Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Funniest Thing To Have Come Out of the Job Market Wiki So Far This Year

From the job listing at University of Houston-Victoria (TX) (Asst. Prof.). Someone changed the status to "Offer Made" on December 6 at 13:56 GMT. This exchange followed in comments.

Posted on 6 Dec 2010 at 2:03 pm from IP x



Posted on 6 Dec 2010 at 3:30 pm from IP y

People messing with the wiki

I changed this back, since whoever posted this also posted that the Siena search was canceled. Someone is obviously messing with the wiki.

[This last is untrue. The IP of the person who posted the UHV news was different from that of the person who (falsely) posted that the Sienna search was canceled. That IP reported that first-round interviews had been scheduled the minute before it reported the cancellation. Probably an accident.]

Posted on 6 Dec 2010 at 6:33 pm from IP [=the one that changed the UHV status]

Fine, don't believe me

I don't know who canceled the Siena posting (it wasn't me), but I did get the job offered to me. They had phone interviews a few weeks ago and on-campus interviews last week. This job is moving super fast. They want an answer within days.

The best part is the way the person says, "Fine, don't believe me." I love that. When someone doesn't believe you, say "fine." I'm going to start doing that in class.

But in all seriousness, what do you think about this hiring strategy? It's clearly designed to prevent the candidate to whom they offered the job from considering other offers. I'm not saying this is deeply immoral or something, but it makes me a little uneasy. In such a depressed market, of course, the strategy is unlikely to have any genuine negative effect on the candidate; how likely is it, after all, for even the best candidate to get two offers this year? And I guess a person could accept the one offer and back out if a better one were to materialize (although the morality of that strategy is questionable, too). But still.

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

If the person accepts the job, how congenial is s/he going to be toward his/her colleagues, knowing that they employed some morally questionable practices to secure him/her? And the department is pretty much guaranteed that the person will go on the market again the next year. Seems unwise to me.

Anonymous said...

It's clearly designed to prevent the candidate to whom they offered the job from considering other offers.

Do you really know this? As far as I suspect you know, it's just as likely that the department is rushing because of an internal pressure to fill the position before it is withdrawn through a hiring freeze. (I hear there's a lot of that going around.) And there are other possible explanations as well.

zombie said...

The question for me is, what if every school did this? There would be no "advantage" of the kind it is imagined UHV is attempting to avail itself of.
I don't think it would be a bad thing if (a) all schools had first round phone interviews, and (b) all schools got the whole process over with quickly and efficiently by mid-December. That's two whole months since the JFP dropped -- plenty of time, IRW, to hire someone.
What benefit is there to dragging this thing out until next April? It serves the schools' interests to have candidates get increasingly anxious and desperate?

If they all did it, there would be no dilemma for the candidate regarding accepting an early offer with the chance of a better offer later. Indeed, it seems somewhat riskier for the school to make the early offer, since if that fictional better offer were to come later, the candidate might then bail on a commitment to take the job.

Anonymous said...

The APA has a committee on career opportunities that is currently working on a document which would articulate an understanding of best practices in hiring. I would imagine that the document will make clear that making offers prior to the APA is not considered best practice, but I'd urge anyone who has a view about the matter to write to that committee.

Anonymous said...

This happened to me, sort of. I had six interviews at the APA, and then an on-campus interview from four schools. One of them did the on-campus interview in early January. I had the TT offer by mid January. I had to choose a TT offer in hand, or a gamble with three on-campus interviews scheduled three weeks from the day the TT offer was made. It was a tough decision.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't seem immoral at all for UHV to do this. Nor does the risk to UHV seem all that great to me (esp if they foresee a risk of the position being withdrawn, as suggested earlier). The candidate will only back out if s/he continues to pursue the other schools s/he's applied to. Maybe s/he won't. And maybe s/he will like UHV when s/he gets there, and won't be inclined to go back on the market. And you know what this market is like. So s/he applies to some schools next year? What are the chances s/he'll leave?

Brilliant move by UHV. More schools should try it.

And I agree with Zombie that that would be a good thing.

Anonymous said...

If UH/V really did it just to pressure the candidate, that does kind of suck. But I'd withhold judgment, because there are other possible explanations. (Couldn't the candidate just ask for more time and ask why the dept. isn't willing to give more time?)

Great points, Zombie. It's true, the whole process could be a lot shorter. SCs want to take all the time they need and do a very thorough job, but I suspect they also rather like being in control for so long, and that's yicky.

Anonymous said...

"As far as I suspect you know, it's just as likely that the department is rushing because of an internal pressure to fill the position before it is withdrawn through a hiring freeze."

That's probably right, but it is something that departments do. I was told as much when I was hired. I wouldn't say it's immoral to put this pressure on somebody (it was applied to me). It made it more difficult to assess my options and made it hard for me to seriously pursue a better job, but have I really been wronged by a department that used this sort of leverage to steer me to them? I don't see it. I guess I don't see what the ground of their obligation would be to me to allow me to shop around and put them against another department to get a sweeter deal.

Don't get me wrong, I really, really, really regret that I didn't get to do interviews at the other places that were inviting me. And, I feel no loyalty to the department that hired me, but it was a helpful reminder that this is a business. They owe me nothing and I owe them the same.

Asstro said...

I'd just take the job and continue on the market as normal. Since the person has only days to decide, there's no harm in deciding in favor of the job and then backing out if something better arises. The University offering the position must know that this is a possibility... and there's nothing morally (or legally, so far as I understand) restricting a person from taking a job on one set of information -- no job, bleak future -- but then changing his/her mind based on new information -- a job offer from a career changing school.

Anonymous said...

it seems to me to be just another way of reminding us that this isn't in fact a market. markets have information so that agents can make decisions.
if we can organize a national best practice with regards to graduate school admissions, why can't we do it with hiring? like zombie, i don't mind if the whole process happens earlier. but it sucks when tiny college forces your hand and demands a decision from you before you've heard anything from your other apps. yeah, i understand it's a "business," but that doesn't mean we shouldn't expect more.

