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Author Topic: Spousal Hire Issue  (Read 57615 times)
larryc
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« Reply #15 on: December 10, 2007, 4:40:42 PM »

Dundee, Derosa and DvF both make the important point that once an offer is on the table it is almost certainly too late to arrange a spousal hire. As it would be at our institution as well.
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daniel_von_flanagan
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« Reply #16 on: December 10, 2007, 5:22:33 PM »

I know that to candidates it might look like the cards are all in the hands of the SC, but that simply isn't so.  Half the cards are in the SC's hands, half in the candidate's hands, and the Dean is the dealer who can declare a misdeal at any time.

I know of many positions that have remained unfilled because SCs were jerked around by candidates, occasionally because of a spousal hire situation.  In fact, part of the antipathy towards spousal hires - even among those of us with academic spouses, who have been through the process - is a result of having seen a careful search bolloxed this way.

The strategy of not mentioning the spouse until after the offer is probably OK if it is not a deal-breaker, or if the candidate's goal is to amass offers (and not jobs), but as mentioned above it reduces the chance of actually getting a spousal position.  While they must exist, I don't know of any cases where this kind of extortion on the part of the candidate has actually resulted in a second offer;  I am curious whether the advice being meted out on the job-seeking board is based on actual experience, or is the kind of mythology that I often overhear in graduate student conversations.

The hiring process should not be a matter of a SC and a candidate trying to outwit one another, the goal of a SC is to find a long-term colleague, not just a coworker (we have adjuncts for that).  In most departments where I have been everyone remembers candidate gamesmanship come tenure year. - DvF

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« Reply #17 on: December 11, 2007, 8:25:04 AM »

I know that to candidates it might look like the cards are all in the hands of the SC, but that simply isn't so.  Half the cards are in the SC's hands, half in the candidate's hands, and the Dean is the dealer who can declare a misdeal at any time.

You can't really mean that half of the cards are in *every* candidate's hands, and this is the problem about notifying about a spouse before an offer--particularly at the first "live" contact.  At the first live contact, an SC in MLA fields is likely eyeing at least 15 very, very good candidates.  All of those candidates can't have half the cards.  Perhaps at the campus visit stage the candidate has more control/power in the situation, and can explain the situation then.  But I can still easily imagine an SC holding this against a candidate, and waiting for candidate #2 to come to town, who has no such strings attached (or at least as far as the SC knows).

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I am curious whether the advice being meted out on the job-seeking board is based on actual experience, or is the kind of mythology that I often overhear in graduate student conversations.

There are many non-grad students on that board.  I suspect the divergence of opinion/advice is due to different fields and kinds of institutions.

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The hiring process should not be a matter of a SC and a candidate trying to outwit one another, the goal of a SC is to find a long-term colleague, not just a coworker (we have adjuncts for that).  In most departments where I have been everyone remembers candidate gamesmanship come tenure year.

I think it is unfair to say that candidates are trying to "outwit" departments.  If departments would be forthcoming about this situation in the initial contact stages, as some posters have suggested, then I don't think candidates would have nearly such a struggle trying to figure out when it would be appropriate to bring this up.  I don't think it's usually an attempt to be devious or "outwit," but rather trying to figure out when it does make sense for the candidate to start asking for things.  It seems awfully arrogant to me to say at the interview stage, "I won't take this job unless you hire my spouse too."  In addition, I'm not totally sure that's the case for me, though I would definitely be attracted to a location in which my spouse could find salaried work (whether at another campus, the same uni as a VAP, etc.).  Simply put, most Asst Prof gigs don't offer enough money to support a family, and adjunct pay doesn't help too much.  So I'd really like my spouse to be employed full time, and that would factor in to my decision to accept an offer.
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sibyl
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« Reply #18 on: December 11, 2007, 12:34:29 PM »

The SC may not have all the cards, but they certainly have many more than the candidate.  Putting the onus on the candidate is just not the right way to go.

I think it's an important point that relatively few places can afford to roll out a tenure-track line at the offer stage.  Candidates should be aware of this, and should be willing to accept a lesser kind of offer as a good-faith gesture (i.e. two courses in 08-09 and a one-year position in 09-10, etc.).

I agree that I don't think that the parties are trying to "outwit" the other by following their respective strategies.  Rather, both parties are trying to inoculate themselves against a bad result.  Derosa and DvF's point of view only bears out the unfortunate wisdom of the competing strategies: if the candidate had said upfront that a spousal hire was a dealbreaker, then the candidate would likely have been eliminated from the search.  And, as heronhouse says, a candidate often doesn't know until the interview whether it's worth taking the job without a spousal hire.  So there doesn't appear to be a clean way to resolve these competing objectives with a mutually beneficial result.

