Wrong and Stupid

Jan 13 2012 Published by under career issues, interviewing

A reader wonders:

Consider this hypothetical situation: two individuals (married, but with different last names) apply for the same job but do not disclose their relationship. The search committee determines that the two individuals are in fact a couple, based on similar research interests and shared academic histories.  One of the members of the academic couple is the #1 person on the short list in terms of grants, publications, and teaching experience.  However, based at least in part on this person's personal situation (e.g., we can't hire two people, we'll never get them both, we don't want them both, etc.) the committee decides not to invite one or both of them for an on-campus interview.
Is this considered discrimination? If so, what law(s) are being violated?

In the case described, the search committee/department doesn't have to invite the second member of the couple to interview, but they should invite the first one; the one identified as the 'top candidate'. There are two reasons why a department should not use a concern about a "2-body" situation to eliminate the top candidate:

1. It is wrong. Imagine putting in the job advertisement that candidates who are otherwise highly qualified for the job will be disqualified if they are married or otherwise significantly involved with any other applicant or even with anyone else in their field. If you are going to ask (just ask) for a second position, don't even apply because your application will be tossed no matter how good you are. Also, it would be best if applicants did not plan to have babies, health problems, or aged parents, and preference will be given to those who closely resemble faculty hired before 1990.

I will leave it to others to discuss legal issues, but this is an inappropriate (to say the least) criterion to use to reject a candidate who would otherwise have been invited for an interview. Probably the couple is hoping for 2 positions (and hence both applied for the job), but this is irrelevant to the early stage of the search.

The 'best' candidate should be interviewed, and, if this person is still the 'best' candidate, they should be offered the job. If there really is only one position and no possibility of a second, this person can decline or accept the offer, depending on their options and priorities.

2. It is stupid. Yes, of course I know that searches are time-consuming and expensive and it is in the interest of an institution to select a candidate who is likely to accept the position, but (even ignoring the ethical issues) there are so many variables involved in this process, there is no point in second-guessing what someone will do if given a job offer.

I have seen searches in which there was concern about the 2-body problem of a top candidate who ended up accepting the job anyway (even though there was only 1 position), and I have seen cases in which it seemed impossible at first for there to be a second position created, but then one was, and the department got their top choice candidate and a second person who ended up excelling as a faculty member. In all of these cases, it would have been unethical and unwise for the department to eliminate these candidates from consideration owing to their marital status (specifically, being married to another PhD in the same field).

Hiring committees and administrators should be advised by their institutions about what is appropriate and not appropriate to use as criteria in a search. There are ways to circumvent these 'rules' -- you can find a flaw in any applicant and say that that is the reason why they should not be interviewed or given a job offer -- but if the real reason is concern about their being a member of an academic couple, that is wrong.



67 responses so far

  • A.anon says:

    When my husband and I were applying for academic jobs, this happened to us at a couple of places -- my husband found out that he was not invited for an interview because they realized he was applying to solve his two-body problem, and they didn't have a slot for me. At a third place, they asked him if he would like to interview, even if they couldn't interview me. My husband declined.

    Thankfully everything was resolved when we both got tt positions at a place where we both wanted to go, and which wanted both of us.

  • Joel says:

    To all 2-body crybabies. Lets think clearly. Consider a department with 2 open TT positions.

    The top 3 candidates are A, B and C (in order).

    Suppose Candidate A has a 2-body problem but not Candidates B and C.

    Now consider this:
    1. If you drop Candidate A because he/she has a 2-body problem and pick B and C, A has been treated unfairly.

    2. Conversely, if you pick A and his/her spouse, B has been unfairly deprived.

    I am not so sure 2-body crybabies appreciate No. 2 so much.

    Ethical Solution: There are 2 different ones, actually:

    A. Private universities: Decide if A is so stellar that it makes sense to hire a spouse who didnt make it to top 3. If not, hire B and C instead of A and spouse.

    B. Public universities: hire A and B. If A doesnt want the job, pick B and C. NO consideration should be made for 2-body issues. Just as a public university cannot dismiss your chances because of your marital status, a public university should not hire someone simply because he/she is married to someone.