Anonymous said...

"It's clearly designed to prevent the candidate to whom they offered the job from considering other offers."

All that's clear here is that you don't have clue what you're talking about. At my school we are doing a search this year, and we know that there are hundreds of qualified candidates, and among them probably at least a dozen or so who would be perfect matches for us. So it's not like we would have to *hurry* to get anyone, because there would be at least 11 other replacements pretty much no matter what point in the hiring cycle it was (and trust me, we're not even that good of a school). The reason we would hurry, and indeed are hurrying, is because last month our wonderful citizenry just elected a bunch of new folks to the state legislature (I won't say their political pary, but it's the one that starts with "R") and we have been told to be prepared for immediate cuts (we're public, just like UHV is, you see), and that includes across-the-board hiring freezes. So as a result we are going to try to get our search finished and an offer made as soon as possible--not because we are trying to *trick* candidates into taking less than they would surely deserve if they waited, but because if we wait any longer we won't be able to hire anyone. So if we make you an offer tomorrow, trust me, there's no need to thank us for working our asses off and thus helping to maximize the overall amount of available philosophy jobs in the universe-- instead you can just throw around phrases like "deeply immoral" or "morally questionable"!

Anonymous said...

I realize this is slightly off topic, but I was wondering...wouldn't it be great if the Phylo job wiki would also post information on which jobs have inside candidates (who will get the job no matter what) and which haven't? This would be very efficient, both for job seekers and for hiring committees. A bit like a job wikileaks. Of course, for that the Phylo job wiki shouldn't display your ip address so that people could safely leak this info without being detected...

Mr. Zero said...

Calm down, anon 11:09. If I'm wrong about what the strategy is designed to do--and you're not the first to point out that I might be wrong there--then I apologize.*

But come on. I anticipate something very close to your line of reasoning in the post. And I threw around the phrase 'deeply immoral' only to point out that it does not apply--I do not think that the strategy is deeply immoral. I said the strategy makes me uneasy.

And why shouldn't it make me uneasy? If I were that candidate, I would, of course, be thrilled to have a tenure-track job offer. But I would also like to have the opportunity to interview at the APA and consider other offers, should they materialize. Why shouldn't I be made uneasy by the fact that taking this sure thing means that I won't be able to do it? I think uneasiness, among other things, is a perfectly warranted response to that kind of situation.

*However, there are lots of public colleges & universities in Texas that do not appear to be on UHV's accelerated schedule. And "R" control of the Texas state government is nothing new. So, while I could be wrong, and if I'm wrong, again, I apologize, I could also be right.

Got Hired Late 90's said...

I don't think these early offers are unethical. Schools have a right to act aggressively to secure the candidate they want.

However, I would strongly advise anyone receiving an early offer to be doubly careful about accepting it. My first TT offer came about 10 years ago. I got the offer in the second week of December based on a single phone interview. I had to ask if the department would be willing to let me visit and get to know the place. Their attitude was essentially 'take it or leave it': Sure, I could visit, but they wouldn't foot the bill. When I did visit, I only met four of the twelve faculty, and I got the eerie sense that was by design (i.e., the hiring committee wanted to keep me away from certain people).

But I was a newly minted PhD and someone had just offered me a TT job. Sure, I had some APA interviews set up, but I couldn't muster the courage to turn down the job, despite all the red flags, and take the chance with the other schools that were interested me. So I accepted it.

Three years later I quit in disgust. Turns out the department showed the same indifferent, even faintly hostile, attitudes toward new hires that they showed toward candidates. Taking the job is easily the worst decision of my life.

Of course, the department always spun its early offer as a reflection of my abilities. But I figured out in retrospect it reflected the quality of the job: It was a crummy department beleaguered by poor morale, and they knew it. So the only way to get a candidate they wanted was to act fast and keep the curtains shut.

I know it can be hard to resist the allure of a TT offer, but those who get early offers should do double due diligence. The earliness of the offer should make you question the department's motives.

Anonymous said...

I'm on my way to a campus interview at this very moment, so the difficulty of this situation is pretty salient to me. I certainly do not have the sense that there is anything wrong with the department's choice to move so quickly--but it does raise the potential of a very difficult choice on my part, primarily because the fly-out school is *much* lower paying than others out there, some of which have already contacted me to request APA interviews. I'm acutely aware of the unlikelihood of my receiving more than one offer in such a market, but given that some other interviews are still out there as possibilities, it would be incredibly difficult to choose--should I manage to get the offer--between a certain, low-paying job and the (very uncertain) possibility of something much better. I'm inclined to seriously consider Asstro's suggestion, should the need arise, but something (my religious background? my type A personality?) makes me squeamish about that possibility.

Anonymous said...

Asstro said:

I'd just take the job and continue on the market as normal.... [T]here's nothing morally...restricting a person from taking a job on one set of information -- no job, bleak future -- but then changing his/her mind based on new information -- a job offer from a career changing school.

As Anon 11:09 points out, doing this may mean that the original hiring department can't hire anyone, whereas they could have hired someone if the job had gone to the next candidate on the list. This isn't necessarily a conclusive reason, but it's a weighty one. Your action would deprive one person of a job and deprive a department of an extra faculty member.

Anonymous said...

Flippin phone died this weekend so I had to go out and buy a new one. And by "buy", I mean plunk down fifty bucks or so and reup with a two year contract with Sprint. When I checked, no voicemails.

Thanks a lot everyone I tried to get a job with this year.

SLACkerProf said...

