The soft bigotry of academic couple hires

The Chronicle reports on a new study on hiring of academic couples:

43 percent of the faculty members it questioned said hiring academic couples “prevents open competition.” Nearly 45 percent said couples working in the same academic department create conflicts of interest, and nearly 30 percent said their departments had hired partners who were underqualified.

…At the 13 top research universities Stanford studied, only 3 percent of professors hired in the 1970s came along with their partners, compared to 13 percent of those hired since 2000.

…in most cases in which couples get jobs at the same institution, one half of the pair receives an offer first and then helps negotiate an offer for the other. In 75 percent of those cases, the woman is the second hire.

The report, from Stanford University, is here.

Jeannie and I were exceptionally lucky–she got her med school offer independently of my poli sci one. But we still tried to negotiate couple offers at other institutions where she or I had an offer. In one case, the other department ended up wanting her more than my offering department wanted me. So it’s worth pointing out that being the second hire is not always negative.

Even so, it’s not uncommon for people to wonder if Jeannie was hired because I had an offer. I’ve not encountered the same. The woman in a couple hire will almost always bear the burden of this prejudice.

Thoughts from readers on how the academy could change? Here’s one I doubt is in the report: dating services for PhDs, so that they meet people other than their classmates.

6 thoughts on “The soft bigotry of academic couple hires

  1. I would worry about anti-woman bias affecting the results. Half of each couple is a woman, so somebody could resent a woman coming into their department or resent a star woman recruit elsewhere causing hubby to come into the department. — MaxSpeak

  2. “…so that they meet people other than their classmates.”

    Is that possible during a PhD?

  3. jessie shapiro and emily oster at uchicago. can’t really argue with that one on chicago’s part.

  4. Shorter time to PhD or to hiring (= less likely to be hooked up at least before junior hire)? Locate in major urban areas with lots of other job choices?

  5. My sense is that mid-rank universities are using academic couple hires to reduce the incentives for faculty to take other jobs (or use other offers as leverage for promotion). Will you really leave the university where your spouse has a job to take a marginally better job at another university across the country?

  6. Given the sample in the study, we really shouldn’t draw very broad conclusions from the findings. The vast majority of academics, whether those in academic couples or not, will not work at those institutions.

    Anecdotal evidence suggests to me that academic hires are more prominent at SLACs, where professors having long-term presences in the community, and even integrating their families into the life of the school, is more valued.