My post about a recent hiring controversy has generated the longest-ever comment thread on this blog, beating out the “Do you wear a watch?” survey. One thing I learned from the comment thread is that people have quite divergent ideas about what the implicit ethical rules of hiring actually are! There’s a lot to be said for tacit, organic systems of moral agreements as against formal laws. But for such a thing to work requires some kind of general consensus. Do we have it?
I thought it would be interesting to address this question directly. I’ll start with a few things I think of as rules, both for candidates and for departments.
- If you accept a job, you need to show up there the following fall unless you are explicitly released from your commitment. This commitment lasts one academic year
- Don’t apply for a job that you wouldn’t accept if it were the only job you got.
- You can’t ask a candidate how likely they would be to accept an offer before you make the offer. I think it’s OK, though slightly awkward, to ask after the offer is made.
- You can’t ask a candidate if they’re married. (This is actually a written law, at least in the US — but it is widely violated.)
- If you give a candidate a deadline, you are not allowed to subsequently move the deadline earlier. (I know of at least one such case this year!)
Are these actually rules? What are the other rules? Go to.
How about adding, under “Departments” that universities are (unfortunately) subject to their own budgetary and political constraints. What the young readers of this blog will know when they are themselves tenured professors is that tenure-track positions don’t grow on trees (also unfortunate). Generating a tenure-track position in a tough financial climate requires a significant amount of negotiating and hustling within the university, not to mention endless faculty meetings to discuss the matter. Generating any letter of offer involves multiple hours of background work by many people. This is what is destabilizing about the case under discussion…it is understandable that candidates prefer to consider their entitlements, but if they conduct themselves as this young candidate did, then they will inevitably upset their colleagues.
I think that important unwritten laws for candidates are “turn down offers as soon as possible if you are not serious” and “don’t mess with the process…universities have reasons for their constraints”.
Department’s second bullet = not surprising (I’ve been asked similarly illegal things on the job, and subsequently quit) but no less disturbing.
Actual conversation during one of my campus visits:
Tenured Prof: “So, are you married?”
Me: “Um, you’re not allowed to ask me that.”
Tenured Prof: “I know. But are you?”
Me: “No, really, you’re not allowed to ask.”
After one more back and forth, I did answer. But I was really angry. I was happy to be offered the job and turn it down. It’s one thing to violate the law by asking (maybe you don’t know). But to be told *twice* that it’s against the law (and that I really don’t want to disclose my status right now)… just not cool.
My question: For departments, what about this early deadline stuff that started the whole conversation because of the spot Amanda was put in by Rutgers? I had the same situation… I was really pressured into accepting a postdoc way before the standard deadline. (My recollection is that I had two weeks to decide, and my decision was required by the end of January.)
I wasn’t confident enough that I would get *any* other offers, so I took it. I ended up turning down others where I probably would have been happier. I was pretty resentful, and actually only stayed a year in the end.
Those in the position of hiring need to hear Michelle’s comment that she was pressured very early to decide on a postdoc position and that “I was pretty resentful, and actually only stayed a year in the end.” It is always a bad situation having employees who feel boxed in and unhappy, so why, oh why, would you ever want to start out on the wrong foot with an employee like this? Once you lose mutual trust and respect with the employee, it’s very difficult to get it back. Everyone loses.
Oops, I guess I just accidentally lost my anonymity.
Michelle @ 2: I totally agree that departments that try to force people to accept postdocs before the common deadline are behaving very badly. I used to work for a place that does this, and people there seemed to think it worked — which to me is just an argument against it, since your messing with peoples careers. I’m actually skeptical that, in aggregate, it does work. For each case like Michelle’s, there’s someone else who would have likely accepted the job had it been offered normally, but is now highly offended at being jerked around, and will thus will turn the position down if they have any other reasonable option…
The problem with unwritten laws is that the people that know them assume that everyone else is fully aware of them. I, for one, did not know that accepting a multi-year offer really only meant you were accepting to be there one year. For example, some job announcements say “2 years with option for a third” whereas some others say “1 year with option of two more”. I’ve seen people who spent one year somewhere, but I don’t actually know under what circumstances it’s acceptable to move after a year. Then, of course, the other problem with unwritten laws is that there are unwritten exceptions, and these are even harder to know about.
I find written loose guidelines to be a nice middle ground.
