Job negotiations

Yeah, if you pay attention to higher ed, you can probably guess what this post is about. Recently, a woman who was given a tenure-track job offer at a fairly no-name liberal arts college replied with an email asking for the Moon, or at least what some people feel is a substantial fraction of it. The institution summarily withdrew the job offer, apparently as their only response to the attempt at negotiation. Here is some more information from Inside Higher Ed, including quite a few of the usual uninformed comments that these sorts of things attract.

You can follow the link to get more details, but the requests basically involved a higher salary, guaranteed maternity leave, delaying the job start for a year, limits on the number of new courses to prep at once, and pre-tenure sabbatical. From the email that the applicant released, she certainly didn’t expect to get all of these. Realistically, at a school like the one involved, a couple of these are pretty much non-starters, but nothing individually is a priori off the table. In toto, a bold request, and apparently too bold for administrators at this institution.

Of course, on the Chronicle of Higher Education user forum, a main point was to castigate the applicant for not using the CHE salary survey information (which actually comes from the American Association of University Professors) to find that her request was too high. Yeah sure. If I was in Dallas in July and the CHE said it was going to be hot and humid with a chance of thunderstorms, I would still ignore that and check a weather forecast. All salary surveys for private institutions are based on information that is generally unverifiable, unlike at public institutions where faculty salaries are part of the public record. While the CHE may be the leading news source for higher ed, anyone relying on it for totally reliable information is pretty dumb. (Sorry, was that an irrelevant CHE rant?)

Anyway, one of the best blog posts that I saw was by Exhaust Fumes. The post is loooong in that special way that humanities professors seem to prefer, but there are a lot of good points in there, especially related to my main hobby horse that you can’t generalize much of anything about higher education.

Assuming this whole story is more or less true as stated, to me most people are missing the most important point. Were the expectations and normalities of the institution really discussed during the interview?!?! For those of you outside higher ed, an interview for a 4-year (or above) college or university lasts for at least a full day. Either the job applicant completely ignored everything that should have been stated by someone during the interview, or the college did an unbelievably piss-poor job on their end of the interview. If it is the former, then great, she got what she deserved. If the latter…

WTF?!?! The applicant did mention in a follow up post that her requests were somewhat based on things she had been told by current faculty members. But where the hell was the dean, or department chair, or HR in all of this? If nobody in administration (i.e., either a dean or department chair) ever mentioned things like “sabbatical is only granted after achieving tenure”, “faculty usually have two new course preps per semester for the first few years”, “we absolutely expect the successful candidate to start the job in August”, and if nobody in HR told the candidate about job benefits like maternal leave, then the institution completely fucked up the interview. If I were in a position of power at a college or university and something like that was happening on job interviews, the people responsible would probably be put on my permanent “shit list”. FFS, we talk about some of these issues in the phone interview phase before we bring a candidate in for an on-campus interview! Yes, some of this stuff might be found on the campus website, but speaking from experience, much of it can’t. Although I called it “no-name” above, it is allegedly a pretty good undergraduate institution and if my interpretation is correct, I just don’t get it.

Speaking from experience, when we do a tenure-track job search, the search committee (i.e., faculty in the department who do all of the preliminary work to narrow down the applicant field) spend a lot of time and effort to find the best candidates out of the many dozens of applications. By the time a job offer is given, there’s absolutely no excuse for the negotiation process to be some sort of surprise for either side or for it to come down to some sort of cutthroat “fuck you, we won’t negotiate”. Sure, the candidate in this case asked for more than she expected to get, but, duh, that’s how negotiations work. I don’t believe for a nanosecond that any institution ever truly puts out their best possible offer at the start. When you lowball and then get offended by a highball reply, you’re basically admitting that you are hoping to get away with kneecapping your faculty before they even start.

(At the end of writing this, I did see that Cedar’s Digest did touch upon the issue of the institution apparently not being clear about their expectations. While I’m at it, Flavia brings up the possibility that sexism played a role here. Oh, and this is as good of a place as any to mention that commenters who say that this “negotiation” shouldn’t have been done by email are playing right into the hands of unscrupulous administrators who say things to job candidates that they never have any intention of remembering once the candidate is working there. Not that I’ve ever experienced something like that…)


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