When I was offered my job last spring, the chair told me that the University had a spousal hiring program, and encouraged me to utilize it, if needed. (I didn't need -- my spouse is not an academic, and has a work-at-home career). At a party recently, someone in the dept mentioned that spousal hiring used to be a really big issue for the department and the University. (This makes sense -- there are few other places nearby where a spouse could get any job, let alone an academic job.) As I get to know my colleagues, I see that there are quite a few couples in the dept, so the likelihood is that there has been a lot of spousal hiring over the years. Which has made me think about the practice.
A little over a third of academics are married to other academics (I don't know if legally unmarried same-sex couples are included in that figure) according to this interesting defense of spousal hires over at the Chronicle. Those couples, just like everyone else, chose their professions, chose whom they married, etc. But if you spend your early adulthood on a university campus pursuing a PhD, chances are good the people you're going to meet and fall in love with will also be academics.
It is also the case that we don't live in a world of single-income families for the most part. Couples have dual careers. Requiring that one half of a dual career couple sacrifice his or her career so the other can get a job doesn't seem like a good way to encourage your new hire to stay put. Likewise, forcing couples and families to live apart, or endure very long commutes, would not encourage your new hire to fully engage with and be a part of the department, college or university community. (I have friends for whom this is a significant issue -- including a couple in philosophy now living thousands of miles apart.) So, spousal hires would seem like a useful tool for faculty recruitment and retention. And since any spouse hired for a TT position would still have to meet the requirements of tenure, the qualifications of the "trailing spouse" puts reasonable constraints on spousal hiring. (Obviously there must be spousal hiring concerns with nonacademic spouses as well.)
As someone fresh off the job market, I know how hard it is to get a TT job, and how scarce those jobs are. I can't help but feel a little resentful of the possibility that someone got a job through some form of spousal "cronyism." But I'm not convinced that spousal hiring is really unfair, or that it has ever disadvantaged me, or that it's bad for academia. The comments to the Chronicle essay, OTOH, are pretty overwhelmingly negative, filled with resentment and invective. They seem largely founded on the belief that a spousal hire takes a job away from some other, more deserving person. Or that trailing spouses are all drunks and scoundrels. There's a less heated and more nuanced discussion here.
One issue that comes up a lot on discussion boards (like here, here and here) is how to approach the issue of spousal hiring if you are a job applicant. Few job ads say anything about spousal hires. Undoubtedly, some schools and departments are more open to them than others. (If I had to guess, I would guess philosophy departments are less open than others. But it's a guess.) With some institutions experiencing severe budgetary restraints, they are probably not even possible in many cases. So, the current economic and job climate in academe (and in general) makes spousal hiring a more urgent problem for job seekers and hiring departments alike, while at the same time, it (perhaps) becomes less likely. (If anyone knows of any recent numbers on spousal hires, I'd like to know about them.)
From a job seeker's perspective, it strikes me that the right time for this issue to be raised is when an offer is made. I can't see a reason for a job applicant to show his or her hand at the application stage, or even at the interview stage. As a job applicant, I didn't apply for jobs in locations that were unacceptable to me and my family. I didn't apply for jobs in places where I wouldn't want to raise my kid. If I was hoping for a job where a spouse could also find meaningful work and make a decent living, that would have put further limits on the jobs I applied for. But it doesn't strike me that it's on me (or my spouse, who may also be on the market) to disclose upfront that I'm looking for a spousal accommodation. The risk for hiring departments at schools that do not or cannot accommodate spousal hires is that they'll make an offer that's turned down. But that's always a risk for them, right? Candidates can turn down jobs (or so the legends say) for any number of reasons.
As the job season is upon us, I'm interested to know what the Smokers think or have experienced, and if you're part of an academic couple, how you're dealing with the two-body problem as a job applicant.