Before we get too deep into discussing the unwritten laws of hiring… is there somewhere the written laws are, say, written down? Point 2 for the hiring committee is a candidate for that list.
Also, just a bit of pedantry: I would like to suggest using the threading feature on the wordpress blog (click “reply” below the post you want to reply to) rather than doing the “Name@Position” tango. If someone (say, a dude named Michael) were to post a reply to nichole’s post way up top, then Michelle’s post at position 2 will be bumped to position 3, and Nathan’s post will become completely baffling. (Does he know something we don’t?) :)
Nathan and Michelle, maybe I was too subtle in my previous post. There are sometimes very specific budgetary reasons why universities give early deadlines, it’s not always done out of a desire to bully candidates or to steal the best from the job market.
For postdocs, it isnt just about the common deadline. When I was finishing, I received two postdoc offers the day after the common deadline (clearly I was several schools’ Plan B and nobody’s Plan A), and they both pressured me to make decisions essentially on the spot. Both of them eventually were willing to give me a 3 day weekend to make up my mind, which still felt like an incredibly short window for a relatively large decision.
I’m not sure what exactly the unwritten rule should be, but giving people a week (or more) to commit to a decision seems like the humane thing to do.
Michelle@4 — kudos to you for standing up to it, even though it was eventually unsuccessful. Most candidates would not be so bold (and, sadly, I think they are probably correct in feeling boldness wouldn’t serve their interests.)
I would be interested if the people who have alluded to other examples of hiring behavior which they consider to be bad could, without naming names, tell us more about what happened.
I am interested in your rules for candidates. They seem to me ethical guidelines rather than actual rules.
As far as #2 goes, yes, I say this to all my students, and I mean it – but I think many of my colleagues (cynically) encourage their students to try and obtain jobs they would not take for the potential bargaining power that may be secured thereby. (And surely there is an exemption to this rule in a two-academic couple – one of them may need to secure a job offer that is unwanted in order to try and get a second appointment made at one or the other partner’s current institution.)
I have a more serious reservation about #1, which seems to me in certain respects (and I have done it myself, it is not a criticism of others!) a matter of equivocation or self-deception. Most colleges and universities, after going to the trouble of a tenure-track search, would prefer not to have one come at all rather than come & then leave after a year. So that it is something one can offer as a show of good faith (as in your student’s case), but that may well be rejected, and for substantive rather than vindictive reasons, by the hiring department.
I am in a humanities department, and I might also note something that I think many job candidates (successful and unsuccessful) do not realize – in my particular department, we rarely have a second-choice candidate. One, and only one, person usually remains standing after the first-round interviews and the campus visits! I don’t add this fact with any particular agenda, though I note that if it is more generally true, it would largely discredit the notion that departments really ‘need’ a quick answer – I personally think that this is almost always just a matter of a strong preference, and that as the hiring department usually holds all the cards in the case of junior appointments, candidates are forced to bow to it. (Look how long senior people usually take to decide about whether or not to take a new job – often as long as two or even three YEARS!)
For many years I was a hiring manager at an industrial research lab. A huge perk was the presence of an onsite daycare center, along with a family-friendly atmosphere. It was really tempting to ask candidates if they had kids, or were planning to have kids, in order to use this as a selling point… but of course that would have been illegal and, as Michelle rightly mentions, really off-putting.
Instead, I’d make sure that at some point the candidate and I would walk past the daycare center, and I’d muse aloud, “You know, that’s the daycare center. My kids went there, it was incredibly convenient! Anyway…” The funny thing was that nine out of ten candidates would interrupt me and with evident relief tell me all about their kids, their plans to have kids, and so forth (often more than I wanted to know). And then I’d have my chance to talk up the family-friendliness of the place at length.
In my experience, the key with job candidates is to give them as much control over the conversation as possible. That’s what stuns me when I hear about this Rutgers thing; forcing someone to make a fast choice like that just seems bizarre and self-defeating.
Jenny: I’ve participated in 5-6 hiring cycles in math departments at various universities, and I’ve never seen the situation you describe of having no second-choice candidate, even after all interviews are complete. Instead you might typically interview 5-6 candidates for one position, of which you would be happy to hire all but one or occasionally two who interviewed poorly. Part of this is probably because, unlike in many humanities or social sciences, we usually don’t restrict our search to any particular area, which means you might typically have 500-600 applicants for any given TT position. In particular, the 5-6 candidates one interviews might all be so far from each other in research area that direct binary comparisons between them in terms of research strength can be quite difficult.
