – we mean a specific group of women who are already in a position of relative privilege, given that marriage – especially marriage to someone who shares your profession and so who can understand, sympathize and help you in that profession – comes with a host of social and economic benefits.”

About “helping”: Not to complain, but as I tried to explain in my previous posts, the situation is rather a bit like the situation in which, say, a philosopher becomes president of a university. In such a case the philosophy department will ,and perhaps should be, the last to benefit from this, lest the president be accused of using his or her position to advance his or her own interests.

And I for one wouldn’t have it any other way.

There is also the question whether being perceived by you and by many other people as the object of her husband’s “help” is a reasonable tradeoff for all that understanding and sympathy she is supposedly getting in the marriage.
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Al
Al
Reply to  Juliette
4 years ago

What I meant by helping was things like reading over your papers, listening to your arguments, helping with job market preparation, even just listening and sympathizing. I think people underestimate how valuable it can be just having a partner who understands a bit better what you are going through. A bit like having a parent who us a professor. Even if they don’t work in philosophy, they have a level of understanding about what you do and what the stresses and difficulties are. Report

Juliette
Reply to  Al
4 years ago

Hi Al,

With all due respect, I think you are confusing marriage between two philosophers with a philosophy seminar.

As to your:

“things like reading over your papers, listening to your arguments, helping with job market preparation, even just listening and sympathizing.”

I don’t know about you but I have a group of about 3 or 4 close colleagues to whom I send my work prior to publication, and they go through it carefully and give me valuable feedback. Sometimes a paper goes through many rounds of this before submission. And I do the same for them.

Most philosophers I know have such a circle of people.

Ditto for advice on job market prep.

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al
al
Reply to  Juliette
4 years ago

Juliette, there’s really no point in saying things like ‘all due respect’ when you’ve been consistently snide, rude and patronizing throughout this conversation.

I don’t know how you could, with a straight face, say that because someone suggests that spouses who both work on philosophy might read papers and listen to your arguments or even just listen and sympathize with your work issues, they are ‘confusing marriage with a philosopher seminar.’

Yet one more example from you: “There is also the question whether being perceived by you and by many other people as the object of her husband’s “help” is a reasonable tradeoff for all that understanding and sympathy she is supposedly getting in the marriage.”

I have not, and I’m pretty sure no-one else here either, has said anything about any individuals, or about how we should ‘perceive’ any particular individuals. The argument has been about whether a particular practice is a good one or not. Thinking that a particular practice is unjust is absolutely consistent with having no particularly negative perceptions of the people who benefit from it. You seem to be consistently construing a critique of a practice with a personal attack on the beneficiaries of that practice. These are not the same thing.
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Juliette
Reply to  al
4 years ago

Hi Al,

What can I say except thanks for the exchange, and I hope to discuss the issue face to face with you sometime.

Signing off, this time for good.Report

Al
Al
Reply to  al
4 years ago

I would like to be able to say the same, but I’m afraid that seeing as you have (as I’ve said) been pretty consistently rude to me, been deeply uncharitable, and consistently questioned my motives for no good reason, I’m afraid I can’t. Report

Jan
Jan
4 years ago

Just want to underscore a point suggested by Kathryn Pogin, above. It’s not very helpful to compare the advantages of being married to an academic superstar in one’s own field to being someone not married to anyone in one’s own field. After all, there are not that many academic superstars and even fewer spouses of such that share a field with them. It would be more helpful to compare the advantages and disadvantages of being married to someone in the same academic subfield vs not. It seems to me that its pretty clear that, other things equal, it will always be harder to find two jobs together than to find one.
I can only think of one advantage being a member of a pair might give one, when there are two jobs available.(Apologies if this has already been mentioned–I have not read every line of every post above!) Searches are time consuming and expensive. One strong interest departments have is in hiring faculty that will stick around. Since it is, other things equal, harder for couples to find jobs together, hiring a couple increases the odds that each of the two new hires will stick around. But that difference seems to me to be one that it is reasonable and fair for departments to care about. Report

Jan
Jan
4 years ago

Also, a bit of an aside, but this whole discussion is making me wonder a bit about how often philosophers see heterosexual couples that share a department and immediately assume that the woman in the pair must be an objectionably accommodated hire. I realize the question raised in the original post is about spousal accommodation and not about academic couples. But the sheer volume of interest in the question, the general tone of aggrievement in some of the comments above, as well as the apparent focus on the case in which a woman is accommodated suggests to me that this phenomena is thought by some to be much more widespread than I, at any rate, have any reason to think it actually is. If that is how many of us see women philosophers married to men in their departments, then it seems to me that being such a woman confers the fairly serious disadvantage of not being assessed for your talents in your own right. Report

