Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Academic Economic Unitness

Today in a conversation with a colleague, my husband was stunned when the colleague made a somewhat bitter remark about how much easier my husband’s life is than his because my husband has a professor-spouse and therefore two salaries. This and some comments that followed offended my husband because he felt that the colleague was saying that one of us should work for lower pay and not be such an economic burden on the department. Perhaps there would be more salary money for those in one-salary families if the two of us weren’t sucking up so much of the department’s cash to fund our lavish lifestyle? I am exaggerating -- this colleague would never state his opinion so crudely. Even so, what millennium is he living in that he thinks that my husband and/or I should make a lower salary because we both work?

And why stop with penalizing members of two-career couples? Why should single/childless faculty get paid more than a meager amount when they are just going to spend their money on themselves? Why don’t we scale faculty salary according to the number of children and dogs that each person has? Cats should count as well, but they don’t seem to be as expensive as dogs, so there would have to be a different coefficient for cats in the salary equation unless n(cats) > 12. I’m sorry if I’m offending anyone, but I would not include a salary adjustment for rodents or reptiles, and I am ambivalent about fish and birds. Should boy offspring count the same as girl offspring and/or should the offspring coefficient be adjusted for age and desire for high-end audio/video/computer equipment? [end of bizarre hyperbolic rant]

[start of serious blog-text] My husband’s negative reaction to this conversation was based in part on a long history of our both being underpaid relative to our colleagues in the department. The previous chair considered us an Economic Unit and saw no reason why either one of us should be paid according to our merits since together we made a decent salary.

The previous chair, as well as the person my husband was talking to today, are both in one-salary families, with wives who stay(ed) home with the kids. That’s their choice, of course, but it should be irrelevant to departmental decisions about faculty salary.

Perhaps it is harder for some of our colleagues to deal with our Economic Unitness because we are both Science Professors. If one of us were in a different career, would some of our colleagues still think the professor in the couple should be paid less, or would it be different because only one salary was coming from the department/university?

It struck me as kind of amusing that this colleague envies our situation. Salary considerations aside, I am sure he faces challenges in terms of balancing career and family, but I am fairly sure that he doesn’t have some of the difficulties that we do; for example, a sick kid or a no-school day doesn’t throw his work day into chaos. He probably also doesn’t realize that for years we spent half of our combined salary on day care. None of that should matter, however, to the simple fact that members of an academic couple should each be paid a fair salary, no matter how many spouses, offspring, or pets we have.


Anonymous said...

I would say that you have some real freakshow colleagues, except that a couple of years ago when a tech I know asked for a raise, her advisor--also female and fairly young--said, "Why do you need the money? Isn't your husband earning enough?"

Looking forward to seeing the equation prorated for Life Circumstances. Don't forget to include appropriate terms for, say, expensive car payments. Now if only you had an equation editor...

Anonymous said...

I can see one possible reason for your colleague's comments - maybe he feels that either you or your husband would not have become a professor on their own - i.e., one of you was hired/promoted because of the other. Even if this is the case, I cannot see why he should be bitter about it. Perhaps he just wishes he had more money.

Anonymous said...

I get extremely bitter on this topic, mainly because I'm childless. Not only do the "breeders" in the department get huge amounts of benefits I don't (paid tuition for their kids, etc.), they assume that I have plenty of free time to do...everything in the department they don't want to do.

Hilary said...

I take it that there's no collective agreement that enforces your salaries. I do find it very odd that the department chair's (head's) personal opinion of your situation comes into play at all when decisions are made about your salaries. If you were actually told that you received a lower salary because the department is paying both you and your husband (again, this is moot) is that not grounds for a complaint? If you don't have a union then do you at least have an ombudsperson? I realize this isn't a new situation but it seems completely ridiculous.

Schlupp said...

What millenuim? Depends on where you are. In Germany, it is generally accepted that spouses should not 'take away jobs' from single earners.

Anonymous said...

I feel you here. There are lots of kinds of discrimination when you get into the politics of the family situations of workers. It shouldn't matter if you or your spouse is even independently wealthy, you should get paid what you are worth in relation to what your colleagues are paid.

