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Author Topic: Spousal Hire Issue  (Read 57611 times)
wxdude
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« on: December 06, 2007, 10:54:36 AM »

I am curious how department chairs or deans address the issue of spousal hires. We have run into situations where we invite a candidate for an interview, make the candidate an offer, at which point the candidate informs me that hu will not accept the offer unless an academic appointment is made available to hu's spouse  (my institution does not have a spousal hiring program.) In my case, I don't have an extra TT line to offer the spouse; adjunct work is always a possibility, but this is normally not acceptable to the candidate. Our HR guidelines prohibit asking candidates about their marital status, and candidates may or may not offer this information during their visit. Everyone knows how much time and expense is involved in interviewing candidates, and to lose a top candidate who would otherwise have accepted the position is frustrating for the entire department.

Is there a way to address the possible spousal hire problem before investing time and energy into the interview?
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derosa
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« Reply #1 on: December 06, 2007, 12:54:02 PM »

I can't see how you could address it before scheduling an interview, unless it is raised by the candidate during a pre-interview phone conversation.  This has happened to me on two occasions.

It is my practice to call the candidates who we might be interested in bringing in, before scheduling an actual interview.  During this phone call I talk about teaching load and salary.  I ask a few interview questions to be sure that the candidate knows our requirements and we are still comfortable bringing him/her in.

On two occasions, the candidate specifically asked about potential opportunities for a spouse.  Since, in both circumstances, the spouse was described as having qualifications that were outside my department, I suggested the possibility of adjunct teaching and told them that we would have to address it with the other department chair.  I was certainly not able to make any promises.

In my opinion, waiting for an offer and then refusing to accept if a second position is not offered is just not fair play.  I wouldn't want that person on my faculty anyway...move on the your 2nd choice.

In my mind, there are probably a few situations (someone with unique qualifications or a stellar reputation) where an institution might bend over backwards to land a candidate.  For the vast majority of hires, this just isn't possible.
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much_metta
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« Reply #2 on: December 06, 2007, 2:22:29 PM »

In my opinion, waiting for an offer and then refusing to accept if a second position is not offered is just not fair play.  I wouldn't want that person on my faculty anyway...move on the your 2nd choice.

Ok, so how would you suggest a candidate in that situation broach the subject then?  (I'm not being snarky--I really am curious.)  Certainly most candidates wouldn't feel comfortable putting in their application materials or mentioning during a phone interview, "Oh, and my spouse is also an academic in Field X.  Our careers are important to both of us and neither one of us is willing to ask the other to give up their career so one can advance.  Thus, we can only accept offers with a guarantee of a TT position for each of us." 

I'm not saying that part of the responsibility for the two-body problem doesn't rest with the couple--of course it does--but what would a "fair play" way of dealing with this be, especially when one of the spouses is in a very small field (assuming you even have Field X at your uni)? 

For the OP:
Everyone knows how much time and expense is involved in interviewing candidates, and to lose a top candidate who would otherwise have accepted the position is frustrating for the entire department.

Is there a way to address the possible spousal hire problem before investing time and energy into the interview?

It seems there are 2 issues here:  1.  How do you keep from losing a top candidate who needs a spousal hire without offering a spousal hire?  Answer:  You don't.  If your uni won't budge on spousal hires, you need to accept that you will lose some top candidates for that reason.  Life isn't fair.  Get your uni to change the policy or accept losing top candidates to places that can make spousal hires.  (Think of it like competing with unis that offer more money, better startup funds, etc.)  Understand that the candidate doesn't want to have to turn you down, either.  Consider their position--"I have to turn down a great job because I can't ask my spouse to give up a career for me, and that's what they're asking me to do."  Think about the stress this will add to their marriage, having to turn down an offer like that.  Worse yet, imagine they take the offer.  Do you really think they'd be happy in that situation?  Do you really think they'd stay in the position very long?

2.  How can you let candidates who would say no if you can't make a spousal hire know not to waste your time and theirs and not bother to apply in the first place?  (Do recognize that this might not be a waste of time--it gives you more ammo to advocate for spousal hires, it gives them interview practice and the ability to play off competing offers, leverage spousal hires elsewhere, etc.)  Answer:  It's unlikely you can get it into the position ad, but many of the best candidates will do research on your department, including the department website.  Where the additional information on the position is listed, you could put a note to the effect, "Uni policy/resources prohibit spousal hires.  It is uni policy that all hires are made for open and advertised positions and selected through appropriate/departmental hiring committees."  This will dissuade most, but not all.  (Of course, if your uni won't let you put that in writing, perhaps the "no spousal hire" rule isn't firm and can be changed!)  If this is successful, those great candidates will largely weed themselves out of the pool for you (though don't be surprised if you see a drop in the number or quality of applicants--that happens any time you artificially narrow the pool!). 