If you do get an early offer at a less-than-ideal place you shouldn't withdraw your other applications. Go to the APA. Interview. See what happens. If you receive a better offer, take it. The market is so heavily skewed in favor of institutions that "morals" have no bearing in this conversation. This is your *career* we are talking about. The early-moving dept. knows full well what sort of risk they take in doing so. They will survive. If they don't, well, they were the ones pulling the trigger early, not you. I say this from the perspective of somebody who has sat on an SC, and who has had to worry about disappearing lines due to failed searches. Seriously, don't fall into the trap of being made to feel guilty because some institution tried to game the system.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Anon 1:37's point:

If reneging on your original offer does mean that one less person is hired then it is true that 'your action would deprive one person of a job and deprive a department of an extra faculty member'. But it also removes the burden of paying for that job from the taxpayer. And at least some people think the cost to the taxpayer is bigger than the benefits of making the hire -- this is why they are in favour of the hiring freeze in the first place. In any case, it makes reason for not reneging significantly less weighty.

Anonymous said...

If 1) the profession is committed to the norm that philosophy searches ought to be conducted in accordance with the APA schedule and 2) a hiring department chooses to circumnavigate that norm unnecessarily (e.g. not b/c of threat of a hiring freeze), then why would it be wrong for the hired candidate to renege in the face of an offer from a department which conducted its search in accordance with the APA schedule?

Now, I'm not convinced that 1) is true, nor am I convinced that it should be. And I also don't like the idea of a candidate backing out of a job after accepting. But if 1) were true, wouldn't that help solve these kinds of situations?

Anonymous said...

If an SC intends to complete a search before the Eastern APA, why not state that in the ad? Sure, a few candidates might choose not to apply; but most would still apply anyway. And if the SC was up front about the wrap-up date, wouldn't that promote collegiality in the long run?

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:00 pm:

You do realize you can check your messages from another phone, don't you?

Anonymous said...

It's not just 'lesser' departments that partake in these practices. I was made an offer by a top (Leiter) department and forced to decide before the APA. It was just for a (albeit reasonably sweet) post-doc but I couldn't actually weigh my options. It's clearly not accidental that this happened--they wanted to lock me in before my full options were on the table. And this is not a one-off thing.

Anonymous said...

I took a job offer and a campus visit offer on the same day. I took the job and not the campus visit. The offer expired before the on campus would have happened. I wish I had gone. I can tell you that it is freaking hard to move once you get a job.

I would tell you all that if you accept a job early and still have interviews and potential offers, go. Schools aren't interested in forcing you to come work for them, and I don't think they can. Get the best job for you. Each school and department will be just fine in the long run. You might not be.

Really, the commenter who said this isn't a moral situation is right. People change jobs all the time. Think of this as a preemptive leaving. You might not ever get another offer and be stuck in a shitty job -- and they are out there, trust me. I'm going to be sick now.

Anonymous said...

First, everyone's aware that this is how the rest of the world works, right? You get offered a job, and you have to decide if you want that job or not. If I get interviewed and offered a job by, say, an accounting firm, I'm given some time to think it over, but the firm should hardly be expected to arrange the hiring process so that I can now go and use that offer as leverage for an even better job (which, let's face it, is what you'd do with a TT-offer if you were interviewing for other jobs). It's hardly unethical for a company or university to expect you to have to make what can often be a hard decision. So it could be a hard decision--suck it up or turn it down and toss the dice.

Second, the US is the only country whose philosophy departments rigidly follow the APA schedule. Canada, Britain, and the other English-speaking countries approximate it, but often don't even make use of the December APA. Is it wrong for them to offer candidates jobs in December, or even November? (Granted, they're usually off-schedule on the other side of the APA.)

Third, no one finds it in any way morally questionable to accept a job offer--i.e. to commit oneself to a contract, to make a promise--while actually planning to find ways to reneg on that contract? Really? No one? There isn't a Kantian in the room? Look, if you accept the offer and tell them "but I'll still do my other interviews at the APA and might take one of their offers instead, and have to back out of this one," well, then you're in the clear.

zombie said...

So, putting on the Kantian hat, if ALL the schools universalize their maxim to conduct phone interviews and get the search done by mid-December, there is no problem for the schools or the candidates. Searches would be speedy, all offers would go out at approximately the same time. So we have no reason not to universalize there.

If all candidates universalize the maxim that it is OK to renege after accepting a job offer, what happens? Potentially, lack of trust in candidates, some schools might lose a faculty position. But primarily, nobody takes it seriously when a candidate commits to a job, because it is understood that they will renege if given the chance. Contracts mean nothing. (Likewise, if schools reneged on contracts after making an offer, candidates would not be able to trust that the jobs they have committed to will materialize.) It would be irrational to renege, for either party.

So, in conclusion, we cannot universalize the maxim that it is OK to renege on a job offer when a better offer comes along. But we can rationally will it that searches get done before APA Eastern.

notevenakantian said...

I don't know why UHV gave the guy a short window. But I'm with 6:41 on the ethics of agreeing to take the job with the intention of bagging it if you get a better offer. That's pretty sleazy. (I love how SLACKer puts "morals" in quotation marks, as if the very idea of morals was somehow dubious.)
I would not offer a job to someone who I knew had done that. So even if you have no ethical compunctions whatsoever, at least take into account that dishonesty can be very bad policy.

Anonymous said...

Just a thought: if you're the sort of person who has no problem with renegging on a contract, then you should in principle have no problem with the other party doing the same. In other words, if you're okay with accepting the offer and then pulling out after the fact when you find a better offer, you shouldn't have any problem with a department that offers you a position doing the same if a better candidate happens to come along.

Asstro said...

I'm a fairly good Kantian, I believe, but circumstances on the ground change when you get an offer. If you make a binding commitment to work with a University, you don't make that commitment on grounds that there are no circumstances that would cause you to alter your commitment. Everything else being equal, you'll take the job. When things are suddenly not equal, which they aren't if you suddenly have another better offer, then I think you can be released from your obligation.

You sign a contract to work, essentially at will, with your university on a tenure line. That's what you do. They give you a guarantee that the line won't be yanked. You give them your agreement that you'll show up in the Fall... and if you don't, then they can claim that you breached the contract, so they're no longer bound to keep you on a tenure line.

