The Tenure Take-Back

The response to a professor who lost her job offer when she tried to negotiate reveals the skewed priorities of academia.

I’m a bit confused by this. Why wasn’t the amount of teaching something discussed during the interview? Should that be negotiable, or isn’t that just what the job is?

If we take the university’s response at face value, it kind of seems okay to me that saying you didn’t want to teach many classes suggests that you didn’t understand what the job you were offered was (caveat: I don’t work in academia, so I’m not especially familiar with what workload might be between teaching/research universities) - in which case perhaps it’s okay for the university to rescind the offer?

But should merely having the temerity to open a discussion result in the whole offer being taken away? (another caveat: I’m a terrible haggler, it wouldn’t occur to me to negotiate conditions - if I didn’t like what was on offer, I’d go elsewhere…)

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I also found this response:


In general, there is a heavier teaching load at small liberal arts schools like this one. but you usually have far less requirements for tenure in regards to publishing. Yet there is still the expectation of at least some publishing in order to gain tenure (I assume maybe it’s just a book, or maybe articles? But a pre-tenure sabbatical in general part and parcel of that–when I first went back to school, I went to a community college, and one of the english profs had a sabbatical to do just that). But, I see no reason for her not to negotiate on the terms of employment, either way. That is the name of the game, from what I understand it. Maybe they had made an offer to another, more preferred candidate, who came back after initially rejecting their offer? That’s not unusual.

Another aspect to consider is the back and forth between the administration and the department, which neither W or us are privy to. Many schools/universities are attempting to bring departments to heel, and to have more functions normally controlled by the individual departments more under the central administrations control. They could just have shut down any debate between the central university and the individual department, with the college saying no negotiation allowed.

Of course, we have no way of knowing how her job talk went, or how they made known to her the job requirments. They might have made it seem like there was room for negotiation, when there wasn’t.

But many colleges and universities know how desperate some are for that coveted tenure track jobs–they can’t not know how bad things are out there, especially in the humanities–and I’m sure there is some level of what we could call exploitation of that desperation going on here. I’m little surprised she was so forward about negotiations, actually given the real world situation-- maybe she came from an Ivy League school, where they are still coming out with the expectation that a good degree from a top school is going to equal a tenure track job, when even that is not certain any longer.

I do agree with the Higher Ed piece that at least some of the reaction to her argument seems to delve into victim blaming here. What ever the real story here, it seems really fucked up.

And I think this is tangentially related - are we creating a glut of STEM grads, the same way the Cold War helped to create a glut of humanities/area studies grads (or so the story is told, usually by people who think the humanities are useless anyway):

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In case you’re interested, here is a link one of my friends sent along, which discusses how the American Historical Association is starting to address the tenure crunch in practical terms - this topic is beginning to get some serious consideration, at last, but like any other entrenched set of institutions, it’s a long hard slog to get anything changed - this looks promising at least:

AFAIK, there hadn’t been an interview yet; the candidate was responding to the job description. “Course preps” refers to the new to you classes you’re asked to teach – each new course requires fairly prep time (often extensive), as you learn the syllabus and its materials. (Obviously, prep standards vary according to dedication to teaching…but they’re usually higher pre-tenure ; -) As a new hire at a school like Nazareth, she may have been asked to teach 5 or 6 sections per term, and she doesn’t want them to all be “new.” That’s a reasonable wish, but her timing in bringing it up seemed atrocious.

I’m not going down the rabbit hole of checking out all the action at Philosophy Smoker, but the Slate piece has me thinking that the candidate was woefully unprepared for the hiring process. (For more peer-generated context in this vein, check out the links on David Ball’s --the IHE essayist-- followup March 19 blog entry)

(Let’s consider that IHE essay for a moment. It’s only slightly cynical to suggest that the most important takeaway from Dr. Ball’s piece is that he can add it to his CV :-] Also, writing on this topic helps him maintain his chops in the area of Women’s and Gender Studies, a secondary/supporting field to his current main interest of “Comics and Modernism.” And it should p’bly be noted that he earned tenure in 2013, so he perhaps feels a bit of an urge to use his new freedom.) (I’m sure he’s genuinely interested in this topic/incident…just sayin’ that politics is everywhere in academia.)

This candidate…wow. Boggles my mind that anyone could be this far along in the process and not comprehend the basics of hiring. Doctorates are a drug on the market; there are tens to hundreds of candidates for every position. Thus, Rule #1: “Don’t open your mouth until your foot is in the door.” Especially with a small, private lib arts college with aspirations of STEM-ness. The hiring committee wants to get to know you, to judge your “fit” with the campus, department, and personnel. It is assumed that applicants are aiming for a lifetime position at a place like Nazareth, so there’s plenty of time (read: not now!) to talk about upping the perks and rewards.

