The case of XXXXXX XXXXXX

Update: At the request of third parties, and with the agreement of the people involved, I have anonymized this post to remove the name of the people and universities involved.

I don’t like to wander into controversy on the blog, but I do want to share what I know about our postdoc XXXXX’s job search this year, in order to counteract some incorrect impressions I’ve heard about.

  • XXXX interviewed at AAAA, and got an early offer of an assistant professorship, with a deadline in February.  She had other interviews already scheduled, and asked for an extension on the deadline.  They didn’t give her one.
  • XXXX accepted the AAAA  job, while on an interview visit to BBBB.
  • Later, XXXX was offered an assistant professorship at BBBB as well.  BBBB, understanding that XXXX had already accepted a position at AAAA, agreed to make the offer effective in Fall 2011 if she so chose.
  • XXXX  told AAAA about her situation, making clear that she had no intention of reneging on her acceptance of the position, and that she was honestly not sure which department was the better home for her.  She asked for a year of unpaid leave for 2011-2012 so that she could visit BBBB after one year at AAAA and make an informed decision.
  • This request, too, was denied.  At this point, the chair at AAAA told her that she had to make up her mind now which job she wanted to take; she was released from her commitment to AAAA  and told that she should immediately start whichever of the two positions she chose.  At this point, XXXX chose the job at BBBB.

As far as I can see, no one acted unethically here.  At every stage, XXXX was upfront with everyone involved, and never considered not showing up at AAAA until the chair there explicitly authorized it.  BBBB made an offer to someone who already had a job, yes:  but I see no difference between making her an offer in March 2010 for Fall 2011, and making her the same offer in October 2010, which would obviously be OK.  As for AAAA, they ran their hiring process in a somewhat nonstandard and maybe suboptimal way — in particular, by denying XXXX the unpaid leave and releasing her to go to BBBB next fall instead, it seems to me they denied themselves the opportunity to convince XXXX that AAAA was the right department for her.  (But I’m told that, at some departments, unpaid leave is not routinely granted as it is at UW.)

In case you hear someone say “XXXX accepted a job at AAAA and then reneged,” please let them know that the story is more complicated.

Update: Timeline above corrected to clarify that XXXX’s AAAA deadline coincided with her interview at BBBB; she didn’t interview at BBBB after already having accepted AAAA, as the original version suggested.

Tagged ,

87 thoughts on “The case of XXXXXX XXXXXX

  1. Noah Snyder says:

    You may want to consider leaving a link to this post over at the relevant line on the math jobs wiki (http://notable.math.ucdavis.edu/wiki/Mathematics_Jobs_Wiki). That was the only place I’d heard about this situation previously (and since there’s very little detail there, I’d just assumed that there was a good explanation for what happened, as it turns out there is).

  2. Max Lieblich says:

    When the state finally decides that the only option it has left is to cancel New Jersey, there will no longer be a Rutgers. Then (mercifully) no one will care.

  3. Frank says:

    Thank you Jordan. I’m sick of hearing XXXXXX get badmouthed. She doesn’t deserve it.

  4. As you say XXXXXX didn’t do this, but personally I don’t have a problem with people accepting one position and then dropping it for somewhere else if the first university was playing hardball. The universities hold all the cards, especially in todays market, and one faculty member is only a small part of any department where as it’s a hugh chunk of the faculty member’s life where they end up.

    Seriously, outside academia, would people complain that someone reneged on accepting a job 6 months before the start data? Ok, there are cases where that could pose a problem, but then usually the employment contract would spell out specific penalties for not showing up. To put things in an excessively lawyerly fashion, if you renege on a job that you accepted, it is certainly a breach of contract. But unless said contract has specific penalties for this, all you owe the employer is any damages this causes them. Given that it’s trivial for the university to hire someone else, these are essentially zero…

  5. Graham says:

    Nathan’s comment made my eyes bug out. I typed in and deleted an awful lot of verbiage here, but I think I will simply say that it’s possible what he says is true in large departments like UIUC or UW, but it’s simply false in my (much smaller) department. We do not hold all the cards; any particular faculty member has the potential to be a huge influence on the life of the department, for good or for evil; it is not at all trivial for us to hire in any case, and very damaging to the department to go a year without filling a position.

    We recently had a position go unfilled for four years [for a variety of factors, both internal and external], which put extraordinary stresses on the department. It has also lowered our status in the college/university, leading most likely to further cases where we’ll be unable to hire, and a vicious circle. Operating “a man down” may be no big deal when it represents <1% of the workforce, but it's huge when it's 4 or 8%, and has even bigger repercussions.

    Oh look, I typed a lot again.

  6. Graham, I was on the faculty at Caltech for four years, which had I think 13 faculty at the time, plus several unfilled position (2 or 3, depending). Having unfilled lines was problematic, though hardly catastrophic in that particular, probably atypical, case.

    I can certainly see that failing to fill a position could hurt a department’s status within a university. I still think universities, though not necessarily individual departments, do hold all the cards in today’s job market. So perhaps whether one agrees with Graham or me depends on whether one views the obligation of the person who accepted the job is to the university or the department. (Legally, it’s certainly to the university, but that’s not really the point here) That is, if a math search fails and the dean decides to give English the position in the next cycle it’s hard to argue that the university was harmed, though the math department obviously has been…

  7. Graham says:

    Fair enough, Nathan.

    I do want to clarify that (a) I was just responding to Nathan’s comment, not Jordan’s original post [about which I know exactly nothing past what's on this page]; and (b) I’m certainly not pushing a “poor poor pitiful department, think of the poor department” POV. A person breaching contract as Nathan imagines would be hurting the department, but I don’t expect that would or should be a factor for them in their decision.

  8. Richard says:

    Rutger’s mathematics department is not tiny. I just counted almost 90 faculty members, so one unfilled position is not going to be particularly onerous.

    From Jordan’s description of the situation, it appears that the chair of that department may have been inflexible enough that it could cause some legitimate concern about the working environment there. I’m curious about Frank’s comment about badmouthing, and wondering where in general that’s coming from.

  9. Oh dear… Zeilberger’s writing certainly does not lead to a serious discussion of the issue. I would say that he does make some good points (e.g., in my personal opinion, I agree that someone who has accepted an offer really should withdraw from consideration until he has, at least, spent one year in the corresponding department — note I use “he” to emphasize that this is Abstract Hiring Theory, as I have no definite information on the case being discussed here), but the whole piece is so much over the top that this disappears entirely…

  10. Frank says:

    Hi Richard, I was talking to — well, let’s just say someone respectable, influential, not directly involved in any of this, and who is not the sort to rush to judgment (and who almost certainly doesn’t read Zeilberger’s blog). He brought up XXXXXX’s case, and he was quite critical of both XXXXXX and Yale.

    He wasn’t seriously misinformed, and although I disagreed, he certainly raised valid points. But he didn’t seem to be aware of the mitigating factors which Jordan describes above. It really seems that Rutgers was surprisingly inflexible. (A deadline in February? Really?) That’s their privilege, but they paid the price for it.

  11. KHG says:

    The important question seems to be: did XXXXXX interview with Yale after or before she accepted the Rutgers offer?

    I think if the interview was before the acceptance then there was no unethical issue on her part, and Rutgers just left her no choice but to turn them down (and Zeilberger’s blog is either misinformed or else completely unfair).

    If the interview was after the acceptance, then XXXXXX faces some responsibility. Nevertheless she did tell Rutgers about her intention of honoring the contract for a year, so I don’t think she is to be blamed too much even in this case.

  12. A young mathematician who doesn't want to make enemies until he has a permanent job says:

    I want to start off that what I say in this comment isn’t meant to impugn the motives of Rutgers hiring committee, chair, or Zeilberger. I don’t know anything personally about this situation or the people involved.

    That having been said, as a feminist and a mathematician I think it’s important to point out that job-related negotiations with men and women are often dealt with very differently, and that this difference in how negotiations play out is one of the main causes of the continuing large gender gap in pay. In particular, employers are much more likely to low-ball women in salary negotiations, women who do attempt to negotiate their salaries are thought of much more negatively than men who do the same thing, and women who negotiate their salary (or leverage other job opportunities for a better position) are seen as disloyal in a way that men are not. This Washington Post article has a nice summary of some of the relevant research in this direction. (I’m not a social scientist and cannot separately evaluate the validity of this research.)