That's basically the agreement. It's a game, not a promise; the obligation is hypothetical, not categorical.

Every SC knows that this is the arrangement. When you agree to sign on for a tt job, you're not signing your life away. You are as free to move to another institution in a year as you are in a week.

Having said this, it can be a really bad political move to get too antsy and move all over the place. Word gets out, your name gets sullied, not necessarily good for your eventual tenure letter writers. But still, 12:03, you are not signing your life away.

If you feel that this is a job you could live with, and if you feel that this will be good for you in some important way, don't spike the offer simply because you want to hold out for something better. Take the offer, go on the market and see where things go, and bag if something better comes along.

Another thing you could consider, if you're feeling really conflicted conscience-wise, is continuing on the market, seeing what happens, and then, if you do get another offer, asking the hiring committee to defer your appointment for a year. Sign their contract and say you'll see them in the fall of 2012.

Let me make a somewhat different comparison.

Suppose that you are offered a post-doc for a year, just as someone above was. Suppose that you are then offered a tt job. Do you decline the tt job because you're already committed to a post-doc? No, don't be crazy. You take the tt job and tell the post doc institution that it would've been great, but that fortune has suddenly smiled on you. Everyone understands this.

There are, of course, a few circumstances in which you may want to ask for a delayed appointment. If you get a post-doc at Oxford, for instance, your hiring institution may be happy to grant you a year away as part of your contract. When they do this, they all know -- believe me, they know, because I've seen this happen a few times -- that you may well bail when you get another offer.

Take heart, 12:03. You're one of the lucky ones. You've got a bird in hand and you can still hunt the ones in the bush, morals intact.

Anonymous said...

I think anon 8:03's point is rather devastating to those who believe it permissible to reneg on a job offer.

Anonymous said...

By the way, the UHV hiring process is not being conducted by philosophers as far as I can tell. So, I suspect that they are simply unaware of our disciplinary norms and timetable.

Asstro said...


The agreement doesn't work the other way. A department that offers a tenure line signs an agreement with the prospective hire to maintain that person on the tenure line until it can be demonstrated that that person no longer belongs on the tenure line. That's their agreement. They can't (or oughtn't to) just yank the line from under the hire... though I do know of a case -- and this was a case in the past two years -- where a grad student was offered a TT line, he signed, made all the appropriate plans including getting rid of his apartment, and the school then yanked the offer due to funding. This strikes me as gross misconduct, and I'm surprised that it didn't go further legally. Again, the agreement that the university makes is to put you on a tenure line with specific requirements, usually a third or fourth year comprehensive review, and then tenure review in the sixth or seventh year. Clocks vary, but this is all clearly spelled out in the offer letter.

Your agreement, on the other hand, is only to be on the university's tenure line, under such and such merit evaluation conditions. Almost always it is for an indeterminate time period. Could be a week, could be a semester, could be 35 years. The time period of the hire isn't specified because everyone needs mobility.

If it says somewhere in your offer letter that you absolutely guarantee that you will be in residence for a specific time period -- say, for one year or longer; even for one week -- I wouldn't sign and I'd negotiate a different contract.

In the case of this one student, I'm not sure of the specifics, but the legal permissibility of the university yanking the funding may have had something to do with language to this effect: "The tenure line will begin on August 1, 20XX." Not sure about that, as I say, but if that's true, then the hiring department may not be legally bound to you, though I do think there's a case that they are morally bound to you.

One last thing: in a HUGE number of cases, this is an absolutely moot point. Jobs don't fall from the sky, and you should be happy to have an offer on the table. They also don't get yanked very often. The wheels of bureaucracy move slowly, once an offer has been made the universities usually follow through with it, and they all do so knowing that the market goes through ups and downs.

notevenakantian said...


The thing about "signing your life away" is a straw man. Nobody has suggested that accepting a job offer is signing your life away.
Taking a job at, say, UHV, and then leaving the following year is very different from taking the job and never showing up at all. The former does not even violate the agreement you make. Suppose UHV told a prospective employee, "We're offering you a job on the condition that you commit irrevocably to staying here and working for us over the next seven years." I think the candidate should simply say, "I won't accept under those conditions; could you make a more standard sort of offer?"

You say that "every SC knows that this is the arrangement." That's definitely not true. I have personally served on SCs whose members understood the contract to be, you know, a contract, an agreement, the undertaking of an obligation. (You may be right about the post doc, though; I have no experience on either end of those.)

Also, I found Zombie's argument completely persuasive, so maybe my name is inapt.

Anonymous said...

I respectfully suggest that this will soon become the norm at all state-funded schools in the US.

This has largely to do with the formation of budgets and the dependence of school's on a state's congress for this information.

My institution, in recent years, has done all hiring for January in the fall term or for August in the Summer term. This is because the state congress convenes to work on the state budget typically in the first session of the year. After that, it is finalized, usually by the time spring term is over, and passed on the College -- who then has to to also do their budget. The budget is finalized before school starts in August, which is then when deans, etc. find out what lines will be opened/remain open. The search process begins to fill the line in January, not because of a desire to "pressure candidates", but because if the line is not filled by the time the state's congress starts sessions in the new years, they salary allocated for the line counts as unused funds. The state is more than happy to take away any unused funds from our school - even if we fully intend/need to use them.

I think when considering the hiring practices of schools, it is very important to realize that colleges and universities are highly complex bureaucracies, with administrative and sometimes political issues at work in something as simple as hiring. To add to the mix, each institution has fairly different rules, policies, and cultures.

For example, at my institution, we do fully expect folks to remain on the "traditional" job market when being hired on for January, and on some occasions people have left because they've found more suitable jobs for them via that process -- and no one gets upset, we just call the second choice candidate from the initial search. So long as the person does a good job while they are employed by us, and provides his/her chair with reasonable notice, it's really not considered a big deal at my institution. Of course, that's not true at all schools. That has to be gauged, I think, from school to school.

