Raising the “Spousal Accommodation” Issue

cropped-hidden-curriculum-sm.pngThe “Hidden Curriculum” received the following question, and decided to do some field research. Here is the question, followed by a write-up of how several department chairs (past and present) responded:

Q: How do you deal with the spousal accommodation when on the job interview?

First, our respondents all agreed that “couples” should “go solo” in the application stage. By submitting separate application, couples will maximize their chances of getting as many interviews as possible, which ultimately offers the best chance of joint success.

Most of our respondents expressly indicated that they thought it was inappropriate for a chair or Dean to raise the issue of one’s spouse during the interview.  The focus of the interview should be the quality of the candidate, not any complicating factors in his/her personal situation. So – it sounds like one could avoid addressing the “spousal accommodation” entirely during the interview, in many cases.

There was also a general consensus that requests for a spousal accommodation are best introduced after a job offer has been made, as a condition of hiring. This makes sense for two reasons. First, a spousal accommodation is an important issue that will have direct bearing on whether a candidate will accept a given position.  Thus, it makes perfect sense that this should be part of the negotiation in working out the parameters of a job offer. Second, if discussion of a spousal accommodation occurs during the job interview, chairs are actually put in an awkward position, because they want to avoid any appearance that a spousal situation affected the hiring decision. So – it seems that chairs actually prefer to have this conversation after hiring decision is made.

A few more thoughts to share:

One respondent mentioned that applicants sometimes struggle with this issue because they feel a bit dishonest, holding back important information from a potential employer.  This person emphasized that job candidates should NOT feel any compunction about waiting until after receiving a job offer to raise the issue of a spousal accommodation. These situations are very common in academia, and let’s face it: if a chair or Dean gets upset about this, well, that says something about that department/institution, doesn’t it?!

Another respondent mentioned that these “guidelines” mostly apply to junior level hiring. Senior level hiring is a different enterprise, since academic power-couples are publicly known to potential employers. In those situations, it probably makes sense to talk about spousal hiring during the job interview, since chairs/Dean already know the situation is on the radar.

Finally – one respondent mentioned that even if your spouse is a non-academic, you might want to ask about how the University might support his/her career prospects. As this respondent said, “you’d be surprised what universities can do when they really, really want to hire someone. You’ll never know, unless you ask!” 

Thanks to our anonymous respondents! Feel free to disagree or add your thoughts in the “Comments.”


One comment

  1. A little follow-up. This is cut-and-pasted from a blog post about negotiating a tenure track job offer (which is well-worth reading, on its own merits):


    In terms of the dreaded spousal issue…this is the hardest negotiation of all. In general, wait until you have a firm offer before you bring up the spouse. Any mention earlier than that could well work against you in the minds of the faculty, consciously or unconsciously. Once the offer is in hand, mention your spouse to the Department Head. Be aware that this is the one and only chance that you will have to negotiate for a spousal hire, so DO NOT WASTE IT! Push as firmly as you can for the actual tenure-track offer, and don’t be put off with the range of one-year, two-year, three- year, instructor, adjunct, and visiting positions that they will try to pawn off on you.

    They may say something like “oh we can revisit your husband’s tenure case later, when this contract is up,” but DON’T BELIEVE IT. It is never, ever revisited after you lose the leverage of the initial offer (that is, until you gain the leverage of an external offer, and that’s a pain and time-consuming to manage).

    Accept nothing in negotiations, but absolutely nothing in the case of spousal negotiations, that is not in writing. Any “informal” agreements or understandings that you may have with the current Head or Dean are meaningless if not in writing, because Heads and Deans change, and with no written agreement, all arrangements are void.

    Make sure that your spouse is debut-ready. His or her cv should be spit-shined, the dissertation finished, and a polished research and teaching statement prepared. Be clear what departments the spouse would be eligible for an appointment in, and the full range of positions for which he/she is qualified.

    Be flexible about any offered position that is tenure-track. There are many painful and difficult negotiations that have to take place to line up a spousal hire, and some departments and department heads will play ball more than others. Some Heads are incompetent while others are savvy. To some extent you are at the Head’s mercy.

    Be aware of how spousal hires are paid for. Generally, the original department will pay one third of the spousal hire’s salary, the Dean’s office will pay one third, and then the spouse receiving department will pay one third. This obviously has a great deal of appeal for the receiving department as they are getting one full line for 1/3 cost. However, they may resent being forced to accept a faculty member whom they did not go out and recruit on their own, and they may fear that the spouse hire will derail the actual hiring goals they have in place (ie, that the Dean will say, “well you got a full line hire this year, so we won’t approve your other, original search requests”). Thus the interested parties may have to knock on several doors to find a department willing to take this “free gift,” and may well find it impossible, in the end, to accomplish.

    The important thing, once again, is to hold firm and politely repeat, “My biggest priority is a position for my spouse,” without any escalation or emotionalism or drama, day after day, to person after person, until you either get the spousal offer, or get a flat-out NO that you read as unmistakable. As long as they are still talking to you about it, don’t waver.

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