    • Anon7 says:

      I think you are grossly misrepresenting the expectations of the majority of academic couples. Almost no one I know expects that they should get a job that they are not the most qualified for. Also, I think the scenario you are describing (where someone is hired simply b/c they are the spouse) has happened more rarely than you think. Also, I don't get your combatitve tone.

    • pramod says:

      I wonder if you realize that it's hard to take your comment seriously when you use the phrase "2-body crybabies".

    • pramod says:

      I don't want to waste too much arguing with you, but your "argument" is full of logical holes.

      • Joel says:

        Thats a typical liberal brain flameout when faced with reason. And yes, everyone who thinks they deserve an academic job at the same institution as their spouse or that universities should nanny them with special accommodations for their spouse is a crybaby.

        • Anon7 says:

          There are dozens of people with a "2-body problem" who do not expect universities to solve their problem. Not all people with 2-body problems are crybabies. In fact, almost none of them are.

    • Ankh says:

      Given the glut of excellent postdocs on the job market, there is often essentially no difference in the track records of the top ten candidates, even the top twenty. If there were really one clearly best person, and one clearly second-best person, and there were a simple metric to determine the ranking, the top person would get offered all jobs to which he/she applied in a given year. This does not happen. What makes people "best" for a department has to do with a number of factors, the weighting of each is different for each different department. And often even if a lot of people look similar on paper, they can be completely different people when you meet them in person. The reason places have short lists is because they want to meet the candidates before they make a hiring decision. If someone is going to be part of your department long-term, possibly decades, you'd better make sure this person is someone you want to have around.

      • Joel says:

        And I will completely concur with you on that. No one metric can decide which candidate is the best. Its always a combination of factors. BUT...my point is that...AT NO POINT whatsoever (in public universities especially) should the name/occupation of the spouse be one of those metrics.

  • John Vidale says:

    While I don't disagree with preferred actions, I do object to the logic "there is no point in second-guessing what someone will do if given a job offer". We spent our lives making scientific and management hypotheses, spotting strong and weak trends, and can deal with assessing simple scenarios.

    If some factors are off the table in hiring for fairness, so be it, but faculty should not put on blinders about likelihood of outcomes in difficult hiring decisions just because guesswork is involved and a few examples can be presented in which counterintuitive decisions worked out in the some cases.

    • DrOrangeCat says:

      But in fact we don't know what any candidate, whether married to another applicant or not, will decide. This is not science, this is life, and there are no simple scenarios.

      It drives me crazy when my colleagues try to second guess what someone might or might not do based on something about that person's life (marital status or other). This applies to applicants to the graduate program, for postdocs, for tech-staff positions, for faculty positions etc. Whenever someone says in a committee meeting "Let's not make an offer to Applicant because I heard they really like to ski/surf and would not consider living more than x kilometers from the mountains/coast even though they applied for this position", I want to scream just as much as if the reason for not making an offer is some guesswork about a 2-body situation.

      • John Vidale says:

        In turn, it drives me crazy when people spend their careers dealing with probabilistically interpreted data, and then can turn around to say "This is not science, this is life, and there are no simple scenarios."

        Entire departments deal with something called "life sciences" and "social sciences" to do specifically that - interpreting cause and effect on people. A bigger salary, a bigger office, better daycare, more convenient commuting situation with family, a larger fraction of like-minded people, all these raise the chances of someone accepting an offer, and rightly so.

        Guesswork is an integral part of making a job search work - matching the candidate pool with the opportunity to get the best possible person and not wind up with a failed search.

        And it is true for all universities, not just private ones, that they try to make the net result of adding a couple optimal rather than isolate the searches for the two bodies to be completely independent. These searches can be particularly protracted and expensive. Legal requirements must be observed, but the goal is clear.

        Maybe both people would have gotten offers anyway, but we can almost never tell for sure. Either early or late in the process, the situation becomes clear. I've never heard of a hire in my field in which a second search for the spouse was unknown to a department, although there must be a few examples here and there.