Switching now from game theory to economics:  The academic job search is not an efficient market.  One of the hallmarks of academia is collaborative decision-making, and efficiency is one of the things that is sacrificed to this good.  There will always be "good jobs that go unfilled," and good candidates who go without jobs.  That's yet another of the unfortunate consequences of our process.
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nailman
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« Reply #19 on: December 11, 2007, 12:46:41 PM »

I'm not a dean/chair, but a job seeker, but I'm hoping I can bring a little perspective.

Partly, I think this may be field-specific; I'm in the sciences and I know a number of successful couples where both are faculty at the same university or same department. Obviously this is more common in larger universities/departments where there may be multiple slots open (or which can be opened) at once.

Overall, I think the silver bullet here is communication. Candidates in my area rightly realize that, when a single position can get 400+ applications from qualified applicants, if they're too forthcoming about potential snags early on, most committees will probably just throw the application in the reject stack and move on to another qualified candidate. So if the committee wants communication early,  it's up to them to lay the groundwork. Otherwise, candidates will typically wait until the interview or offer stage to provide this information, because it *seems* less likely to hurt their chances at that stage.

As has already been noted here, one kind of information the search can provide is that the search can't help make faculty hires -- which of course will mean that candidates who are looking for that know they don't need to apply.

A search could also provide the other kind of information, though: Either in a phone call or an on-campus interview, someone associated with the search could say something like, "We're not sure what your marital situation is or whether you'd be looking for employment for your spouse in academia or elsewhere. But if you are, here's when we'd need to hear about it from you in order to be able to help you, and here's what we could do to help." Just lay out exactly the situation -- you don't have to ask any illegal questions, just provide information so they can decide.

On the other hand, if you provide no information one way or the other, then don't expect candidates to provide information either. The job search process is so unpredictable anyway that candidates are extremely paranoid. They aren't likely to be forthcoming about potential  sticking points like this unless the committee encourages it.

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daniel_von_flanagan
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« Reply #20 on: December 11, 2007, 3:15:18 PM »

Most SCs are already fairly clear on this.  If they are advertising one position, then they are not in the market for two people.  If they advertise two or more positions, then it might be a possibility. 

Of course, in the latter case, by the time candidate A comes up in the interview queue all but one of the positions might already be filled.  Since the SC is often prohibited from asking about marital status when they contact the candidate, how do you propose they raise the subject?  nailman's phrasing, besides being hideously awkward, could be interpreted as fishing for forbidden information, and tantamount to simply asking it outright.

We've shortlisted couples in our last two hiring rounds.  In both cases, we knew upfront that they were couples. Otherwise, they wouldn't have had any chance, as they were moved forward in the queue to make sure there were two spots left by the time they came out.

The idea that SCs have a nice long list of great candidates, and they can just bring out one after the other until they find someone, is fantasy.  We are limited by budget and time (and energy) in the number of people we can actually bring out, and if we bring out 6 people for 2 slots and don't fill them, that's about it, the job goes unfilled for the year (ad we lose lots of face with the administration, who starts to wonder why your department looks so bad to  those candidates).  We might also lose the position, and any subspecialty in the department who lobbied to get someone in their area has certainly lost their slot.

I am well aware of the difficulty faced by academic couples - my wife and I spend years playing the "I'll follow her to her job, then she'll follow me to mine" game before we both found slots, and hers is still not the best in the world (all soft money, so she pays herself).  However, being cagey until there is an offer out is not the solution.  In my field, every couple I know with two tt jobs in the same department interviewed as a couple.  - DvF
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anthroid
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« Reply #21 on: December 12, 2007, 1:21:58 PM »

(I'm a chair.)

If I had two positions, I would advertise for two positions.  While I want to bring in the most qualified person, if part of bringing that person in would involve creating a new position, well, I'm SOL.  I just don't have the position.  I don't care how much you want to negotiate.  I don't have the position.

I think it is completely unreasonable for a job seeker to expect that an employer will create a job for that person's spouse.  I know of few other fields of endeavor where that happens.  If there is an open spot, fine--certainly the hot-shot attorneys with whom I worked in a previous life were able to negotiate in that way, given the volume of work available and the amount of cash they were bringing in as partners.  But to demand the creation of a tenure-track line is just crazy talk.  The legislature only gives my university so much money, and they want us to keep doing more with less, not with more.  If this is your expectation, I suggest you don't apply to most regional state universities, most small LACs and comprehensives, and most community colleges (in other words, most American colleges and universities).  You're not entitled to two jobs when you apply for one.

I had a job applicant last year tell me in our interview that he couldn't possibly consider entertaining an offer unless I created a full time tenure line for his wife.  I shook his hand and escorted him to his next appointment--with the Dean--and encouraged him to tell the Dean that (I really didn't like this guy; he was full of himself and he wasn't that great).  You can imagine what the Dean said.
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larryc
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« Reply #22 on: December 12, 2007, 1:52:43 PM »

What Anthroid said.

