Last week, the Chronicle published this piece about spousal hiring. And Bitch PhD wrote this, discussing her situation, having left a tenure-track position and now having "'mommy' [be] where most of my identity lies these days." And then Profgrrrrl writes about the practice of spousal hiring in response to the Chronicle article and her upcoming transition out of a commuter marriage and into a dual-academic couple working at the same institution. And then Historiann posted this in response to this post over at Female Science Professor.
Let me state some things up front, just so nobody gets the wrong idea:
- I'm not totally against spousal hiring.
- I do think that the structures of academia are inherently patriarchal, and that those structures systemically do benefit men and not women.
- I do believe that women academics should be compensated equitably with their male peers, based on job performance.
Something is sticking in my craw about these posts and about some of the comments that they've generated. I'm trying to figure out how to write about the discomfort that I've been feeling in a way that is systematic and that brings it all together, but I'm not sure if that's possible. Hmm. Ok, I think I'll give up on that and just write about each piece of the puzzle individually, and then maybe after doing that I'll come to some sort of general conclusion where it all comes together? Or maybe I'll just leave you with all the pieces. We'll see.
As I noted above, I am not unwaveringly against this practice. That said, I think the thing that bothers me when we talk about "spousal hires" is that the conversation often leaves out discussions about how "accommodations for spouses" are made at poor, non-research institutions. At elite institutions (like Johns Hopkins or Princeton, where the Chronicle author is writing from), or at major research universities, the practice of spousal hiring, or "opportunity hires," strikes me as a reasonable practice. Typically it is true in these contexts that individual departments don't lose a line when they make these hires, and typically it does seem to be the case that the "opportunity hire" is a candidate that is excellent and which the department would be lucky to have. (Note: I'm just talking about faculty spousal hires here.)
When we get to an institution like mine, though, my sense is that the issue becomes much murkier. The murkiness comes from the fact that my institution does not have a history of making "opportunity hires," whether they are spouses or just people who would come and raise the profile of the institution. Instead, any such hiring has historically been done in a back-door fashion. So, for example, let's say that we made Candidate A an offer. Candidate A, whether male or female, had a spouse who is an academic. (Note that I say spouse here. This is crucial. We are not talking about partners - we are talking about legally married people.) Historically, if we really wanted the candidate, the chair might agree to "find something" for the spouse, and that "something" would be something off the tenure track. Then, once some time passed, a hiring line would open up in the department. An ad would be written to fit the trailing spouse, as long as the couple had played nicely and sucked up to the right people. And then, under the auspices of an open search, the trailing spouse would be hired into a tenure-track position, regardless of the coverage needs of the department and regardless of the quality of other candidates being interviewed for the position. (Note: I am putting all of this in the past tense because I feel like the days of such practices in my department are likely behind us given the current make-up of my department and the ways in which the university is changing, but this is the way "spousal hiring" worked in the past.)
So I guess what I'm saying is that in my context my problem with spousal hiring is as much a problem with "inside candidate hiring" as it is anything else. And, looking at the history of my department, I don't see where either practice has worked to benefit women (either as a group or as individuals).
On Working in a Department with Colleagues Who Are Married to One Another and Who Have Children
The proponents of spousal hiring often talk about spousal hiring as a way of promoting gender equity in the workplace, and of supporting women's prospects in academe more specifically. The logic of this, as far as I can tell involves the following suppositions: a) women are more likely to give up an academic career in the service of family, so hiring spouses makes more opportunities for women in the profession; b) women, who typically serve as primary caregivers for children, benefit from not being put into the position of having to live apart from their partners, i.e., if we make sure that both parents are in the same location, then the work of parenting can be shared more equitably, which is good for women.
I get the logic. But how I've seen this play out on the ground is a whole lot uglier. In my experience, the patriarchal constraints of marriage and child-rearing can be reinforced by the practice of having both spouses employed in the same department (and this is whether the initial trailing spouse was the female half of the marriage or the male half). So. Let's think about what the situation would have been if both partners hadn't been hired and granted tenure. According to the logic above, the woman would have felt compelled to abandon her career in order to follow her husband, and then the husband would have the benefit of her uncompensated labor and would be able to outperform his female colleagues, while his wife would have given up her own career ambitions in the service of her husband. Bad. Patriarchy. I get that. But. What I've seen happen when both spouses are hired is not that you get two great colleagues. Rather, you get one colleague for the price of two. Only one colleague will be present at any given meeting. The Parent-Colleagues expect that their teaching schedules will be organized so that neither is on campus at the same time. The Parent-Colleagues form a voting block, and one speaks for the other. And, since research isn't a high priority at our institution, one of them doesn't actually do any research post-tenure, and instead cruises along at the associate level getting paid a full-time, tenured salary, while performing all of the duties of a stay-at-home parent. Who makes up for the work that this person doesn't do? A lot of times that falls to women colleagues without children. So, this "feminist solution" that keeps families together has the potential at an institution like mine to reinforce an inequitable division of labor in the home and to exacerbate in inequitable division of labor in the workplace.