On a guess, I imagine this woman is either such a genius that she’s never had to be cognizant of academic politics, or else she (or her private network) just sucks at realpolitik. (This is a position in the Philosophy Department at a school that’s growing its hard sciences…you take what you’re offered and be grateful ; -)

The job is not just “you do X” – it is “you do X for Y dollars” – you change either X or Y, and the job has changed.

So, asking for less hours is a difference, asking for more money is a difference, asking to take maternity leave is a difference.

Negotiating is about changing the job.

@s2redux yeah, you’re off a bit. She had interviewed and received an offer – she was negotiating. As much venom has been spewed at Nazareth, had they actually offered a job to someone not brought in for an interview, they’d probably be laughed off campus. Which is a bit of a mixed metaphor, given that Nazareth is the campus, too. Hrm.

Thanx for that info. In the Slate piece (and others) the quotes seemed to indicate she was dumped by the search committee, which to me meant that she was still on a list of candidates – if you’re at the contract-signing stage, a Dean or Department Head does the dumping ; -)

It’s truly bizarre behavior by Nazareth, but I still think the candidate played her hand incredibly poorly:

  1. Asking for a pre-hire >10% raise, to be “more in line with what [others] have been getting” might work at a state uni, but it’s laughable for a residential lib arts college
  2. She’s already assured of a semester of maternity leave; why even bring this up?
  3. Wanting a Sabbatical in year 5-7 isn’t unreasonable…as long as it’s the only demand you’re making
  4. You know why they call it “golf”? Because “shit!” was already taken. At a school like Naz, “assistant prof” means “peon” – get used to it, and just keep marking off days on your tenure calendar
  5. What is this I don’t even…“A start date of academic year 2015…” Really? This is the most tone-deaf of the negotiation items. At small schools, in the humanities, you teach, serve, and publish (ignore research unless it’s stipulated by a benefactor). You can’t do those first two, at all, unless you’re working on campus. I know, amazing!

I sincerely doubt she would have been negotiating if she had not already been interviewed and possibly offered a position? I could be wrong, though. I didn’t get that from the slate piece, or the original posting. The email she got also mentions that the committee was discussing this with the dean, etc, so they wouldn’t have gotten to that point if she had not already had an on campus or at the very least a skype/phone call interview. Again, I could be misreading this whole thing, but that is how it seemed to me. I’ve never known anyone applying for a job to have the expectation that they could negotiate before they even had an on-campus interview.

I’m not sure that’s the case here, either. Not that I think she’s necessarily right in all this, but there is no reason to think that she shouldn’t negotiate as a possible new hire, as that is standard practice from what I’ve seen. There is probably something else going on there that we just aren’t privy too, in regards to inter-university politics, either at the department level or between the department and the school. And, honestly, there is no way that she can know what that is, because she’s only interacted with her potential colleagues in a very mediated way–on some level, the department is just as much being interviewed as the candidate is.

In my experience of academic job interviews (I’ve attended a few at this point and taken candidates out for breakfast in my capacity as a graduate student - so all on the hiring end, not so far on the candidate end), departments tend to offer advice and talks on how to deal with the job market and on the various options available. In my field at least, there has been a real push, given the realities of the job market, to try and help phds think more creatively and think out side academia, too. But obviously, if you are a phd in the humanities, your ideal is most likely a job at a college or university.

I’m also guessing she is coming out of a top-tier university, because those are the guys who tend to get the most job interviews anyway… but since we don’t know who she is and where she is coming from, we don’t know… But, many of the candidates emerging from elite schools tend to be far more coddled than those of us who are at state schools. They get a free ride, they get much more individualized attention, and they are far more insulated from BS realpolitiks, I think. The universities that already have reputations and fat endowments can afford to do that - their students actually have the ability to think about pretty much nothing but their dissertation work, because that is their REAL WORK anyway. But they also generally can’t teach for shit coming right out of their phds, because they have not had to teach surveys. Some schools actually forbid phds from teaching surveys and only allow them to TA for a prof in the surveys or to teach an upper division course of history majors. Few of these unis have classes which deal with pedagogy, because they are being trained to research, think, and write–not teach surveys.

All of which sounds so unbelievable cushy to me right now…

Okay, now I have to get back to writing about the luddites for a class of ungrateful and uncaring non-history major undergrads… :-/

It’s a lesson in the invisible hand of Adam Smith - there are probably 100 applicants for that job and the department and college are in the position to dictate terms, less so the applicant.

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