    The negative reaction to XXXXXX’s job negotiations is exactly the kind of reaction that this line of research suggests is subconciously gender-motivated. It’s important for people to be aware of ways in which most people (including both men and women!) are likely to treat women differently from men, so that they can use this knowledge to overcome such biases. (Again I’m not claiming that anyone in particular “is a sexist” or that Math as a profession or Rutgers as an employer are in any way unusual in terms of the prevalence of these biases.) Universities that find themselves in the situation that Rutgers was in should think very carefully about whether decisions like whether to grant an extension on a decision, or to allow a year of leave are being subconciously influenced by the gender of the applicant.

    Finally, in this context I think Zeilberger’s statement that “You don’t propose to a married (or even engaged) person. It is not nice!” is wildly wildly inappropriate. Again I’m not meaning to impugn Zeilberger’s motives or the reason he made this argument, but nonetheless his statement here is simply not ok.

  13. AYMWDWTMEUHHAPJ: I’d also been thinking that the “controversy” here was influenced by XXXXXX’s gender, and I think what you’re saying above is right on. I suspect people would not have reacted as strongly if one of the other frequently interviewed candidates who happened to be male had done the same thing. Normative social roles for men permit, even encourage, a certain amount of cut-throat self-interest that’s viewed as inappropriate in women.

    Indeed, I imagine that things of this nature occur from time to time (perhaps once a job cycle?), yet this is the first one I’ve heard discussed so much…

  14. Richard says:

    I’ve also been suspicious that gender could be a factor in this case. Two of the worst cases I’m aware of mathematicians being publicly pummeled involved women: one who played hard ball over a tenure issue years ago, and in the more recent past someone who claimed a result relating to a famous problem that turned out to be false and who consequently came under intense criticism on a blog — that discussion finally led to the blog owner shutting it down due to the heated and rude behavior. If they had been males, the reactions would have been much more subdued if there were reactions at all.

    Damn. I’m looking at the weather radar and thinking I won’t be able to make it in for the colloquium today.

  15. Note that Zeilberger’s comment, although I find it unfortunate, has even worse things to say about another (more senior) mathematician, and that mathematician is a man.

  16. another anonymous young feminist mathematicain says:

    Emmanuel Kowalski: The incident with the male mathematican that Zeilberger condemned in the postscript to his comment happened about five years ago. Zeilberger has been posting controversial things on his website for over five years. Why did he not make a fuss about it then?

  17. another anonymous young feminist mathematicain says:

    PS — disclaimer: like the previous anonyomous, I don’t want to impugn anyone’s motives here, and the rhetorical question above was just my way of expressing that I found Emmanuel Kowalski’s counterargument thoroughly unconvincing.

    (But maybe I should just stay out of arguments; JSE, feel free to delete this comment and the one above if you feel it is not a productive addition to the conversation.)

  18. Richard says:

    Emmanuel,

    Note though that Zeilberger pointedly used the expression “XXXXXX XXXXXX Syndrome” rather than “Qiang Du Syndrome” in the title of that particular page. Unfortunately now for XXXXXX, if you search for her name with Google, Zeilberger’s page shows up within the first twenty listings. Zeilberger might as well have put up a billboard in front of her house. If you search for Qiang Du, Zeilberger’s page is buried deep enough that a casual inspection won’t find it.

  19. Yet another young mathematician says:

    Another remark about Zeilberger. When I first read his rant, I distinctly remember that his statement “You don’t propose to a married (or even engaged) person. It is not nice!” had the word “lady” rather than person. I suppose I should be glad he decided to make his sexism a little less blatant…

  20. YAYM @ 20: Hmm, I see that Zeilberger added a postscript a couple of days ago, adding the mention of Qiang Du that Emmanuel noted, among other things. Unfortunately, said additions make Zeilberger seem even more vindictive and out-to-lunch on this, especially given the facts as reported by JSE.

  21. another anonymous young feminist mathematicain says:

    Richard@20: Yes, it is sad that Zeilberger’s page shows up in the google results. But at least it is mitigated by the fact this blog entry currently shows up at #5 in my search (go Quomodocumque!)

  22. 1. It is very sexist to accuse me of sexism. The original phrase “you don’t
    propose to a married (or even engaged) woman” used “woman” as
    a generic term for “person”. Until about fifty years, and in many cultures
    still today, men did the proposing, and women did the refusing (or accepting) as in the Gale-Shapely stable marriage algorithm.
    After the young mathematician who does not want to make enemies,
    and whom I wholly respect (and who applied to Rutgers a few years ago,
    and I voted for her, because I liked and appreciated her work very much)
    pointed out that this phrase may be misunderstood, I changed
    “woman” to “person”.

    2. I didn’t make a fuss about Qiang Du, five years ago, because most of my rants are not about people but about content. The XXXXX XXXXXX
    syndrome made me particularly angry because it brought to a new extreme
    playing “hard ball”, and breaking even the most basic rules of fair play.
    In the job market you have, very unfairly, the 0-1 law. You are
    either “hot” or you are “not”, and those that are “hot” should be
    considerate to those who are not, and not hog “two parking spaces”,
    for the following reason.

    3. I am sure that XXXXXX XXXXXX is not a “bad” person, but what she
    did was very wrong for a reason that even the people here may
    be able to agree with. She deprived another young mathematician
    (that by the way, happed to be a woman) of an optimal job.
    The second-in-line after XXXXXX XXXXXX, who would have gotten
    the job (that would have been a perfect match for her) didn’t get it,
    and by the time (very late) that Dr. XXXXXX reneged, she was already
    committed for a less-than-optimal postdoc (rater than tenure-track)
    somewhere in Europe. Being more ethical than XXXXXX,
    I am sure that she would not have reneged the postdoc, had she
    been offered it, not that Rutgers would have made her that offer,
    after she was committed. Besides, it is very possible, that because
    of budget cuts, the position evaporated completely.

    So the victim of XXXXXX XXXXXX’s misdeed was not
    just an institution, but a another young person like herself.

    4. Some people may think that I was too hard on Dr. XXXXXX, but
    the greedy algorithm of maximizing your utility function, breaking
    the already too-liberal, both-written-and-unwritten -rules, has really
    gotten out of hand. If delinquent parties like XXXXXX and Yale would be
    put to public shame, it would hopefully deter future incidents of the
    XXXXXX XXXXXX syndrome.

    5. I am sure, as people who know her told me, that XXXXXX XXXXXX
    is a nice, and moral person. The fact that even someone like her
    can do something so despicable, is a sign that something is rotten in
    our culture. The greed of Wall Street, that caused the collapse of our
    economy, has spilled-over to mathematics hiring.

  23. JSE says:

    In the case DZ describes, I hope Rutgers will go ahead and make an offer to the candidate who has accepted the European postdoc. This doesn’t strike me as at all objectionable. We have a postdoc coming next year who, after accepting our postdoc offer, accepted a tenure-track offer elsewhere effective Fall 2011, and will be with us for only one year instead of three. I just can’t find my way to seeing anything wrong with this.

  24. First, I didn’t know that a statement of fact in comment #16 amounted to a “counterargument”, and suspected even less that it might lead to motives being impugned (something which I didn’t know ever happened outside Wodehouse novels…)

    The scenario in #24 (if feasible) is also obviously fine; I’m not sure if there’s fine print about this anywhere, but no decent institution would consider it problematic that a person hired for an n-year postdoc would apply for jobs or leave after less.
    Certainly, young French postdocs are often forced to do this because the results of the French hiring season comes around late May, early June, and it is very hard to defer the starting date of a job there.

    In addition, at least in (Continental) Europe, in case of a competition between a temporary postdoc and a tenure-track position, many departments would be able to let the postdoc go and still have good possibilities for finding a replacement fairly late (e.g., because of the same young French mathematicians who didn’t get a job in June; many of them are outstanding). But this of course depends on individual dialogue between the parties involved.