    • DRo says:

      John V,
      No one has any idea what the couple's priorities and intentions are. I know couples who have both applied for the same job with the agreement that if one was offered the job, they could take it whether or not there was an option for the other.
      I agree with SP that it's really unfair to try to second guess someone's intentions.

      • John Vidale says:

        Note that I agreed unequivocally with FSP's proposed action, so our disagreement is really a matter of the amount of interpretability in the situation.

        To argue that your statement "No one has any idea what the couple's priorities and intentions are" is underwhelming, let me assert that a more general statement is also false:

        "No one has any idea of any individual candidate's priorities and intentions".

        If that is how you view job searches, perhaps you're not the person to be conducting the negotiations, specifically the one struggling to identify and land the best candidate.

    • ecologist says:

      Sorry, John, but faculty should exactly "put on blinders" about the likely outcomes. A person who has applied for a position has the right to be evaluated based on their application. They have the right to make their own decisions if it comes to the point of receiving an offer. Assess your simple scenarios all you want on your own time, but don't impose them on others. Put on the blindfolds; it's your job. In many cases, it's also the law, but that's another issue.

      • John Vidale says:

        In many cases, the law prevents going out of the way to accommodate two-body problems, or accommodate encouraging diversity. We respond by studying how to work around the laws, with an emphasis on assessing effectiveness and using those assessments, and I don't see anyone arguing to put on the blinders there, and rightly so.

        I'd be the last person to argue that one shouldn't be ambitious in hiring decisions, and have greatly benefited from my current institution striving to bring in a couple intact, but the idea that likelihood of outcomes not be considered seemed inaccurate and naive.

  • AK says:

    Based on the experience of commenter #1 (A.anon), perhaps a reasonable solution is to ask the candidate directly if they would like to interview even if their spouse will not be interviewed.

    1) this prevents making assumptions about the applicant (maybe they would be happy to take a single position)


    2) is allows the search to be streamlined if the applicant confirms that they will not interview if the lack of a 2nd position is a concern and they with to make that public.

    what do you think?

    • sciencecanary says:

      I don't agree with this, even though it seems reasonable. If two applicants do not reveal that they are married (to each other), it is not OK for a hiring committee to insert this into the search.

  • Anonanon says:

    If someone has applied for a job, you've got to assume they want it, regardless of spouse issues. So you have to interview the top 3 and then offer to the best. If there is no position for the spouse, make that clear and let the candidate decide.

  • Yes, I agree that it is wrong to not invite the leading candidate. However, it is equally wrong to invite someone who otherwise wouldn't have been invited just because this person is the spouse of the leading candidate.

    I think we all agree that having sex with the boss shouldn't land one a job. Not that there is anything wrong with sex, or the boss, or the job---it's the conflation which is the problem. But many of those who think that those hiring should take special action to solve the two-body problem are asking for something similar: someone who otherwise wouldn't have been offered a job should be offered one, essentially for having sex with the "right" person. How fair is that? That one can even advocate this with a straight face astounds me. I also can't bear the self-pity; many academics are, through no fault of their own, in an even more difficult situation.

  • Our uni provides an additional line for a spousal hire and, in the past used to pay part of the salary for the first two years. (If the spousal hire didn't work out, then he or she would not make third year review.)

    We're in a rural town in the middle of NOWHERE. Many of my best colleagues in terms of research, fame etc. are half of a spousal hire, sometimes the trailing half. Because of this spousal hire policy we're able to get much higher quality candidates than we would be without. It is in the university's best interest to work with top couples to make this happen. Because of the additional line, the receiving department is happy to have the spousal hire rather than upset about fairness. And nobody has to accept a spouse who isn't better than average (indeed, we haven't been able to make the spousal thing work unless the spouse was amazing too... but many amazing people marry amazing people).

    And once you and your spouse both have TT jobs, it's hard to go on the market to try to get a competing offer. So in a no-raise environment salary compression happens.

    We decide on and make the offer before we address any spousal considerations. We're not allowed to consider the person's family situation (other than, "ze has family in rural red state and may actually want to move here"), so we don't. Our chair is very good about not letting us do anything illegal or against university policy.