Single person
Single person
4 years ago

I cannot tell you how sad (yes sad, not angry) it makes me when people act as though I have more time and freedom because I am single. People choose to get married (or enter into a marriage-like partnership) presumably because it is all things considered good. In the times when I had a partner I was happier, more productive, and life was overall easier. This includes academic life. In fact this is why I am in favor of spousal hires – because I know just how much better life is with a partner. There was a great article in higher ed about single people who would rather not be. Moving across the country, year to year, knowing noone and having no close relations while you attempt to find a job is horrible. No one wants to date someone who moves around year to year. I’ve often considered leaving academia so I could find a partner. So being single in academia is not a benefit. Things are harder. Just an FYI – I sincerely hope you are your spouse find lovely positions. Report

Unmarried Feminist Philosopher
Unmarried Feminist Philosopher
4 years ago

SH wrote: “Justin, at the very least you might have solicited another piece offering a serious defense of spousal hiring, or requested first-hand accounts of experiences from your readers. Starting with an inflammatory, one-sided, and factually careless (see the first comments) article is, indeed, a Breitbart-ish move. Including a childish poem that accuses spousal-hire seekers of entering into mercenary marriages is especially trivializing. (Pardon me, I’m told it’s “tongue-in-cheek” but nonetheless “raises a serious issue”!) I am not in a spousal hire situation, but if this “issue” is as widespread as Ackerman alleges, you realize that she is mocking the marriages of many of your readers?”

Here is a good example of the failure to recognize privilege because it sometimes takes seemingly innocuous and even apparently laudable configurations. The suggestion is akin to the suggestion that if a guest post appears on the blog that critiques (say) heterosexuality, it should be followed by or accompanied with a post that supports heterosexualism. But of course mainstream culture still advances heterosexuality as the norm (turn on your tv , go to a movie, for instance) everywhere.

This discussion should situate spousal hiring within the social context in which it takes place, namely, a social context in which a huge array (literally thousands) of social privileges (informal, financial, discursive, etc.) are afforded to married/partnered people that are not distributed to unmarried people. Spousal hiring is one of these privileges, regardless of how one wishes to rationalize it and defend it. To repeat: spousal hiring is a token of a type of unearned privilege distributed to one sector of the population.

As an unmarried/unpartnered feminist philosopher, I have found many of the comments in this thread insulting and judgmental. It has been (almost) painful to learn how little respect some of the partnered/married people in philosophy have for unmarried/unpartnered philosophers, especially unmarried/unpartnered philosophers who may not think that a monogamous, life-time relationship is a self-evident good and, apparently, one of the only reasons to live, not to mention that these people think that one’s involvement in such a relationship should be a criterion for getting a good job.

As the borders between the classroom, social media, and the personal realm become increasingly porous, it may be time to ask whether the increasing presence of married couples in the profession (an increasing presence that spousal hiring increasingly advances) contributes to and indeed promotes (one kind of) a sexualized environment in philosophy departments and, thus, (1) is counterproductive to efforts to de-sexualize these environments; (2) makes departments uncomfortable environments for unmarried philosophers who are forced to try to ignore long glances, back-rubs, sexual and romantic innuendos on facebook, and hugs and kisses on parting (in other words, only promotes the good and stability of a department for some members of it); as well as (3) an actual hindrance to the promotion of “diversity” in philosophy.

Finally, we should seriously think about how departments that use spousal hiring are promoting a social system whereby enormous inequalities are produced on the basis of marital status. I can only wonder why other feminist philosophers reconcile themselves to and indeed justify this state of affairs.
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Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
4 years ago

I feel as though a couple of commenters in this thread have interpreted my remarks in a way that I did not intend, and I must have been unclear. Let me apologize for that.

To clarify: I do not believe that being single is an advantage in the market, or that single people have more time, or anything like that. I have been in the situation single person talks about, moving across the country by myself to a strange new city every year.

What I was responding to was Prof. Ackerman’s explicit suggestion that marrying another academic would “improve your job prospects.” That is false. During my peripatetic years I realized that if I had a family I would not have been able to move around for the sake of my job the way I did. This means that I did not have to choose between family and career because I did not have the option of choosing between family and career. I would not claim that this was a good thing for me as a single person. But–being married, particularly to another academic, would not have improved my job prospects. I don’t intend any disprespect to single people by saying that. (And single person, I know you expressed support for spousal hiring, so I’m not trying to target you here.)