  25. JSE @ 24: Here at Illinois, in the past few years we’ve had several cases were we made TT offers with deferred start dates so that people could take/finish postdoctoral positions they had already committed to. If Rutgers is, for whatever reason, unable or unwilling to do this, it’s completely unreasonable to blame the first-in-line for the effects on second-in-line, regardless of what implicit rules first-in-line might have violated (which in JSE’s account is, of course, none at all).

  26. seems to be the trend to be anonymous when you're a young mathmatician says:

    If events happened the way that Jordan described, which I have no reason to doubt, it seems that Zeilberger’s issue with XXXXXX is that she didn’t start the search all over again after arriving at Rutgers, or maybe that she didn’t tell Yale while on her interview visit that she had just accepted Rutgers position. It seems that she had intention to be at Rutgers for at least a year and asked for leave for 2011-2012.

    It seems like XXXXXX was completely honest with both departments about her situation. It’s probably not possible given the size of the math community, but had XXXXXX accepted Yale’s offer, not told Rutgers and then quit after a year, is that really better?

    Maybe putting “delinquent parties to public shame” would deter future incidents like this, but to be quite honest, as a young female mathematician, all it does is tell me how cautiously I need to step in this field. But then again, consulting male mathematicians before making any decision in this field doesn’t seem like the best option either as I’m fairly sure XXXXXX discussed the situation at length with her mentors at Wisconsin before doing anything.

  27. A young mathematician who doesn't want to make enemies until he has a permanent job says:

    I’m very confused about the end of point 3 in Zeilberger’s comment. Surely if Rutgers were to make an offer to someone who already committed to a postdoc that person could just accept the permanent job and defer it for a year (cf. Wisconsin, Toronto this year). I find the idea that a school wouldn’t make someone a tenure track offer because they’d taken a short-term postdoc quite bothersome. It’s the applicant’s right and responsibility to negotiate their situation with their postdoc institution, not Rutger’s business to make decisions for the applicant. (Though, as Zeilberger said, it’s certainly possible that the administration stepped in and removed the position which would make this comment entirely moot.)

    I certainly agree that Yale’s relatively late offers threw somewhat of a wrench into the job market (and presumably not only in the case of Rutgers and XXXXXX, which seem to me to have stood out not because of XXXXXX’s behavior but because of Rutger’s very early and hard deadline), and that Yale and other tip top schools have somewhat of a responsibility to move earlier so that the job market can function more smoothly. (Though I don’t think their behavior was beyond the bounds of ethics, just that “with great power comes great responsibility.”) And the affects of Yale’s late move could certainly be that several people didn’t get job offers that they otherwise might have. I think that some standardization of the deadlines for offers and acceptances would be very helpful for the TT job market (as it has been for the postdoc market, even though not all schools follow it) so that difficult situations like the one XXXXXX found herself in (one deadline coming before an offer was made) would become more rare.

    (I’m not sure if in the end of Zeilberger’s point 1 he’s referring to me or to someone else by using a similar moniker. If it’s the former, then I’d like to point out that I’m not whoever you’re thinking of (as should be clear from the pronoun in my moniker).)

  28. Dear “who does not want to make enemies”:
    sorry, I mistook you for someone else. The guessing game in blosphere
    is very challenging. -D.

  29. 1, Hi, it is me again. Now I understand why I made the (possible)
    mistaken identity, assuming that the “young mathematician
    who does not want to make enemies until He …” was
    the same person (obviously a woman, whom I know and respect)
    who wrote me Email, personally, with the same objection,. Since in
    blogsphere you read fast, I didn’t see the “he”, but then again,
    the “he” could be really a “she”, who knows, so that there is
    some possibility that they are still the same people.
    My vote (when she applied to Rutgers) was for the
    woman who wrote me Email, of course, not for the
    “no enemies” person.

    2. My comments 23, part 3, was misunderstood by Emanuel Kowalski and possibly others. Of course it is OK to
    make offers, for the following year, to a postdoc, but even
    a commitment from a postdoc should be honored for this
    coming year (but of course it is not so bad, if they renege on a one-year commitment).
    But besides, making an offer to #2 is no longer an option,
    we did indeed lose the position, at least for a few years,
    because of budget cuts.

    3. Back to Emanuel Kowalski,’s #10, I don’t see why my opinion 109
    was “over the top”, I made a very valid criticism of the shameful
    behavior of both XXXXXX XXXXXX and Yale, and while it is true that usually people keep their insults to themselves, I hope that I did my part in discouraging future incidents of the XXXXXX XXXXXX syndrome.

    4. Let me repeat that XXXXXX XXXXXX is not a bad person,
    she just did a very bad and inconsiderate thing, and,
    (most probably inadvertently) hurt quite a few people.

    a. The #2 who would have gotten the job if she would have
    promptly declined the Rutgers offer, before interviewing at Yale

    b. The many people at Rutgers who pushed hard for her,
    most notably, the great number theorist Henryk Iwaniec
    (by the way, Emanuel’s academic father), who was looking forward to working with XXXXXX. XXXXXX’s decision was
    a great insult to Henryk. Of course, Henryk is such a nice
    (and private) person that he wouldn’t say anything, but I am sure
    that XXXXXX’s betrayal did hurt him.

    c. The person who would suffer most from XXXXXX’s poor
    (and, of course, unethical) decision is XXXXXX XXXXXX herself,
    even if her misconduct would not have become public knowledge. Going to Rutgers, and interacting with Iwaniec and
    Stephen Miller, and the other members of the strong Number theory group there, would have been a much better match for her than going to Yale. XXXXXX’s decision was driven by
    pure snobism, the allure of Ivy League, and the fact that
    Yale is ranked #7 (or whatever) as opposed to Rutgers #20
    (or whatever). It is so stupid to base a decision on the
    linear, artificial, ranking, of a trashy magazine.

    4. Let’s hope that in spite of XXXXXX XXXXXX’s poor (and unethical) decision, she will continue to do brilliant mathematics
    that I admire, and that Yale will appreciate her work, and grant
    her tenure. She is a brilliant mathematician who fell victim
    to pure snobism, and inadvertently hurt
    the feelings of quite a few people, and deprived another
    deserving young mathematician of a good job.

  30. This is a reply to #29, since I’m mentioned (it seems I can’t reply to it directly due to threading limits).

    One reason I think that Zeilberger’s post was “over the top” is that I feel that, whatever happened (and I emphasize I don’t know the actual facts), it was overly personal. I know (actual experience now) that the type of behavior that is described in Zeilberger’s post does happen, and I find it personally extremely distasteful. But suppose for instance that the title of Zeilberger’s opinion sticks (and I assume it was purposefully chosen) in the viral internet way, and starts being used by all and sundry: that’s way too much weight for a young mathematician to bear, even if one is absolutely certain of the facts and motives involved (about which the least that can be said is that there are conflicting descriptions on this page).

    As #29 also explains, I know the Rutgers department from my PhD there, and I have a sentimental interest in knowing that the number theory group there develops as well as possible. I know that working with Henryk Iwaniec is a mind-expanding experience — and many other brilliant mathematicians have benefited from it. I’m also quite convinced that, since job offers do not come from a vacuum, he must have been very involved in it, and must be disappointed of what happened.

  31. Terence Tao says:

    The usual solution to avoiding ad hominem attacks or the impression of vindictiveness when using an actual case study to illustrate an abstract argument is not to name names (even if such names could be worked out given some research). I am sure such opinions could be easily reworded to refer to an “unnamed candidate” and an “unnamed institution”, and the key points of the opinion could be made with equal or greater clarity without getting personal.

    In any event, I do not think it is appropriate for a senior, tenured mathematician to publicly and unilaterally impugn the reputation of a much more junior and untenured mathematician, regardless of any perceived justification.

  32. seems to be the trend to be anonymous when you're a young mathematician says:

    I don’t think it’s fair in #30 to speculate that what drove XXXXXX’s decision was “pure snobism.” I can’t say with any amount of experience, but it seems to me that picking a department is about more than just who you can collaborate with. Personally, the hard line that Rutgers was toting by being uncompromising with deadlines and an unpaid leave might turn me off to the department.

