Sunday, July 27, 2014
Two Bodies, Revisited
In the meantime, check out Baker’s articles for yourself. The kind of thoughtful truth-telling she does won’t guarantee anything, but it will make positive change more likely. I’ll take that.
There are ways my own experiences in an academic couple connected with Baker, ways that they didn't. My experiences on search committees definitely don't connect with Baker's experiences though.
As I blog about in more detail, every committee I've been on knows "the rules" about illegal questions (though those questions do sometimes slip in, usually from people not on the committee); every committee I've been on tries to figure out if candidates have a trailing spouse; I've never been on a committee where an offer was or wasn't made based on the possibility of a trailing spouse. I've just never seen nor heard of the "poor husband" scenario Baker describes.
"The people responsible for making hiring recommendations are often relatively untrained in how to do that."
In my (relatively narrow but fairly extended) experience, at universities both within and beyond the boutique category, this is *precisely* the reason that the wrong questions get asked. Particularly as the sheer volume of service-hours per faculty member has risen, the ability of individual search committee members to have *time* for proper HR schooling has gone down.
At my university, attempts to compensate for this focus around mandating even more paperwork, form-filling, and categorized/weighted spreadsheet "matrices", required of the search chair, which allegedly "prove" the absence of bias and the correctness of procedures. It's substituting form-filling for any kind of substantive HR training.
Mostly it works out OK for us because we're a fairly dedicated and conscientious Fine Arts faculty. But it's cumbersome, prone to error, and takes some jeezly amount of time.
Informal situations, like the dinner and/or reception that is common at universities, are the biggest risk. Open receptions seem most dangerous, and I wonder why HR allows them. In the case of dinner, I'm now wondering if HR needs to be sure everyone invited knows the rules. That does open them up to lawsuits.
BTW, we have a structure where the committee provides an unranked "short list" of best qualified candidates with comments, not one where the committee provides a ranked list or even a single name to those making the official hire. Errors at our search level will not contaminate a decision at the hiring level, but there is still a need to be sure people are free to blow the whistle if that information kept someone off of the short list.
Some places have an outside observer, either from HR or from a different department or college, to monitor the process and report on same. That strikes me as a very good idea.
Over the past few years, I've been involved in many searches, and people are very careful about the questions, but particularly at dinner, some people volunteer more than others. And sometimes that information is inevitable, as with the woman who has lactation breaks in her schedule. While we are very careful, we are also recruiting: we're in an isolated location, with relatively few options for spouses, and we want to figure out how to make things work, and to make candidates feel as if this is a place they could live and be happy. So at dinner people with children may mention schools; a colleague involved with community theatre will mention that; hiking, fishing, and other enthusiasts will mention activities they engage in. On the candidate end, I've seen everything from an applicant who asked for a library job for his wife in his letter of application (!) to people who were comfortable saying why their spouse was portable -- whether because they worked remotely or because they were a nurse, doctor or some such that could be employed locally.
When I was chair, I always gave someone an opportunity to tell me about a trailing spouse;but the question was sufficiently vague as to not require an answer about a spouse: "Are there any things that would help make an appointment here work for you?" -- and that could be research support or lab space as much as spousal accommodation. It does help us to know about these things, because the negotiations with dean and provost are always complicated.
All of this is exactly right. I will add that, in my experience, there are disciplinary differences in awareness of the legal issues involved. In particular, I have never heard someone who teaches business law or human resource management mess these things up. I have heard economists (my discipline) get it wrong.