Looking at this post about the one-body problem, I think it’s definitely worth having a conversation about how we can support single academics. It doesn’t seem to me as though doing away with spousal hiring would’ve done much to help in that case, though.

Unmarried Feminist Philosopher: I don’t think anyone said that “a monogamous, life-time relationship is a self-evident good and, apparently, one of the only reasons to live”; at least, not for everyone. The claim is that it is a good for those who choose to engage in it. Not everyone need value the same thing. As for your suggestion that having married couples in a department is a bad thing, that seems like a suggestion that we should go back to the old system that drove many women out of academia. Report

KH
KH
Reply to  Matt Weiner
4 years ago

Matt, you said a lot of things in this thread that have made me reconsider some aspects of my views about this. But in this comment I don’t think you own up to the implications of what you said earlier. Unmarried Feminist objects to the ways that privileging marriage+ as a form of public sexuality advantages some people at the expense of others. Your whole argument in response to me above depended on our continuing to treat marriage+ as a special social arrangement deeply tied to personal identity and warranting special accommodations by employers. I took Unmarried Feminist to be replying to you most of all, through of course her phrasing (I.e., the use of ‘only’) is stronger than yours. Report

David
David
4 years ago

I think that spousal hiring is obviously a good policy. I myself have a spouse who is not an academic. Hence, although people are free to think my views are clouded by my membership in the privileged group of married people, I also stand to be harmed by a spousal hiring policy in exactly the same way as my unmarried colleagues.

One of the main difficulties of academic life is that one can rarely choose a location of employment, and this means that academics are usually far from their own parents, far from the the grandparents of their children, and also far from other people with whom they are socially connected. A policy of spousal hiring is one thing that makes the academic job market more humane. Until people stop having children or stop forming marriage-like relationships, policies that accommodate the reality of the importance of family life provide a check on an inhumane free market of employment that takes no account of such needs and hence actively undermines them.

But what about the unintended costs of such a policy for those who choose not to or simply don’t have a spouse? That is a fair question. Let’s suppose that adding spousal hiring to the rest of the existing job market procedures and conditions really does add some probability of harm coming to those who don’t have a spouse in academia. The post implies that it would be more “fair” to return to a labor marketplace where everyone is given an “equal” chance, but where any real human needs that are not captured by an “impartial” hiring procedure are given zero consideration. What about instead considering ways to change or add to other existing policies and procedures so that they would more closely model fairness without erasing one of the few ways that the existing system accommodates human needs not priced into the free market? True, a proposal to abolish spousal hiring stands a better chance of being enacted–precisely because it poses absolutely no threat to, and even reinforces, the prevailing free-market-based conception of justice.

But it is also far from obvious that a spousal hiring policy causes any significant harms.

Do the students of spouse-hires suffer? I don’t see any reason to suppose this is true. The department presumably considered it a net benefit to the department (and not simply a gift) to have both professors on staff since their alternative would have been to have an unhappy professor who will also leave if the couple can find employment together elsewhere.

And it is also far from obvious that the policy harms other job seekers. It’s easy to focus on a particular position offered to a spouse and see that unmarried people were not given a shot at that particular position. But it is pretty difficult say what would have happened had there been no such offer or how the policy affects the job market overall.

In short, while the benefits of a spousal hiring policy are undeniable, the claim that the policy harms those not eligible for this special benefit is highly speculative. Unless we know with some certainty that it causes some significant harm, it would be wrong to fight against a policy that provides some measure of humanity to an inhumane system.Report

Ghost
Ghost
Reply to  David
4 years ago

Look, when two people are equally good philosophers, one can only be a better fit for a job because of some tie-breaking reason, whatever that tie-breaking reason might be.

Assuming that all of our hard work has been in pursuit of becoming good philosophers, rather than the cultivating some tie-breaking characteristic, if job offers are supposed to reward our efforts, then tie-breaking reasons will always be unfair.

There’s really no way around that. It’s unpleasant- but in a competitive market such as ours, it’s a cold, hard fact of life nonetheless. Pretending otherwise overvalues qualified people with tie-breaking characteristics, and undervalues equally qualified people without such characteristics.