Asstro said...


It may be the SC's most fervent wish that the candidate not bail on them after having signed an agreement, but the agreement is neither legally binding in that way -- if the SC wants it to be, they should include a clause that specifies the terms of liability if the candidate does not show in the fall -- nor is it morally binding, first for contractualist reasons, but second for Kantian universalist reasons. Such a commitment would mean potentially locking the candidate out of an extraordinarily good, life-altering, career-determining possibility. A binding arrangement of a determinate time, even if tacit in the contract, is offensive to many of us for the reasons that you can sense if you read the comments above. Such an arrangement is too demanding of the candidate, disrespectful of the candidate's ends, unfair.

Having said this, in most cases it is _practically_ binding. There just aren't multiple options for candidates and flitting around for jobs like a butterfly could prove damaging to a career in the long run.

If the job market were different, say like the sports market, then the contracts would be written differently, and I think there would be a case to make that a candidate could commit herself to the job for a determinate time, with penalties for severing the contract... but the bindingness of those obligations would all be contingent on the contract.

zombie said...

This is only marginally related -- early PFOs, rather than early hires.

Anyone else finding that the PFOs are coming earlier this year? I've now gotten two, whereas in years past, I wouldn't see any until late winter/early spring, and certainly not before APA.

Is this just a function of having so many applicants that SCs can afford to blow off those of us at the bottom early in the game? The one I got today (from a SLAC) said "nearly 200" applications.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, you mostly know, after APA, that you're not getting a call from most schools. OTOH, even false hope is a kind of hope. Is this the new black?

Anonymous said...

The disagreement here may be partly due to people having different kinds of situations in mind. Asstro has used phrases like 'extraordinarily good, life-altering, career-determining' to describe the "second offer." But that suggests a scenario like this:

In December, I get and accept a TT offer from Halfway-Decent State University (HDSU). In February, I get an offer from Fancy Pants University (FPU) -- an offer the likes of which I will never get again if I go down the teaching-laden road of HDSU. Is it permissible to renege on HDSU for this offer? I'd say so, and the folks at HDSU would probably agree.

But unless the offer from FPU is totally unexpected, this seems like an odd situation to be in. If you're good enough to get a job at FPU, HDSU probably shouldn't have spent their offer on you anyway. And you (arguably) should have been confident enough about getting some better offer that you should have turned down HSU. (That last premise may not apply this year, of course, which is a big caveat.)

The non-Asstro party seems to be imagining that you get an offer from Pretty Good State University, not FPU (or that you take an offer from Moderately Fancy Pants U. and skip out on them for FPU). It's unclear whether that kind of difference to your career trumps the moral weight of reneging on your agreement and the potential fallout at HDSU.

Anonymous said...

These comments once again support the idea that ethicists behave less ethically than non-ethicists


Based on the comments here, ethicists appear to be pretty good in coming up of ways of justifying self serving behavior.

notevenakantian said...

I think this is a bogus argument:

Such a commitment would mean potentially locking the candidate out of an extraordinarily good, life-altering, career-determining possibility.

I have a relative who trades futures for a living. (Okay, he doesn't actually do the trading, he just works for a firm that does it.) When he signs a contract to sell pork bellies in January at a fixed price and then the price of pork bellies skyrockets, it could easily cost him millions of dollars. Now that's life-altering. But it doesn't mean his contract is canceled, either legally (of course) or ethically.

An honest candidate will just tell the hiring department up front, "I am going to accept this offer but I'm also going to keep looking and I'll bail on you guys if I get a better offer." If the candidate is willing to say that and accept the consequences, okay. If he's not willing to say it (when it's true), he's being fundamentally dishonest. It's not illegal, but it's sleazy.

Asstro, would you offer a job to a candidate whom you know to behave this way? I'm genuinely interested. I would not, even if the candidate were the best available philosopher.

10:51, how can you tell which commenters are ethicists?

Asstro said...


Either that, or non-ethicists are just self-sabotaging rubes.

Go ahead. Pass up a career-changing opportunity by sticking to a faulty principle derived from a facile conception of the hiring agreement. It's your loss, not mine.

Asstro said...

When your relative signs a contract to sell pork bellies at some established price in January, that's what he signs a contract to do. The contract wouldn't work (function, be logically consistent) if he were permitted to do anything else.

When you sign a contract with a university to join a department, you agree to their tenure-line offer; which is to say, they agree to give you a good shot at a commitment for the rest of your career; and you commit to them that you will work toward that end. That's what they're hiring you to do. That's what you're agreeing to do. The contract works perfectly well under these conditions.

Almost every hiring arrangement works like this. In many circumstances, a corporation can hire you on Monday and fire you on Friday if they feel so inclined. If you're lucky, they'll have a good reason. If you're not lucky, you'll be wiping your bloody nose for the next year.

Tenure stream appointments, on the other hand, are peculiar beasts. The University makes a much stronger, much longer commitment to an employee on the tenure stream.

To answer your question: Yes, of course I'd hire someone knowing that they could leave at any moment. That's what I believe myself to be doing every time I contribute to a hiring decision.

Now then, that someone makes a verbal or a contractual commitment to a department, I think, does commit them to the department, but there are always commitment defeaters. People get sick, people get injured, people suffer gross emotional distress, people get pregnant, people grow disillusioned, people get other offers... it all happens. It's an overly stringent interpretation of the commitment to propose that there are no circumstances in which someone might pull up stakes and bail. If I were a department, I'd certainly rather have the person do this before the semester begins than have them do it halfway through the semester, when I'd need to scramble for a replacement professor.

Do I think you ought not to bail on a university frivolously? Yes, of course I think that. If you have a good reason, however, I think you can do it without feeling terribly guilty.

Asstro said...

Maybe to respond a little more directly to a different question:

Here's another thing that I think is okay. I think it's okay to go on the market and follow up with a school at which you have a non-negligible chance of declining the offer. I think this is perfectly reasonable, non-sleazy behavior.

