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Take My Spouse, Please!

Is spousal hiring unethical? DrugMonkey doesn't think so, but after reading the comments on a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the subject, he realizes that not everyone agrees. A recent article by former Johns Hopkins dean David Bell talked about the difficulties in managing the process of spousal hiring and its benefits. "Johns Hopkins simply could not have built its faculty without a willingness to create positions for spouses and partners," he writes, adding that it also helped the university's small departments move into new fields of expertise and helped increase diversity.

DrugMonkey — who discloses that he is in such a relationship — agrees with Bell, saying, "Personally I think this is a great solution to the modern reality of academic folks married to others in the business." But the commentary on Bell's article showed the other side of the debate. "Love the idea that you can give my job away because I don't have a spouse/partner you want," says one commentator. "Isn't it terrific that the profession hires, according to David Bell's article here, more than a third of its faculty because of whom they sleep with?" Another disgruntled scientist agreed, saying, "Spousal hires are a crock of crap. … I don't care about the petty feelings of the qualified spouse. If a candidate cannot get a job on his or her own merits, he or she shouldn't be working." DrugMonkey responds by saying the conceit that academic hiring is somehow fair and unbiased in the first place is wrong. Universities don't hire the best person in the field; they hire the person that's best for them — academic excellence is only one of the many factors hiring committees look at. Institutions are concerned about keeping faculty members once they get them, DrugMonkey says, and like negotiating salary, benefits, and lab space, a spousal hire could be just another part of an already biased hiring process. DrugMonkey agrees with Bell in that the problem with spousal hiring isn't that it exists, but that it's inconsistent. "If there is going to be a spousal hiring policy, it should be done via explicit procedure and as transparently as possible," DrugMonkey says.