  33. Yet another young and anonymous mathematician says:

    Yes, the “pure snobism” line also stood out to me. If Zeilberger’s only concern is preventing similar situation from occurring in the future, I wonder why he feels the need to make comments which are so personal and nasty? Likewise, I didn’t understand the point of the “great insult to Henryk” paragraph in his post above.

    What bothers me about all of this is what Terry Tao hit on above. How is XXXXXX XXXXXX suppose to respond to Zeilberger? How must it feel to have one’s character come under such severe attack while having virtually no ability to rebut, and at such an important stage in one’s career?

  34. Yet another young mathematician says:

    What Zeilberger calls “snobbery” is just standard academic practice, and I don’t see what is wrong with it. Who doesn’t want to be at a top department?

    I also hope that someone informs Henryk Iwaniec about Doron’s comment above. I find it hard to believe that he would approve of being dragged into DZ’s bizarre and unprofessional vendetta against a junior colleague.

    I mean, you can only take one job, and thus if you have multiple offers you will have to turn jobs down. Someone fought for you to get the offer at each of the jobs you turned down. I can’t imagine a well-adjusted mathematician would take it personally, especially given that the competition was a top department like Yale.

  35. Also anonymous but not so young says:

    Zeilberger is way out of line here and, in my opinion, wrong too. XXXXXX was naive but it was the chairmen of Rutgers and Yale who, through poor judgment and inflexibility, caused this problem. What surprises me is that there is another slightly older, male, mathematician who has been behaving horribly on the job market in the last few years, but is not getting the “publicity” this case is getting.

  36. 1. Even with all the “mitigating” circumstances what XXXXXX did was
    very wrong. Let me respond to JSE:

    >XXXXXX interviewed at Rutgers, and got an early offer of an assistant >professorship, with a deadline in February. She had other interviews >already scheduled, and asked for an extension on the deadline. They >didn’t give her one.

    Because, RU wanted to hire the best possible candidate, and if it would
    have extended the deadline, all the other candidates would have accepted
    offers elsewhere.

    >XXXXXX accepted the Rutgers job, while on an interview visit to Yale.

    She should have told Yale immediately that she is no longer available, neither for this year, nor for the following year. Accepting a tenure-track
    position has a legal obligation for only one year, but a moral obligation
    to stay for awhile.

    > Later, XXXXXX was offered an assistant professorship at Yale as well. >Yale, understanding that XXXXXX had already accepted a position at >Rutgers, agreed to make the offer effective in Fall 2011 if she so chose.

    How generous of Yale! If XXXXXX. would have been so enamored with Yale she could have accepted the Yale offer for the following year, and
    at least spent a nominal year at Rutgers. It would not have been very nice,
    but better than what she did.

    >XXXXXX told Rutgers about her situation, making clear that she had no >intention of reneging on her acceptance of the position, and that she >was honestly not sure which department was the better home for her. >She asked for a year of unpaid leave for 2011-2012 so that she could >visit Yale after one year at Rutgers and make an informed decision.

    This is the greatest chutzpah.

    >This request, too, was denied. At this point, the chair at Rutgers told >her that she had to make up her mind now which job she wanted to >take; she was released from her commitment to Rutgers and told that >she should immediately start whichever of the two positions she chose. >At this point, XXXXXX chose the job at Yale.

    It was rightfully denied. The flaw in all this was to formally accept a tenure-track job without withdrawing from all the other places. This
    is the only ethical way.

    Response to #35:

    >What bothers me about all of this is what Terry Tao hit on above. How is >XXXXXX XXXXXX suppose to respond to Zeilberger? How must it feel to >have one’s character come under such severe attack while having >virtually no ability to rebut, and at such an important stage in one’s >career?

    Excuse me sir/madame! Have you heard of the internet or blogs. XXXXXX
    can start a blog and post the following opinion:
    “Doron Zeilberger should be ashamed of himself for over-reacting to
    a minor breach of etiquette”

    and another one:

    “Doron Zeilberger’s sour grapes”

    or

    “Doron Zeilberger: a sore loser”

    and so on.

    To sum up: XXXXXX didn’t play fairly, but due to popular demand,
    I will remove her name from Opinion 109, and the only trace of her
    misdeed would be this blog!

  37. Yet another young and anonymous mathematician says:

    DZ: “Excuse me sir/madame! Have you heard of the internet or blogs. XXXXXX can start a blog and post the following opinion: ‘Doron Zeilberger should be ashamed of himself for over-reacting to a minor breach of etiquette’.”

    This response fails to recognize the obvious relative difference of power between you and her. While I suppose she could argue with you publicly without violating known laws of physics, obviously it would be extremely foolish for her to do so. The cost of having a public dispute with you is much greater for her than it is for you. I would imagine this is why JSE, et. al., are sticking up for her.

  38. A young mathematician who doesn't want to make enemies until he has a permanent job says:

    DZ, thank you for removing XXXXXX’s name from the opinion on your webpage. I think it’s clear from the discussion here that your opinions on what is and isn’t ethical for candidates to do is quite controversial. But certainly your opinion section on your webpage is full of other controversial opinions. You have every right to hold such opinions, and it can be good to have people who hold unusual positions because it’s thought provoking and keeps the community honest. However, I agree with what Tao and others have said that it’s unfair and unethical for a senior and tenured mathematician to have such a public fight with a young and untenured mathematician, and so I think it’s very good that her name has been removed from your opinion.

  39. Darren says:

    Indeed, it seems to me that questions such as “Is a University in such bad budgetary times that they will cancel a position for several years because one person turns them down?” and “Is this a department where one prominent faculty member regularly criticizes his colleagues loudly and publicly on his blog?” are questions that I would consider before taking a job. Given that the answer to both questions in this case was ‘yes’, it seems like XXXXXX had plenty of good reasons to look elsewhere, in addition to mathematical and geographic concerns.

  40. > “Is this a department where one prominent faculty member regularly
    > criticizes his colleagues loudly and publicly on his blog?”

    Considering the fact that Yale was, for many years, the place where Serge Lang roamed, this is an amusing comment…

  41. not a mathematician says:

    America is a free country. Among other things, this
    means that you have the right to quit your job whenever
    you want. You are not a slave to your employer.

    I find it very weird that anyone would even argue the opposite
    position.

    And yet someone does. Zeilberger tells us that quitting your job isnt “nice.”
    Well you know whats not nice – giving people February
    deadlines for job offers. What goes around comes
    around. I find it amusing that in justifying this ridiculously
    early deadline – which is obviously harmful to the candidate who
    does not even have time to interview at other schools – Zeilberger appeals
    to the naked self-interest of his department:

    “Because, RU wanted to hire the best possible candidate, and if it would
    have extended the deadline, all the other candidates would have accepted
    offers elsewhere.”

    …and this after pontificating so long about niceness and unwritten rules!

  42. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Zeilberger is apparently very upset/angry about what has happened. I won’t really comment on the content of the controversy, as I don’t have enough info to make a rational judgement (and I am not entitled to judge the situation anyway!).

    However, I find it despicable that he has launched a “Jihad” against a junior and untenured mathematician. He could easily avoid his ad hominem and personal attacks, while expressing his personal opinion, as Terry mentioned as well. I find it amusing that he somehow “missed” Terry’s comment (32) in his comprehensive response (40). One wonders if he prefers confronting easier targets…

  43. Willie Wong says:

    Not to take sides on the larger debate (I’ve heard an earlier, biased version of the story, and have been secretly hoping that someone in the know, like JSE, will provide the other side), but on the Meta-issue of jobs and contracts:

    “America is a free country. Among other things, this
    means that you have the right to quit your job whenever
    you want. You are not a slave to your employer. ”

    is usually not the case. Employment contracts often asks that one gives notice prior to quitting. And in the case of a TT track position offering, _if_ a candidate has _formally accepted_ a job, I interpret that to mean _having signed a contract of employment_. There then is a binding, legal obligation for said candidate to appear at the work. This has nothing to do about ethics. It is a statement of fact that if the department so choose to play nasty about it, the department has the right to sue for breach of contract.

    Just to emphasize: I am writing here about the abstract notion of contractual obligations, and not on the actual case at hand (which, from JSE’s description, suggests that Rutgers released said candidate from the contractual obligation and thus gave up their right to sue).