If there is some arrangement that might lead you to take the offer, maybe even an unrealistically high salary, then it seems to me that the game is on and you can play it. You want that university to make you a high offer. If you're worth it, you can demand that salary. If they don't offer you the salary, you won't take their job.

As a matter of fact, I think I may even believe that you're _obligated_ to play this game; and to play it according to these rules. (I suppose I could be persuaded otherwise on this, but I'd be curious to hear arguments.)

Maybe it's not entirely fair to the hiring department to lead them on when you are fairly sure that you may leave immediately, but they're gaming you just as much as you're gaming them.

Remember, you're not doing charity work. You're trying to get a fair market rate for your employment. If they're a terrible place in a terrible location, they'll need to compensate you for being so awful. Maybe you're a cheap date. Maybe not. Depends who you are.

The dean will game you down to a low salary during your salary negotiations. You need to game the dean up, for your sake, but also for the sake of everyone else in the discipline.

Economics professors understand this perfectly well, and trust me, the junior professors in econ are in some cases _doubling_ the salaries of the senior professors in philosophy. Just a little food for thought.

Anonymous said...

I think some commentators over-romanticize job-offers (Easy to do, given how hard we work to get them). Regardless of the warmth of the offer letter, the promise of tenure down the road and so on,
any university will fire a TT person the minute they need too -- TT means that you don't have tenure yet. I've seen TT-offers recalled by universities too.

B/c of this, I would say that a new hire owes the university nothing. You might owe your colleagues an explanation if you bail on the job, and if they have been in this game a while they will understand -- but not the 'university'. To be honest, at most departments, nobody will care if you bail on the job. The SC will just call the next one on the list and be done with it. The job search is a lot more important to the hire-ee than it is to the hire-er.

notevenakantian said...

When your relative signs a contract to sell pork bellies at some established price in January, that's what he signs a contract to do. The contract wouldn't work (function, be logically consistent) if he were permitted to do anything else.

Yes, when he signs a contract to do X, that's what he signs a contract to do. That's a tautology. And when a philosopher agrees to teach in department D, that's what she agrees to do. This is also a tautology.

Do you really think that the fact that we can be released from commitments because we're sick is relevant here? Whenever I promise to do something, under any circumstances, and then I am unable to do it, I am released from my obligation, because I cannot be obligated to do something that I cannot do. On the other hand, in general we are not released from obligations by the fact that a better opportunity has come along.

So, if the hiring department asks the candidate, "Are you going to keep looking for a better job over the next months?", what do you think the candidate should say? Suppose the department says, "We want to make an offer to you, but not if you are going to accept it and then continue your search this season." Should the candidate just lie, or should she tell the truth?

Asstro said...

Maybe you neglected to read the words following "contract." Your relative signs a contract to X, to sell pork bellies by a given date at a given price. You sign a contract to Y, to join a department on the tenure line. You don't agree to do it on a given date at a given time.

Maybe you've also neglected to think about what other job contracts look like. When other people sign on with a company, they are at will employees. They can leave whenever they want. They can come in on Monday and quit on Tuesday if they feel like they want or need to. Maybe they oughtn't to, maybe it's a bad idea for them, but they don't necessarily owe much to their employer, unless they've agreed to some determinate work period.

zombie said...

I find all this worry about multiple offers fascinating. This strikes me as being somewhat like Joe the Plumber saying he doesn't want taxes to go up for the rich, because he hopes he'll be rich someday.

But anyhoodle. If I am hired as, say, the manager of a Dunkin Donuts, I agree to work at the Dunkin Donuts on Main Street, 40 miles away, for x amount of dollars. A week after I am hired, the Starbucks on Maple Street, walking distance to my house, has a sign in their window: Manager Wanted. I apply. I get the job, which pays me better, cuts my commute to five minutes, and offers significantly better coffee.

I don't really see anything wrong with my moving on to Starbucks. Now, granted, the situation is not exactly analogous to a University hire. Dunkin Donuts probably doesn't spend nearly as much effort, time, and money hiring managers as Donuts University does hiring professors. It's also unlikely that, if I quit my DD job and go to Starbucks, that the DD corporation will be unwilling or unable to hire a replacement. DD managers are probably more fungible than profs, but let's not kid ourselves -- there are a lot of us out there right now looking for jobs, so we're not exactly UNfungible. The pickings aren't slim for schools looking to hire.

Now, if it is true that hiring depts don't care if you renege on the agreement to take a position (and maybe some of them don't care), then nobody gets hurt. I think part of what makes some of us uneasy about this unlikely multiple offer scenario is the timing. If I accept a job this week, and no other offers would (typically) be forthcoming until March or April, then things might change for Donuts University such that, my reneging will cost them a faculty member, and maybe, in the current economic climate, they'll never get that salary line back. Or maybe not. Is it my responsibility to make sure that doesn't happen, by taking the job in spite of a better offer? Or is this a situation where it is understood that I am looking out for my own best interests, and THEY are looking out for their best interests? I suspect it's the latter.

So, is reneging on an agreement to work like breaking a promise? Or is the agreement understood to be contingent in the first place?

I'll be fucking ecstatic if I get ONE offer.

Dr. Killjoy said...

Look, if you want to pull this kind of move, then go for it. Just stop with the tortured stories upon which a huge class of relevantly similar and altogether massive dick moves come out morally permissible.

Anonymous said...

I got my job on a last minute July-interview-starting-in-Sept situation where, after accepting it, I had two offers for more money. But I had given my word, so I declined those later two. Don't know what might have happened to my career, but I am happy with what I have now.

Years later I am approached to interview for a very good position for more money. I am tempted by the money, but I hate the place. On the other hand my institution will give me a matching raise should I receive an actual offer from a competing institution, so if I go through the motions, I can increase my salary by double-digits percentage. All it takes is deceiving the offering institution that I'm actually interested. (And they were very clearly interested in me.)