  • an onymous says:

    I'm in a hiring committee right now that has exactly this situation. We did discuss it a little bit before making the shortlist, and in the end we decided to do the right thing, to interview the top candidate from the couple knowing that we won't be interviewing the other half.

    I know there is nothing we can do and we'll act as if there is no problem here, but if this person comes and is unhappy, s/he may not perform as well as the second candidate in the list whose two-body problem would be solved if s/he gets the job. So, in the end, I do think it's very relevant even though it is illegal and stupid for us to take it into account.

  • Anon says:

    This is why I have been instructed to not reveal my 2 body situation until there is an offer on the table. I'm not 100% sure I will follow that advice, especially since I think there's a good chance someone will ask what my partner does during the interview.

    Also, lol at the process being described as "fair". I'm not complaining, but fair is not the word that I would use.

  • No-one debates the fact that it is almost always in the interest of the couple involved, and usually it is in the interest of the university, otherwise they wouldn't do it (and probably decide on a case-by-case basis whether it is in their own interest). That's not the point. The point is that it is unfair to other people who apply. The "additional line" comes from somewhere; it is not "extra money". Someone is paying for it. Suppose a company president wants to hire only women (I read about one who actually does this). It is in his interest, otherwise he wouldn't do it. No-one is forced to apply, so obviously those who are hired applied for the job and wouldn't do so if it were not in their own interest. Where's the problem? The problem is discrimination. As long as the sex of the person has nothing to do with the job (and when does it, except in a brothel?), then any anti-discrimination law should put a stop to this right away. Replace "hire only women" with "hire only white people", "hire only young people", "hire only women with big breasts", "hire only people who vote the way I vote" etc to get a flavour of how it feels to be on the other side. Of course, no-one should be discriminated against just because the spouse applies for a job at the same place, but by the same token other people shouldn't be discriminated against by offering someone a job who otherwise wouldn't get an offer (or, in some cases, even creating a job which otherwise wouldn't exist). Suppose I have a non-academic spouse who, for whatever reason, can't work at all if we move to the place where I get an academic job. Should she be paid a salary anyway? If not, why not---where is the difference, except, at most, one of degree, in the case of the dual-career hire? Again, if the trailing spouse is the best candidate, no problem: the right person is hired without any dual-career shenanigans being necessary. So, by definition almost, a dual-career hire means hiring someone one otherwise wouldn't because, and that is what it boils down to, they have sex with the "right" person. That is unfair to better qualified people who apply for the same job.

    • Joel says:

      Exactly! I simply fail to understand this entitled, welfare whore mentality of academics. There are these persistent myths the trailing spouse in a spousal hire is always qualified, or that affirmative action means that women are preferred to men only when they are EQUALLY qualified ....lol! Since the definition of qualified can be easily obfuscated, spousal hires and affirmative action are handouts...period.

      I think I even saw a university hiring manual for search committees that asked them to make sure multiple women had been invited for interview (as opposed to just one) because so called studies show women have more chance of being hired if there are multiple women candidates! Take that! So if you make a list of 5 interviewees and find just 1 woman, add 2 more women. The % of women interviewees has now risen from 20% to 42%!!! So called studies (probably taxpayer funded) lead to the brilliant conclusion that now you have more chance of hiring a woman. Awesome! Einstein would be proud of this amazing discovery.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Phillip: Just because something isn't 100% fair to *everyone* doesn't mean it shouldn't happen. A hiring committee has to order candidates in a list, of course, to make hiring decisions, but that doesn't mean that #2 is necessarily *better than* #3 on that list. We had a search a couple years ago and all 5 candidates that we brought in to interview were stellar. The committee had to order them and eventually one was hired. But a different committee might have put a different person at the top. The same committee five years ago might have put a different person at the top because the composition of the department has changed. When you talk about "qualification," you miss the point that a search is not just about being qualified, but also being a good match for the department. So a spouse who is not listed as #2 might be just as good a match for a given department as someone further down the list.