  44. In my experience, one accepts an academic position by writing a letter that says “I accept the position assistant professor you offered on the terms of your letter of Feb 15.” You sign a more formal contract (e.g. spelling out gets the rights to patents resulting from your work) when you show up in the fall. In particular, the offer letter does not mention, in any way, penalties for failing to start the job or completing a fixed period of employment. I assume that not showing up is still breach of contract, but all the university could sue you for are damages; given that you gave them, say, 6 months notice that you weren’t coming and there had been 600+ applications for the position, many highly qualified, these are essentially zero..

  45. Willie Wong says:

    Sorry, this here just cracks me up. “Relative difference of power”? Doron Zeilberger is well known for having strong (and sometimes strange) opinions on a variety of issue. If XXXXXX were to join the fray and blog about this in some indignant fashion, I’d imagine with word against word, the power may even tilt in her favor.

    I am not trying to defend what DZ said in his blog: he is entitled to write what he wants to write, within the limits of the law. And he has the decency to attach his name to it and stand by what he wrote, so he can defend himself if he wants to.

    I am just rather amused that you think that DZ, of all people, is a figure on a pedestal issuing incontrovertible pronouncements.

    (Forgive me for missing the forest for the trees! I blame my tendency to be caught up on small details on my afternoons spent “working on estimates”.)

  46. Willie Wong says:

    @Nathan: I guess it all depends on where one goes. For my current post-doc I didn’t sign until I arrived in the fall, but just a few weeks ago some people around here have been busy faxing in signed forms to their future institutions.

    As to the legal status of the signed letter of intent, I have no idea. Personally I would err on the side of caution, but that’s just me.

  47. Do you remember DZ’s Opinion #107, presumably a response to the the disastrous shooting at U. Alabama Huntsville?

    Written: Feb. 16, 2010

    Academic life consists of people, and whenever there are people, there is politics, and politics, by definition, is dirty and mean. Often lots of people who got tenure a long time ago, and became dead wood (and often also lousy teachers!) vote against granting tenure to a younger colleague, and very often they are not fit to lick the boots of those that they reject.

    Like many “academic traditions”, the institution of tenure is a very stupid and obsolete one. It stifles creativity by forcing young people to publish-or-perish against a deadline, encouraging mediocre “fashionable” research. It also encourages people with tenure to work as little as they can, and to moonlight as consultants, because of their “job security” (they would have to murder their wife in order to lose it).

    But granted that the institution of tenure still exists (and it looks like it is here to stay for a long time), try to be nice! Whenever you are voting whether or not to grant tenure to a younger colleague, unless he or she are obviously unqualified, or terrible teachers, try to be positive. How would you feel if you were denied tenure? Thou shalt not do to your fellow-person what you would hate to be done to you.

    So anyone who votes against granting tenure to a colleague “deserves to be shot”. Of course he or she do not deserve to be shot, that’s a little bit of an over-kill(!). They only “deserve to be shot” as a way of speech, like the guy sitting next to you on the train speaking loudly and endlessly on his cell-phone. A proper punishment for those mean creatures who vote against granting tenure to their deserving younger colleagues is to have their tenure denied! Analogously, a proper punishment to all those editors and referees who reject other people’s submissions, is to have their own papers rejected! And a proper punishment to a colleague who does his own work during your seminar talk is to come to his (or her) talk, and flagrantly (at least pretend) to do your own work. And indeed that is what I once did to a colleague who notoriously always does his own work in seminars. To my dismay, it didn’t bother him a bit, so on second thought, “an eye for an eye” does not always work, but it is nevertheless a fairly good approximation.

    The bottom line is: try to be nice! And if you can’t be nice because God made you mean, maybe the thought that there is some chance that you would get shot (for real!) by a vengeful candidate, would force you to, at least, act nicely.

  48. another anonymous young feminist mathematicain says:

    I feel this is rather unfair to Zeilberger, given that he did take up Tao’s suggestion and remove all names from his opinion. In general I appreciate Zeilberger’s responsiveness to feedback, and (despite my previous comment) I am willing to believe in good faith that he is an equal-opportunity dispenser of vitriol.

    I don’t think this discussion benefits from attacking Zeilberger specifically. As has been mentioned before, he is not the only person to have criticized XXXXXX’s behavior, just the only one to have done so publicly (AFAIK). Although I do hold Zeilberger responsible for what he posted online (and any consequences thereof), I think that many people are aware of his quick temper and exceptionally high ethical standards and would not give as much weight to his censure as they might to some of the other people who have taken objection to XXXXXX’s actions (although I do not know who any of those people are.)

  49. not a mathematician says:

    Willie,

    Its true that employment contracts usually require notice prior to quitting. But the issue here is not the lack of notice! If AM showed up at Rutgers on Sept 1st, gave notice, and was gone two weeks, that would presumably upset Zeilberger more, not less.

    I accept that all sorts of limitations may be put on how a person can quit. But I believe my original statement – that you have the right to quit your job – is correct. I’m fairly certain that contracts which did not allow you to quit would be illegal in New Jersey, or anywhere else in the US.

  50. Anonymous says:

    I am not “attacking Zeilberger specifically”. I don’t even know him. I am not aware of his quick temper. I am not even against his displeasure of XXXXXX’s decision. As I mentioned in my previous comment I can’t judge what has happened (which implies he might/might not be correct)

    I certainly hold him responsible for his ad hominem (and unethical) attack on a virtually defenseless junior mathematician, and in doing so I only look at his writings. He says he has removed the opinion page merely “due to popular demand”, which suggests that he is still not aware of his highly unethical behavior.

    I am glad to hear you are aware of some “exceptionally high ethical standards” in him, as his writings certainly doesn’t suggest this. On this very page he allows himself to say “[XXXXXX's] decision was driven by pure snobism”, or relate her motives for her decision to “greed of Wall Street”. While he is perfectly entitled to disagree with *how* XXXXXX handled the situation, he has no moral right to speculate her motives and state his baseless speculations as facts. How can this possibly be tolerated in a respected scientific community?

    He also says “Henryk is such a nice (and private) person that he wouldn’t say anything, but I am sure that XXXXXX’s betrayal did hurt him”. Is he specifically asked by Henryk Iwaniec to say this? If that’s the case, he is obligated to mention that he has permission on Henryk’s behalf. I imagine this is not the case… In fact I imagine not only “Henryk is such a nice (and private) person”, he also holds himself to a higher ethical standard.

    I did spend some time reading his “opinions” today (where I learned the derogatory quotation marks). His attack on Yuri Manin (calling him “human-elitist”, “sexist” and “racist”) in response to “We don’t choose mathematics, but mathematics chooses us” astounds me. The level of confidence went up the less he knows about the subject; suggesting that “Grothendieck was a loner, and hardly collaborated” (huh????), or trying to minimalize Grothendieck’s work – merely to justify the well-deserved greatness of Gelfand – makes me doubt the “exceptionally high ethical standards” in him…

    A disclaimer: I do not know any of the parties involved, and perhaps none of them know me. The only reason I am anonymous here is that I am a junior mathematician as well, and I, too, have good reasons to be scared.

  51. another anonymous young feminist mathematicain says:

    (Hm, for some reason I can’t reply to the above reply to my previous post).

    Apologies: I was unclear.

    I meant above to refer (in a slightly tongue-in-cheek manner, though it doesn’t seem to have worked) to the exceptionally high ethical standards to which Zeilberger holds others; I didn’t mean to imply any judgment as to whether or not Zeilberger himself met those standards.

  52. another anonymous young feminist mathematicain says:

    Also, apologies for using the word “attacking” in my comment above; it was loaded and not really what I meant to say (“focusing on Zeilberger” would have been better).

    I do also find Zeilberger’s follow-up comments objectionable for the same reasons that you (=the Anonymous above) do.

    And I’ll now try to shut up before I put my foot in my mouth any more.

  53. Yet another young and anonymous mathematician says:

    The primary issue is that XXXXXX loses by even engaging in the debate. This is quite obvious, for several distinct reasons. For example, a person who engages in a debate concerning whether or not they are a bad person automatically loses, since this just serves to spread the meme. This is a fundamental rule of politics. This is doubly true if the audience has never heard of the person. If the person is untentured, it is even worse, etc.