Couldn't do it. You have to look at yourself in the mirror every day. I don't want to see some manipulative asshole staring back at me.

wv: cente

Anonymous said...

Well put killjoy

I want you as a colleague!

Asstro said...


All totally reasonable, of course; but your word is only worth so much. If an attractive hiring institution had offered you a position with better pay and tenure, I bet you would've taken the job offered you; or at least gone back to your home institution to ask for an equivalent offer. I don't know you, of course, but if you would've turned it down simply on grounds that you'd given your word, I likely would've thought you a fool.

That's how negotiation works, that's how universities work, and you're unnecessarily sacrificing your own well-being for a nameless, faceless university if you think otherwise.

Maybe you do have a relatively small commitment to your future colleagues in the philosophy department; and maybe it will take some massaging to iron this out; maybe you can help them by finding or suggesting a one or two year adjunct replacement while they go back through the hiring process; but your commitment to the university is strictly contractual.

It's a contractual entity, and your term isn't specified in the contract.

Anonymous said...

5:33 is the bomb, yo.

notevenakantian said...


Maybe you neglected to read the words following "contract."

When I remarked that it was a tautology, the point was that it doesn't matter what words follow 'contract'. The sentence is trivially true independent of what those words are.

Your relative signs a contract to X, to sell pork bellies by a given date at a given price. You sign a contract to Y, to join a department on the tenure line. You don't agree to do it on a given date at a given time.

Hm, my actual employment contract does specify a starting date. (It also seems like quibbling to insist on a huge relevant difference between an employment contract that specifies dates and one in which the hiring department simply assumes that you are agreeing to start in September and you know they do.) I must be missing your point.

If the hiring department asks the candidate, "Are you going to keep looking for a better job over the next months?", what do you think the candidate should say? Suppose the department says, "We want to make an offer to you, but not if you are going to accept it and continue your search this season." Should the candidate just lie, or should she tell the truth?

Anonymous said...

This is 12:03 again. In the course of my early visit (!), I learned that the start date for this job is in the Spring, not the Fall. This was, of course, not in the original job ad. So, this is just one more possible explanation for (some) early timetables.

Anonymous said...

Here's a story:

My department extended an offer for a good visiting position. The candidate asked for (and was naturally granted) two weeks, hoping to hear from another hiring department about a visiting position that s/he preferred. After two weeks, s/he asked for another week. OK, we said, but after that, we need an answer. (It was getting late in the spring.) The extra week passed, and the candidate was still not prepared to accept or reject. One more day, and the candidate finally accepted.

Three weeks later, the candidate (now hired) got the other job and reneged on our offer. By that time, our list had grown pretty thin. We hired someone, of course, but we definitely were harmed.

I think that everyone in the department understood the candidate's position. But, if we were hiring in that person's area, s/he would not (I think) get a real look. And, if you ask us about that person, you won't get nice words.

Everyone should feel free to negotiate, in good faith. And good faith negotiation may include some deception. But, everyone should be wary of the assertions made by those who resort to name-calling ("rube") to heckle us who believe that the state of the market is not such that all is permitted in the pursuit of a job.

Asstro said...

I never said there wouldn't be political or social consequences from treating other colleagues like this. In fact, I said that there may well be. You takes your chances... but don't be a fool about your future by thinking that you can't get out of an job agreement that you make.

The clarification that the job starts in the spring is all the more reason to take the job now, as it puts you on a tenure line, and to continue with your search as planned (if you feel so inclined). Then you can fulfill your obligation to the university in the spring, and, if need be, move along to a different place in the fall.

All I keep thinking throughout this discussion is that it's no wonder that philosophy professors are paid almost as much as high school teachers. It's not _simply_ a supply and demand thing, it's that many philosophers are willing to sell themselves short in the name of adherence to (fallacious) principle.

Anonymous said...

I feel like you are conflating two issues: 1. After having accepted a job offer to start in the fall, you continue being interviewed and then accept a better gig; 2. After having accepted a job and moving to that town and teaching there for a year or more, you go back out on the market and find a better job.

2 is clearly permissible and widely accepted.
1 however is not clearly either (and, it seems, clearly neither)

5:33's point drives this home. On your interpretation, it would have been completely acceptable to, in the middle of summer, renege on a job just recently offered in favor of a position you prefer - ignoring the horrible situation you just put that school in.

You talk about the job offer as being for some future tenure track line as if the "job" is to be tenure track. But the JOB is to teach classes in the fall. You don't sign a contract to one day, perhaps, be offered tenure. You sign a contract to show up and teach students philosophy.

It is acceptable to leave after the year is up because no one expects you to stay employed at the same school for your entire life. But it is unacceptable to walk away the week before classes leaving the school, your colleagues, and the students completely screwed.

By your rationale, you can even bail mid-semester if you got a better offer. Though I have personally witnessed this, it is appalling how little regard the individual who does that actually has for others.

Asstro said...


Look, I don't think a candidate should lie. I think a candidate should say that they're continuing with their job search; or maybe that an appropriately pitched offer would be attractive enough to stay. It all depends on the candidate. If they're worth their salt, the dean will pony up. The Chair should seek reasons to approach the Dean with concern that the candidate will not take the offer, that the Dean needs to sweeten the pot.

I have seen way too many chairs and SC members back down from a hard negotiating strategy because they fear reprisal from the Dean, or because they think that the price offered the candidate is fair given the wide market for philosophers, or because there are other senior faculty who are currently making less than the proposed offer. The candidate, the chair, and the SC should all be on the same page: they should all want good candidates to drive hard bargains and to threaten to flee. It's in the interest of everyone in the department to push for this, even though it may cause momentary pain and anguish.

Obviously there are budgetary and political considerations that influence the political feasibility of these strategies, and each will depend on circumstances, but let's face it, philosophers just aren't terribly good at negotiating on behalf of themselves.