And Then There's the Issue of Equitable Pay
So now I'm turning to FSP's original post about her salary situation, and then to Historiann's post about it. In this profession, the reality for both women and men is that raises/resources are scarce, particularly once one achieves tenure. Salary compression sucks. Compounding that suckitude is the fact that women face barriers to negotiating salary at the time of hiring, which puts them behind before they even start. I'm not disputing any of that. Actually, I'll go even further. It's also the case that women are often not given commensurate rewards for performance while on the job, or incentives commensurate with those given to male colleagues to perform at higher levels.
I think the thing that gets me, however, about the conversations about salary is that the playing field within the profession - which demands that one, whether male or female, either get a new job, get an offer that your current institution will counter in order to keep you, or to move into administration - disadvantages women (as a group) more than it disadvantages men (as a group). Here are some reasons why this bugs me: 1) it seems to assume that all women in the profession are place-bound, married mommies (and that being a married mommy means that one is place-bound) or have a strong desire to become place-bound, married mommies, and that the status quo in terms of how to get a raise is an obstacle to women's one true vocation in life - wifehood and motherhood; 2) it assumes that all men, even if they have children or are married, are free and mobile and that they can just pick up and move without a second thought; 3) it assumes that all single and/or childless folks have no commitment to place or reasons for not wanting to uproot themselves in terms of location or job. The fact is, place-bounded-ness is a problem in this profession whether one is male/female, gay/straight, parenting/child-free, old/young, tenured/untenured/unemployed, married/unmarried. This is not some dirty secret that is hidden from people until after they get tenure. When you choose the profession, this is one of the things that you choose.
This is not to say that salary inequity is excusable or that we shouldn't fight against it. I think that we should. But in terms of negotiating strategies, saying something along the lines of "colleague X makes more than I do and it's not fair" is not a great one. Now, if one can look at the salary data for women vs. men across an entire department or institution and show that there is across-the-board inequity, that's a different thing. Or if one can demonstrate one's market value beyond the institution, and then use that to leverage for a raise, that's also another thing. But to say, "I'm a woman and so for that reason I can't go on the market or move or go into administration, but I want a higher salary because Joe Blow has one?" Yeah, if I were a person doling out raises, I don't think I'd find that too compelling an argument. And the reality of the profession is that nobody - male or female - can walk into an administrator's office and say, "I did really amazing work this year and I deserve a $10K raise" and expect anything but laughter. I don't know how it works at your shop or in your discipline, but at/in mine, when there are raises (which there aren't now), it's done by percentage, and the difference between people who get the baseline and the people who get a bit more for merit is negligible. And with promotion, the bump is a set percentage - no room for negotiating there.
Let me make this clear: I believe in equal pay for equal work. Without a doubt. Individually, I'm a victim of salary compression, and I just bought a house and am in the most glutted of all glutted fields and probably will never be competitive for another job again, so I'm not going anywhere anytime soon and I'm never going to see some huge jump in salary. I'm place-bound, and at least for the moment I have no desire to move into administration. But none of those things relate to my biological sex or to the constraints of gender. This is not about systemic inequity, at least in my case. It's just one of the (many) opportunity costs of pursing an academic career.
Having written all of this out, I'm not sure what to say in conclusion. I know that the personal is political, and I realize that all of these broader issues relate back to individual women's lives, and thus are feminist issues. And let me state again that I'm not actually "against" any of the posts to which I linked or to the issues that they raise. But I do get frustrated when I feel like when we talk about "women's issues" we're really talking about "issues for women who either are now or who will most certainly become married and/or mothers." And I get frustrated when we talk about "issues in the profession" but we're really talking about "issues at research institutions that are well-funded." I'm not saying that we should substitute my individual situation (unmarried, childless, at a regional, public, primarily teaching institution) for "the situation of all women" or that such a substitution would be preferable or good in any way. I am just looking for a little more complexity when we talk about "women's issues in the profession."