    Secondly, if you think there is no difference in power, then imagine for a moment a parallel universe in which it was XXXXXX that had posted a rant about what a bad person DK (or somebody else) was on her blog. Would anyone have noticed? Maybe a few, but not many. It certainly wouldn’t have caused a controversy like this. Now, pause for a moment and consider why that is.

  54. Willie Wong says:

    “The primary issue is that XXXXXX loses by even engaging in the debate. This is quite obvious, for several distinct reasons. For example, a person who engages in a debate concerning whether or not they are a bad person automatically loses, since this just serves to spread the meme.”

    I refuse to believe that. The Streisand effect popularizes the issue, so it the goal is the hide the incident, then you are of course correct. But in an ideal society (and a gaggle of mathematicians as as close to ideal as we can get), the act of defending one’s self against accusations does not automatically impugn one’s character. And by popularizing the issue she might allow her side of the story to get out.

    My view of mathematicians is not so dismal (unlike Perelman) that I would apply “fundamental rules of politics” to the case in discussion.

    Lastly, it is unfair of you to point your finger at Doron as the primary instigator of the accusation. He certainly didn’t help matters with his open name-calling; but seeing how most of the people I know heard of the incident through other channels, I doubt his blog stirred the controversy as strongly as you suggested.

    In summary, I do not agree with you because I think you started from the wrong set of assumptions.

  55. Willie Wong says:

    @not a mathematician:

    For the most part I agree with you. I just want to point you at the last paragraph of my post where I implied that I am just being pedantic (about the phrase “whenever you want”) and not addressing the actual case here. Sorry about the confusion!

  56. Richard Seguin says:

    If I knew XXXXXX personally, I would have advised her not to get tangled in this on-line discussion. From observing previous conflicts played out on blogs, I’m guessing that it would have gotten very messy very quickly, probably to the point where Jordan would feel compelled to shut down the discussion, and everyone would have walked away feeling discontent. There may also be hidden aspects to this case that she would legitimately rather not talk about publicly. I disagree strongly with Willie’s feeling that politics is not a factor here. Politics pervades all walks of life and it’s quite naive to think that mathematicians are above it all. I’m no longer young and innocent and have been around the block a few times.

  57. AAA says:

    As a young candidate in this year job market (in Statistics) I received the best piece of advice from one of my Professors when I asked “What I should do if an early offer press for an answer?”…

    “You do not want to commit to a place that will not grant you a logical extension when you ask for one. If they are not ready to let you explore and find a place that best fill your needs… then they do not deserve you as a person and as a researcher.”

    This is, so that, we the young researchers, know how to approach offers. Because, if XXXXXX said no, the moment Rutgers said, there is no extension, that would have forced Rutgers to change the approach next year.

    And here is my story that is completely different from the story of XXXXXX.

    A nice small university made me an offer, I then had an interview from a very big name university. (The difference between the two might be at least 10 times the difference between Rutgers and Yale, at least name-wise). I asked for 10 days extension, they gave me 14 days. I didn’t get the job in the big name one, but at least I know that the small name university gave me the opportunity I asked for. Since accepting their offer, 2-3 other universities emailed me to see if I am still interested and my answer was a direct no, because I knew I wouldn’t like to let down someone who gave me the opportunity to explore other options.

    So, Rutgers, shouldn’t be telling people they run out of options, because if a university ranked around 100-120 in the USNEWS was able to give me two more weeks extension and they were feeling they will get someone to fill their position by mid-March, that means the big name Rutgers, can much more easily find someone to fill the position.

    And young researchers. Take the risk and say no… to avoid the hassle of your name filling the blogsphere… and having to deal with all the accusations.

    Good luck to everyone involved in this…

  58. Anon says:

    This argument is illogical.

    DZ argues against the institution of tenure because many of its recipients abandon research after winning tenure. He also argues that faculty should always vote to tenure unless the candidate is clearly unqualified. Short of abandoning the tenure system, it seems that the only way to combat individuals who abuse tenure is to be more careful in who we give tenure to. If we gave tenure out to anyone who comes up for it, all we have done is to move the bar for getting tenure from the point of a tenure review to the earlier point of one a TT job hire. This would have the effect of shortening the pre-tenure review period and almost surely degrading tenure standards.

    Keep in mind that when you vote in favor of tenuring an individual you are also implicitly voting against the competition, many of whom won’t be able to find other academic jobs. One misappropriated tenured slot can have a huge impact on a research field.

  59. @AAA: What you say sounds very reasonable to me. Just one thing: “Mrs. XXXXXX” |-> “Ms. XXXXXX”.

  60. Hi, it is me again.

    1. Whoever comments , on blogs or elsewhere in the internet,
    especially attacking other (non-anonymous) people
    as “anonymous” or “anon” or other pseudonyms that do not
    reveal their true identity is a coward, almost as bad as a KGB informer,
    see, in a different context, the golden-oldie

    http://www.math.rutgers.edu/~zeilberg/Opinion3.html

    2. Reply to 59 by Anon: The whole idea of tenure is a big anachronism,
    and it is still there because of the strong lobby of professors’ unions.
    I know of so many tenured people who stopped doing research, and I
    know of so many tenure-track people who are stressed-out, and perform
    in a suboptimal way because of the pressure of tenure.

    3. Reply to #60 (AAA): you are probably unfamiliar with the hiring process.
    Deadlines are very important, and all sides should respect them.
    There are many fish in the sea. There is a ranked list where the qualities
    of #1, #2, #3 are very comparable. It is very important that the hiring
    department gets a prompt answer by the deadline, so that it can go
    to #2. I agree with the professor who advised that young statistician.
    once X. found out that RU was unwilling to extend the deadline,
    and he/she still had dreams of going to big-time Z. University, if X. was
    brave enough and honest enough, he/she would have declined the offer,
    taking her/his chances, and made #2 a happy camper, and RU
    getting a candidate of a comparable caliber. What X. did was very wrong,
    especially for #2, and by the domino effect, for many other young people like her.

    4. I am amazed by the fact that most people are not equally shocked
    (for example, JSE) by X.’s action. Live and learn
    (of course the mores are changing all the time).

    5. Reply to #60 and #61, it is neither Mrs., nor Ms., not even
    Dr. XXXXXX. XXXXXX has been renamed X. and Yale has been
    renamed Z., it is time for JSE to do a “global replace” in this blog-page
    and replace “XXXXXX XXXXXX” by X.

    6. The reason that I don’t have a conventional blog, but post my
    opinions as web-pages, is that it is so easy to waste time posting reactions,
    like I am wasting time now. I am sorry that I even started responding.
    What a waste of time.

  61. Yet another young mathematician says:

    There are many things to say here, but it probably isn’t a good use of my time to say them. I do, however, want to reply to your first point. I’ll ignore the absurd hyperbole about KGB informants (though I’d like to register that I find it quite offensive, as I have friends who had family members “disappeared” by the KGB). On the larger point, however, you’ve already shown that you are perfectly willing to violate the usual rules of professional conduct and publicly attack your junior colleagues. If you were acting in a professional and civilized manner, then I certainly would not have trouble revealing my name; however, I don’t yet have tenure and thus do not want to risk exposing myself to your bullying. I suspect that the other anonymous people feel the same way.

  62. math postdoc says:

    DZ>Because, RU wanted to hire the best possible candidate, and if it would
    have extended the deadline, all the other candidates would have accepted
    offers elsewhere.

    I hope RU (and other departments) learned from this and reconsider its policies next year. RU is hurting itself with this. If its own faculty believe that the department is a great place to be, why would it need to resort to such absurd practices? In AF’s case, I think RU should’ve given her one or two more weeks, at least, knowing that she had other interviews already scheduled. You don’t want people showing up already having some sour feelings.

    I was also on the job market this year and had an early offer, but they gave me a couple of extensions. I was extremely appreciative about this. I think declining my requests for extensions would’ve only forced me to turn down the offer. It would only have shown that they didn’t really want me.

  63. Anonymous says:

    Re: “if X. was brave enough and honest enough, he/she would have declined the offer,
    taking her/his chances.”

    This is illogical. An exactly similar argument applies to the department, except that the department’s tolerance for risk is presumably a lot greater.