    • Elizabeth says:

      To play to devil's advocate then Anon, this theory also suggests that person #2 or #3 (without a 2-body problem) is just as steller and requires much less accomodation than person #1 (with the trailing spouse). If I really hd 5 candidates that were more or less equally steller, I'm not sure why I would choose the one that requires me to create a position for the spouse

  • Anonymous says:

    Spousal hire positions can be created in the most unlikely of circumstances. We had a search at the peak of the most recent recession. Our university put a freeze on all new hires, but our search had been announced just before the freeze and the powers above allowed us to continue with the search. There were very very few searches that year in our field across the country and so the applicant pool was very deep. We interviewed several amazing candidates, including two who were a couple. One of the pair was the top candidate. Now remember: this is in a big recession where the university has put a freeze on new hires and is engaging in early retirement programs and other efforts to reduce the workforce. Our department chair lobbied up the chain to get a spousal hire position -- and was successful. So we got two new excellent colleagues. A win for both hires, a win for the department, and no loss to any other candidate.

    • Elizabeth says:

      I'm not convinced that this is "no loss to any other candidate". The money to hire the spouse has to come from somewhere and so there is a loss to someone or to some department, etc, when the extra position is created (ESPECIALLY in the midst of a recession and hiring freezewhen money is oviously very tight)

    • Joel says:

      Aww...sweetie, how old are you? Your parents should have had the talk with you at some point. Money does not come out of nowhere. And no... there are no storks involved.

    • gerty-z says:

      sure the money came from somewhere...but it wouldn't have been used for another positions except that the university wanted to make the hire happen. If there was a Uni-wide hiring freeze, no other dept. lost a tenure line. Sometimes, the best thing for a Uni is to make sure the faculty are happy (and less likely to bolt to another place in 2 yr) by enabling them to keep their family together. Get over it.

    • John Vidale says:

      I think the bottom line again is the university, public or private, weighs whether the TWO hires as a package are a good use of resources. In my experience, you can't make a Dean or Provost do it against their own interests.

      Of course the university has to foot the bill, this year and then for decades. It's certainly not free. Anyone who treats a cumulative several million dollar investment for their institution as cost-free will have no credibility with the people who decide.

  • Alex says:

    Let's turn it around. I know of a situation in which a stellar candidate is applying for a job because her husband already has a job in that city (not at the university in question) and her job is elsewhere. I know that the committee in question worries about "Will a candidate that good stay here?" If they knew about her husband they would be reassured and hire her. Alas, it would cross ethical and legal lines to tell the committee about her husband.

    • jen says:

      Well, you can't tell the committee, but why doesn't she? She can state in the cover letter - or at least, in the interview - that she is particularly drawn not only to the University, but to that city because of a family living situation? I have seen this written into cover letters when reading applications before, and I thought it was entirely appropriate.

      • Alex says:

        She hasn't interviewed yet. Perhaps when she does she will let it slip in a lunch conversation. You know "Yes, this is a nice area. In fact, my husband's job is in [location], so I know it well." I don't know her myself (I know of the situation from a friend with an interest in it) so I can't tell her to tell the committee.

        As to whether it's appropriate: If it is unfair to discriminate against somebody who mentions a 2-body problem, is it fair to favor somebody who mentions that 2-body won't be a problem? Isn't that implicitly discriminating against the people who have 2-body problems that they don't want to disclose? I mean, I did that myself (over lunch I said, "Yes, that's a nice place, my wife and I..." "Oh, what does your wife do?" "She's a [job that is very portable].") but I don't know that it was fair to the other candidates.

        • John Vidale says:

          That's really two questions - should you say something and should they use the information towards making a decision.

          Clearly you can say anything you want, it is a free country, the committee just can't ask certain questions. Most people like to see that you are considering the details of their job in a serious and thorough way, and have a life as well as work.

          What you should say - most searches, you want to look available, and should say why this particular job and city appeals to you. I don't think it matters much, however, unless there are competing offers and department is afraid of losing the job if the search takes too long. Most departments do want the best person, even if it is riskier to go after them, and the fact you're sitting in their office indicates your seriousness.

          I'd generally argue to bring up the spousal issues earlier - there's more time to deal with them, and everyone can cut their losses if there is no chance. But the author of the column, FSP, disagrees, and she's no doubt wiser than me on this issue.

