Don’t Ask For Nothin’
An issue making the rounds involves an applicant who was offered a faculty position at Nazareth College only to have it rescinded when she tried to negotiate. Specifically, after stating she was excited about the opportunity she asked for:
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.
And Nazareth College thanked for the email and her interest but responded thusly:
The search committee discussed your provisions. They were also reviewed by the Dean and the VPAA. It was determined that on the whole these provisions indicate an interest in teaching at a research university and not at a college, like ours, that is both teaching and student centered. Thus, the institution has decided to withdraw its offer of employment to you.
Slate’s Rebecca Schulman is outraged:
How dare this “women” think she could attempt to secure a better life for herself and her family? In this market, if a university wants her to wade around in pig crap, her only counteroffer should be: “Should I bring my own snorkel?” Any beginning academic who tries to stand up for herself is lunch for the hordes of traumatized ivory-tower zombies, themselves now irreversibly infected with the obsequious self-devaluation and totalizing cowardice that go by the monikers “collegiality” and “a good fit.”
Heebie-Geebie, a professor at a small liberal arts school in Texas (and an avowed liberal) disagreed:
At Heebie U, if she made these queries, it would truly indicate that she is woefully out of touch with what kind of institution we are. I would be flabbergasted if a candidate followed up a campus visit and offer with this kind of list, because it’s so wildly outside of our financial abilities or what anyone else gets. I would think “This candidate is genuinely not interested in being at this kind of institution – she thinks she has gotten an offer from a far wealthier, more prestigious institution than we are, and she will go back on the job market very quickly if she comes here.” In other words, what the response from Nazareth said.
When we were living in Deseret, we happened to live at the doorstep of Deseret State University. A whole lot of my coworkers went there and more than a few had spouses that worked there. One person who was in touch with faculty recruited described the process as an effort primarily to weed out those who weren’t really interested in the job. They’d offer to take applicants hunting, fishing, or hiking. They’d take them to see community theater. That was as important as anything they had to say about their academic profile. If they demurred or were bored, then they probably weren’t a good fit. Among the hundreds or thousands of applicants for every openings, they felt they could find someone who was and who actually wanted to be in small city Mountain West or at Deseret State.
As such, I sympathize with Nazareth’s concerns here. The daylight between this applicant and the next applicant was not so great. And an offer made can be rescinded before it’s accepted (afterwards, it gets more complicated).
One of the things that crossed my mind, though, was why this email revealed something that the interview process – sufficiently extensive that they felt comfortable extending an offer – didn’t. Whose side I am on depends almost entirely on whether Nazareth is re-evaluating its interview process. Because if an email of requests can throw it off, clearly something went wrong. The nature of the job was not adequately conveyed or they did not probe the applicants enough about what they were looking for. The only other explanation is that the applicant mislead them. But if the applicant gave one impression during the interview, it doesn’t seem to me that it should be rescinded on the basis of an email. At the least, you would want to probe further, I would think.
It’s easy to look at this as a situation specifically regarding humanities academics and why did they major in that and yadda yadda, but this situation isn’t entirely unique to academia these days. Actually, though, my wife ran into a similar situation.
She was flown out twice to interview for a job. She came close to getting it and in retrospect we believe that the sticking point was that she was asking for too much. Not demanding too much, mind you, but asking for things that signaled to them that she wasn’t actually a good fit. It came as a blow when they took a pass. I hesitate to say that they were right in making the decision that they did, but I do understand where they were coming from. And it did work out best for us because the things she hated about the job in Arapaho were actually less favorable at the other job. The only benefit is that it would have been clear about six months in, rather than a couple of years in, that Clancy’s career path needed an adjustment.
So hopefully W (the rejected applicant from the article) will find the sort of job she is looking for at an institution where these sorts of questions aren’t so alien.
Update: Jaybird cites this follow-up from W that helps put things in perspective from W’s end. She felt that the undercurrent was safe to go into “negotiation mode” and not have it be interpreted as it was. In that context, asking for things that are out there seems less unreasonable and, if events occurred as she suggests, makes me look more critically at Nazareth’s response. Which is to say that if they had been exchanging friendly emails all day and this seems to come out of left field, the more appropriate thing to do – it seems to me – is to follow up. “We’re concerned that you might be looking for something on more of a research track” and taking it from there.
On the other hand, we just don’t know how things looked from Nazareth’s end. It could well be that they liked her except for one thing: during the interview, she gave the impression that she might be looking for a different track than what NC has to offer. And then the email sealed that impression irrevocably. That’s possible.
Which brings me to what I didn’t talk about, which is sexism. The truth is that we simply don’t know. It’s entirely credible to me that if a man had sent such a list that it would more likely have been received in the manner W says it was intended. That because they’re not used to women in “negotiation mode” or because of sexist preconceptions, they responded inappropriately and differently than they would have if it was a man. But that they responded the way they did – even if we are skeptical of their response – does not actually make the case that there was a discrepancy between how they responded here and how they would have responded to a man. That is, of course, what makes these things so frustrating. On the one hand, every decision gets second-guessed. On the other hand, I have seen situations where nearly every single decision that was made is defensible… and yet the lopsidedness of the results were hard to ignore (in this case, the lower-track team ended up almost entirely female and the upper-track almost entirely male regardless of job performance, skill level, and professionalism).