Kids, don't fall in love with anyone in your graduate cohort. Just don't do it.
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dundee
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« Reply #23 on: December 12, 2007, 5:15:43 PM »

Larryc, it's too late for that!
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sibyl
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« Reply #24 on: December 12, 2007, 5:38:49 PM »

I think it is completely unreasonable for a job seeker to expect that an employer will create a job for that person's spouse. 

I'll bet that job-seekers don't get the idea of a spousal hire from their own parents, who are likely in other fields.  Where could they possibly get this idea?  Undoubtedly from the same place they get their other ideas about academic life: from their teachers. 

It is an undeniable fact that many institutions have created jobs for spouses, and that some institutions still do.  Admittedly, this is mostly for positions of dire need -- for junior faculty in rare fields as well as superstar faculty in any field.  But as a result, grad students in many fields are encouraged to seek spousal hires, both implicitly (hmm, if My University gave her a spousal hire, then Their College might give me one) and explicitly ("Yes, my student, you're a star!  Ask for a spousal hire!").  Grad schools need to cut this out -- if not by halting spousal hires, at least by actively discouraging students from thinking about it, especially in crowded fields like the humanities. 
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tenured_feminist
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« Reply #25 on: December 12, 2007, 5:40:54 PM »

But on the other hand, unhappy academic couples can generate opportunities for savvy universities that have some flexibility with resources. I'm in a job at a university I never would have been interested in had it not been for the fact that they were willing and able to solve our dual career dilemma. On the other side of the process, I worked my tail off as a program head to pull together a tenure line for a fabulous person who could have done much better as well had he not been half of a dual career couple. They will probably stay at that institution forever.

I should emphasize, though, that the stars have to be in alignment for this to work. In my current job, they really needed someone at my career stage who does exactly what I do, and they would have had to pay a lot more to hire one of my doppelgangers from a private R1.
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« Reply #26 on: December 12, 2007, 6:39:36 PM »

I know of many positions that have remained unfilled because SCs were jerked around by candidates, occasionally because of a spousal hire situation.  In fact, part of the antipathy towards spousal hires - even among those of us with academic spouses, who have been through the process - is a result of having seen a careful search bolloxed this way.

(I am not a chair)

It is responses like the one by dvf that make people wary of broaching the subject. I am sure the candidate wasn't thinking "I'm going to jerk these guys around ..." Having looked at some of the responses I would be terrified to say anything to the SC without a job offer.

I view the situation like negotiations. If the candidate goes in realizing that s/he will not accept the job without this caveat then so be it. Much like someone in chemistry that needs a $200,000 NMR. If it is not attainable then they are at liberty to decline the offer. I am not part of an academic couple but my department has hired 3 combinations in the last few years. One eventually resulted in 2 TT lines and the others were offered Instructor positions for their spouses. We made the case to our Dean that a given person was our top candidate and it was up to the Dean to negotiate the conditions of their respective hires. If any one of them turned us down because we did not meet their minimum requirements then that would have been their choice and we would have moved on to the next candidate. In one case, it really helped us that our hire was female. I don't know that our Dean would have done this otherwise. Maybe my institution is atypical in this respect but we have attracted our top (strongest) candidates this way.
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daniel_von_flanagan
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« Reply #27 on: December 12, 2007, 7:38:21 PM »

As Tenured_Feminist and Bigsky point out, spousal hire is a way that a department can get someone better than they might otherwise.  We have tried this as a department as well, as have many others I know.  The point some of us have been trying to make is that this has to be on the table early for it to work.  If you wait until the offer stage, then it is too late. - DvF

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dundee
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« Reply #28 on: December 12, 2007, 7:52:23 PM »

So, let's say I have an interview at an R1 in a department that seems to have one couple already, and is in a fairly remote location. And let's say that I could not accept an offer unless something is thrown in for my spouse - not necessarily a tenure-track position, but full-time at the least. Should I mention this situation in a campus visit, if I get one? Doing so at a conference interview seems way too early.
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daniel_von_flanagan
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« Reply #29 on: December 12, 2007, 8:12:53 PM »

So, let's say I have an interview at an R1 in a department that seems to have one couple already, and is in a fairly remote location. And let's say that I could not accept an offer unless something is thrown in for my spouse - not necessarily a tenure-track position, but full-time at the least. Should I mention this situation in a campus visit, if I get one? Doing so at a conference interview seems way too early.

I would wait until you are called and asked for a campus visit, and discuss it with the chair (or SC chair).  The fact that you're not necessarily seeking a tt job for your spouse is helpful, adds flexibility all around.  (In my department this would be a boon, since we are always looking for decent temporary hires.)  The university might even have temporary spousal hire money just for this situation (we do) - the idea is to tide the spouse over until the next tt position opens up, and then the department can decide if they like you as a package enough to convert his line to tt.

You don't even have to mention it a a dealbreaker, just get it there on the table.  If nothing else, this will give them the chance to dig out his application and see if it is worth flying him out as well. - DvF
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