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Faculty Affairs Committee Minutes (4-2-09)

Meeting of the Faculty Affairs Committee

2 April 2009, 4:00pm, Sci 3500


Present: Rebecca Dean, Argie Manolis, Eli Mayfield, Timna Wyckoff,

Absent: Fang Du, Pam Solvie, James Wojtaszek


We met to discuss themes that arose in the responses to our email requesting input regarding spousal/partner hiring at UMM. Dean agreed to draft a document summarizing these responses ahead of our 9 April 2009 meeting with Dean Contant (see document below).


Minutes submitted by Timna Wyckoff, 16 April 2009


Document from Rebecca Dean 8 April 2009:


Results of the Spousal/Partner Hire Survey


Numeric results:

A total of 30 people responded to our request for feedback on the issue of partner hire. The feedback was overwhelmingly in favor of a more pro-active approach toward partner hires. Both faculty and staff responded, although more faculty responded than staff. Of the 19 faculty members who responded, 17 were overwhelmingly positive in their assessment of partner hires, while 2 gave ambivalent responses or tended toward the negative (including one unwritten comment to a committee member). In contrast, the six staff members who responded were mostly arguing against partner hires, although several mentioned they would be interested in a policy that allowed for partner hires among staff as well. The remaining respondents could not be identified as staff or faculty, and their responses were mixed. Three respondents' answers were so ambiguous as not to be counted as either for or against partner hires.


Several consistent themes emerged from the comments.


Themes in support of partner hire:

•  helps retention

•  develops a feeling of commitment and loyalty to UMM

•  balances the negative effects of low salaries and a less desirable location (from the

perspective of some faculty members)

•  increases the morale of faculty members

•  helps professional development of the trailing partner, so they do not need to seek

employment elsewhere to remain competitive in their field

Respondents who supported partner hire frequently mentioned that the university should be more systematic and pro-active in hiring partners, and that trailing partners, whether employed in tenure-track positions or not, should be treated with more respect. Examples of verbal and even physical intimidation of partners illustrate the problem. One senior member of the faculty urges the university to "avoid placing partners in a demeaning or insecure position. Such a tactic will properly cause resentment and could lead to low morale and loss of both individuals." UMM tells new hires that this is a good environment for partners, but more than one new hire felt they were mislead on that level and would like to see more action and less talk from the university.


Themes against or expressing concern about partner hires:

•  partners may beat out more qualified candidates

•  partner hires for staff positions may undermine UMM's relationship with the

community by making the university appear elitist and unfair

•  partner hires are not a "fair" hiring practice

•  partner hires may dictate curriculum, to the detriment of the discipline's goals


As mentioned above, staff members were particularly negative in their portrayal of partner hires, and most expressed their hope that the university would always follow fair hiring practices and hire the most qualified person for the job. Even among the respondents who were overwhelmingly positive in their portrayal of partner hires, many also expressed concern that partners would beat out more qualified candidates. During our meeting of April 2, R. Dean expressed the opinion that hiring the most qualified candidate for a job is, by definition, not a partner hire, it is merely a hire. On some level, therefore, a true partner hire always requires either hiring someone who is not necessarily the most "qualified" person for the job or, more likely, creating a specific job for that person that otherwise would not exist. As the rest of the committee agreed, however, these concerns of fairness are real and pervasive and must be addressed in any partner hire policy. It is not clear how much support partner hires would have among the university community if it was made clear that sometimes hiring a partner requires forgoing a national search or other means of choosing candidates.


Partner hiring is not without complications, but one respondent with a long history at this institution reassuringly laid to rest many of the concerns frequently expressed by faculty. The faculty member wrote that fears of failing to hire someone "better" are hardly ever grounded in reality, since in his/her experience, "the margin of difference in such cases was likely to be narrow and uncertain." And in fact, in each situation in this person's experience, hiring partners allowed the university "to retain two excellent people." Some faculty members may express concern that two partners will be uneven in their performance, and if one is denied tenure, the other will leave as well. This experienced faculty member reassures us that this has only happened once in the 42 years of service s/he has given to the university, and strongly urges the university to use partner hire as an effective strategy for retention, to encourage the presence of faculty members in the community, and to overcome our lack of competitive salaries.


Practical suggestions:

Unfortunately, there were not very many practical solutions offered to the partner hire problem, although many respondents were enthusiastic in their support for finding such a solution. Obviously, dedicated funding for spousal hires would be an ideal solution, but not one likely to emerge in this period of budget crises. The few suggestions that were offered included maintaining a database with information about all of the qualifications of trailing partners, so that if a position opened up, qualified partners could be invited to apply. Some trailing partners mentioned that they did not feel welcomed by the university to apply for positions on campus and that they were not always aware of what was available. Since two of our committee members have had success with sharing positions, we would also recommend that more divisions chairs consider the possibility of offering new hires a shared job at 75/75, 66/66, or 50/50 levels.