Bottom line--I share your frustration.  It's a lose-lose situation all around, for unis, for candidates, for spouses.  If anything changes, do let us know!
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derosa
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« Reply #3 on: December 07, 2007, 11:20:18 AM »

OK,so how would you suggest a candidate in that situation broach the subject then?  (I'm not being snarky--I really am curious.)  Certainly most candidates wouldn't feel comfortable putting in their application materials or mentioning during a phone interview, "Oh, and my spouse is also an academic in Field X.  Our careers are important to both of us and neither one of us is willing to ask the other to give up their career so one can advance.  Thus, we can only accept offers with a guarantee of a TT position for each of us." 

In my opinion, it is the responsibility of the candidate to broach the subject when the potential employer makes first contact.  As in my examples, the issue was raised by the candidate at first personal contact.  The candidate needs to put the issue on the table as early as possible.  That is fair play.   It provides the institution an opportunity to deal with the question.  If I know a candidate has a spouse looking for employment, I can then decide if I want to bring them in for an interview (and potentially deal with the problem that the OP encounters) and/or help them find employment for the spouse.  If the candidate waits until the offer is made, there is no time for the institution to respond. That is what creates the "no-win" situation.
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pickle_phd
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« Reply #4 on: December 07, 2007, 1:06:43 PM »

I find this conversation interesting as I am on the opposite side of the table as a job candidate with a spouse who also ideally needs a tt job in the same discipline.  My spouse and I have applied to almost all the same jobs and we have debated at length about when would be the right time to tell SCs that we are married.  We've also consulted with all the faculty members we know who have dealt with similar situations in the past (and are part of couples who have successfully managed the two-body problem) and the strong consensus among them was: don't say anything until there is an offer on the table.

Personally, I find this very distressing for all of the reasons discussed above.  I interviewed at one place recently that is pretty much a perfect fit for me (and would be great for my spouse) and I felt incredibly guilty about not being able to tell them that I have a spouse who would need a job too.  On the other hand, my fear that saying something would destroy my odds of getting this (or any) job outweighed that guilt.  Besides, if it comes right down to it, my spouse and I would prefer for one of us to have a good tt job than neither of us to have one. 

I think one way a SC chair could combat this problem would be to tell applicants right off the bat what their position on spousal hires is, but to also take it a step further and assure applicants that having a spouse who needs a job too will not be held against them when making decisions (and mean it!)  My primary fear about speaking up is that, all other things being equal, the SC will choose another applicant to hire over me simply because they would know that hiring me would be more "trouble" and, even worse, that applicant may turn out to have the same or even more complicated issues involving a spouse that they simply didn't bring up until an offer was made!

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crjuprofsteve
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« Reply #5 on: December 07, 2007, 10:50:40 PM »

I find this conversation interesting as I am on the opposite side of the table as a job candidate with a spouse who also ideally needs a tt job in the same discipline.  My spouse and I have applied to almost all the same jobs and we have debated at length about when would be the right time to tell SCs that we are married.  We've also consulted with all the faculty members we know who have dealt with similar situations in the past (and are part of couples who have successfully managed the two-body problem) and the strong consensus among them was: don't say anything until there is an offer on the table.

Personally, I find this very distressing for all of the reasons discussed above.  I interviewed at one place recently that is pretty much a perfect fit for me (and would be great for my spouse) and I felt incredibly guilty about not being able to tell them that I have a spouse who would need a job too.  On the other hand, my fear that saying something would destroy my odds of getting this (or any) job outweighed that guilt.  Besides, if it comes right down to it, my spouse and I would prefer for one of us to have a good tt job than neither of us to have one. 

I think one way a SC chair could combat this problem would be to tell applicants right off the bat what their position on spousal hires is, but to also take it a step further and assure applicants that having a spouse who needs a job too will not be held against them when making decisions (and mean it!)  My primary fear about speaking up is that, all other things being equal, the SC will choose another applicant to hire over me simply because they would know that hiring me would be more "trouble" and, even worse, that applicant may turn out to have the same or even more complicated issues involving a spouse that they simply didn't bring up until an offer was made!



