25.6.07

THE TRAILING SPOUSE SCAM HURTS THE ACADEMY. An editorial in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel commends elected officials in Burlington, Wisconsin, for strengthening a nepotism policy.

City Administrator David Torgler defended his hiring of [Mayor Claud Lois's daughter] Bridget Lois, saying she has been doing a good job and that the mayor had no influence in the decision. Others aren't so sure: A union representative for city workers said many employees feel Bridget Lois is unqualified and was hired because her father is mayor.

That's the problem with hiring relatives. No matter how qualified the person is, there will always be a suspicion that he or she got the job because of the family relationship. Ald. Katie Simenson wants to create a nepotism rule that would apply to close relatives, including parents, children, siblings, first cousins, aunts and uncles of city officials. We're not sure that we'd include all those folks - and the bottom line should always be to hire the most qualified person - but it's to Simenson's credit that Burlington is talking about this.

The quotation from the union representative is priceless: how many sons of construction workers or railroaders hired out on construction or the railroad precisely because Dad was in good with the committeeman? Moreover, as the (vacationing this week) dean at Anonymous Community notes,
The Snooty Liberal Arts College I attended, which was located about two miles west of nowhere, had a de facto policy of hiring couples, since it was the only way to get good young faculty to stay out there in the sticks. But that's the exception. In most of academia, and especially in the evergreen disciplines, there's such a labor surplus that any sort of favoritism invites litigation.
He goes on to note that the pro-nepotism policy is fraught with a number of pitfalls, most of which involve some combination of the couple calling it quits and the hiring department going into civil disorder.

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