Spousal Hiring and Gender
Over at Prawfsblawg, Howard Wasserman has started an interesting discussion about spousal hiring in the legal academy. Responding to comments by Jeffrey Harrison on Class Bias in Higher Education, he discusses the pros and cons and whether the practice deserves the epithet “cronyism”—or, as Professor Harrison calls it, “the new cronyism.” Commenters have suggested that spousal hiring is class biased because two-academic couples are more likely to come from a privileged background and that spousal hiring may interfere with diversity goals.
I agree with Professor Wasserman that spousal hiring can be a useful recruiting tool and that some help for the spouse is a near-necessity for schools in remote locations. I would be interested in statistics about the demographic characteristics of two-academic and one-academic couples. But as long as we’re sticking to anecdote, my experience is the opposite of Professor Wasserman’s that “a heterosexual male faculty member is just as likely these days to have a wife with a career as the converse.” A surprisingly large number of my male colleagues (at my institution and elsewhere) are married to women who work part-time or not at all outside the home. Yet I know only two women in the legal academy whose partners are at home with their children—and one of the partners is a woman, too.
If my experience is typical, it follows that resistance to hiring spouses—or even helping out with the spouse’s job search by networking with local firms, which Professor Harrison also objects to—is a barrier to hiring women. By my count, in the last six years, the lack of opportunities for a spouse or partner has caused my institution to lose four candidates to whom we offered jobs—one man and three women. In their stead, we hired one woman and three men.
Traditionally, women have been the “trailing spouses,” accepting lectureships and the like in order to follow their husbands, often at the expense of their own career prospects elsewhere. The only thing “new” about spousal hiring in academia is that it now goes both ways.