If I may be forgiven for continuing the trend of responding with more questions rather than answers, I’d be curious to know what is regarded as reasonable as far as deadlines for responses to t/t offers. A couple of years ago I was hired with an offer with a February deadline, and at the time I didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary, and don’t recall anyone suggesting to me that it was. But
in the other thread I see a number of people decrying Rutgers for insisting on a response in February. (Conceivably the difference might be explained by the fact that available evidence suggests that the Rutgers deadline was rather early in February whereas mine was later in the month, but it’s not clear to me that the people criticizing Rutgers knew in what part of February the deadline was set.)
Is there an unwritten standard for when the first t/t deadlines should be set, to go with the written standard for postdocs?
In principle, one could try to make the case that the two should be about the same time (quite contrarily to standard practice): after all, it’s quite likely that the second-in-line for a t/t search would have postdoc offers that they need
to respond to. In fact I wonder if that may have been part of why Rutgers was inflexible with its deadline (justifiably or not). Of course, as people noted in the other thread, the second-in-line could accept a postdoc and then, if the t/t position opened up at a later date, accept the t/t position with a delayed start date, so other considerations should probably trump this.
Which isn’t to say that there might not be one or two candidates among those interviews who really standout, but typically those are people you will face a lot of competition when you try to hire them. As a result of the marked tendency for broad searches, there are always a few people each year who do 10 or more interviews and might receive 6 or more offers…
I have a question about point #2 for the applicants. This is a piece of advice I’ve heard from many senior mathematicians, so I do believe it is one of these unwritten rules, but I’m curious about why.
To me there seem to be many possible reasons for turning down a place that you would seriously consider going even if it were the only place you received a job, and many of these you may not want to explain to the entire math community.
For instance, say someone has a postdoc for n years and they go on the job market after n-1. This seems to be fairly common and also a good idea considering the job climate.
What if the applicant has a two body problem and one partner gets only one offer, in California, and the other partner has a job in New York, or Kansas, or anywhere that is not California? Why should they have to spend a year living apart because you’re supposed to take an offer if you get any? Or what if they have a child and can’t spend a year apart?
Or what if something unexpected happens? What if the applicant currently has a position close to their family and after offers are made, their parent becomes sick and they need to be close to home? Or what if there’s some other event, like a family emergency, new child, health problems? Or your partner loses a job or gets a great new opportunity?
What if you interview and you realize the funding situation at the university is tenuous? Or the people in your area are all leaving?
Probably for any one of these reasons, you can talk to the chair and they will be understanding. But as we have seen with the previous post about the job market, incomplete information gets passed along and other mathematicians judge. None of the above situations are outrageous, but I don’t see why they should have to be explained to the entire math community.
(Sorry my comment got cut off, this is a continuation)
Probably for any one of these reasons, you can talk to the chair and they will be understanding. But as we have seen with the previous post about the job market, incomplete information gets passed along and other mathematicians judge. None of the above situations are outrageous, but I don’t see why they should have to be explained to the entire math community. (Or actually even a chair that you are not close to.)
I have never been on the hiring side of a faculty search, so I don’t know what the reasons are from the other point of view. But from the applicant’s side, it seems like a candidate who would seriously consider an offer from any school he/she applied to could still get his or herself in trouble.
Another possibility: the department looked great when you applied, but after a couple of days of talking to people, it appears considerably less impressive.
I think point #2 for the applicants is “If you wouldn’t accept a job as your only offer, then don’t apply”, rather than the inverse “If you would accept a job as your only offer, do apply”.
That said, it is usually good advice (but not mandatory) to apply to more than just one’s dream positions. I knew a very good candidate who for some reason only decided to apply for positions in the Ivy leagues, and was stunned when he only got back a single offer (which he then accepted).
At least the way JSE phrased it, Candidate Rule #2 is so mild that it’s almost inoperative for people whose current position is about to expire; personally I’d take almost any academic job, at least for a few years, rather than be unemployed and searching for a private-sector job. For people who are trying to move from one tenure-line position to another, Rule #2 has more teeth, but the thing is that, until one has actually interviewed and had an offer in hand, it’s hard to judge whether one would take a position if were the only available — you just don’t have enough information. Especially as JM mentions, for people with 2-body problems, that’s a huge unknown. Some universities have good programs that facilitate hiring of spouses/partners and others don’t, and one has no idea which is which and, even if you did, whether they will apply in your particular case.
