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Richard Sherry • 2 years ago

Is there a real difference between this scenario and the typical "two-body" problem of hiring spouses? The latter very frequently is something we work through to try to hire both partners, even as we also try to minimize conflicts of interest, etc. There's a recognition that situations change: the faculty member, or the vice dean, in this situation, may not stay in the same roles forever. So do you decide to lose the hire that would help your department because of the possibility of problems later on? I want to say I'm sympathetic to this situation--we hired siblings in one department, a couple of years apart, and we had spouses on the faculty in different departments, and some supervisory over others, so to some extent I've been there. But with respect, this article seems to demonstrate an unusual, perhaps even exaggerated, sensitivity.

Notice how many of the expected difficulties are cast in the subjunctive--that is, the writer imagines difficulties not presently existing. My suggestion would be that to overcome these anticipated challenges the faculty and administration follow clear, stated policies on issues like decision-making, evaluation, etc.

cwinton • 2 years ago

I've also seen it work both ways, especially with spouses in the same department (e.g., a dominant spouse effectively having two votes in department meetings). With untenured spouses you add the possibility of one spouse making tenure and the other not, a sure prescription for future problems unless both pull up stakes and move on (less likely these days with the increasing paucity of tenure track positions). Sometimes these kinds of hires make sense, but should generally require significant additional justification. Of course you can always find yourself dealing with this scenario anyway when two untenured faculty decide to wed. In any case, forewarned is forearmed, meaning this is an area for which it is advisable to have specific policy already in place.

Richard Sherry • 2 years ago

I think you're absolutely right. Came to my last institution after one faculty couple had divorced and the husband had married another faculty member. The ex continued to teach. Fifteen years of tension.

cynical1 • 2 years ago

"I've also seen it work both ways, especially with spouses in the same
department (e.g., a dominant spouse effectively having two votes in
department meetings)."
Sorry, but that's absolute bullshit. Do you really imagine that one spouse 'owns' the other and tells them everything they should do and think? Have you ever been in a serious relationship in your life? It is much likely that two (or 3, or 4) drinking buddies in the department will act as a unified, coordinated block.

jbranno • 2 years ago

Your final point is well taken, and more likely, but it is naive to think that no marriage works in this kind of dominant/submissive way. Some do, and it is not out of the realm of possibility, when people see it in action in other ways, that it will show up in critical issues within a department.

cynical1 • 2 years ago

Sure, some spouses dominate another. But I think that is much less common amongst well-educated couples, particularly academic couples. I admit I am sensitive to this issue, as I have seen it used to deny job offers to well-qualified couples and once deny tenure to female who's husband already had tenure in our department. 'Oh, they might vote as block!' is the concern. But, the bunch of sexist guys who get together and drink and play poker every week - do we ever worry they might 'vote as a block'? No, we say they say they're 'very collegial'!

Julie Brannon • 2 years ago

There is definitely a gender presupposition when people think this, in that women will be seen as more likely to vote with their male spouse. Not always the case. Dominance knows no gender. And I would also point out that in same sex couples, the issue is the same. I still believe that it is not a good idea to give a hiring edge to someone simply because he or she is married or otherwise related to someone already in the department--or the dean, in this case.

egjwho • 2 years ago

" With untenured spouses you add the possibility of one spouse making tenure and the other not," So what?? They are grown ups. The vast majority of my colleagues have working spouses and a negative tenure decision/move would be just as disruptive. This paternalism is a kind of sexism. Also "solving" two body problems by landing two TT jobs in all cases I have heard of involve one spouse performing at the level of the institution, and the other performing above, otherwise someone gets put in an adjunct or instructor role.

southlandprof • 2 years ago

Richard Sherry is exactly right that this situation tracks the common "two-body" problem of hiring spouses. The old-time policies against nepotism kept a lot of women from being hired. The university in this case does have a clear written policy which was adopted by the university's faculty senate. In addition to saying that "having a family or other intimate relationship to a current member of the faculty or staff shall not be a bar to equal opportunity in employment or education for anyone," the policy also says the current employee can not be involved in the hiring decision, can not supervise or evaluate the applicant if hired, and should take all reasonable steps to avoid a conflict of interest or appearance of a conflict. The provost's office reviews and approves the arrangements to avoid conflict of interest.

James Broskirk • 2 years ago

I'm guessing southlandprof is at the same uni!

However, I can't say I share his/her trust that codified policies alone suffice to run a shop.