          However, in the rare case that you're in the driver's seat late in the game, playing up the downside of taking the job might help boost the offer more over other offers.

  • "Just because something isn't 100% fair to *everyone* doesn't mean it shouldn't happen. "

    If the difference between the candidates is essentially lost in the noise, then that might be OK. However, it is rare that a candidate who is not applying in his or her own right is comparable to real candidates, much less better. (If the trailing spouse is offered a position which otherwise wouldn't be offered to anyone, that is even more unfair. The "extra money for something which otherwise wouldn't happen" is a red herring since someone pays for it eventually.) Also, this is a slippery slope and could be used to justify many types of discrimination.

  • Anon2 says:

    As an even "wronger and stupider" example, I have a friend who was applying for TT positions when her husband already had a good position. She applied all over the country and they were willing to work something out if she got a position far from him but of course they were hoping for a job nearby. It all worked out for them and they are both now tenured at nearby institutions. However, she later met a faculty member from a far away institution she had applied to at a conference, and he told her that they were excited about her application but didn't interview her because they "knew" she'd never move that far from her husband. If you end up making a stupid decision like this, don't TELL the candidate in question about it! My opinion of this person from faraway university is now forever altered because of his bad judgement, not in refusing to interview her in the first place, but in deciding to tell her about it!

  • lylebot says:

    Part of the premise of the question---"The search committee determines that the two individuals are in fact a couple, based on similar research interests and shared academic histories."---is totally ridiculous, in my opinion. I would hope no search committee would make such a strong assumption on such flimsy evidence. There are lots of reasons that two people not in a relationship could have similar research interests and academic histories, and there are lots of academic couples that have neither of those properties.

    • Anonymous says:

      It may be ridiculous, but these kinds of assumptions on flimsy-to-no evidence happen all the time.

    • Anon says:

      Yeah, I was about to say, if that's all it takes then I have several spouses. Not including my actual spouse who has totally different research interests.

  • AAA says:

    "If the difference between the candidates is essentially lost in the noise, then that might be OK. However, it is rare that a candidate who is not applying in his or her own right is comparable to real candidates, much less better."

    You have never been on a hiring committee, have you? It is very hard to compare candidates across different areas, and it is always the case that the top candidates that are interviewed or even on the interview short list are all almost equally good. Furthermore, even within a certain area, who a good candidate is depends completely on the hiring committee; different people in the same school would consider different candidates better; different departments would consider different candidates better, depending on their interest or needs (for example, a theorist would have a hard time getting a job in a theory-heavy department, not so much in a experiment-heavy department) and so on.

    So in short, if a candidate is considered good enough to go into an interview shortlist, it is very likely they are good enough to get the job. There is no absolute ranking of faculty candidates handed down by Moses to the earth on tablets.

  • Family status is in fact a protected class in US discrimination law, so if, in this case, it can be proven that a candidate was not asked for the interview because of suspicions of marriage, the university can be in hot water. I don't know what the standards for burden of proof are. That addresses wrong.

    As for complaint of "where does the extra money for hiring come from," I'd like to place this problem in a different light. A candidate that is good enough to receive multiple offers from different universities is a sought after entity. This person will, and should ask for different benefits from the different prospective universities, to see who wants them the most. This can come in the form of more startup money, a lowered teaching load, or something else. These things cost money, and universities have budgets for this. In a 2-body problem, one of the candidates conditions may be "hire my spouse if he/she is interesting to the relevant department." I imagine the pot of money to lure really good people to us is where a bunch of the extra money comes from.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    When I was department chair, I hired call staff, people hired to teach a course for one or two semesters, without consulting the department executive committee. No problem. A later chair consulted the executive committee about hiring a professor's wife as call staff. There was a big dust up because some of the executive committee thought this was a ploy to eventually get her on TT; a completely fallacious concern.

  • quasihumanist says:

    In most (but not all) academic fields, the highly qualified candidates so vastly outnumber the available jobs that essentially every method of distinguishing among them is unfair.