  64. Anonymous says:

    I am Anonymous 53/55. You didn’t get the chance to address the content of my comment, and merely called me (as well as many others here) KGB informer. Unlike you, I will take the “content” of your comment and respond to the ones that that are related to *my* previous reactions:

    1 -> If I, too, had total disrespect for providing facts to back my claims, I would
    have called you something like a “Nazi informer” and, while I was at it, I would have referred you to another content-free, logically-flawed argument of “mine”. But I won’t because I have no “facts” backing such a baseless slanderous name-calling.

    I can imagine why you get so irritated with “Anon”, or “Anonymous”: it simply doesn’t give you the opportunity to follow your ad hominem personal attacks. You only have access to the “content” of the argument.

    In any case, the anonymous comment is unfortunately forced to many of us by actions of tenured people like you, that (unethically) use their position of power to crush junior members (btw, I totally support the existence of tenure, despite the unfortunate personal position at the moment). I assure you that once/if I have the same position of power as you currently do, I will NOT be anonymous in my opposition to such behavior.

    5 -> The consensus shared on this page, as you can clearly see, is nothing like your “opinion” page. The point was, as Tao mentioned, “… solution to avoiding ad hominem attacks or the impression of vindictiveness when using an actual case study to illustrate an abstract argument is not to name names”. This is a simple and sensible statement. It does NOT mean her name should be eliminated globally! I did suspect (in my comment 55) that you didn’t get the simple point here, as you said you are removing her name “due to popular demand”! I hope this clarifies.

    6 -> of course it is much easier to write outrageous and baseless “opinions” about all sorts of people without allowing them to respond on the same page. I totally understand how the blog environment has made this particular opinion of yours very uncomfortable for you, as people have the chance to publicly and openly challenge your (otherwise unchallenged) position.

    And about wasting time: I have spent time posting reactions (without being involved in the story personally) only because of your unethical action. Between you and I, I definitely am more qualified to call it a waste of time, but I don’t.

  65. JSE says:

    I _really_ don’t want this comment thread to be (or continue to be) a big yell between Doron and the anonymous masses, or between anybody and anybody. If you want to yell at Doron, open a throwaway gmail account and send him e-mail.

  66. Fed Up says:

    Newcomer to this blog with a few comments:

    1. At some point extension requests also show the department that you don’t really want them.

    2. The masses on this blog can try to spin it anyway they want, but the fact is that Ms. X accepted a job from Rutgers and then reneged for Yale. It’s completely obvious that Ms. X chooses the prestige of Yale over her commitment to Rutgers (accepting a job equals a commitment to me, call me crazy).

    3. I was aware of XXXXXX XXXXXX’s actions B.Z. (before Zeilberger) due to the dubious Math Job Wiki; it stands out like a sore thumb.

    4. A senior colleague offered me some advice recently (I also was on the job market this year): jobs and salaries are about the right `fit’, not necessarily trying to get the absolute maximum.

    I support Doron on this opinion.

  67. Dear Fed Up,

    When a candidate requests an extension on a deadline, it is usually understood that they are indeed doing this because they have other places they are interested in, perhaps more than one’s own, from whom they are waiting to hear. So yes, this does indicate, not necessarily that they don’t really want one’s department, but that ideally they might like another department more. (In fact, when one grants an extension request, one often knows which department it is that they like more, since the candidate will often justify their request by explaining that they are waiting to here from department(s) XYZ.)

    However, it is not terribly helpful in the long run to hire a colleague who would prefer to be somewhere else that also wants to hire them, and so leaves soon after they are hired. So some departments are willing to give extensions when requested so as not to hire someone under duress (who may then try to leave), but rather to hire someone who really wants to come and plans to stay.

    Also, as far as I understand, accepting a job indicates a commitment to come for the following year. In my department we have hired people who came for just one year, and then moved on to other institutions. As far as I know, no-one bears them ill-will for doing this. After all, there are lots of motivations behind an individual’s choice as to where to settle down, and when the opportunity arises to move to a different institution and geographic location (and these opportunity’s are fairly rare in our profession, unlike in most others), I don’t think that it’s unreasonable for an individual to take that opportunity if it suits them.

  68. Yet another young and anonymous mathematician says:

    There seem to be reasonable differences of opinion over what constitutes “bad behavior” on the job market, and it is healthy to have a discussion about them.

    However, I am really bothered when those who (like me) have never met XXXXXX XXXXXX confidently purport to have knowledge of the motives behind her decision. Selecting one job over another is a very personal choice which will affect one’s life for many years into the future, and thus there are necessarily many different variables involved. For example, to take one possible source of extra variables: it is my understanding that Yale’s mathematics department has more to offer than simply prestige.

    I assert that no one has a decent idea of the thought process behind what I presume was a complicated, difficult decision– except XXXXXX XXXXXX herself and those she chose to confide it.

    Finally, I do not understand the relevance of her motives– even if they were known in detail– to the discussion in this thread. It simply does not advance the conversation.

    So please, those who come down on DZ’s “side” of the debate: please stop pretending to be in XXXXXX XXXXXX’s head. It is just a cheap shot, and I think that is a very generous interpretation.

  69. Not a Zeilberger apologist, but... says:

    I’ve been following this controversy for a while now, and am happy to see it being debated out in the open on this blog. One lesson is obvious: if you behave like X, there are some people in the world (like Zeilberger) who will question your ethics. Personally, I don’t much care for moral philosophy, but this alone should be a serious deterrent for those considering reneging on a contract.

    To those who are defending X’s behavor, I have a few comments:

    1. Because of the imminent arrival of Governor Christie, the Rutgers math department was concerned that the position would be closed if they did not fill it quickly. Their February 1 deadline (a deviation from normal practice) was meant to insure that they could fill the position before budget cuts were imposed. I am quite sure that this was explained to X before she accepted the position, and I feel that she should have considered the affect of her actions on the Rutgers math department. As Zeilberger explained above, once X declined the position, it was eliminated by the university administration.

    2. Once Rutgers made an offer, they were at the mercy of X. This is very unlike the marriage proposal analogy which has been used frequently. I wouldn’t be surprised, given their peculiar constraints, if Rutgers began to get cold feet after X asked for an extension, especially if she explained her reasoning. But having already granted the offer to X, there was no way for Rutgers to revoke it and make an offer to their second choice. X had all the power until X wrote a formal letter of resignation. For those who feel that X is clearly in the right, I ask: what if X had waited a month to notify Rutgers? What if X had waited until August?

    3. Imagine a world in which every candidate behaves like X. In the first hiring round, a small number of “hotshots” would get all the jobs, and may as well accept them all. Later, those hotshots would sort out their true desires, and choose to renege on all but one offer. Then, those schools who still had approval to hire would go to their second choices, and the lesser hotshots would get their chance. Eventually, maybe around mid-July, us mere mortals might get a chance to pick over the remains.

    As a young faculty member who has signed several contracts and reneged on one (albeit in a quite different situation), I believe there is a very fine line here. Analyzing the winners and losers in this situation, I see:

    X — hard to say, but between a small loss and a small gain
    Yale math department — small gain
    Rutgers math department — small loss
    Person who would have gotten X’s position at Rutgers — large loss

    The sum of these gains and losses is negative.

    While I think Zeilberger has been very harsh on X, I also don’t agree with X’s supporters, who are condoning behavor which has worsened the total welfare of mathematicians.

  70. I think that one difference between your perception of the situation and some others is shown in your use of the word “renege”. As the facts are described here, that doesn’t seem to be the situation: rather, X was intending to come to Rutgers, but had an offer in hand for a different institution a year later.