I put a lotta trust in squishy, intangible things like org culture, feelings, atmosphere, perceptions, etc. We need to make sure those are in good shape, or so my long experience teaches me.

Guest • 2 years ago
James Broskirk • 2 years ago

hope I'm more careful than your former ice-hockey playing cuz, brother!

margray • 2 years ago

I don' t really think that this is the same issue. A couple has issues that a mother and child do not. A couple usually strongly prefers to live together, while a mother and adult child usually live apart, at least in American culture. Hiring a trailing spouse is done in order to allow the couple to live together. Hiring a person's child in order to allow the parent to keep the child with them is just strange.

vincenzooo • 2 years ago

I agree, hiring a spouse has beneficial effects in terms of productivity and long term relationship. And I find fair and even good that an employer help families to stay together. There are no such benefits in hiring a child, and if she/he is qualified can find other positions clear of any shadow elsewhere. It is partially a limitation of the employment opportunities, but this limitation is the lesser evil. I find very true the sentence "perception matters as much as policy".

Guest • 2 years ago
Richard Sherry • 2 years ago

Yes, I often do.

seamus2 • 2 years ago

Well, the University of Wisconsin has the good fortune to employ William Cronon, holder of a MacArthur Fellowship, a Pulitzer, a Guggenheim, was a Rhodes Scholar, past president of the AHA and the son of a former dean E. David Cronon.
I'd say it worked out pretty well for Wisconsin.

alme • 2 years ago

Was his father still dean at the time he was hired? Just curious--I agree that Cronon is an outstanding historian.

seamus12 • 2 years ago

His dad retired as dean in '88 and was made emeritus in '93. Bill came in '92 so there may have been an overlap, but not when David was a dean.
It was a real coup for Wisconsin to get Bill from Yale.

vincenzooo • 2 years ago

I don't think it is a fair comparison with the case in the article (tenure track or assistant).

seamus2 • 2 years ago

I was responding to the subhead and opening paragraph. The article chose to generalize from the anecdotal event. It's silly to think a blanket question like this has a single answer.

haohtt • 2 years ago

I have seen instances where hiring family members (spouses, children, siblings, etc.) worked very well and others where it has not. In the successful instances, those involved followed Richard Sherry's formula and took great efforts to follow policies and procedures and act in a professional and fair manner to all. I am also aware of a current situation at another institution where a department chair has provided conference travel funds to a spouse, while the other faculty in the department were denied funding.

ptdiscus • 2 years ago

The hire two-or-none-ballot was coercive, the result appears to have lacked transparency (and provides at least the appearance of manipulation), and the hiring of someone's child is very different from a two career couple spousal accommodation situation. The new hire enters an environment of some suspicion and resentment, and if proper nepotism procedures are not put in place, supervision and evaluation of the new faculty member may also be flawed.

southlandprof • 2 years ago

Probably the ballot asked for a yes-or-no vote on *each* of the candidates.

James Broskirk • 2 years ago

No, it didn't. That's what was odd.

ptdiscus • 2 years ago

Then, it sounds like you were being asked to take both or leave both. That coercive and very troubling in this case.

I'm curious this search was initially for one faculty line that was expanded to two. That would magnify the possible causes for suspicion (if there was never really any intent to add a faculty line, the dean could just say that was the plan and allow negotiations with one candidate to fail and then hire the second one).

sigel46 • 2 years ago

This is a complex issue as the writer of this article has tried to capture. Still, academics should have the intelligence and creativity to deal with this type of situation fairly as long as transparency is maintained and the hiring of relatives or spouses doesn't get out of hand. When hiring of related individuals is completely banned you can cause unreasonable hardship for some candidates, e.g., professional couples in a small town or you can suborn lying by people who conceal their relationships to avoid the rule.

janeer1 • 2 years ago

"Mr. Broskirk" must fear retaliation. And here is the real reason that the answer to his question is No: it contributes to a culture of organizational distrust. It is not just about the individuals involved, and has nothing to do with whether they (presumably among many others) are "qualified" or "work out well" (as could have others, or no one). Hiring this person was a failure of leadership on the part of the Vice Dean. Here is a related discussion. https://www.insidehighered..... I number of questions I get on this topic suggests that such hiring is far from benign, organizationally speaking, even if it is "bad decision, good outcome" in terms of the individual him or herself. Jane Robbins

lbothwell3 • 2 years ago

Jane- I strongly agree with you that it was a failure of leadership, but equally-as-strongly disagree that the failure was the vice dean's. The failure was the Dean's. He/She leads the organization, and without micro-managing this search could have nipped this in the bud early on. Now, if the dean did not know about it until the name was already in the pool, that is a failure of transparency in communicating to the dean on the part of the vice dean (and the vice dean should have been demoted in that case). Either way it is on the dean from a leadership perspective.

