Rescinding an offer when the candidate tries to negotiate

From the Philosophy Smoker, via Liz Harman:


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.
I know that some of these might be easier to grant than others. Let me know what you think.


Thank you for your email. The search committee discussed your provisions. They were also reviewed by the Dean and the VPAA. It was determined that on the whole these provisions indicate an interest in teaching at a research university and not at a college, like ours, that is both teaching and student centered. Thus, the institution has decided to withdraw its offer of employment to you.
Thank you very much for your interest in Nazareth College. We wish you the best in finding a suitable position.

Talk amongst yourselves.


29 thoughts on “Rescinding an offer when the candidate tries to negotiate

  1. Isn’t a written offer a binding contract?

  2. JSE says:

    That’s what I thought, but the majority of commenters at that post think what Nazareth did here was legal.

  3. pencechp says:

    As a philosopher who just negotiated a contract, this pretty much makes me want to curl up under a rock somewhere. I can’t even imagine what my mental state would be were I this candidate.

    Every faculty member I talked to in my own department was adamant that this is just a business transaction. They’re expecting you to negotiate, and they set their initial offer with this in mind, or if they didn’t, then the worst thing that happens is they say no and everybody moves on with their day and you’re happy enough with the offer you’ve already got.

    Though I suppose it should be obvious that there are no universal generalizations in hiring, the sheer number of folks who seem to think that what the university did is not just legal, but *perfectly fine and reasonable,* means that something about this advice is profoundly off-kilter…

  4. Michelle says:

    Wondering how much the maternity leave request played into the response. I don’t see anything in the request that says “all I want to do is research” … I see “all I want to do is a good job and be supported in that.” And also “I’m going to have a baby.” I see the second one as potentially being a problem. No? Am I the only one who reads it this way?

  5. Oops; I told SM he should play hardball with Wisconsin. I hope his offer won’t be rescinded!

  6. There’s so much wrong here.

    First, don’t negotiate via email. Social psychologists say email is the most a-social means of communication. No nuance. No chance to course correct. No idea what your bargaining partner is doing (feeling; experiencing) when they receive the email. Pick up the telephone and begin your conversation with small talk. Negotiators who engage in small talk are four times more likely to close a deal.

    Second, never make a proposal before you’ve had an opportunity to learn your bargaining partner’s interests – their fears, needs, desires, preferences and priorities. Do your research about current pay, your negotiation partner’s current circumstances and benefits other than salary that you can put on the bargaining table. When you’re at the table (even if only on the telephone) ask open-ended who, what, where, when, why and how questions to learn what those interests are so that you can pitch your proposal as a means of satisfying them. In controlled experiments, only 7% of all negotiators asked these “diagnostic” questions when to do so would have significantly improved the outcome of the negotiation.

    Finally, follow Alec Baldwin’s advice in Glengarry Glen Ross: Always Be Closing. Assure your negotiation partner that you’re certain both of you are creative and thoughtful enough, and that there are enough moving parts of a potential deal, to find a solution that satisfies both parties’ needs and desires.

    If I’d gotten off on the wrong foot like this academic did, I’d pick up the telephone, apologize, and ask what we could do to get the negotiation back on the rails. These parties likely reached a “false impasse,” i.e., they gave up before the had the opportunity to discover there was likely an agreement that would have made them both happy.

  7. Deb says:

    Yes, I wondered how much of this might be about maternity leave (and about an assertive woman who may assert her rights to such provisions again in future?). If I were the candidate, I would be advising them my lawyers will be in touch…

  8. piper says:

    I agree with Michelle and Deb. Victoria’s advice is good and would certainly have helped, but I can hardly believe that they reached a false impasse honestly. It seems far more likely that the school couldn’t be bothered with her, or that the chair’s impression was tainted by some form of prejudice. I still have no idea why they wouldn’t just say We can’t give you any of the things you asked for, unless perhaps they thought denying a woman maternity leave and equal pay would be riskier than just rescinding the offer.

  9. Kevin says:

    I’m confused, aren’t there laws which mandate maternity leave?

  10. J says:

    To Michelle, who “do[es]n’t see anything in the request that says “all I want to do is research””:
    request 1): this salary is in line with professors at *research* universities
    request 3): sabbatical is for *research* purposes, not teaching purposes
    request 4): asking not too many classes shows that one is more *research* oriented than teaching oriented
    request 5): wanting to complete a postdoc, even when one is offered a tenure track position, shows more interest in *research* than in teaching.
    Finally, the college does not say that “all the candidate want to do is research”, but simply that the candidate is more interested in research than in teaching, which is pretty clear.

    Anyway, I think the attitude of the college is pretty harsh, but maybe they are afraid of hiring someone who will look for the first opportunity to quit and go to a research university as soon as they can (their will of finishing the postdoc first, to have a better cv, might have alerted them)?