I used to have a lot of sympathy for people who complained about work impinging on their family time, but then I was, for a short time, the only single member of my department at a time when we were running searches for several faculty positions. I found myself being called on for late pickups from the airport, breakfast with every candidate, evening chauffeuring duties, etc. because I didn't have kids at home and almost everybody else did. I was fond of my colleagues and I took the responsibility cheerfully, but it didn't seem quite fair; I felt I was giving up a lot of my own time for a few months, in ways my colleagues were not (because I also still had to attend all the same events, gatherings, etc that they were attending).

And my current university has a health plan that extends to "families" (spouse + at least one child) much more cheaply than to a spouse alone. That's right, it's *more* expensive to insure my spouse than it would be to insure my spouse plus a kid. It's a $100-200/mo penalty for not having a child.

Anonymous said...

I am an occasional reader of your blog, and a professor as well. Perhaps that explains my interest in your views. I don’t deny the validity of your husband offended reaction but I wonder how much background is in your colleague’s comments. I understand that take.

Spousal hiring is a good thing but it is seldom for 2 professors at once. While both spouses might have been equally qualified to have taken the one original job, negotiation and the final arrangement is normally done at a higher administrator level, Dean, Provost and President. Normally those negotiations are to open an extra academic line, or not even such line but just to gain simple approval to hire the second spouse. In other words, one is hired and the other “comes along”. If you and your husband found two openings and both equally qualified for both positions, you are a fortunate couple.

On the other hand, if one of you was the “trailing” spouse, then some faculty might see that the department has lost the initial edge of getting two for the price of, say, one and one half.

Anonymous said...

Well, this topic raises the thorny issue of why universities should provide economic subsidies to support child rearing, but not, for example, fly fishing.

(I am *not* taking a position one way or the other.)

Vodalus said...

Now here's my question: I wonder how this person's opinions would change if you and your husband had been hired as single singles but became romantically involved after being employed? Would two professors who decide to join households deserve a pay cut?

Also, given the implied number of years that you have spent in this department, you would think that "equal pay for equal work" would trump "2 for 1.5 deal".

I agree: everyone makes choices. If some of us choose to be in single-salary households, then there is no reason to penalize dual-income folks. (Although a quick briefing on the costs of good childcare would probably be an eye-opener.)

Anonymous said...

Wow, some of the comments to this particular blog really trouble me. It just shows how right your husband was to be bothered by the original comment.

Anonymous said...

That's ridiculous. You should earn pay based on your performance at work. You are earning your money. No one is "entitled" to it because of their family situation, nor should anyone be earn less than they are worth simply because their spouse works, as well.

Anonymous said...

In my school, trailing spouses are often offered a research prof position, or even to share a tenure-track position with their spouses. It is very stupid. The net result is that they leave as soon as they can, taking with them the successful intended hire. Given the number of really good people who are romantically involved, departments can actually have an edge by offering good positions to both. The department wins, because it can usually create an extra line (incidentally, that can happen also if during the interview process we find two outstanding candidates, both willing to take the job-- I've seen it).
But for some reasons, departments are often so short sighted. Mine is so bad that even people brought in by majority vote but not unanimously end up not being well supported and advised, and sometimes even met with hostility by the losing fraction. And it is true, spouses end up making less money because the school knows very well how difficult it is to move as a couple. Universities are remarkable in how they do not value their employees: using tenure as a carrot, they get away with things that in the corporate world would be totally unacceptable. My spouse is not a scientist, and I see the difference!
On the other hand, at least academic spouses are part of the negotiation. In my case, the department refused to even discuss options like relocation help, admission to professional school, etc for my spouse. He had been admitted to an equivalent school, but had to repeat the process (and lose six months). Why did I take the job? well, sometimes I wonder!

Anonymous said...

Schlupp, I don't know where in Germany you are from, but I am not under the impression that it is "generally accepted" here that spouses = wives "don't take away jobs from single earners". Women do tend to get paid less for the same work, however, STILL.

Professors are hired on merits alone, we do not help at all for finding jobs for spouses, which can make searches difficult. It is also difficult to hire women, as the men on the search committees generally grade a woman's merits much, much lower than they do the same merits in a man. I've seen it time and time again, and it is ugly.

I have just managed to get a short-list of 3 names passed with a woman on top. I have steered ALL conversation about "what her husband does" away. They luckily have different names and I don't want the "oh, she already has plenty of money" card to be played. She's good, we need her, I don't care who her husband is, end of story.

The bizarre thing is that professors in Germany are civil servants and paid more if they are married and even more if they have children. Dogs don't count yet, although Germans are quite the dog lovers (and still haven't understood the idea of a pooper-scooper....).

