This issue was discussed over at Science Professor, but I had so many thoughts about this, I figured I'd put them here instead of clogging up her comment box.
I think the thing that bugs me the most about these couple hires is that, since men typically look better on paper than women do, the wives of recruited men get closer consideration than single women applying our own.
Her CV gets pulled out of the B pile when he gets picked for an interview. So someone who might have fewer papers - but gives a great talk - gets the chance to give her talk, where she might not otherwise.
Obviously I think everyone brings different things to the table, and I'm glad these women are being hired, however they got there.
In fact, the vast majority of successful women in my field were couple hires, because of their husbands looking better on paper and the sexism of their generation, etc.
That's fine, except for the part where they are horribly ill-equipped to advise me on how to get my foot in the door. And in some cases, they are so psychologically non-functional as to not even want to admit that this is probably at least part of why they were able to get a job at all.
Perhaps the hardest part - getting noticed - was at least a little bit easier for them because of their husband's work and/or boy's network contacts, even if they were ultimately hired on their own merits.
I ran into a friend recently who is in the opposite position. His wife is a successful young professor, and because he wants to be near her and everyone knows it, his department has been exploiting this fact by keeping him in a glorified postdoc position for way too long.
It's cheaper for them than offering him a faculty position, and because they know his wife isn't willing to move away, it seems like the savvy business choice.
Except that he's spectacular and they're idiots not to give him more resources; conversely, he and his wife should be getting competing offers from elsewhere, even if they're not sure they'd want to move. It seems to me this is the only way he'll ever get out of his current rut.
Except that he's feeling like I am, that maybe he's not deserving of a faculty position or he would have had one by now.
Little do they realize he's thinking of quitting and going to industry. Academia is always more than willing to cut off the nose to spite the face.
I suspect his type of story occurs more frequently, or used to, with the woman as the trailing spouse and the man as the professor who doesn't want to leave?
I'd like to think the tide is changing. I have another friend who just published a very high impact paper, and she and her husband have been going on interviews. I'm not sure if she realizes it, but her work is MUCH better than his. And I suspect this is why they're getting interviews.
I'm curious, though, to see if she continues to outshine him after they both start their labs and start having kids.
Something like this happened with a couple hire at our university a few years ago, and I still don't quite understand how it all played out. Having seen both of their job talks and publications, my impression was that the wife was the better scientist and more of a 'catch' than her husband, and that she was the reason they recruited him.
But since they've been here, he seems to get all the attention, and I don't really understand why. Has anybody else seen this phenomenon? Is she just getting buried with writing grants and papers, while he is out giving talks and getting face-time? They seem to have a division of labor where he is much more social and political, perhaps because she's the one taking care of their young child. I've found the whole thing really discouraging, even just watching from a distance. I have to wonder if it's because he dumps all the house and childwork on her, if he's that type of guy. They seem to be in the majority, even now.