Queen’s University responds to criticisms of spousal hire

Dr Matthew Evans, Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) and Dr. Adeline Johns-Putra.

Queen’s University has issued a response following widespread criticism that it quietly hired the spouse of the university’s Provost amid a financial crunch that has seen it implement a hiring freeze, deep budget cuts, and even cancellations of admissions to some programs.

Queen’s University confirmed on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024 that Dr. Adeline Johns-Putra, spouse of Queen’s Provost Dr. Matthew Evans, is joining the Queen’s faculty. Dr. Johns-Putra is set to take a tenured professor position in the English Department later this year.

While the hire has only recently come to public light through discussions on multiple university-related online forums, the university confirmed that Johns-Putra‘s appointment was made concurrently with Provost Evans’ hiring in early 2023. “Johns-Putra comes as a spousal appointment that was negotiated at the time the job offer of our Provost was negotiated. This occurred in the early spring of last year, long before our current budget issues were fully understood and well before any hiring freeze was in place,” Queen’s University said in a statement to the Kingstonist.

Queen’s University announced the hiring freeze on May 18, 2023, only three days after announcing Evans as its new Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic), citing “cumulative financial pressures” that would lead to a $62.8 million operating budget deficit in its 2023-24 fiscal year. The university said at that time that the hiring freeze measure would be accompanied with “a process through which critical hires can be advanced on an exceptional, case-by-case basis.” That process, the university said, would be led by the Provost and the Vice-Principal (Finance and Administration), in consultation with the Principal and Vice-Chancellor. Evans officially began his five-year term on Aug. 1, 2023, succeeding Interim Provost Teri Shearer.

The university said Dr. Johns-Putra’s salary had “already been earmarked at the time of the appointment of the Provost,” and was “being funded outside of the faculty budget”, characterizing the appointment as a typical part of faculty hiring. “The search and appointment of senior administrative positions in Canada is highly competitive,” the university said. “Spousal appointments are not unusual in the current market.”

Indeed, the Queen’s University Faculty Association collective agreement states that “if the spouse or partner of a successful candidate for an academic position at the University or the spouse or partner of a person already holding an academic appointment at the University applies for an advertised academic position at the University, the spouse’s or partner’s file shall be reviewed by the Appointments Committee of the Unit that has advertised the position, and if qualified, shall be short-listed for that position.”

But while the collective agreement might allow such faculty appointments, observers have criticized the apparent secrecy with which it was made, without any public advertising for the position.

Queen’s said that while Dr. Johns-Putra’s appointment was undertaken with a decision to waive advertising of a tenured faculty position, such a decision was “entirely allowable under the collective agreement with the discretion of such waivers residing with the administration.”

The university defended the hiring further by highlighting Dr. Johns-Putra’s qualifications for the position. “Dr. Johns-Putra is a well-regarded academic with an exceptional record of research. When her appointment was initially discussed, the Dean and department were very supportive of her joining our faculty. That continues to be the case.” Previously, Johns-Putra has been a Professor and the Head of the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Monash University Malaysia; a Professor of Literature at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, in Suzhou, China; an Honorary Professor at the University of Hong Kong; and an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Liverpool. She earned both her undergraduate Honours degree as well as her PhD from Monash University in Australia. She has published extensively on her chosen topics of research, including climate and literature, as well as romanticism, particularly British Romantic women poets.

Queen’s denied that there was any undue influence in the hiring decision, and affirmed that it will take steps to prevent any possible conflicts-of-interest. “The appointment of Dr. Johns-Putra is allowable under the terms of the faculty collective agreement. The Provost has had nothing to do with his wife’s appointment nor will he once she joins the university this summer. There are spousal appointments at Queen’s and the university will follow procedures to avoid any conflict, real or perceived.”

4 thoughts on “Queen’s University responds to criticisms of spousal hire

  • I guess the question really is whether she’s a decent scholar and whether the demonstrated record of past performance would have warranted a tenured position at (if I have understood correctly) the rank of Full Professor.

  • Thank you for countering the rumour mill with detailed journalism.

  • quoting from above:

    ” . . . was negotiated at the time of the job offer of our Provost . . .”

    “The Provost had nothing to do with his wife’s appointment . . .”

    Well, which was it? It would appear that is did.

  • As long as moralty and ethics don’t figure in then I guess this is as good a reason as any.

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