The new W pay schedule that promises "merit pay" and is roundly praised in the media has one problem: there is no money in the pots to pay out merit pay. Potential hires show up asking for fantasy sums of money. We offer what we can, they get angry, and we continue down the list. When the list is empty, we start over. Exhausting.

Ms.PhD said...

Wow, yeah, that is one heckuva communist nutjob your husband was talking to!

This crap about splitting 1 salary between a scientific couple is definitely decades out of date. I know some male professors who did it so the wife could have a chance at having her own lab, in the days when they wouldn't hire a woman professor (not so long ago, really).

In all of those cases, though, both professors now have tenure and full salaries. And I don't think anyone begrudges them that, they worked hard for it!

I don't think they're doing this anymore where I am, but at least one commenter says it's still going on.

Amazing, in this day and age.

But hyperbole or not, where I work, postdocs with children ARE paid more than postdocs without. We frequently hear this as a justification when we ask why Dr. Joe Schmoe is making more than Dr. Bob or Dr. Roberta, as if it's fair or logical.

Anonymous said...

How absurd! I mean what you've described here is a blatantly Marxist style of thinking! The person with most woes and hardships gets the bigger salary regardless of his/her productivity? Ridiculous!

If the department was willing to hire you both, then they have no grounds to then turn around and complain about it.

Anonymous said...

on the subject of pets...see Dean Dad ( 's) commentary on the Florida pets v gay spouse access to insurance

Cloud said...

This is clearly one of those areas where industry is a bit ahead. No one has ever said my husband or I should make less money because the other one has a good job, too. That's just silly, and I'm sure that if the person who made the original comment to your husband thought through the implications he would see that. I guess it is easy to get bitter about your personal situation, and stop thinking about these things logically.

I do occasionally see the problem of discrimination against single people in that less importance is given to their non-work life because it doesn't involve a spouse or kids. I personally try very hard to avoid that mindset. I think that everyone's non-work time should be equally protected. This is just one part of a "breeders" (I hate that term: I am more than my womb) vs. "child-free" (because "childless" apparently implies an inferior status) argument that I am running across more and more, and that I find very disturbing. Hey, some people have kids, some do not. Both states have an upside and both have a downside. Can't we all just try to respect each other and our lives outside of work, and try to work together to make the workplace a decent place to spend the majority of our waking hours?

Anonymous said...

I've heard that salary scales for profs in Italy are set by some kind of legislative fiat, and one does receive a "child" adjustment for haivng a child. (Don't know about dogs, though. Guessing no adjustment but I'd have to check sources).

I to am surprised by some of the reactions here. That each individual be paid according to their own value seems to be to be one of the fundamental tenets of Americanism (yeah, a made up word).

But, that means the individuals have to be individual workers, judged on their individual merits, and not a unit, judged as a unit. That's not always, the case for academic couples.

Anonymous said...

In MA there is a $25 a week bonus for having a kid if you end up on unemployment insurance. They don't give extra for dogs, but it is a pretty funny number... $25/week eh? I'll try not to tell the kid when he grows up.

Anonymous said...

I am a male in a female dominated discipline. We are recognized as a professional school. Only a couple of us professors have children. Curiously, we are the husbands (now, our wives do have their own profession, and also have full time jobs. Instead of consideration, we have constantly been penalized and I have even been even warned to leave my children behind at some point. Oh yes, I am the husband and these female (senior professor) was telling me that my career would suffer.

When being interviewed, I was told that my wife would not be part of any negotiations even though she works in what most would consider a sister profession.

I would have considered all of this part of any normal business transactions until I learned that there my department also has a couple of full professors who are spouses. The wife had been brought in at some point. But now, the pair was running the department from the shadows. We just got a new Dean and we shall see how things develop.

They have no children, and individually each has the highest salaries in the department. Nothing of importance moved without their approval.

I think it speaks more to the weakness of the leadership that we have had than to a generalized problem of having spouses in the same department, but nevertheless it is sobering to think about 2 full professors voting as a block. With this experience under my ever expanding belly I will forever have problems supporting the hiring of spouses within the same department.

Even though I would say that your colleague was insensitive to your husband's situation, I understand his view. I wonder how this posting would have gone as well as the comments, if your husband had taken the opportunity to educate him.