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Author Topic: Spousal Hire Issue  (Read 57612 times)
deleteplease
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« Reply #45 on: December 18, 2007, 12:03:35 AM »

Case 1: Assume my department of Computer Gaming has two jobs this year, one for a specialist in Minsesweeper and one for a specialist in Solitaire. Our top candidate in Minesweeper (who has the world's record high score in Minesweeper) has a partner in the very bottom of our Solitaire pile (has yet to finish a game, keeps on getting distracted by writing articles and answering e-mail). Can we hire the incompetent Solitaire spouse without violating (a) academic integrity and (b) the rights of the better 100+ Solitaire candidates (who will have really good grounds for lawsuits)?

Case 2: The spouse of our Minesweeper star is actually a FreeCell specialist. But we already have two FreeCell specialists and very few students in the FreeCell area, but our senior Solitaire specialist just left for an endowed chair in Seattle and our junior one is spending all of her time reading books (of all things!). And we have hordes of Solitaire students playing completely without supervision (often even using the wrong scoring option!). Do we still hire the FreeCell spouse?

For these sorts of reasons, my department does not do spousals. Ever. We tell job candidates this at preliminary interviews. If they actually listened, and withdrew from the search, it would help everyone (including, e.g., Minesweeper Candidate Number 2, supergeek who has never had a date, much less a spouse, who would have been delighted to accept our offer and instead ended up in a town which doesn't even have high speed internet).

I'm beginning to understand the departments who make the stipulation that if they make an offer and it is rejected, the travel expenses for the candidate are not reimbursed. We don't do this -- but it would be a good way of cutting down on the number of candidates who waste our time because they are (1) fishing for spousals; (2) fishing for tenure denial insurance (usually we can spot this and don't interview them, but a few slip by); (3) fishing for counteroffers.

Sorry for the vent -- I've been involved in searches for something like 12 of the past 15 years, and while there have been some really good experiences (the hire we made last year who we all thought would be good has turned out stunningly wonderful!), there have also been some frustrations.
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prof_tournesol
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« Reply #46 on: December 18, 2007, 12:59:14 PM »

Reading this thread, I get the sense a lot of the time that many SCs and many universities do not understand that they are in competition for the best people. Perhaps some think, "well, we got dozens or hundreds of applications for this position, anyone will be fine so it doesn't make a big difference". If that's the case, I can see why you wouldn't want to bother with a spousal policy. But if your intention is to attract the best people, you have to make yourself attractive to the best people.

Wxdude notes that they've lost two people to this problem and that had they known earlier something more might have been done. It's not clear to me that anything was necessarily done to address the spousal issue, and that certainly seems clear from the reaction of the applicants, who chose either other jobs or no job at all rather than the option Wxdude's school offered. It's quite possible that the only people hurt here was Wxdude's school, who lost their two preferred candidates.

Meden's example seems an extreme one. Would you really pass up THE BEST IN THE WORLD at a field for any reason? Really? If so, I hope I don't work where you do. Different universities have different spousal policies, but almost all of them allow departments to decline offering a spousal hire to a candidate who is not deemed competent or important to the departments goals. So the answer to most of your questions seems to be no, you can feel free to turn down whomever you like.

But the idea that a university can make a completely unacceptable offer to a candidate and then expect the candidate to take it or refund the travel costs is simply insane. As I say, universities are competing for the best people and if your school is not competitive (ie. does not have a clear spousal policy that can kick in when the subject arises) you are at a disadvantage in terms of recruiting. It's your loss. Don't take it out on the candidates, work to change the system at your university so you don't lose out on all the best Minesweeper players
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daniel_von_flanagan
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« Reply #47 on: December 18, 2007, 1:44:59 PM »

Reading this thread, I get the sense a lot of the time that many SCs and many universities do not understand that they are in competition for the best people.

We understand this very well, which is why we still consider spousal candidates, but there is nothing we can do when the candidates themselves hold back this important information.

Quote
Meden's example seems an extreme one. Would you really pass up THE BEST IN THE WORLD at a field for any reason? Really?

Of course.  For example, the spouse must be someone in a position to make tenure on their own merits (unless the spouse would be satisfied with some kind of permanent adjunct position, which at my school is not permitted by contract).  We cannot use person A's quality in a tenure decision on person B.

Quote
But the idea that a university can make a completely unacceptable offer to a candidate and then expect the candidate to take it or refund the travel costs is simply insane.

