Three Truths and a Lie? Negotiations at the Christian College (A Guest Post)

Today’s anonymous author is a tenured professor in the field of religion at a mid-sized Christian University. He has sat on and chaired numerous search committees for both faculty and administrative hires. He sees the enormous stack of applicants for each open position, but insists that there are certain methods for distinguishing yourself from the crowd.

Most of us watched with horror at the story of the rescinded offer at Nazareth College last year. While these cases are spectacularly rare (I actually have never heard of one), remember that Christian Universities represent a distinct subset of the academy. If you are sitting on an offer, I offer some negotiation advice in the form of the popular Protestant Youth Camp Ice Breaker, “Three Truths and a Lie.” My advice primarily applies to those with job offers at member schools of the Council of Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) or the Association for Theological Schools (ATS).

Truth #1: Christian Institutions of Higher Education are extremely economically stressed.

Of course, all colleges are under economic duress, but this is particularly true for many Christian institutions of higher education for a variety of reasons. For example, most Christian mainline denominations (Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, etc) are contracting in size, number and financial resources. In the past Christian schools depended on generous financial support from these churches, but that is simply no longer the case. The end effect is that many of these CCCU and ATS schools have limited financial resources. Thus, a tenure-track hire is extraordinarily risky for them. A low-ball offer may be a way to hedge that risk so be aware.

Truth #2: “God told us to pay you less.”

I admit that this isn’t very fair of a subtitle. But Christian institutions view their mission in terms of service to a community of faith. The administrators and board members often couch the language in terms of ministry. This effects perceptions of faculty pay. They may consider the vocation of professor more similar to the pastor than an accountant or engineer. This puts a tremendous bind on negotiations, because such discussions may implicitly or even explicitly take on the aspect of divine calling. You should be aware of this, expect this and respond accordingly. For example, if the provost/dean says that the position is a matter of calling more than finances, then you can respond, “Yes, I agree ultimately that it is a matter of call and that is the biggest component of my discernment process, though should I accept, I would expect fair and just compensation to be somewhat commensurate to my contributions to the university mission.” See what I did there? If they try to negotiate through Christian morality (calling), acknowledge, but do the same thing back to them (justice).

Truth #3: See your salary in the bigger financial picture

Yes, salaries are generally lower, but for some of these schools, so are expectations. Because the research demands at some of these institutions can be considerably less, there may be latitude to take on additional work on small and large scale. I know of professors that actually take on entire 2nd jobs (pastors, hospital chaplains) to supplement income. Some schools will look at this quite favorably, as it puts the professors deep in these religious communities and the heart of the institutional mission. If you need the money, then you need to consider your options. Many of my colleagues find creative ways to do so outside their university salary, even with a 4-4 load. If it is still not feasible, then you should consider better paying institutions or moves to (gasp!) non-academic careers.

The Secret Lie:

Ok, so perhaps this is not a blatant lie, but it is certainly misleading. Many of these schools claim to operate on an equality pay scale out of ideological principal, and deans may outright claim that salary is not negotiable. Some schools will have just three categories: assistant professor, associate professor and full professor. Others will add on a subcategory of years of service. But I know that in certain CCCU or ATS institutions, these pay scales are not followed and that there is room for negotiation for candidates that they really want. With that said, unless you are a superstar, it is wise that you try to negotiate within reason of their pay scale. Much of the TPII content is very applicable such as this this and this.

Despite the somewhat derisive tone of this post, I have truly enjoyed working at a Christian university. I appreciate many aspects of my professorial life that are vastly different from a professorship at an elite R1.

Like most things in life, there is both good and bad, though I learned that wise negotiation can help tilt it a bit more to the good.

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Three Truths and a Lie? Negotiations at the Christian College (A Guest Post) — 7 Comments

  1. It is nothing short of sad and infuriating any occurence of professors and teachers taking a second job for making ends meet. After all, these are the people in charge of shaping the future. A pity..

    • Not necessarily. Lots of full-time profs at all kinds of institutions do extra things for pay such as grading AP exams. Journalism profs may publish columns for pay. Heck, senior scholars who publish academic monographs and textbooks may get royalties. In all of these cases, the academics’ extra paying work is seen by their institutions as being something that enriches their ability to contribute to the goals of the institution. All that is different in the scenario above is that “contributing to the goals of the institution” is construed more broadly — which actually makes for more flexibility.

      • And then there are adjuncts who work at Walmart to afford rent because the 4/4 teaching schedule still isn’t enough to break even in bills.

  2. Once I have accepted and signed an offer (that was also signed by the President of a public religious institution such as that discussed in your posting), can that offer be rescinded legally?

  3. Just received an offer from a small Christian College that is 20% lower than my current salary as an Assistant Professor. Is asking them to increase the offer to meet my current salary unreasonable? They also believe in outside work for pay being good for the college and community but this seems like a huge gap to make up.

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