One does hear stories of people in secure jobs that they have no real intention of leaving going on the job market in order to get an offer that they can then take back to their chair and use to demand a raise or other better accommodations. I suspect that rule #2 is directed more at that sort of behavior, as opposed to anything that someone whose current position is about to expire would do.
anon @ 21: Such stories are true, though anymore that’s just become the way the game is played. At a lot of places, even before the current economic crisis, the only way to get a substantial raise is to get an outside offer. The same places also often suffer from salary inversion (i.e. new junior hires are paid more than people who have been there for years), and thus it’s understandable why people do this. Personally I don’t have a problem with this as long as people would really accept the new position if it’s a good offer and their current university doesn’t try to match. (Of course, the current university usually does, which is what turns this into a huge waste of time for all involved.)
So I think Michelle raises an interesting point, with an important practical question. (A couple of philosophical questions, too, but let me only ask the practical one.)
When I interviewed for a TT job (which I have accepted but not begun yet), I remember that the interview was pretty seriously long — a couple of days long, and much of it very informal: Lots of lunches and dinners with people, and lots of casual conversation. The people there were extremely friendly, and seemed quite eager to encourage me to come there. They told me about the town and were eager to give me advice for moving there, and to suggest things they thought I would like about the city. And I’m sure the fact that I’m not married came up: one’s priorities in relocating tend to be different depending on whether you or married or single.
The principle of the law seems to be that it is unfair to evaluate the candidate based on anything other than their qualifications. Without question, this is very important. But personally, I would have had a much less pleasant and informative interview if my interviewers had avoided asking me personal questions.
My thought is this: the candidate is certainly welcome to say “I’m single, how is it for single people here?” or “I have a kid, how are the schools here?” or “I’m gay, is there a reasonably large gay community here?” or “I’m married, is there likely to be work for my spouse here?” or any combination of these. The only important thing (and the only legal requirement) is that it be THE CANDIDATE, not the department, who chooses whether these issues are to be discussed. If the interviewers had avoided asking you questions, and you wanted to talk about being an unmarried guy in town X, I’d hope you would have brought it up; candidates have certainly brought up questions like that with me.
I do think it’s fine for the hiring department to say “X is a great town, housing is affordable and the public schools are really good.” (I mean, assuming it’s true, as it is in my town.) Then the candidate is free to say “tell me more about the schools, I have a toddler” or “that sounds great” or to just simply nod, and no line has (in my opinion) been crossed.
I like what JSE said in #26. I don’t think that having a good conversation with someone or getting to know someone is dependent on asking someone else about these sort of details. One could ask broadly about a candidate’s experience at town X and let the candidate discuss what they liked and didn’t like about it. One could compare and contrast town X with town Y without ever needing specific pieces of information about the candidate.
Personally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable revealing any of the information that JSE brought up as examples (other than being single), but if those were things that I was concerned about in a town, I would and should do my own research. Besides, one thing I realized when I was visiting grad schools is that asking other people’s opinions about aspects of a town that doesn’t apply to them is pretty useless. By that, I mean asking someone who is married how the town is for single people is pretty useless. Asking someone who’s not gay how gay friendly the town is is also pretty useless.
Perhaps my question for JSE and CL is the following: if you are not on the hiring committee, and are not meeting the candidate in any formal way (i.e., you are a potential colleague and decided to go along to lunch), are you saying that standard of privacy is different than if it were, say, somebody you met at a conference?
In general social interactions, if someone is private then you respect that, but if someone starts sharing personal information, it generally isn’t rude to follow up and ask related questions. (Of which “Are you married?” could easily be one.) Are you saying that the etiquette for job interviews is different? Or just that you shouldn’t ask personal questions out of the blue (as, indeed, you shouldn’t anyway)?
Yes, the etiquette, indeed the law, is different for job interviews. I believe that, because individual faculty members often help read the files, they are often legally construed as part of the search committee for equal opportunity purposes. As JSE says, the candidate can choose to bring up the (non)existence of a spouse/partner/children/etc., after which they can be discussed, but beyond that those doing the interviewing should avoid even mildly probing questions. Beyond those things proscribed by law, this relates to JSE’s department rule #1 of not asking the candidate how likely they would be to accept…
Nathan, I’m an example of the latter. Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I was “highly offended”, but it was certainly annoying and it worked against your former department’s attempt to hire me rather than for it. But I was lucky enough to have another reasonable offer in hand (with an appropriate deadline) by the time the early deadline came around, which made it very easy to say no. I’m still not sure what I would have decided had both offers had the common deadline.