In meden's examples, the department is acting on good faith, and it is the candidate who is rendering the offer unacceptable. - DvF
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august_leo
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« Reply #48 on: December 18, 2007, 2:49:30 PM »

Quote from: quisqueya
due to a miscommunication, we both messed up (she didn't apply to places in Boston for crying out loud and I have 2 interviews in the area!!!)

Did you even talk about what region of the country or type of schools you were interested in? Gee.

(FWIW spouse in a different department, we may be on the market in a couple years, year 1 of current jobs.)
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wxdude
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« Reply #49 on: December 18, 2007, 4:32:47 PM »

Wxdude notes that they've lost two people to this problem and that had they known earlier something more might have been done. It's not clear to me that anything was necessarily done to address the spousal issue, and that certainly seems clear from the reaction of the applicants, who chose either other jobs or no job at all rather than the option Wxdude's school offered.

Actually, we did try to accommodate both candidates. In the first case, the situtation was one where the spouse's field was in a different college that happened to be hiring, but the spouse's credentials were not strong enough to be considered for the position (so there wasn't much we could do as the other SC was not going to hire a less qualified applicant to support our hire- they want to get the best person for their position.) In the second case, the spouse was in the same field as our candidate with a very similar research focus. Given the very short notice, we were able to find the resources for a half-time non-tt position, but this was not acceptable to the candidate. It was either two full tt positions or nothing. We don't have a second tt position at the moment; if we did, we would have advertised as such.

FWIW, in our phone interviews, after explaining the spousal hire issue to the candidates, each of them thanked me for being "up front" about the matter and several volunteered whether or not they were looking for a position for their spouse as well. Our SC agreed not to hold it against a candidate who did not respond to the information, and we are hoping that candidates will now be "up front" with us should we elect to bring them to campus for a formal interview.

We will see what transpires when we get to the campus visit stage again.
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canadia
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« Reply #50 on: December 18, 2007, 5:15:22 PM »

Quote from: quisqueya
due to a miscommunication, we both messed up (she didn't apply to places in Boston for crying out loud and I have 2 interviews in the area!!!)

Did you even talk about what region of the country or type of schools you were interested in? Gee.
Yup.

But as I said, we applied to so many different places that there were bound to be some cracks. The lone Boston-area job open for her was an early deadline, this is her first time on the market (my 2nd+) and in that inexperience, she thought to herself, "Nah. I don't wanna live in Boston" not knowing that it was still really early in the job season and more jobs would be announced. The 3 jobs for me in the area were announced much, much later and voila... she had missed a chance to be in the same area as me.

Trust me. We're really embarrassed by this. :(

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sistergirl
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« Reply #51 on: December 19, 2007, 5:18:50 PM »

Just started reading this thread as I wait to hear about an interview where my spouse is working. We're in different fields and there happened to be a position in my field this year at the same institution. I have very strong credentials and would be a good hire for them. Yet it's the week before the MLA and I haven't heard a word either way. (Yes, they know my spouse is in another department).

Any advice on how to proceed?
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sibyl
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« Reply #52 on: December 20, 2007, 12:22:46 PM »

I just hope the people who repeatedly advise to "wait until you have the real bargaining power of the offer in hand" are paying attention.

Oh, I've been listening to you, DvF.  My advice will now shift to something like this:  "In general you have the most bargaining power with the offer in hand.  But some departments can't arrange spousal hires if you wait that long, and you may want to bring it up at the phone-interview or invite-to-campus stage.  To be sure, some departments will immediately cross you off the list, so you have to decide which gamble is better to take."

I hope that you have also taken something from this exchange.  I hope that, like wxdude, you now plan to bring up the spousal issue in a non-discriminatory way at the phone interview stage, and say something like, By the way, if a spousal hire is important to you, let me know in the next 48 hours; if we wait any longer it's almost impossible to get a spousal hire.  A statement like that reduces the guesswork on the candidate's part -- are they open to spousal hires, how crucial is a spousal hire to my family, etc. -- and helps move toward a better conclusion for everyone.
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daniel_von_flanagan
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« Reply #53 on: December 20, 2007, 8:42:02 PM »

Oh, I've been listening to you, DvF.  My advice will now shift to something like this:  "In general you have the most bargaining power with the offer in hand.  But some departments can't arrange spousal hires if you wait that long, and you may want to bring it up at the phone-interview or invite-to-campus stage.  To be sure, some departments will immediately cross you off the list, so you have to decide which gamble is better to take."

In other words, you are not really changing your advice, except to let the candidate know of a potentially useful alternative which you recommend against.