The only place that nepotism is openly and freely allowed on college campuses is in athletics. There, coaches regularly hire their children, siblings and sometimes even parents. I am not saying it is right, just that it is a normal happening these days. But in those cases, the nepotism is balanced in that everyone knows why the person was hired; if the family member hired is not competent, it often directly affects the "hirer" (e.g. Lou and Skip Holtz); when the hiring family member leaves, the benefactor of the nepotism almost always leaves too.

In the case noted in this article, if the new-hire is tenured due to any influence by the vice dean (either overtly or otherwise), the organization is stuck with that hire until he/she chooses to leave.

James Broskirk • 2 years ago

You bet I fear retaliation: I was advised by a senior tenured colleague not to express these views in our school as it 'endangers' me.

Prof Robbins is also correct in guessing that this hiring process contributed to a culture of org distrust in our school. It was palpable how folks were scared - even senior, chaired full profs - to approach this issue during the hiring process.

I also agree with Prof Robbins that 'bad decision, good outcome' may not be enough of a justification for such hiring.

In my own empirical work on allocation of scarce resources, the necessity of the process to be fair and transparent is something that stakeholders repeatedly and consistently desire.

If anything, 'bad outcome, good decision' seems more acceptable than the opposite...

Robert G. Jones • 2 years ago

This is a very thoughtful article that raises interesting and important questions. There is some scholarship on this, starting with Adam Bellow's book "In Praise of Nepotism" (2006), which, although it's a trade book, is well-researched as well as entertaining. Also, some colleagues and I have published a book-- "Nepotism in Organizations"-- for Division 14 of American Psychological Association (Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology) and have a couple of recent articles on the topic of family hiring. In a few weeks, there will be a "focal article" challenging the usual prejudice against family hiring in this journal: http://www.siop.org/journal.... And, yes, I did say prejudice: It appears to be a culturally bound phenomenon. Meanwhile, I highly recommend Bellow's book.

yup123 • 2 years ago

If I worked in this department, I would organize the faculty (esp the senior, tenured faculty) to set a formal policy to ensure that the Vice Dean (mother) is not able to weigh in on any decisions related to the career, resource allocation, or P&T decisions related to the new hire. This is the base level of protection provided at universities that have policies about sexual relationships on campus (e.g. you cannot grade, evaluate, or oversee someone you are sleeping with), and should apply to familial relations as well.

A bit of advice to Dr. Broskirk - This is bad leadership and if your colleagues are telling you not to talk / write about the situation that signals other problematic departmental issues. Publish your heart out and start looking for a new job. The place is on the wrong track...

James Broskirk • 2 years ago

Very apt analogy about base protections.

We obviously strongly discourage physical relations between faculty and students, but oddly enough for a major uni do not ban these.

Instead, we are asked to "... seriously consider the risks to [our] own
professional and private lives, as well as those created for the
student or supervisee before entering into such a relationship."

Appreciate the career advice!

EthnicAm • 2 years ago

WTH is a "vice dean"?

hibush • 2 years ago

The Dean of Vice deals with drug dealing in the dorms, prostitution rings, gambling, and nepotism in hiring.

Devinney • 2 years ago

What to me is more interesting is why the child chose to put their parent in that position. Personally, I would not want to work at an institution where my integrity would be called into question (i.e., why I was hired) and at the same time that of one of my parents is subject to related queries (i.e., did they help me in any way). Independent of all of the issues below, it seems that the candidate is not really being terribly smart in terms of their own career and is being selfish with respect to their mother's position. Why even get into this situation unless you really did not have any alternatives and nepotism was the only way to get a job.