  11. Adriana says:

    The danger is that people who are already timid about negotiating (for example, women), will be much less likely to negotiate if this really is a “thing”. I myself was telling a colleague to negotiate her salary, because even if they think that her request is ridiculous the worst they can say is no and move on. Now I’m really regretting this. Also, like Michelle said, I don’t see where they got the idea that this person wants a research job…

  12. Bobito says:

    As a practial matter it’s generally not advisable to let a future employer know you will soon be asking for maternity leave until after the contract is signed. That the employer should not react negatively is irrelevant if he is an old man who does react negatively.


    This is a communication problem – one would think academics would see that the University and the academic are talking past one another. Negotiation is a skill. The lessons here are in my first comment. We have no idea why this communication went awry. The solution is to pick up the phone and fix it, not to post it to the internet and start assigning blame

  14. bob bobbby says:

    The candidate should consider the loss of the offer a good thing. Obviously there was not a good fit between their career goals and the interests of the school. This seems like the job was not going to work out for them no matter what happened after the offer was issued.

    The most important thing when looking for a job is finding the right fit, not finding anything that gives you a pay check.

  15. Career Consultant says:

    Think about it this way: you are expected to negotiate and most professionals know this. I have never heard of someone rescinding an offer once someone negotiates, but because they did you got a gift for yourself. If this is the kind of univ, department and collaborator who would do such an unprofessional, inappropriate, rude, and offensive thing at the suggestion of a negotiation, imagine what they would be like to work with. Imagine trying to get more space for holding meetings with students or research (depending on your area of philosophy) or requesting other things which are necessary for the success of you, your career, your scholarship and the department and university. So isnt it great they showed their true colors now, before you picked up and moved your life to an institution which could be a living hell for you? Don’t worry about this. You’ll get another job somewhere else where they truly value your abilities.

  16. Michelle says:

    To J:
    “request 1): this salary is in line with professors at *research* universities”

    Where does it say that? I read it as “more in line with what you have paid your assistant professors in the past few years.” It could have been interpreted as average for the field in general, I suppose. Maybe she did mean at research universities, but she certainly didn’t say that and that wasn’t my read.

    “request 4): asking not too many classes shows that one is more *research* oriented than teaching oriented”

    Asking not to teach too many *new* classes shows that one would like to do a good job teaching, in my opinion. You do a much, much better job the second or third time through a class than the first time through.

    As for 3 & 5: many of the teaching-focused jobs still have research expectations, despite teaching being the main thing. And pre-tenure sabbaticals are quite common (at least in math) at such schools. I certainly have told people to ask about pre-tenure sabbaticals when negotiating jobs at such places in the past. (AFAIK, none of them had a job offer rescinded.) Neither one seems unreasonable, at least not as a request. She said up front that she knew not all of them would be granted.

    When I negotiated for jobs, I did it on the phone with follow-up emails so that everything was clearly documented. It’s possible that things would have gone better if she had done that, but it’s not clear to me.

    I stick by my guess that the maternity leave request was the killer. I also am fairly certain that contacting a lawyer would be a colossal expense and a waste of time. It can be proven discriminatory.

  17. Michelle says:

    “I’m confused, aren’t there laws which mandate maternity leave?”

    Hahahahahahahhahahahahahahhahaha. Hahahahahahahhahahahahahahhahaha. Hahahahahahahhahahahahahahhahaha. Hahahahahahahhahahahahahahhahaha.

    What are you from Canada or something?

    Unpaid. Six weeks. No stop of the tenure clock if you want it. Um, yeah. That’s not what most people want from maternity leave.

  18. anon says:

    1. I don’t think that there is sufficient evidence of discrimination against women here, so we shouldn’t presume. Her demands were definitely focused on research, so we should give the institution the benefit of doubt.

    2. The demanding tone of the email is not good. Also, I think that you should be careful about whether you negotiate or not — unless you have a competing offer, I think that this is not a good move. I really hope that the candidate mentioned in this post has another offer, although it was not explicitly said in her email!

    3. That being said, I think that what the university did is unethical. While doing my own job searches, I was told to withdraw from everything that I wouldn’t consider above my offer ASAP, as soon as I had a written offer from one place. It is common courtesy to the other applicants, as it moves the job market faster. Having heard about this incident, I will probably advise others to not to burn any bridges until they have signed papers. This obviously causes a lot of grief to many other candidates. So yes, this sounds very unethical to me.

  19. quasihumanist says:

    I think the requests are unreasonable to the point of being clueless about institutions like Nazareth College.

    1) I would guess that a starting offer for an assistant professor at a liberal arts college of Nazareth’s caliber is about $50K (pretty much regardless of discipline). A significant number of associate professors would not have salaries at or above $65K.

    2) From what I’ve seen, most small schools are quite human – since everyone actually knows everyone else – and have good maternity leave policies. However, they may simply not have the money to pay you while not teaching.

    3) There is no way a school like Nazareth could pay for a leave replacement on top of your salary. In fact, most liberal arts colleges of this size can only give regular sabbaticals to some fraction of their faculty, and competitive sabbatical proposals probably would include not only research but also course development. There is simply no need for faculty who have had a whole pre-tenure leave semester’s worth of research. They don’t care about research prestige. They do acknowledge that research feeds into better teaching, but the marginal benefit beyond a minimal level of research is not huge and they can’t pay for much of it.