It may be worth pointing out that the common deadline is an explicit agreement that people can look up here: http://www.ams.org/profession/employment-services/deadline-coordination/deadline-coordination . Nathan’s former institution is the most well-known example of a non-signatory to the agreement, so in fairness they aren’t actually reneging on any agreements by requiring an early deadline, however else you might like to characterize this behavior on their part. On the other hand, if I’m not mistaken, the institution Michelle is talking about *is* on the list. I can’t say for sure that they didn’t join recently, but I suspect not, in which case their actions really are inappropriate.
Oh, I see, interesting – so that hiring in math (at least in a big department) would be more like what I saw when I was on the interview committee for the Columbia Society of Fellows, which would have similar sorts of numbers (let’s say 800 applicants, interview 15, places for 5 or so – with no specifications about field preferences).
Personally, I think it is inappropriate to ask personal questions out of the blue.
Maybe it’s because I’m not married nor ever been on a job search, but I’m not sure how one works “are you married?” into a conversation without it being somewhat out of the blue. Perhaps if I were wearing a wedding ring. I think my standard of privacy may be higher than most people, regardless of whether they’re job search candidates. I don’t think to ask my office mates or colleagues at conferences what their sexual orientation is nor their religious background, and I don’t really ask someone whether they are single either.
> You can’t ask a candidate if they’re married.
On the other hand, it is perfectly legal to ask:
“If we were to make you an offer, would your ability to accept depend on our being able to assemble a position as well for a companion somewhere else at our institution?”
This may also seem like an invasion of privacy, or acquiring information not strictly related to the candidate’s abilities, but on the other hand it can be a practical necessity at universities outside of major job markets. It frequently happens that a search committee can spend months on a job search, winnow down to a short list, spend weeks deliberating, make an offer, and only then find out it was a non-starter all along due to a two-body problem, and finally lose not only that candidate but due to the timing lose the entire pool and have to start over again the following year. (I.e., it also happens that a candidate who would have accepted an earlier offer or one known to be the first offer on the short list will no longer be available later on or further down the list, so departments have to strategize in this regard as well.)
Ordinarily a department will just make an offer to the candidate who seems like the best match regardless, and then see what the institution at some higher level can assemble for the partner. But there are cases, due either to the field of the partner or momentary financial profile of the institution, where it could be verified well in advance of an offer that there are no possibilities, and it’s to the candidate’s advantage as well not to waste unnecessary time.
I’m interested to know how the two body problem fits into the rules listed above. If a job candidate is given a job offer with a few weeks (or days!) to decided, is it at all reasonable to expect this individual’s SO to conduct a job search in this time-frame?
Say Alice and Bob are a couple of aspiring mathematician’s seeking TT jobs. They both send out dozens of job applications out. Alice gets a job offer from University X with a one week deadline. The deadline approaches and Alice doesn’t have any other offers. Bob, being an employable guy who loves his wife more than an academic job, might be willing to leave academia and find a job near University X, but it is difficult to assess the options in a week. So Alice accepts the job. Now you can imagine a host of possibilities, such as: (1) Bob gets a job offer at Top 5 University Y (2) A friend of Alice’s in industry offers both Bob and Alice jobs a Company Z (3) University A offers Bob a job which he turns down citing Alice’s prior commitment. University A then says it can offer Alice a job too. Etc.
If I strictly read the rules above, Alice and Bob have only two options: (1) Split up or (2) Bob to give up his career and look for a job near University X. I imagine this situation has played itself out many times, so I’m interested to see how it has been handled. One option would be for Alice to tell University X, before accepting the job, that she wouldn’t come unless Bob has a job. However this might not be true. If Bob were to get no job offers, they might be willing to both go to University X without a job for Bob.
Now lets play along a bit more. Even though better offers have presented themselves after Alice accepted an offer at University X. Alice, out of a feeling of obligation (and desire not to have senior faculty members at University X construct webpages berating her) honors her commitment to University X. Bob turns down his offers, and can’t find a good job near Univeristy X. Is it unreasonable for Alice to start looking for a new job for the following academic year as soon as she arrives at University X?