And….. Even if you don’t think it matters whether we get it right, ascribing some inappropriately high or low value is, at least, descriptively incorrect. So there.Report

academic spouse
academic spouse
4 years ago

I was a spousal hire. My partner and I are both among the top researchers and teachers in our department. I’m not dragging our department down, by any means. Nobody’s a sure thing these days, but if I went out on the job market myself, I’d probably be able to land a job at least as good as my current one. (I publish a lot.) So the effect of my institution’s spousal hire of me on the broader market is that I work at this institution, instead of some other one. Great for me, since this is where my partner is. Neutral for everybody else, who’s competing for the same number of total available jobs as there’d otherwise be.

It’s hard for me to see why this is so controversial.Report

David
David
Reply to  academic spouse
4 years ago

Maybe it is controversial because philosophers will fervently defend an abstraction (here, about fairness) that ignores the broader human reality of the the situation when defending that abstraction serves their personal or political interests.Report

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
Reply to  David
4 years ago

I can assure you that Professor Ackerman’s interests are not served in any way by the position she has taken. (I don’t think I should have to say that, but you’ve insinuated otherwise.)Report

Ghost
Ghost
Reply to  academic spouse
4 years ago

I don’t believe that it’s hard for you to see why this is controversial. Report

Ghost
Ghost
Reply to  Ghost
4 years ago

Long story short, our profession is less about merit than maybe it should be. I’ve been on both ends of that- I’ve received professional goods that I didn’t do anything to earn, and I’ve been denied some basic things that I most definitely did earn.

I’m not unique in that. That’s true of the most of us I imagine.

Folks seem to approach these topics as if whatever side they happen to take, theirs is the one which preserves fairness, when, in fact, neither is.

I would like to see a little more acknowledgement of the role that luck and non-merit based factors play in our lives and careers. Report

academic spouse
academic spouse
Reply to  Ghost
4 years ago

I still don’t understand why this is controversial. Sorry you think I’m lying about this? You haven’t said why you don’t believe me, so I don’t know how to defend myself.

I certainly agree that lots of unfair things happen to lots of people, and that luck plays a huge role in all of our careers. But I really don’t see what that has to do with people being upset about spousal hires. Honest.Report

HowdidIgethere
HowdidIgethere
4 years ago

A few points:
i. I remember being fresh out of graduate school and thinking that in order to truly *deserve* a philosophy job one had to be willing to go anywhere: attachments to friends, partners, cities, families, weather, social structures, and so on, were for babies. I got a job and grew up. The second I had economic security, all of the other normal human things – like needing to have someone, *any*one that I was even remotely able to form an attachment to in the same city – came rushing in. It’s not normal to live absolutely on your own, in the middle of nowhere with no family or even the prospect for one. And this – alone in the middle of nowhere – is how increasingly many young (transplanted) academics live.

ii. How easy it is to scream ‘privilege’. Having a secure academic job in such a tight market certainly has one in a privileged position. I wonder how many of the people on here making noise about privilege, however, have ever lived in the middle of nowhere, absolutely alone, in a country they don’t understand, with seasons they don’t understand, with everyone they have ever cared about on the opposite side of the earth and a million dollars worth of air travel away. Of course, not everyone ends up in such extreme circumstances, but, again, increasingly many young academics are ending up in these sorts of situations exactly because of the state of the job market. I think for many young people ‘succeeding’ comes at an *extremely* high (and often unreasonable) personal cost.

iii. The idea that people with two-body problems are somehow spoiled brats because they would like both (highly educated and qualified) partners to be gainfully employed is obscene. This attitude smacks of the same hogwash that has many of us leaving graduate programs believing we ought to be willing to move to the moon without an oxygen tank if we are serious about an academic career. And how anyone can afford to support a spouse and a child on $60 000 – $70 000 a year is absolutely beyond me. Finding a job for a partner, for many people, is not about ‘having it all’! For many people it is about having a *single thing* in their life over and above a job.

iv. Someone above mentioned the disproportionate number of women succeeding on the job market at the moment. It does seem right that many young women are finding jobs. I can’t help but think that if this is the case, the two-body problem (where it arises) is going to also disproportionately affect women. Being a woman who is either (i) supporting an unemployed partner and child or (ii) supporting an adjunct and child seems like just about the worst combination of things imaginable. Not only is she the sole or majority bread winner, and the one growing/ejecting/nurturing a child (plus domestic work, etc), but she will likely suffer all of the well-known career disadvantages of being a parent. I just don’t even know what to say when I contemplate this delightful little collection of outcomes.

v. I understand these issues are complex, but I also have the sense that some people commenting here don’t understand just complex these matters actually are for many people.

