Monday, February 19, 2007

Nepotism etc.

As a follow-up on the last post, I should note that there are of course university policies regarding people who are related. I am a few years ahead of my husband in seniority, but I have never been involved in any decisions or discussions involving his tenure or promotion. During both of his promotion processes, I left the conference room during discussions of his file, and never had private conversations with faculty colleagues about his promotions. I have recused myself on other occasions when decisions were made regarding my husband's research program or students. And we disagree often enough about department issues that we are not a "voting bloc".

In fact, we are so different in so many ways that the most common response is shocked surprise when students, faculty in other departments, and random other people find out that we are married. I am not sure exactly why it is so surprising that we are a couple, but whatever it is probably contributes to our not being viewed as a single entity and to our escaping some of the negative aspects that could come with being a couple in the same department.

There are some unique (=strange) situations that arise from our being in the same department. Example: last week, the department Chair had a talk with my husband about me -- the Chair expressed regret that he has been giving me stupid administrative tasks, and he wishes now that he had appointed me to a particular important position instead of the less-qualified guy he chose. Well, that's nice. I guess. He seems to have expected my husband to tell me the great news that I am respected more than I was, or at least more than I thought I was, but I would prefer to hear this directly from the Chair. But, if he didn't have this "indirect spousal communication mechanism" for conveying the information to me, perhaps I wouldn't even know it at all.

Some colleagues told me a few years ago that they weren't comfortable with my ever having a departmental leadership position because my spouse is in the same department. These same colleagues enthusiastically supported a male colleague whose wife is a faculty member in the department, somewhat undermining their ethical objections about me, but to no practical effect. No one was interested in discussing whether this meant that we as a department think that men can be more fair in nepotism situations than women.

I am not claiming that having couples in the same department is easy or even desirable, but it's an inevitable situation, and there are ways to make it work.


Propter Doc said...

I was talking to Dr R about the previous post. Interestingly in his department a number of female professors were the priority hire with the husband in one case being appointed to the tenure track and in the other cases as adjunct faculty or instructors. Some were supported in continuing their research but not to any great extent.

I don't believe that it is ever appropriate to expect the spouse to relay messages regarding work.

Anonymous said...

I think it's pretty abusive to expect a spouse to be an administrative aid in any regard! That's why we have email, instant message, telephones, cell phones, actual secretaries, offices, office hours, and appointments! For the odd "Oh, if you expect to see Dr. X since you're walking right by her office on your way to yours, could you hand her this time-sensitive thing, please?", that's really different. For departmental news, commentary, information?

Sometimes I also would like to recommend certain remedial social skill seminars every year as mandatory for faculty. It's like assuming people can use citation software, use Outlook, actually know how every part of Excel works...etc. Everyone assumes you know how to do things you just....don't, after a certain period of time.

Anonymous said...

I work with both members of a couple who are in the same field but at different institutions in the same city. I think it's great. However, it does present some of those "unique" situations. I never assume that they talk about work stuff at home, but I can't assume that they don't talk, either. Sometimes, one will relay some problem that the other is having with me or someone else, which just seems weird. it can be a cumbersome route for communication.

BTW, this is my favorite blog!

Anonymous said...

I work with a couple, they are in different departments at the same university. In the beginning, it is only fair to give benefit of doubt, but over the years, it has become clear that one of them does not have any scientific knowledge or good values, whereas the other is an extremely good person and a scientist. So I find it surprising that these two are married.

Unfortunately, the dumb spouse is seen as a better scientist to the outside world, and people think the other one (the good one) is there only because of his partner. Since I have been around for 5 years now, it is very clear to me .... the "good" spouse even writes papers and prepares talks for the "dumb" one. But to the outside world, the perception is totally opposite .... and it will remain so...... because the "dumb" one is really good at things like: telling lies (with confidence), misleading people, etc. People figure her out after 3-4 years, but then it takes 3-4 years, because one gives her the benefit of doubt in the beginning. It's only natural to do so.

It's unfortunate, but life goes on.