  • Anon3 says:

    Fair or unfair is moot--even lawful or unlawful seems moot because there is little that can be evinced as evidence. Departments will do what they think is in their best interests. And how they arrive at their best interests isn't the under the control of the job candidates. Their process could be based on reasonable criteria (say derived from their department's goals of research/teaching/service) or on magical thinking. You know, a lot like dating.

  • Z says:

    I've been a dissenting member of hiring committees that decided to guess about people. They've guessed like this:

    a - several times: candidate has husband with job outside academia; husband surely can't move [this was false - he was easily transferable; committee just couldn't imagine a man would displace himself for the sake of his wife's job]

    b - candidate has husband with tenured job; surely he, being foreign, will not "allow" her to move on her own if no spousal offer is made [false - she got better job than we had to offer, and took it, and had commuting marriage]

    c - candidate is minority and Catholic; surely will have children soon and therefore not make tenure [it is years later and this person has still not opted to have children]

    Etc. So: don't guess, don't guess, what you guess will make your prejudices show!!!

    • John Vidale says:

      I think you're arguing that your department guesses worse than randomly, and they should put on blinders, and maybe that's true.

      But to then extrapolate to conclude that no one should "guess" is ridiculous. We're already guessing about future research productivity, collegiality, breadth of interests, funding success, etc. from the past. And these guesses often go across the shift from underling in a world-class prof's research group to being in charge at a smaller, more resource-challenged university with an added teaching load in a new city - uncertain indeed.

      Actually, you likely meant "guess prudently" more so than many do, and I'd agree. However, I've also heard many unfounded, perverse and jaw-dropping guesses about academic issues (invariably supporting one's preferred candidate, as do most pejorative lifestyle guesses I've heard) so isolating difficulties to two-body search issue guesses is taking a narrow view of the problem.

  • Ankh says:

    I am a woman in a highly male-dominated field. The vast majority of partnered women in my field are partnered with men in the same field. If institutions are not willing to make two-body hires, they are essentially guaranteeing that they will perpetuate the massive gender imbalance in the field.

    My husband is in the same field as me, and we are currently trying to figure out a long-term solution to our two-body problem. It looks like it may work out for this year because a lot of the just-below-top-tier universities are using two-body hires as a way to get people who would generally be sought out by top-tier universities. We will probably have to move, though, because my husband is currently TT at a university that categorically refuses to do two-body hires. We'll see, though. Times are changing.

  • Lina says:

    I am a single woman in a highly male-dominated field. The vast majority of partnered women in my field are partnered with men in the same field. If institutions continue to make two-body hires, they are essentially guaranteeing that they will perpetuate the massive gender imbalance in the field, where only the women who marry powerful men survive.

    • anon8 says:

      Can you explain how they are guaranteeing this? Making some two-body hires does not imply only making two-body hires; making some two-body hires also does not rule out hiring single women or even hiring single men.

      Noone is advocating that an university only makes two-body hires. Can you explain?

  • Mocklion says:

    If you think spousal hires are not discriminatory, consider, as a pure thought experiment, a polygamist (say, a Mormon male researcher married to 5 other female researchers). If a university hired all 6 of them as TT professors, would you say the other candidates were treated unfairly?

    Seems to me people here dont care about PRINCIPLE, they want the rules to be bent just enough to suit their favorite position.

  • John Vidale says:

    On the original issue, I think FSP is entirely correct. The #1 candidate should be invited to talk, period.

    He/she can bring up issues of whether a viable offer is possible when responding to the invitation or not, but if he/she applied, the application should be fairly ranked and acted on. Much of the time, in my experience, the result most desired by the applicant is concessions from his/her home institution, but they may not be forthcoming, the situation may change, additional appealing options at the searching institution might appear, or a move really is desired.

  • HFM says:

    What Nicoleandmaggie said.

    It's not hard to imagine a scenario where the best two-body pair is better than the best two individuals that could have been hired instead. In those cases, it's in the university's best interest to take the couple - it's not charity. I've seen it happen in industry, even; it's less common, but tech companies do cluster in places where there are other two-body solutions.