    4) In a small philosophy department, each professor will be the only person in their subfield. In addition, if they manage to have several professors teaching a 4/4 load in philosophy (that’s what I’ve read about this position elsewhere), that means everyone is teaching a good deal of introductory courses (and the general education requirements probably require some of them). It simply would not be possible to have a teaching load that did not include, every year, both of the customary introductory classes (in ethics/politics and metaphysics/epistemology), a general survey of your period of study, and a specialty course on a philosopher you study.

    Let’s think about a similar request in mathematics. Let’s say you are an algebraist hired into such a position. The department offers 1 section of linear algebra a semester and 1 section of abstract algebra a year. There are no other algebra classes. You are going to be the only algebraist in the department, so you really should be the person teaching abstract algebra, and you really should be teaching at least one of the linear algebra classes. If you only had 3 preps, that would mean you were teaching 5 or 6 sections of either precalculus or calculus 1, and you would be teaching all of the department’s sections of that course for the year. A department really does want its students to have some choice of instructors for a multi-section class, and it’s also helpful to be teaching a class along with someone else the first time you’re teaching it at a particular school, so this kind of proposed teaching schedule is really not feasible.

    You’re lucky the department has a combinatorialist so that you’re not covering the single section of discrete mathematics as well.

    5) A delayed start is actually reasonable if there is every expectation you will actually show up the following year. They want someone who has done more research, as long as they’re not paying for it themselves. In the context of the other requests, however, I’m quite sceptical there is a genuine intention to actually show up after the delayed start.

    I agree with pulling the offer. Given a choice, I’m not hiring someone into a teaching-oriented position when it’s clear they would rather have a research-oriented position.

  20. quasihumanist says:

    ps – I also don’t want to hire someone who has spent at least a day interviewing with my institution and is still so clueless about the logistical and financial realities facing my institution. At most liberal arts colleges, faculty governance is still very strong, and I really don’t want this applicant having a vote.

  21. Evelyn Lamb says:

    I think the criticism of a “demanding tone” is off. From the Philosophy Smoker, the next line of her email is “I know that some of these might be easier to grant than others. Let me know what you think.” To me, that doesn’t read as demanding. She’s negotiating in a very direct way. If I thought gender affected people’s expectations of how other people behaved, I might interpret a criticism of her tone as a criticism of the fact that a woman is negotiating in a direct way and asking for a lot. (Which women are often told we should do in order to do as well as men in negotiations.)

    In a comment, she has clarified that her salary request was less than 20% more than their starting offer. It might not be possible for a SLAC to do that, but I know of people who have negotiated 20% increases. The pre-tenure sabbatical is not unheard of in math at SLACs, and I agree with Michelle that not teaching more than 3 new preps is a sign that someone wants to teach well and not drown her first year there, not that she wants a research job. Maybe asking for no more than 2 new preps a semester for the first few years would have been better than 3 new preps a year, but a request like that doesn’t seem out of line.

    All in all, I’m pretty appalled. You’re always told that you might as well ask for exactly what you want during negotiations because you’ll never have that much power again.

  22. Michael says:

    I side with the university here… her list of demands is quite unreasonable and does sound like someone who is more interested in research than teaching. The maternity leave is the only reasonable request on the list. And the tone makes it truly sound like a list of demands.

    A tenure-track job is potentially a position for life. If someone looks like he/she is a bad fit and also the type of person to email lists of demands, it could mean years of unpleasantness, in this case in a small department. Why take the risk?

    And anyone can rescind a job offer, this happens all over in industry. While it’s bad form it’s not illegal.

  23. quasihumanist says:

    @Evelyn – There are SLACs and then there are SLACs. I’m pretty sure the pre-tenure sabbatical is standard at Williams and Smith. Last I heard, even St. Olaf was putting them in. Nazareth is not anywhere close to either of those leagues as far as either prestige or financial resources is concerned. I agree that limiting preps is not necessarily a sign of being oriented towards research, but again, for a small, tuition dependent SLAC like Nazareth where faculty teach quite a lot, this is so far beyond what is feasible that it is laughable.

  24. The best thing to come out of this is shared salary and benefit information. Keep sharing and stay in touch. #mentorship #sponsorship #collectiveaction

  25. Bobito says:

    In the post linked to by DJBruce she writes ” I asked for a less then 20% increase in salary.” Thus it’s safe to assume she asked for at least a 15% increas in salary. That’s huge, and more so at a place like Nazareth. Institutional behavior almost always can be understood in terms of money. Some administrator reacted very negatively to an assertive demand of a 15% pay raise followed by 4 more demands that he could convince himself painted a picture of someone who didn’t want to work there.

  26. uha1 says:

    I recently have been through a similar situation. But probably worse.

    I asked for either taking care of my visa/green-card issue or increased in my salary so I can hire an attorney. They just chose to withdraw the offer.

  27. Fran says:

    All of you sound like entitled brats. This woman is asking for way too much, but your bias is toward your own kind, so of course your perspectives are skewed.

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