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BP Morton

I have certainly feared that the itinerant lifestyle leads to other related problems too, town and gown problems, and academic insularity. There is a lot of incentive to invest more in the culture of academia itself than in the community you happen to live in at the moment. I moved several times in my early career, and finally wanted to put roots down. When that post ended, everyone expected my family to uproot and move somewhere else, and I ended my career and stayed put instead. Tumbleweeds just don't see the world the same as shrubs do ... sigh. The local university stresses community engagement, while also continuing the existing norms that inhibit real community enggement. I suppose we "solved" our 2 body problem by switching off which spouse was going to be un/underemployed after 6 years ... but that was 6 years ago, and now I'm restless again ... sigh.

Derek Bowman

Maybe it's just a function of different social circles, but I never would have thought "there is a lot of silence" on the two-body problem. Maybe it's just because I know lots of academic couples.

I have, however, seen some hostility to attempts to address the two-body problem (e.g. by making allowing for 'couple hires' or other spousal accommodation). There may be some sexist ideals of the solitary male achiever at play here, but the examples I've seen stem from a misplaced meritocratic ideal for hiring that such 'favoritism' would violate.

This post, the post you link to at ecologybits, and the post that author links to from TenureSheWrote are all good. I hope they help some people realize that it's often just not worth it to apply for short-term visiting positions. Obviously this depends on your other options and responsibilities; but I was grateful I realized this early in my first year on the market.

But as with so many problems stemming from the contemporary academic job market, I also think it should cause us to reassess our relationships to that market. I think your work (existing and planned) profiling philosophers who have pursued other careers is one important part of this. As an academic community (or, more appropriately, a set of overlapping and intertwined academic communities), we need to get rid of the idea that this a normal thing that candidates should just accept. It shouldn't be taken as a sign of lack of academic, professional, or philosophical commitment to refuse to make obviously harmful personal decisions.

Alexander Bird

Quoting from Derek Bowman: "Allowing for 'couple hires' or other spousal accommodation) . . but the examples I've seen stem from a misplaced meritocratic ideal for hiring that such 'favoritism' would violate"

I don't have a settled view on this. But I'd like to know more about why such an ideal is misplaced. Maybe it is because I was a civil servant before I was an academic, but the idea of giving someone a job, especially a much sought after job, not on their own merit but on the merit of their partner, is something I find difficult to swallow.

It does seem to me right that academic jobs (especially if partly or wholly publicly funded) should be properly advertised and should be given to the best candidate who applies, according to the published criteria.

I do see the other side of the argument. In particular I appreciate that this is likely to be more of a problem for women. On the other hand, women have tended to be disadvantaged by non-tranparent hiring practices. The motivations for the open advertising of jobs and appointing them by known criteria include fairness and the avoidance of the bias precisely to assist the hiring of more women and minorities. Special pleading for spousal appointments seems to go against that.

But I'd like to hear the arguments against what I've said; I may well be missing something.

recent grad


Many spousal hires involve lines that wouldn't have existed otherwise. So even if a person gets a job in part due to the merit of their partner, it doesn't follow that there are people out there who got cheated. Of course, one might still object if they think that nobody should ever get anything they don't deserve. But that's a rather extreme view, in my opinion.

Helen De Cruz

Alexander, I see your concern for merit, it's a very important consideration especially given how scarce jobs are. However, as recent grad pointed out, there are other reasons beside merit to hire, and one of these is to get a long-term colleague. Colleagues need, as Chris Lebron said, other things beside a paycheck and the prestige of a job. They usually have dependents and a family life. Academic jobs are far and few between, and specialised, unlike equivalent jobs in the non-academic sector. This is why we have to move so frequently early in our careers. I interviewed philosophers who left academia, and one commonly cited reason was geographic control. As one of my interviewees put it, he lived in California, really liked it there, and knew his chances to remain there after his graduate studies were complete were close to zero. Now that two incomes are often required to maintain a decent standard of living (especially if one has children), academics often find themselves in the situation that they have to live apart, or have someone underemployed or unemployed (with ramifications for one's standard of living). The spousal hire comes in here: it allows universities to make long-term hires - the Stanford study I link to indeed shows that people who are in spousal hires, whether the "trailing" spouse or the one who was hired tend to stay much longer). Given that long-term retention of faculty is also an important consideration (indeed, sometimes a better-qualified candidate is not interviewed because people thing she will not stay long), it seems to me that spousal hires from the perspective of the employer make sense.

Derek Bowman

Alexander: It's a fair question, and I can only give a sketch of my answer here.

(1) In general, that I think the aggregate outputs of the job market are guaranteed to be unfair, in the sense that deserving people will end up without decent employment. Given this I think that focusing on formal kind of procedural fairness in part of that process taken in isolation fails to contribute the kind of fairness similar procedures do contribute to in other contexts. If that's right, then rejecting the practice of spousal hires on these grounds involves fetishizing an only apparent form of 'fairness' at the cost of making people's lives worse.

(2) For the reasons given by Helen and the sources she links, allowing for spousal hires can both make this process marginally more humane for some people, and it can also address (if only partially) some systematic unfairness.

(3) I don't think there is any reasonable standard of philosophical merit that is both sufficiently shared and sufficiently fine grained to allow 'merit' to narrow our selection among candidates.

