Los Angeles Pierce College has decided that no married couples can serve together on a hiring committee. This policy was initiated by the vice-president of academic affairs and then endorsed by the Pierce Ethics Committee and the Pierce College Academic Senate.
The motivation behind the ban is putatively to reduce the possibility of Pierce receiving accusations of collusion between a married couple from a candidate who was not offered a position. The policy establishes Pierce's preference to restrict the rights of all productive married couples on the faculty over accepting any risk that a disgruntled candidate with sexist prejudices may file a complaint and thus cause Pierce the inconvenience of having to defend faculty against false accusations.
If a Pierce couple actually does engage in collusion or unfair practices, then the department should not nominate them for a hiring committee, the Vice-president should advise the senate to reject the offending couple, and the academic senate should not approve them. Further, everyone on a hiring committee, including any couple, is supervised by a dean and compliance officer.
There will be no inappropriate collaboration between any married couple if any one of the department, or the VP, or the senate, or the dean, or the compliance officer can do a responsible job, even if no married couple can act responsibly on their own.
Obviously it is simpler for Pierce to ban all couples rather than to take on the responsibility of making a hard decision to deny opportunities a specific couple if it should become appropriate. But a policy banning all married couples from serving together on hiring committees is in direct opposition to the recommendations of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).
The 1971 position paper “Faculty Appointment and Family Relationship” called for an end to “policies and practices [that] subject faculty members to an automatic decision on a basis wholly unrelated to academic qualifications and limit them unfairly in their opportunity to practice their profession.”
This position paper was prepared initially by the Association’s Committee on Women in the Academic Profession. It was approved by that committee and by Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure. The statement was adopted by the Association’s Council in April 1971.
But let us assume that we support Pierce's position that trying to avoid lawsuits is more important that supporting productive faculty. Then we should consider how much better it would be if we also banned any two faculty members sharing religious beliefs from serving together on a hiring committee, because there is a chance that a rejected and disgruntled applicant may complain that the two colluded against him or her. We should also prevent any two faculty who attended the same school together from serving together on a committee. Certainly we cannot allow any two homosexuals to serve together.
Continuing this logic leads us inevitably to restricting the hiring committees to members of the Pierce community who are beyond reproach because of their unquestioned integrity and fairness, such as the Ethics Committee and the Vice-president of Academic Affairs. But the school's philosophy requires that we guard not only against rational complaints, but especially against irrational complaints of collusion. So the appropriate policy would appear to be that all personnel decisions should be decided by lot rather than allowing any human to be involved.