Well, for example, if I were to ask “This is a very different place than where I’ve lived before, what do you think is the best way to make friends and get involved in the community?” or “What neighborhoods do you recommend living in?”
But reading between the lines, I think I’ve asked a less important question than I thought at first. Legalities aside (and JSE says the law is widely violated anyway), I imagine that private people would be disinclined to ask these sorts of questions in the first place.
I think the kind of situation I am imagining and the situation Michelle is complaining about are very different. I am not sure whether the professor Michelle complained about was trying to figure out if Michelle would be inclined to stay at the university for a long time if offered a job, or was being randomly nosy. But I think I can reasonably guess that it was not in the middle of a long conversation that was very comfortable and had turned at least somewhat personal.
Frank, “trying to figure out if Michelle would be inclined to stay at the university for a long time if offered a job” is exactly one of the things employers aren’t supposed to try to infer from candidates’ marital status. The ban on asking candidates whether they’re married is not there to enshrine rules of common courtesy, it’s there to try to stop sex discrimination. The presumption for a very long time has been that married women, especially married women with children, are going to be less dedicated to their jobs and more likely to leave. Given that most women get married at some point, this is bad for women trying to get jobs. So we bar employers from asking about marital information.
I agree that issues of academic couples as presented in 35 and 36 are among the most difficult ethical problems that come up in hiring. I don’t have a slick way of defusing the obvious tension between these cases and the “don’t ask whether the candidate is likely to accept” rule.
Hi Rebecca, yes, your first sentence is exactly my point! I meant to suggest that *both* of the putative motivations for the tenure track professor to ask Michelle if she was married were bad, and especially the one you describe, and for the reason you brought up.
But I feel compelled to ask — what are these job candidate dinners supposed to be anyway? They are not interviews, since the conversation is usually not about the job being potentially offered and the candidate’s qualifications. And they are not social engagements, since as I have learned from this discussion, one must avoid certain topics of conversation which are proscribed by law.
Are you allowed to discriminate because you like or dislike somebody? Suppose you meet a job candidate, and you hit it off well and find out that you both like baseball, or Renaissance art, or punk music, or whatever and you talk about it for an hour at dinner. Then you are probably going to hope that colleague shows up, which will subconsciously affect your opinion of their math (even though it really shouldn’t…) That’s wrong, right? Discrimination based on taste in music presumably isn’t written into the law, but it’s just as bad.
Am I the only one that sees a slippery slope here? Please note that I am NOT suggesting these anti-discrimination laws should be repealed or disregarded. As Rebecca explains, they are in place for very good reasons.
But I am suggesting that it seems to be a logical consequence of these anti-discrimination laws, and more importantly of the need for fairness that inspired them, that interview protocol should be kept as formal as possible. And yet, I don’t imagine that any department would actually want to do this, and probably many candidates would find it disagreeable as well.
Unfortunately, I don’t propose a solution, but I hope people agree that I have at least posed a legitimate question.
“Discrimination based on taste in music presumably isn’t written into the law, but it’s just as bad.”
The general wisdom is that no, it isn’t as bad, because people who like bad music have never been enslaved, or denied the right to vote, or been subject to organized campaigns of exclusion or harassment. That’s why the law is written the way it is.
On rules for departments:
1. What about “don’t withdraw an offer you have already made, even if the Dean is putting pressure on you due to financial reasons”? (This has actually happened to several people.)
For one thing, a candidate that is made an offer may drop other places that have made him or her offers, either after accepting the offer that is later withdrawn, or because the other places’ deadlines have come up. If the department then withdraws the offer, the applicant is left in the lurch.
2. “Don’t try to get an edge by setting your deadlines earlier than the rest” seems to me to be something to be strongly encouraged, rather than actually enforced. That said, it’s unclear how any of what we are talking about could actually be enforced, as opposed to strongly encouraged by societal pressure.
I think what would be really helpful for the job candidates is if the departments tell them which order on the list they are (not necessarily who is ahead of them), whether the people who’re ahead are likely to accept the offer, and how long it would take to generate the offer if other people turned down the offer. I’ve had 5 interviews in the last 3 years, and in only one department told me that information. This sort of thing would’ve been very useful when I’m trying to deal with existing offers from other places.
Regarding the marital status issue, it is not illegal to ask about marital status in all states. It is illegal in 23 states to discriminate in hiring based on marital status. In the other 27 states, it is legal to discriminate.