Friday, December 3, 2010

Another Reason Why Spousal Hiring Is Wrong

I have written before on how spousal hires in academia are wrong. Giving somebody a professorial position just because they are sleeping with somebody the university deems valuable is a travesty of what the academia shoud be about. Talented young academics are cheated out of jobs they are qualified for and students end up being taught by people who didn't go through a rigorous hiring process (or any kind of hiring process.) Of course, the students have no idea whatsoever that some of their professors are not real scholars. Spousal hiring is something that most students don't even know about.

There is another reason why spousal hiring is detrimental to the academia. Many of the spousal hires are not educators and scholars in their own right. This stands to reason because if they were, they wouldn't have needed to rely on nepotism to get hired in the first place. Since they are often incapable of producing any legitimate scholarship of their own, they often end up in the administration. And that's where real fun begins. All those years of realizing that they were hired not on their merits (at least, not on their scholarly merits) and feeling inferior to the real academics makes them resentful and willing to do anything to make the lives of actual scholars as miserable as possible. Working as a paper-pusher in the college administration allows them to inundate their former colleagues with all kinds of senseless paperwork and adopt a highly condescending manner of addressing those of us who are actually qualified to do our jobs. It is very annoying to have to pay such a price for somebody else's personal life.


fairykarma said...

Could you give an example of this? They would have to be instructors for the most basic courses. Even so, I don't think the students would be at a necessary detriment since my experience with most introductory course professors has been one filled with mediocrity and boredom conjured with the dreaded PowerPoint.

The only interesting professor I recall is a HIS102 (Europe 1600-1900) prof who never used any notes. He would begin the lecture by drawing a map of the area he was lecturing on, with the correct borders for the time period. He would begin to weave an elegant tale of the political dynamics of that specific century.

Sadly, I think I'm only one who appreciated his genius. If none of the students could see how talented this guy was, how could they discern mediocrity a la spousal hiring?

Clarissa said...

You are absolutely right, my friend, more often than not students have no idea that "professor" X is not a real professor. And when they interrupt what I'm saying in class with "But Professor X said the opposite!", I don't have much to respond to them.

What often happens is that, a renowned scholar A gets the school where they are teaching to accept their spouse into grad school and then award them a PhD. Then, the renowned scholar A goes to work at another school and gets that school to give a professorial position to their unqualified spouse.

I'd love to take the HIS102 course you described.

Pagan Topologist said...

It is not always bad, Clarissa. A few years ago, my department hired a woman who was outstanding. She chose us because we offered her husband a job as well, while none of the other universities who offered her a job had done so. They both turned out to be excellent teachers and mathematicians. Unfortunately for us, they were offered, and accepted, jobs together at a university in another country shortly after they were tenured here.

But, I agree that a mediocre person should not be hired just because one wants to hire that person's spouse.

Clarissa said...

Even if both people prove to be great at what they do, imagine how it feels to those who had to go through the painful job search process simply because they didn't chance to have sex with the "right" person. Such things are very harmful to the faculty morale, and understandably so.

NancyP said...

Academia is unfair.

My very functional (medical school) department was gutted by a toxic chairman-plus-clinically incompetent spouse combination, hired by a clueless dean who didn't learn from the previous chairman-plus-spouse combo (clinician plus researcher) who accomplished little but at least didn't drive away most of the faculty.

My morale has been in the toilet for the past five years. You can't rebuild a department without either lots of hiring money or lots of time (>10 years).

Anonymous said...

previous comment's word verification: lowedu

Clarissa said...

NancyP: I know exactly what you mean. So many things in academia depend on the morale of the faculty, and if that goes down the drain, it will take forever to rebuild what's been ruined. I can hardly imagine anything that ruins morale faster than blatant nepotism.

Anonymous said...

Academics tend to marry other academics. Sometimes they have children together. Universities can be quite isolated. What do you propose as a solution? Because just bitching that you feel like other people are a burden is hardly constructive. You might, for starters, try reading the report by Londa Schiebinger, Andrea Davies Henderson and Shannon K. Gilmartin on dual-career academic couples. And you might work on avoiding generalizations. Not all academic couples are half brilliant, half idiotic/unqualified. I've won multiple nationally competitive grants, as has my husband. I don't expect a handout because I'm married, but I certainly resent the implication that my presence at a university would automatically be undeserved. We're both on the job market this year and I'm hoping we will manage to each secure jobs, so I'm not speaking as the beneficiary of a spousal hire. But I found your post uninformed and unhelpful.

Anonymous said...

Spousal hires must die!
Big fish forever!

Your still loving spouse.