This also differs from the two-body problem in that the two bodies are related by do not need to occupy co-located space. I use the same rule in why you do not hire your own graduate students. They need to prove their worth independent of their advisers. If after having spent time elsewhere they want to come back to their alma mater that is ok since there would be validation through the tenure process (which is more rigorous).

boiler • 2 years ago

Two thoughts. First, I don't know exactly what a "vice dean" is, but if it's anything like an associate dean, the concerns here seem a little overblown. Administrators have clearly demarcated responsibilities, and those who are subordinate to a dean rarely have much of a role in personnel decisions. Second, the idea that you would bar certain people from being hired because they had influential relatives at the school is preposterous. At most schools, it would violate a variety of employment equity guidelines, and it would be a tremendous disincentive for people to take leadership positions. It's also a very slippery slope. The reasoning behind barring the hire of a dean's child for a tenure-track position would also apply to a non-tenure track position, or for that matter a professional staff one. It's hard to see how you wouldn't extend it to department chairs as well, or to influential faculty members. You could always bar the hiring of relatives altogether, I suppose, but at most universities I've been to, that would eliminate a substantial part of the workforce. Universities are places that tend to attract families. It can make things awkward now and then, but by and large it's a good thing, and it's worth the occasional problems it creates.

adelbert • 2 years ago

I have a modest proposal.

We all know that the academic hiring process is rigged in most cases.

It defies mathematics that the most qualified person in a nationwide search is a spouse of a professor or a child of an administrator.

There must be some research based evidence that supports nepotism and favoritism in hiring. Maybe, we can just save everyone time and
money. Just get the rid of the search process.

We will need some new terms to make this all sound politically correct. We could use legacy employee as a term to describe someone who has a relative that works at the institution. We would no longer have a nationwide search but preselected and packaged candidates.

Think how much time this would save. No more endless search committee meetings. No more set questions and rankings. No more human resource officers breathing down our necks.

However, the most important thing is that we would no longer be enablers of a lie.

James Broskirk • 2 years ago

yeah, but then we're Italy or similar, and one might start to wonder whether all that nepotismo is correlated with their non-stellar academic reputation...?

Persian Prof • 2 years ago

AT FIRST I THOUGHT, I needed to introduce GOOGLE to ALL -not so techie- people in academia; Specially the "site:.edu" option in GOOGLE search. BUT THEN, I realized something FISHY..PLEASE keep reading!!...I FIRST wondered WHY the author does NOT name his/her university while a simple Google-search of the QUOTATION (from school policy) presented IN THIS Article [using Google's "site:.edu" option] RESULT in one-and-only-one Result: University of XY (UXY)!!!! [Please note I am not simply using Google-Search but I search only the .edu domains using the above mentioned google option] ..I am siting in the east coast, and no affiliation with UXY by the way...I just know my way around GOOGLE SEARCH and how "site:.edu" option works! Then a light Bulb went on in my mind...[BTW, I am a professor of Business/Strategy] There are two scenarios: 1: The author did not realize he/she has put an AWFULLY clear HINT to his/her school in the Article and it was a Gaff (or as we call it Sooti) ........... 2: The writer knows the ABCs of the technology and he/she, REALLY WANTED to BE CAUGHT!! She could NOT publish this paper in Chronicle.com with the ACTUAL name of his/her School and INSTEAD she-or-he, played this TRICK on Chronicle.com...If the Second Scenario is TRUE which seems to be more likely [unless the author is XY+ years old AND still uses a TYPE MACHINE!! and a Flip-Phone is still too complicated for Her/him]... then it means the Writer of this article HAS SOME PERSONAL BEEF with someone... If this is the case it would be VERY Unprofessional, unethical, and Insulting to Chronicle.com and the READERS!!! The CHRONICLE.com need to consider removing this article or editing the content... Read the paper again: there was no need to put the 'unique' (!) Quotation of the university policy there.... There should be some sort of consequence .... I feel Bad for the 2 UXY employees who have been victimized here. Their reputation and future has been affected. Chronicle.com may be held responsible at some point!!... As a Biz Prof. I am telling you: there will be some liabilities and casualties here, if ANY one take an issue or picks on a fight over this!! P.S.: Instead of the Actual name of university, I put UXY, as I do not want to be held liable in a probable case here.,..Good Luck!

David Miller • 2 years ago


weight loss exercises

I have a modest proposal.

We all know that the academic hiring process is rigged in most cases.

It defies mathematics that the most qualified person in a nationwide search is a spouse of a professor or a child of an administrator.

There must be some research based evidence that supports nepotism and favoritism in hiring. Maybe, we can just save everyone time and
money. Just get the rid of the search process.

We will need some new terms to make this all sound politically correct. We could use legacy employee as a term to describe someone who has a relative that works at the institution. We would no longer have a nationwide search but preselected and packaged candidates.

Think how much time this would save. No more endless search committee meetings. No more set questions and rankings. No more human resource officers breathing down our necks.

However, the most important thing is that we would no longer be enablers of a lie.