Quote
I hope that you have also taken something from this exchange.  I hope that, like wxdude, you now plan to bring up the spousal issue in a non-discriminatory way at the phone interview stage

As I have already pointed out, we have happily interviewed couples in two of our recent searches.  Moreover, I've been on both the SC side and the couple side of the situation, so I have no special bias one way or the other, except that I think people who try to game the system end up screwing up the system for those people who are upfront.  This holds for people who intentionally hide dealbreakers (like spousal hire), or who want an offer from us solely to get a raise back home, or who are hedging against tenure denial, etc. It equally holds for departments who fly people out for an interview knowing full well they will be hiring someone else.  Either way, this is bad faith behavior. - DvF
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sibyl
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« Reply #54 on: December 21, 2007, 11:46:53 AM »


In other words, you are not really changing your advice, except to let the candidate know of a potentially useful alternative which you recommend against.

...

Moreover, I've been on both the SC side and the couple side of the situation, so I have no special bias one way or the other, except that I think people who try to game the system end up screwing up the system for those people who are upfront.  This holds for people who intentionally hide dealbreakers (like spousal hire), or who want an offer from us solely to get a raise back home, or who are hedging against tenure denial, etc. It equally holds for departments who fly people out for an interview knowing full well they will be hiring someone else.  Either way, this is bad faith behavior. - DvF


I agree with you that the process would be better if it were fully open at every stage, and all parties to a search were open about their needs, goals, and circumstances.  But the reality has never fit this ideal description, and it certainly isn't this way now.

There are a dozen little things that cut against candidates in today's environment.  For example, there is the question of whether candidates should admit they have a spouse and children.  My preference is not to hide this information.  But I know that there are some people, mostly women, who have encountered prejudice along the lines of "a woman will put her family ahead of her career, and if we hire her now we'll only have to deal with leaves and sabbaticals."  I can't in good conscience say that it is always the right choice to disclose the information.  So I will say that I think it is better to disclose, but some people encounter problems and you may want to restrain yourself.

For the same reason, I can't embrace your suggestion to advise "Always disclose spousal hires as soon as possible."  As a general rule, the job seeker never has the upper hand in negotiations until after the offer is made.  At that point, the hiring party has committed itself emotionally and intellectually to this person and is more willing to bend to make a deal; the same request that is a sign of trouble before the offer becomes a reasonable negotiating point after the offer. 

I don't think my advice is substantially unchanged, as you seem to do.  I see it as nuanced, incorporating your point of view so that seekers can consider the possible situations under which disclosing makes sense.

The candidate has few advantages in this process and I think it's wrong to advise them to discard one of them entirely.  A spousal hire may not be a dealbreaker until after the onsite interview.  It may be, for example, that the candidate guesses that the spouse can teach in the first-year program discussed on the website.  But after getting to the campus, the candidate finds out that the first-year program courses are reserved for tenured professors.  Now it becomes urgent that the spouse have another kind of job.

The whole system is flawed, and candidate caution does create serious problems for institutions.  But I don't think the first step, or even the second step, to living with this system (let alone fixing it) is requiring candidates to bear the burden of the first move.  I think institutions should take the initiative to talk about spousal hiring practices so that candidates don't have to worry about being gamed.
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prof_tournesol
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« Reply #55 on: December 21, 2007, 12:53:50 PM »

I don't think that anything here has made me change my advice, which would be wait for an offer before discussing spouse (and salary, and relocation costs, and course load, and...).

The argument seems to be that "if we had known when we were drafting our short list or long list that we could have done more", but I've never seen an institution do that. Maybe I'm myopic, and there really are schools out there who think at the pre-interview stage "our #7 candidate for this job in History is married to a Biologist, let's send our Chair over to Biology to begin the spousal process in case we decide to interview candidate #7". In my experience, the reality is that with this disclosure of the spouse candidate #7 is dead in the water.

The issue about disclosing at a campus interview may be a trifle more vexed, but disclosing "as soon as possible" (which, effectively, means in the application letter) is not advice that I would ever give to any candidate
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pickle_phd
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« Reply #56 on: December 21, 2007, 1:58:57 PM »

I posted on this thread early on and have been following it for the past few weeks.  In the meantime, I have been invited to 4 interviews (with 1 more looking likely).  Just to remind everyone, I am looking for a tt job and have a spouse who is ABD in the same discipline.  I did end up mentioning my spouse to one SC chair (who happens to be a collaborator with my spouse), though I did not make any explicit statements about needing a spousal hire, and otherwise I have kept quiet. 

