A news story has been making the rounds in academic circles about a newly minted PhD job candidate who, when offered a tenure track faculty position at Nazareth College, attempted to negotiate salary and conditions only to have the college rescind the offer entirely. Here is the email the candidate says she sent the search committee:
“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.”
She ended the email by saying “I know that some of these might be easier to grant than others. Let me know what you think.”
This was the university’s response:
“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,” the email continues. “Thus, the institution has decided to withdraw its offer of employment to you.”
By all accounts, it is unusual for universities to retract offers rather than negotiate with candidates. In my own experience and the anecdotes I have heard from nearly every colleague, the conventional wisdom is to ask for as much as you can during negotiations because it’s when you have the most leverage, but you should never expect to get everything (or even most of the things) you have requested. The advice I have always heard (and passed along to students) is that faculty are expected to negotiate job offers, and that “the worst that can happen is that they say, ‘no.’”
While all we know of this case is what was originally posted on the blog Philosophy Smoker, where it first appeared, the story as shared does reflect some larger truths about the changing nature of organizations and work. Far from most of the 20th century organizations generally rewarded employee loyalty and long-term tenure with benefits and secure retirement packages, but now organizations are more likely to shift costs associated with employment to workers and value flexibility and adaptability in their employees. Concurrently, researchers note that in line with declining union membership in both public and private sectors, all workers have significantly less bargaining and negotiating power than they have in years past. In universities in particular, low state tax revenues have led to budget decreases that administrators often choose to rectify by hiring low paid adjuncts or by forcing tenure track faculty to supplement their salaries with external funding (which has also become more scarce). In short, these conditions create a tight labor market for workers in a range of sectors with many applicants for few job openings, and the positions that are available are more likely to be the “bad jobs” sociologist Arne Kalleberg describes with few benefits, very little long term security or potential for advancement, and low pay. In other words, the university’s decision to rescind the offer isn’t really that shocking in the contemporary context of how work (and workers) are treated today—it’s just more surprising because it happened in academia, where historically faculty have been able to enjoy more secure working conditions. I think the lesson from this narrative is that as workers continue to lose power, even a relatively protected field like academia has become more uncertain.
There are sobering implications here for how a story like this possibly reflects and can perpetuate ongoing gender inequalities. It’s notable that in the Lean In era where highly paid corporate executives like Sheryl Sandberg suggest that women can create parity simply being more proactively involved (including but not limited to negotiating for higher pay), a woman candidate attempted to do just this and lost the job she had been offered. Given that the negotiation process contributes to (but doesn’t solely explain) gendered wage inequalities, if more universities follow Nazareth’s model, it is worth questioning whether the threat of losing an offer for negotiating will contribute further to pay inequities between men and women academics.