I'm in the same position - spouse in the same discipline.  We've tried it both ways - notifying potential employers before (advantage: being up front; disadvantage: red flag to search committees) and after (advantage: you're evaluated on merits without being excluded earlier; disadvantage: lack of full disclosure to search committee).  What we've settled on is only applying when two suitable positions (either at the same institution or neighboring institutions) are open and advertised.  The problem here is that the timing of offers might not be compatible, leaving one partner with an offer in hand while the other has not yet interviewed.  However, this approach does help minimize the problems noted by some of the posters, although I'm not sure if it's the best solution in cases where there is a real urgency for an academic couple to secure employment quickly (quickly = in one year or so). 
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larryc
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« Reply #6 on: December 07, 2007, 10:55:45 PM »

The problem is that almost none of us on a SC have two jobs to offer. Maybe things are different in the hotter fields, but in the humanities I cannot imagine two fresh PhDs being able to negotiate a spousal hire.
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locutus
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« Reply #7 on: December 08, 2007, 12:26:12 AM »

The problem is that almost none of us on a SC have two jobs to offer. Maybe things are different in the hotter fields, but in the humanities I cannot imagine two fresh PhDs being able to negotiate a spousal hire.

In my non-humanities area it does happen. Not often though. I know of at least one same discipline couple that got jobs right out. Granted their careers have been very charmed and aren't at all representative.

I may be going through all of this in a few years. I've talked casually with some folk who have navigated spousal hiring and every single one has recommended not saying anything at least until the on campus interview.
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wanderer
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« Reply #8 on: December 09, 2007, 3:25:22 PM »

I like the idea of the SC and HR openings page saying something to the effect that spousal hires are not possible.  This seems the fairest way to dissuade people looking only for dual jobs while not discriminating against spouses.

I think basically there are three categories of people:
(1) Those who will apply only if they think both can find jobs in the same place.
(2) Those where they will move grudgingly for one job, but ideally (eventually) want jobs in the same place.
(3) Those where there is no spouse or the spouse can relocate easily.

SC's probably want to weed out #1 and #2 (2 will leave at the first chance to get dual jobs), and applicants would be fools to make it easy for SC's to weed them.  Many candidates will be in category #2.  Some are trying to move into #1.  Putting up a statement will dissuade #1s, and is probably the fairest thing that can be done for a challenging situation. 

I should say that spouse and I are looking overseas in part because we could both teach in our fields.
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cabogirl
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« Reply #9 on: December 09, 2007, 4:25:04 PM »

Is the term "spousal hire" used only when the spouse has a PhD?  My spouse is staff at my current school.  Let's say that he is a mid-level administrator in the alumni affairs office, and let's say that the schools to which I am applying are in pretty remote locations.  If I were offered a job, how to I approach the issue of employment at the school for my spouse?  Do I use the term "spousal hire," or is there another avenue for staff jobs?  Thanks!
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daniel_von_flanagan
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« Reply #10 on: December 10, 2007, 12:20:46 AM »

The two body problem is a difficult one.  When I was on the 'candidate' side of the problem we found that we were not happy in the kind of jobs we could get together.  Now, much later, I have been on a couple of SCs where we thought we might be able to hire better people by hiring the spouse as well, and so the two bodies were a positive for us, but in both cases (a) the couples jerked us around while they were trying to find their dream job, and (b) while the 'strong' half of the couple was a perfect candidate for us, as a pair they were a much weaker package than hiring two non-spouses from our shortlist.

FWIW, I agree with derosa that the candidate should mention the spouse on first 'live' contact with the chair or SC.  If the department has no second job, or is otherwise opposed to spousal hire, then they will not be able to change this.  If they are open to the spousal hire then they could use the extra time to start begging a second position out of the administration.  - DvF
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sibyl
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« Reply #11 on: December 10, 2007, 11:06:34 AM »

It would be nice if candidates would confess early on that they won't come without a spousal hire.  Over on the job-seeking board, though, candidates are routinely told to wait until the job is offered before revealing their spousal-hire need, because that's when their leverage is greatest.  (I know this because I've joined the chorus of people advising candidates to do this.)  So putting the onus on the candidates is probably not likely to be productive, because it's in their interest not to help out the institution.  Or, in the words of another job-seeking-board truism: the search is conducted for the benefit of the institution, not the candidate; don't expect the other party to take your needs into account.