(4) I think the form of reasoning Anca Gheaus offers here for the pervasiveness of non-merit factors in conference invitations can be extended (mutatis mutandis) to the job market. http://www.academia.edu/2436536/Three_Cheers_for_the_Token_Woman_
See for example recent surveys on employment numbers for recent PhDs by AOS. Does anybody think that differential market outcomes for specialists in the philosophy of math show that, in general, such philosophers are not as good as value theorists? Of course not.

Derek Bowman

Oops. My point (3) was incomplete. Obviously there are sufficiently shared merit factors to group people into categories like 'qualified' and 'not-qualified' and perhaps into categories like 'adequately qualified' and 'highly qualified'. But that's still going to leave so many 'highly qualified' candidates that - of logical necessity - non-merit factors must be used to decide among them.

Thus I think your characterization of spousal hires as being based "not on their own merit but on the merit of their partner" is incomplete. In all the cases I know of successful spousal hires, both candidates fell into the 'highly qualified' category. And I don't think any advocates of spousal hires think that you should hire spouses who are unqualified.

When the process works correctly, couple hires are done both on the basis of the second partner's qualifications *and* the fact that their partner was offered a position first. But when the process works well, all candidates will be offered a job based on a combination of their qualifications and other non-personal-merit factors.


While I understand Alexander’s concern, I think it overlooks the fact that many suitably qualified couples on the philosophy job market are disproportionately disadvantaged by their situation in spite of their academic merit. Too often the merit argument is used against spousal hiring when it is generally not the sole factor in other hiring decisions. For instance, I have frequently been left out of short listings to candidates with fewer publications, or other merits such a prestige of published journals, prizes, citations, etc., to infer that there are various factors that go into hiring beyond merits stated on a CV.

The meritocratic argument does not work in an environment where a couple is collectively very successful and competitive, but are restricted by the need to live together. Both my husband and I have had a pretty good career development, with more publications, citations and other merits than was expected or was the norm for our career stage. However, we’ve yet to be shortlisted for jobs at the same department even when the entire committee is informed about the fact we are a family. I have heard the 'two for the price of one' argument in places that employed one and got the other, and while in the short term our presence there is an advantage, the disadvantages for us in the long term are pretty significant.

I am currently employed far away from my husband, and so we spend a lot of time juggling life in two different continents. A department that gets both of us will benefit a lot more than the two departments get from us now, simply because our brain power currently goes to solving way too many practical problems and worries that are simply abnormal, and the fear about our future is a significant strain on us. I would be able to be a more committed employee and produce more work if I did not constantly have to fear that I won’t be able to live with my partner or I would eventually have to move on to another career against my wish. As a woman, being forced out of philosophy, because no philosophy department wishes to take my marital situation into consideration, would simply mean that the system failed. I have all the requirements (merits) to do this as a career, and so does my partner. I believe any department would benefit a lot from having two very committed people who have shown such strong commitment to their careers to make so many sacrifices for it. Any philosophy couple nowadays needs to jump over many hoops to survive, these people need to be encouraged and not disadvantaged. As a female philosopher I feel that if I am forced out of the job I love and have done so much towards because I do not want to live without my partner, this would mean that the current system was not welcoming me in the first place and was set in a way that insured I would not be part of it.


Are we talking about both partners being in the same department or the same university? These are very different things and raise different concerns.

Another issue. I know a case in which one partner got a job, while the second was shortlisted and was told they'll probably get an offer the next year. They also got a solid offer from another university. Since this is a "one in the hand, two in the bush" situation, the couple ended up working in different universities.

Derek Bowman

Ed: I think we're talking about both. I agree that they're different logistically and bureaucratically. Do you think they're different in terms of fairness/justifiability?


Derek: I think they can be. In a small department, I think students deserve that we strive against cliquishness and try to have multiple perspectives on students. Now, clearly being married is not a sufficient condition for having a joint perspective, it does often work out that way. So if I were running a small department I'd be concerned about spousal hires more than in a large department, and in both cases I think different departments are the easiest case to justify.

Note that I am concerned with the implications on students and day-to-day running of a department, not the meritocratic angle.


Hi Ed, I see your point of concern and it is a very important one. I tend to think, however, that things can be ran smoothly even in a small department by simply having clear boundaries and awareness of conflict of interests. To use the cliquishness reasoning against spousal hire, I feel, disadvantages academic couples. Cliques exist in every department, in every philosophical circle or group, but it is not used as a reason against hiring individuals. It does not seem right to use it as a reason against spousal hire.

A Spouse

I think one reason people are resistant to spousal hires is because of the following. If the Philosophy Department, for example, hires someone who has a spouse who works in Economics, then a spousal hire will put the Philosopher's husband in the Economics Department. Now the Economics Department will lose momentum in their own efforts to hire someone in some specific area that they were hoping to hire in. When they go to the administration to ask for a line, the administration will say "you just got someone." What can they say in reply: "but he wasn't of our choosing"? In many small US Colleges and Universities (those without PhD programs in Philosophy, for example), that is the end of the Economics' Departments pursuit of a new line.


Dear Helen,

I'm still having trouble seeing how this would work in the Oxford context: Do you want spouses to be given CUF Fellowships? Or Stipendiary Lectureships?


Milena, that's of course the dilemma. I am not sure a hard and fast rule can work; it has to be a case-by-case decision process. But, much as I am in favor of academic couples (I am half of one), my gut in these cases is to favor the interests of other parties involved. I agree this means life becomes more complicated for the academic couple. It would be nice in such cases if nearby, similar, schools would coordinate, though hoping for this is in the realm of fantasy I suppose.

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