    As I explained in my post above, it is not at all unethical (although perhaps not terribly common) for someone to join a department for only one year, because during their first year they obtain an offer from another department and accept it.
    In X’s case, the offer for the following year came very early (before X had even joined Rutgers); this is certainly unusual, but as Jordan points out in his original post, it is not clear that it is ethically any different to obtaining that offer six or nine months later. If one thinks that indeed there is no ethical difference, then the use of the word “renege” is completely wrong. If one thinks that there *is* some ethical difference between joining a department with an offer in hand from another department for the following year, v.s. joining a department and *then* obtaining an offer for another department for the following year, then I still think a more nuanced word than “renege” is required. To me, that would apply to the following third scenario: one accepts an offer from a department, and then doesn’t show up, and no-one seems to be maintaining that this is what happened with X. (Rather, the facts seem to be that when X explained she had an offer in hand for the year following that in which she was joining Rutger’s department, Rutgers told her that they would rather not have her come at all, than have her come for one year and then leave. At this point she decided not to come, but that is not reneging; that is responding to a change in the nature of Rutger’s offer.)

  71. Mid career anonymous says:

    I never read this blog, came here by accident, and read the whole thread. IMHO it is remarkable how bad everyone but the job candidate looks. In order:

    (1) Rutgers looks bad for being somewhat predatory. I remember in the good old days my friend was offered a tenure track position at a (top 100) university in December, with a deadline January 1, **before** his other interviews were scheduled. This is what I call “predatory behavior”. He quickly declined and few weeks later found a better job. The point is: there is a time and place for everything: if it is clear that a candidate has other interviews at better universities, do not make him/her choose.

    (2) Yale looks slow and indecisive. If they felt a candidate is a good fit who can get away because of other university’s predatory behavior, they should have tried harder. Perhaps, moved the interview or even made decision on the spot. It’s private, there are few regulations, they can do whatever they like. If they were slow making an offer, it’s their fault, not candidate’s.

    (3) DZ is inconsiderate and a bully, who is spitting his unsound judgment all over the web without full first hand knowledge of the matter. Obviously, there are no legal obligations between the parties. A tenure track job is approved by the highest levels of administration in June or so. Until then, both parties are free to change their mind. So, sometimes they do. Big deal. The ethical side is different, of course, but this is precisely where the exact timing and order of events matter. Whatever DZ and JSE say, I am unconvinced either one knows what happened. In short, DZ should really “wasted time” doing something else.

    (4) JSE may feel morally superior to DZ, but is still inconsiderate. Discussing personal issues about a young person is a bad form, even if your own contribution is positive. This is simply because every such conversation encourages negative contributions as well, for which JSE as initiator and host of the blog is now partly responsible. I am with Tao on this, and wish all the names were deleted to begin with. My advice to JSE: go through the whole thread and replace every occurrence of the name with **xxx**, just like DZ eventually did (good for him).

    (5) Some (not all) Anons are just silly and naive in believing in things like “fairness” and attacking DZ. The truth is that it’s up to a job candidate to behave graciously even when the universities are misbehaving. Think of DZ as canary in the coal mine. If he was very upset, it’s likely that many other RU faculty were at least somewhat upset. It doesn’t matter which party in the conflict is more at fault – in a long run, the universities’ role will be forgotten (dept and hiring committee chairs come and go), but a bad impression about the job candidate will not disappear.

  72. JSE says:

    Just to make this clear, I asked for and received XXXXXX’s permission before making the post. I certainly wouldn’t have done so without her approval.

  73. Mid career anonymous says:

    In this case I take back much of what I wrote in (4), but maybe not all of it. These kind of blog pages tend to remain very high up on GoogleSearch (currently #5 when I search for her name), and given the resulting level of discussion, in a long run may do more harm than good. Even with her explicit permission, you should have known better, I think. The way I think web etiquette works, if she started this discussion on her own blog/website, you can then link to it, and opine on your blog – it’s a fair game then. But perhaps I am a bit old fashioned, and can see how other folks can disagree on this.

  74. Mathematician from state university says:

    It’s too bad that so many people have wasted their time with heated comments on this blog. As “Not a Zeilberger apologist but…” has described clearly, Rutgers was under financial pressure due to the arrival of Governor Christie. It was obvious that if the position was not filled quickly, then it would be forfeited. Hence the unorthodox early deadline. It was not a major conspiracy by big universities against young mathematicians, nor a new type of procedure, nor meant to intimidate the candidate, nor intended to be “predatory”. It was simply a job offer with an early deadline…

  75. Ethics in the Real World says:

    It is common in the real world for a person to accept one employment offer only to then accept a better offer when it is made.

    The idea that academics should behave in a different way is a crazy notion that departments (employers) have been able to brainwash new PhDs with. Possible this has occurred as the members of the departments (faculty) are usually the mentors and friends of the prospective employees. By brainwashing new PhDs, universities and colleges do not have to compete as aggressively for the best candidates as they otherwise would need to . In the end, by agreeing to the supposed “ethics” of not reneging on a decision, junior faculty do not receive all the benefits they are entitled to.

    Lastly, in the case of Rutgers, the university isn’t officially committed to the candidate until a contract is approved by the Board of Trustees and the contract sent to the candidate (usually in June or July). It happens rarely, but some colleges and universities do renege on their offers (because of budget problems, for example). As long as they haven’t issued a contract, they can legally do this. Until XXXXXX received and signed a contract, she was in her rights to change her mind.

    Why are faculty so eager to criticize a colleague for only exercising her rights?

  76. Ethics in the Real World says:

    This past year, I cautioned someone (not related to the current situation) about accepting at Rutgers because I didn’t think the department always operated with the highest ethics. I’ve just read the posts here and the only party that comes across poorly (to me) is Rutgers. To all future candidates, I would advise them to stay away!

    Lastly, I think sexism has a big role to play here. I’ve been under the belief that lots of men have operated in the manner described here in the past and no one complained. Is it the internet at work here or is it that in this case it was a female candidate that makes this newsworthy?

  77. Gil Kalai says:

    I had requested Doron Zeilberger to remove his opinion 109 because I believe it was unjust. I thank Doron for removing his Opinion 109 at my request.

    It can be a horrible experience for a person to find his or her private matters being publicly discussed and to see his or her private decisions being attacked in public. I truly regret not knowing about Opinion 109 earlier. What a missed opportunity to make a difference in time.

  78. Toby Bartels says:

    @ #71, #77 (and maybe DZ):

    Why did AAAAA release XXXXX from the commitment? Why not say “OK, you’re going to leave in a year, but please stay with us for one year.”, which XXXXX seemed to be perfectly happy to do. Then they would have kept their position! Everybody wins, even the #2 who had to settle for a post-doc in Europe, except that things are delayed by a year (ultimately due to scheduling problems).

    This is the only behaviour (in the original controversy, before the discussion) that I find to criticise. And I don’t really want to criticise it either, but to understand; in every other part of the story, I find that nobody has done anything wrong once I understand it, despite first appearances to the contrary.

  79. Anonymous says:

    “So the victim of XXXXXX XXXXXX’s misdeed was not
    just an institution, but a another young person like herself.”

    Yes, there was a victim, but the misdeed was of Rutgers, not XXXXXX. It is the chair at Rutgers who should be publicly embarrassed. If the story above is accurate, then XXXXXX was herself entirely honest, but was put in a bad situation unnecessarily.

  80. Willie Wong says:

    Jordan: I think the recept updates to WordPress.com now allow you to edit the url. Try to edit this post. The permalink should be shown right under the title. And to the right of the permalink there should be a button saying “edit” which allows you to modify the URL. Note that this will of course break any existing links to this page.

  81. JSE says:

    Willie: cool, it worked! Toby: nope, don’t think I can do this in wordpress.com. But this is old news and I don’t mind the links to the old post being dead.

  82. Toby Bartels says:

    The WordPress renaming method must take care of the redirect automatically, because in fact the old link does still work!

  83. David Speyer says:

    I stumbled across this post while looking at the interesting discussion of superstring approximation. I think you really should go through and edit proper names in the comments to X’s, A’s and B’s. A google search for X’s name still brings up this post in the top few entries, while DZ’s opinion has dropped off the first page of results, so this is the most prominent remnant of the incident.

  84. JSE says:

    Yeah, you’re right, David. I just did it — sort of a pain but I think I got them all!

    I assume you mean “superstrong approximation” but if there’s a way to bring string theory into it I’m all ears…!

  85. David Speyer says:

    Superstrong, yes. I confirm that you got all the people’s names. The university’s names are still present, but that’s probably not so important. It’s not like you can hide the information from people who really want to work it out; just that it would be good not to have it be immediately linked to XXXXXX.

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