Best Practices on Spousal/Partner Hiring (updated 2017)

Proposed by the AHA Professional Division and approved by AHA Council, January 3, 2002; revised January 5, 2017.

History department chairs throughout the country regularly encounter spousal/partner issues in hiring and retention cases. Faculty members frequently differ profoundly on how to face these issues, and department chairs regularly express the need for guidance from the AHA. The AHA strongly supports advertising searches and considering all qualified candidates equally. This policy has resulted in greater equity in hiring decisions, both in regard to women and minorities as well as to the relative reputations of doctoral granting institutions. Nonetheless, institutions do make spousal/partner hires. What follows are recommended as best practices are intended to help obviate some of the risks potentially associated with such appointments.

  1. In any openly advertised search, the individual scholarly merits and potential of a candidate on the one hand and departmental need on the other should be the principal criteria for making a hiring decision, without consideration of the marital status or personal commitments of the candidate. Enquiring about a candidate's familial status is illegal.
  2. Once the candidate has been selected for recruitment through a search, spousal/partner issues may arise. These considerations may be crucial for successful recruitment and retention. Moreover, the presence of a spouse or partner may present an unanticipated exceptional hiring opportunity for the department or for another department or program at the same institution.
  3. Consideration of spousal/partner issues should occur only at the initiative of the candidate for recruitment or retention.
  4. To ensure equity with regard to sex, gender, gender expression, gender identity, and sexual orientation in the initiation of such considerations, history departments and institutions of higher education in general should adopt public and explicit nondiscrimination policies with regard to spouses and partner recruitment and employment.
  5. Under no circumstance should spousal/partner appointment jeopardize current or prospective affirmative action searches/lines intended to increase diversity.
  6. Creative arrangements (such as job sharing) should be reviewed annually, and regarded, with the consent of those in the arrangement, as amenable to change over time.
  7. As spousal/partner appointments in most cases, in effect, constitute an unanticipated and therefore unadvertised appointment, departments should develop specific procedures in order to ensure the greatest possible equity for the candidate, the spouse/partner, and the professional community at large. We propose the following procedures:
    1. In the event that a candidate initiates consideration of the appointment of a spouse or partner, an ad hoc committee should be constituted to consider the candidacy of the spouse or partner.
    2. In conformity with regular search procedures the ad hoc committee should assess the individual merit of the spouse/partner and the consequences of such an appointment for immediate departmental needs and long-term planning.
    3. The ad hoc committee should take explicit steps to evaluate the merits of the spousal/partner candidate in relation to others of comparable rank at the hiring institution. This should entail a systematic canvassing of other potential candidates for a position in the field of the candidate as appropriate (through letters of inquiry to specialists in the field and a reading and evaluation of publications by scholars in the same field at a comparable stage in their careers).
    4. The committee should also make an explicit assessment of the affirmative action consequences of such appointments.
    5. The ad hoc committee should make a recommendation to the department and the ultimate decision to recommend the spousal/partner appointment should be made in conformity with regular departmental search procedures (that is, by vote of the departmental faculty).