I keep getting asked about the recent rescinded offer in Philosophy at Nazareth College, which originally popped up on Philosophy Smoker, (with a response from the rescindee, “W,” here), went to Jezebel, then Forbes, and shows no signs of stopping.
Many readers have written panicked messages asking if negotiating is now out of the question for tenure track job seekers.
It is not.
You should still expect to negotiate your tenure track job offer in nearly all cases.*
Here are my thoughts, summarized:
I write about the rescinded offer phenomenon in two places on the blog, my post, How To Negotiate Your Tenure Track Offer, and Job Market Horror Stories: The Rescinded Offer. I am also quoted in the Inside Higher Ed piece about this particular case from Nazareth.
In short, 3 points: 1) rescinding an offer when a client attempts to negotiate is outrageous and unethical; 2) the institutions that rescind offers strongly tend to be tiny teaching colleges with current or former religious affiliations, so if you are dealing with one of those, tread VERY carefully; 3) this candidate, W, made some grievous errors in her approach to the negotiations, showing a tone-deaf lack of sensitivity to the needs of the institution. That does not justify the rescinding. But if she had worked with me on negotiating, I would have told her to remove or rephrase many of the elements on her list of requests, because they were inappropriate to such a small, teaching oriented, resource-poor, service-heavy kind of institution. However, again, her sin of negotiating ineptly is miniscule compared to the sin of an institution summarily rescinding an offer.
And for others wondering what to do: the vast, vast majority of offers are still negotiated (out of about 100 Negotiating Assistance clients with whom I worked, 2 had offers rescinded). Expect to negotiate. Do not succumb to a culture of fear and exploitation. But if you are dealing with a tiny teaching college with a current or former religious institution, move carefully.
What specifically was wrong? I will enumerate. First, here is the email that “W” wrote to the department:
As you know, I am very enthusiastic about the possibility of coming to Nazareth. Granting some of the following provisions would make my decision easier.
1) An increase of my starting salary to $65,000, which is more in line with what assistant professors in philosophy have been getting in the last few years.
2) An official semester of maternity leave.
3) A pre-tenure sabbatical at some point during the bottom half of my tenure clock.
4) No more than three new class preps per year for the first three years.
5) A start date of academic year 2015 so I can complete my postdoc.
I know that some of these might be easier to grant than others. Let me know what you think.
Here is what’s wrong:
Salary: She asked for a significant increase in salary (in her later followup comment she says it was an increase of “less than 20%” which I am going to take to mean somewhere between 10% and 20%). That is unreasonably high for any new assistant professor position in the humanities, even at an R1 or elite SLAC. 10% is the maximum raise that should be requested at the assistant professor level.
She adds, “which is more in line with what assistant professors in philosophy have been getting in the last few years.” This is presumptuous and also inaccurate. Never lecture an institution on what is supposedly “in line with” national salary “norms.” You, an assistant professor candidate, are not privy to national salary standards at every rank of school. Salaries for new assistant professors vary by some $20,000 across ranks of schools. I am not making this number up; I know it because I offer Negotiating Assistance as a service, and I have my hand in numerous negotiations at any one time. A humanities hire at an R1 will be offered $75,000 and at a small teaching college $55,000. These are real figures. You do not get to dictate to the institution what their salary “norm” is or should be. That is determined entirely at the institutional level and reflects rank, endowments, budgets, current salary structures, and local pressures of salary compression/equity.
Maternity Leave: W writes in the followup that she had already discussed this with them and understood it to be official policy. If it is official policy, don’t bring it up in negotiations. That sounds pushy and untrusting. It’s not that departments won’t grant maternity leave. It’s that they virtually never guarantee it ahead of time. You don’t know when you’ll have a baby, or even IF you’ll successfully have a baby. Babies resist planning. Therefore departments will be unlikely to commit to maternity leave until the baby has a real and imminent due date looming. But the larger point is that asking for something in writing that is already policy makes a candidate sound neurotic, untrusting, or uncollegial.
Pre-Tenure Sabbatical: This is absolutely the norm at R1s and fancy elite SLACs, and absolutely not the norm everywhere else. It shouldn’t be on this list for this particular job.
Limited New Class Preps: This is common for R1s and elite SLACs, and inappropriate for the rank of school and the conditions that prevail there. The candidate absolutely could have asked for limited accommodation relating to new class preps. Asking for this much, in this way, sounds high-handed and arrogant.
A Delayed Start Date: Very common for R1s and elite SLACs, and incredibly difficult to manage for everyone else. Understand that the school has to staff its classes. They are hiring you to do that. If you don’t do it, they have to scramble to find someone else. Big, elite schools will have a pool of adjuncts around to possibly serve this need. A school like Nazareth will not. They need a warm body to stand in front of those classes, and that warm body is you. You need to show up.
Now, faced with this admittedly quite tone-deaf email what should Nazareth have done? They should have responded, “we can do x, but not x, x, or x. With regard to x, we already have policy in place to provide it. At our institutions the expectations for teaching are xxxx. We do not commonly support xxx and xxx. We can explain further in a phone call if you’d like.”
In other words, give the offeree—presumably a brand new, wet behind the ears Ph.D. who only really knows how things are at her R1 Ph.D. department, the chance to hear and understand the conditions that prevail at this particular rank and type of SLAC. The offeree is not evil and is not the enemy. The offeree is probably just clueless and inexperienced. Departments should not summarily dump an offeree who seeks an inappropriate level of negotiation; they should respond with information so that both sides can make a more educated decision about fit. Many, many former elite Ph.D.s have found meaningful careers at teaching colleges. Sometimes it just takes a little time to understand and adjust.
*At the risk of beating a dead horse: Unless your offer is from a tiny teaching college with a current or former religious affiliation; then move very carefully.