My question for all of you is as follows: my upcoming interviews are all at major public universities with large departments in my discipline.  Do you think spousal hires are more or less likely to happen at these institutions than at private ones, or SLACs? 

Also, one dept. advertised 2 jobs in the same area and my spouse and I both applied, but only I have an interview.  Should I bring my spouse up sooner with them?  Note that this dept also happens to be in a major city, with other universities nearby, so although I would like them to hire my spouse, it is also not a total dealbreaker if they do not.

I appreciate all your advice and comments!
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daniel_von_flanagan
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« Reply #57 on: December 21, 2007, 3:26:05 PM »

Quote
The issue about disclosing at a campus interview may be a trifle more vexed, but disclosing "as soon as possible" (which, effectively, means in the application letter) is not advice that I would ever give to any candidate

I don't think it is appropriate in the cover letter, but is appropriate once a  human in the department contacts you.

As I've mentioned before, in every same-department spousal hire I know the department knew about the couple very early on.  I can't imagine any department that would "bend" due to pressure of having already made an offer - either they are antagonistic to spousal hires or they aren't, in the first case all the late disclosure will do is convince them that their attitude is correct, in the latter they would have been as open to the idea earlier on they would be at that stage, and more likely to be able to do something about it.

Quote
But I don't think the first step, or even the second step, to living with this system (let alone fixing it) is requiring candidates to bear the burden of the first move.  I think institutions should take the initiative to talk about spousal hiring practices so that candidates don't have to worry about being gamed.

The candidates aren't being "gamed" if they are informed of the nonexistence of spousal positions at offer time, they are being informed.  The department isn't trying any sneaky manouvers, in particular isn't holding back this information to gain leverage.  On the other hand, a candidate who intentionally suppresses information they intend to disclose later on is very much gaming the system.

Probably departments should put more information into their position ads. In many cases this is not possible due to HR control of the process.  It is impossible for a department to anticipate every dealbreaker; every candidate has a different set of dealbreakers, and a chair will sound like a doofus if he starts playing 30 questions with a candidate: "Do you have a spouse that needs a job?  Is a T-Th teaching load a must?  You don't get vested into our retirement system for 5 years, is that OK?  Does your office need a southern exposure?"  I think the first one isn't even legal.

phdlookingforjobs, I think non-regular-faculty positions are always more likely in the larger departments, as such departments always need people to teach their intro classes.  If someone applied to us, and had an ABD spouse who would agree to work at the instructor level, we would happily hire them...though only for a few years,  as at my institution such positions automatically convert to tenure track.  So, the arangement would not be permanent, but this spouse and the department have some time to figure out possible futures. - DvF
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sunanoonna
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« Reply #58 on: December 22, 2007, 2:34:17 PM »

I am ABD and my husband is one year out, currently a postdoc. We are in different humanities fields. I need help understanding what the possibilities are for spousal hires short of tenure-track positions (which I assume, at this stage in our careers, is untenable to even ask for). So, if I get a job offer, what might I be able to swing for my husband? Is there a hierarchy something like this:

Tenure-track position (most desirable)
Visiting assistant professor with 3-year-contract
VAP with 1-year contract
Full-time lecturer
Part-time lecturer
Nothing (least desireable)

Are there other options I don't understand?
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yellowtractor
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« Reply #59 on: December 22, 2007, 2:48:55 PM »

I am ABD and my husband is one year out, currently a postdoc. We are in different humanities fields. I need help understanding what the possibilities are for spousal hires short of tenure-track positions (which I assume, at this stage in our careers, is untenable to even ask for). So, if I get a job offer, what might I be able to swing for my husband? Is there a hierarchy something like this:

Tenure-track position (most desirable)
Visiting assistant professor with 3-year-contract
VAP with 1-year contract
Full-time lecturer
Part-time lecturer
Nothing (least desireable)

Are there other options I don't understand?

One other set of options would involve administrative jobs.  At the small SLAC where I formerly taught, there was only so much room to absorb spouses or partners into the faculty, even as adjuncts.  The school attempted to compensate for this, with some success, by incorporating some spouses into mid-level administration.

Of course, you or your spouse would have to be open to this.

Also keep in mind that if you or he are hired and the other receives some adjuncting (full- or part-time) work as part of the package, there's no guarantee that the adjuncting work will continue indefinitely.  My former school often was able to swing a year or two of guaranteed adjunct work for a spouse, but no more than that and no guarantee.  This can make for trouble down the line.
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