    Also, IME, ambitious people tend not to marry the semi-ambitious - they either pick someone who can keep up with them, or they pick someone who's the opposite. It's not random mating. I think the scenario of superstar + very average spouse is less common than people make it out to be.

  • neurowoman says:

    What the anti-spousal accommodation crybabies forget is that the entire system of science training and academic hiring is stacked against, especially, women with academic spouses (and kids), and secondarily pretty much anyone who is not a male with a portable spouse. Spousal accommodation is merely a band-aid on a bad system, which is largely a cultural issue that we could change should we so choose. It doesn't have to be this way, and the cries that the current system is some great meritocracy and any alterations would be unfair is the bellyaching of the privileged who don't want to see their advantages taken away.

    Hiring committees should put on blinders regarding the applicant's personal situation (at least past the first cull) because virtually any guess as to the applicant's motivation will result in a less objective reading of the merits of the application, and mostly in a negative way. Negative, because applicants with a more established spouse at a current institution are thought to be 'fishing for an offer from the home institution' or are perceived as less successful (when they may just be lower on the career ladder), applicants with a spouse who has yet to get a position are looking for a 'hand-out', applicants who have a spouse where they are applying are 'only looking at us so they don't have to move' or are considered less good because otherwise they'd have a offer from an outside institution (but aren't getting offers because of the first case!).

    • John Vidale says:

      Some of have decades of experience watching from all sides as searches play out (as you probably also do), and may find your lecturing us on our "misconceptions" patronizing and amusing.

      • neurowoman says:

        Excellent use of appeal to authority without actually making an argument. I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that 1) the system of multi-stage, multi-cross-county move career ladder is rough on people with families and two careers to consider, and 2) that perception of applicant's motivation can introduce bias at an early reading of an the basic facts of an application, long before one should reasonably consider a two-body issue. If you disagree, state your case, based on your decades of experience surely you have one.

        And 'amusing'? Who's patronizing now?

        • John Vidale says:

          Your anonymous post was replete with data-free assertions, all implying that everyone else has a bias and you know better.

          You seem to confuse making an argument with offering data supporting that argument. I see no data supporting any of your arguments how biased the rest of us are compared to you.

          Just to pick on your last statement, you say "can introduce bias", but where do you prove "does introduce bias"? And how can you possibly claim that an applicant's motivation is not relevant in a job application?

          By the way, I've been through 6 or 7 2-body negotiations for my situation, with mixed success, although all but one ended in two offers of some kind, and been on the offering end of negotiations as well. People grilled us on our motivation from the minute we applied in some cases, and rightly so. Our motivation was uniformly that it would put the two of us in a better position.

          What exactly is your experience from which you know I'm biased?

  • [...] by FSP’s post on 2-b0dy problems in hiring, i.e. situations where both members of a couple are seeking academic jobs, I’d like to pose [...]

  • eli rabett says:

    It costs ~$1000 to bring someone in for an interview. There are places that don't want to waste that. The Dean gets pissed if the search has to be reopened.

    • anon8 says:

      Have you heard of something called a phone interview? It doesn't cost a single dollar, and a simple phone conversation, although not perfect, can sometimes provide a much better sense of people's motivations than reading paper applications.

      • John Vidale says:

        Some places, legally, if you call one candidate, you also need to call all candidates on the same list, and perhaps even ask them the same questions (I'm not clear on the legal details), in order to play on a level playing field.

        Also, verbal responses to a single caller provide grist for interpretation, and questioning of that interpretation, although conference calls are possible.

        Some people find phone interviews time consuming and uninformative, certainly awkwardness in phone interviews has proven hard for me to interpret.

        But still it's an option for some situations.

  • CogWomen says:

    When we were applying to jobs we had a more extreme version of this happen at a middle tier research university. We had both made it into the onsite-interview candidate pool without telling them we were a couple (it wasn't known in our field and at the time we didn't work academically together and have different last names). When we told the search committee so that they could coordinate interviews better, they *never called either of us back again*. It was stunning to me - I was shocked that things like that still happened. There are plenty of universities in that university's metro area, we were clear that they didn't have the lines to hire both of us.