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.