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Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
Reply to  HowdidIgethere
4 years ago

I don’t think anyone said “that people with two-body problems are somehow spoiled brats because they would like both (highly educated and qualified) partners to be gainfully employed”.

My own view about this topic is more like David Wallace’s than like my colleague’s, but I think there has been some grave mischaracterizations of Prof. Ackerman’s argument, and of the arguments of those who have been agreeing with her.Report

KH
KH
Reply to  HowdidIgethere
4 years ago

Wanting to have a job and a traditional family life is not being a spoiled brat or wanting it all. But wanting your employer to spend millions to make it happen is at least moving in that direction. And it’s useful to have a discussion about the nuances of it. And, in promoting such discussion we are not attacking anyone.

These issues are complicated, which is reason enough not to be dismissive of other people’s opinions on them. Here are just a few complicated and relevant questions: why do so many self-identified progressives view public sexuality in such conservative ways (marriage+)? Do academics marry more frequently within their profession than do other professionals? Why might that be?

I very much relate to the the part of your post that expresses regrets about your earlier misconceptions: work is not everything, and we should not teach people that to have a successful career – whatever that means in an individual case – you should be prepared to forego other private goods. But we should also use our professional skills to rethink the nature of those private goods, and it seems to me that most of the defenders of spousal hiring in this thread are objecting to even this much. They treat serious sociological/philosophical questions about public sexuality and hiring practices as if they are out of bounds.Report

Alex
Alex
Reply to  HowdidIgethere
4 years ago

“And how anyone can afford to support a spouse and a child on $60 000 – $70 000 a year is absolutely beyond me.”

Is this a joke or a typo? 60k is more than the median family income in the US.Report

Zara
Zara
4 years ago

Many 3rd tier departments simply do not even consider the very best candidates: they reasonably believe that they’d be wasting their time trying to attract candidates who are likely to get better offers either immediately or in the next few years. So, out of say, 200 files, a 3rd tier department will often cut out the top 20 files or more and will make offers to candidates that the top departments will not even consider. (This is simplistic, of course, but close enough to how it goes.) Now suppose that a 3rd tier department offers a job to X, and X says, “by the way, I’m married to Y” — where Y is one of the people that the department passed over as being too good. If they make the spousal offer to Y, then they might get someone, namely Y, way better than they could normally hope for.Report

asst prof
asst prof
4 years ago

I’m wondering where all of these colleges are which make spousal hires? I mean, how common is this? I had multiple job offers, but when I mentioned my spouse, I got the equivalent of “why don’t you google the colleges in the area?” every time. Some were even angry/taken aback that I asked about possible positions. No asking for a CV, none of that. I wonder if this sort of accommodation is generally limited to top-tier research universities.

I recognize that my spouse and I and our children are better off than many. Yet, adjuncting won’t pay for daycare. We will likely apply out every year for a couple years, hoping for such an accommodation, and if nothing good comes along, someone will have to sacrifice their career. Report

prime
prime
Reply to  asst prof
4 years ago

Tenure-stream spousal hires are not very common, but (like affirmative action) they make an easy target for frustration.

Years ago, my philosopher spouse and I were told by the chair of a top-10 PGR department that each of us would sooner or later get offers there or quite a few other places…were we not partnered. Since then, we have received a total of one dual offer (from a program well outside the PGR top-25) and no solo offers. We’re fortunate to be satisfied enough where we are (hired in different years, non-spousally).

The notion that being in an academic couple generally confers some sort of hiring advantage is patently absurd, for reasons that should be obvious apart from anecdote. But philosophers gonna philosophize — so a long, winding, contentious, largely irrelevant discussion of the ethics of spousal hiring was probably inevitable.Report

asst prof
asst prof
Reply to  prime
4 years ago

Yes, that’s what I thought the answer was! We would, of course, be happy with a non-tenure stream spousal hire (i.e. a spouse in a permanent or renewing position) but I imagine even that is a pipe dream. Report

Coelacanth
Coelacanth
Reply to  prime
4 years ago

I imagine this varies from place to place. In the decade I’ve been at my current institution (Leiter top 15), 3/4s of the men who have been married to women philosophers among our graduates have been TT-spousal hires for women who already had a TT-job. Report

asst prof
asst prof
Reply to  Coelacanth
4 years ago

Well. That’s encouraging. Maybe there is a possibility of two jobs for us after all. If we do give up, eventually, I imagine/hope I will be the one to stay home or find a job outside of the profession. My husband -and therefore, our family- would not be as happy in a different career or as a stay at home father. Report