By all means, try to use this as leverage to talk your deans and provosts and presidents into expanding spousal hire opportunities.  In the meantime, though, on a practical level, I'd advise you to mention this at the phone interview or invitation-to-campus stage, in the middle of all the other arrangements.  Naturally, you should do it in a way that doesn't have you asking awkward and/or illegal questions.  ("By the way, I just want to let you know that we have never been able to hire a spouse or partner to a tenure-track position, and if that's a dealbreaker for you then please let me know.")  That gives them time to back out gracefully and makes your position clear up front, so that it appears not as a negotiating position but a reality of your institution.

I understand derosa's position that the candidate ought to bear responsibility for disclosing the two-body situation, but in this case the hiring institution is holding all the rest of the cards.  I think the search committee ought to be graceful and explain it up front.  If the candidate still wants to take the interview... well, your second and third choices are probably still going to be pretty good.

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dundee
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« Reply #12 on: December 10, 2007, 1:47:29 PM »

I think that much_metta's post is excellent and that derosa's position is both unrealistic and unfair. Derosa claims that it is "fair play" for candidates to be upfront about their need for a spousal hire; however, from the candidate's perspective, it is certainly not "fair" to disclose information that will probably be disadvantageous. I am not naive enough to believe that most search committees who know I am part of an academic couple will treat me as fairly as candidates without that problem.

I have interviews coming up, several of which are for institutions where I could only accept an offer if a spousal hire is also part of the deal. I will most certainly not mention the spousal hire need unless I receive an offer. I'm not a fan of shooting myself in the foot. However, I wish I could be open and honest and not have to hide the fact that my spouse's career is important to me. I really, really want one of the positions I'm interviewing for, in fact it's almost my dream job, but I get a sinking feeling every time I think of it because I know that even if I do get an offer I probably won't be able to accept it.

Does anyone know of any research on academic couples? It seems like at least half of the academics I know are part of an academic couple, and I wonder how many of us there really are. Having some statistics might help departments and deans to advocate for more spousal hires.
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derosa
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« Reply #13 on: December 10, 2007, 2:44:53 PM »

I think that much_metta's post is excellent and that derosa's position is both unrealistic and unfair. Derosa claims that it is "fair play" for candidates to be upfront about their need for a spousal hire; however, from the candidate's perspective, it is certainly not "fair" to disclose information that will probably be disadvantageous. I am not naive enough to believe that most search committees who know I am part of an academic couple will treat me as fairly as candidates without that problem.

I can certainly understand the candidate's perspective that you have articulated.  Unfortunately, it is not a level playing field in that the institution has the hiring advantage.  An institution grants a department a tenure track line.  In my department this line is earmarked for a person with a very specific expertise.  In our institution, tenure track lines are hard to come by, however, there are ways to negotiate with the administration should that need arise.  So, if I know a candidate is interested (given we are interested in the candidate) and they also come with a spouse who is seeking employment, the sooner I know that, the more leverage I have to negotiate with my administration.  I want the best person for my department (whether they have a spouse or not). 

If I go through the entire search process, the SC and faculty decide on a candidate and we make an offer (now, several months have passed...perpaps too much time to do another search...perhaps my second and third choice have accepted other offers)...then the candidate says, "oh, by the way, I can't accept your offer unless you have a position for my spouse."  I, as the department chair, have virtually no leverage to negotiate anything on my end. 

I have no evidence or data, other than my own personal experience, but at my institution (and in my department) springing the spousal hire on the search committee after the offer would be a sure way to NOT get the job.  Primarily because it is too late in the process to negotiate anything.

I am certain that all of this depends on institution, field, candidates, etc.  So there are probably no hard and fast rules.  I am neither in favor of nor opposed to more sposal hires.  I simply want to hire the best candidates for my department.  The more I know up front, the better I can do that.  From my position as a department chair, I don't see how my approach is either unrealistic or unfair.

« Last Edit: December 10, 2007, 2:50:25 PM by derosa » Logged
dundee
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« Reply #14 on: December 10, 2007, 3:38:22 PM »

Derosa, thanks for your detailed response. I meant that it is unrealistic and unfair to expect that candidates reveal that they are part of an academic couple before they receive an offer. While you may use that information to lobby your dean for an extra line, or even a visiting position (which I applaud), other chairs may decide then and there to nix that candidate's application. The candidates don't know which chairs will lobby for a spousal hire, so most will play it safe and keep quiet, especially as most have been advised to say nothing until an offer is on the table.
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