When a candidate flees to take another position, this is an opportunity to push the Dean for a better line. There may be some temporary pain as the SC has to reconvene, or if the line gets yanked, but this is all a part of the game.

So, to answer directly: When I interview a candidate, I naturally assume that that candidate will be looking to improve upon his situation at all times, whether we hire him or not. I'm happy to ask him: "Will you continue looking for better jobs?" but I hope I know the answer, and I hope it's a yes. If he doesn't answer yes, then I think this is the wrong candidate for my position. I don't want suckers. I want players.

Fortunately for my department, we're in a pretty attractive location, so people tend not to leave. If we were in a less desirable place, I suppose I might feel the need to grovel and plead and call people names for seeking to better their positions. Either that, or I'd feel the need to _get more money or better benefits to compensate our people better_.

Asstro said...


Just how awful is that situation, really? You have to scramble to find an adjunct. It's a pain in the ass. There is some time lost... but really? Is it that bad?

No, it's not.

I think a strong case can be made that there are defeaters to the obligation to the university. If a good job comes along in the middle of the summer, and this is a job that will make a big difference to you, then you shouldn't feel terrible about leaving. Maybe you should try to smooth over political problems by helping to find a replacement... but the university will survive. Get your career on track.

As for mid-semester departures, it's obviously worse, because in this case you're screwing the students as well, so you'd need a good reason... but I can think of some cases where it might be permissible.

Ben said...

Since I don't think anyone has mentioned this distinction, I think it's worth saying that there seems (to me) to be a big difference between continuing to make new applications after accepting an offer and follow up on the applications that you had already made prior to accepting an offer.

Making new applications shows far greater willingness to screw over the hiring department. If you receive an interview offer from somewhere you'd already applied to though it's less clear that you ought to turn it down. Accepting the interview isn't the same as accepting the job and might be good experience. Then of course that might lead to another offer, but it's only then that you have the difficult choice to make.

FWIW, I've been in a similar situation. Was offered a one year (well, 9 month) job and accepted but warned them that I already had an interview for a better (permanent) job scheduled. Didn't make any new applications, but received an offer from one of the others and bailed. (Still in plenty of time for them to find a replacement.)

Anonymous said...

Jesus Christ can we shut up about this annoying issue already. Talk about beating a dead horse.

notevenakantian said...

Okay, if you (or really, the candidate) is willing to be up front about intentions, then I don't have a serious objection. Maybe department chairs who are issuing early offers, for whatever reason, should first ask the candidate: if we offer you this job right now, and you accept it, will you continue to look for a better job? If the candidate will answer that question honestly, then the department can decide what to do with the information it gets.
What I think is sleazy is what I'd thought was flat out dishonesty. As long as everything is above board, no real problem as far as I'm concerned.

Xenophon said...

I think it's alright to torture small animals. As long as you really enjoy it. After all, the little animal would torture you if he could. Anyway, it's a bad job market, so anything goes. Two men enter, one man leaves.

I think we can add one more question to the list you posted recently (everyone who reads this blog now has to ask it at the APA): if you sign a contract of employment, do you think that entails any obligation on your part, or are you going to do it just to fuck with us?

Anonymous said...

Here! Here! It's time for people to stop flogging this pony. Red meat, Mr. Zero.

BunnyHugger said...


I too have gotten two PFOs. I think we may have to resort to the ninja stars after all.

Anonymous said...

I rarely succeed in beating live horses, so I'm happy to help beat this dead one.

What do those folks who think you are under strict obligations to stick to your contract think about it when someone gets a permanent contract? I recently accepted a permanent contract at my junior college. Putting aside the fact that I'll probably never leave (I assess that working for SLAC and ResearchUs is not usually worth the headaches), does my accepting that contract mean that I can never, ever leave or even seek to leave? I mean, by accepting my permanent contract I have basically said "Yep, gonna work here permanently" and that's clearly what they are assuming.

Obviously, this level of commitment is absurd. But its difference from accepting an initial job offer while continuing to seek a better job is a difference only of degree and time, not a difference in kind, I think.

By the by, I wonder how many people commenting here have ever worked outside philosophy. Such discussions in academic administration, and definitely in other jobs, would be basically laughable, since employees are basically expected to do what's in their best interests -- because your employers is definitely not looking out for you.

And, also, FYI, given the trend in vertical management models of higher education, with faculty sitting pretty at the bottom, you damn well better expect the college/university basically doesn't give a shit about it's commitment to you. You are just a number at the end of a budget line, and basically expendable. Your colleagues, your chair, your student might care. But the person managing the budget really doesn't, and they have all the power anyway.

Anonymous said...

We aren't talking about your administration, 1:40, we're talking about your philosophy department. You know, the ones you (with a smirk, no doubt) call "colleagues". Because they're the ones who suffer if you accept a job offered to you in good faith and then ditch the suckers when you get a better one next week.

Jesus, there sure are a lot of assholes in philosophy. I guess that shouldn't surprise me. There are a lot of assholes everywhere. It's just that philosophers are better at rationalizing.

zombie said...

All right Bunny, but I must warn you: my ancestors are actual samurai and (probable) vikings. So sleep with one eye open.

Anonymous said...

re: how its done in the "real" world. First, it is common practice to give two weeks notice - you are considered an asshole if you were to show up on Monday and tell the company that you wouldn't be there Tuesday. Second, even though companies can and do fire people on a Friday afternoon with no warning, we all think they are assholes for doing it. So, even in the "real" world the accepted rule of just behavior is to not leave either those that hired you or those that you have hired completely in the lurch.

This has never been a question of whether you are beholden forever but rather whether you are being a dick for telling the search committee "you can stop looking, I'll be teaching there in the fall" only to tell them 1, 2, 8 weeks later that, in fact, you would not be teaching like you said you would because you've been offered a job that you like better.

Obviously, the closer it is to the point that you accepted, the less of an ass you are but if you had led them to believe that you were not going to continue to play the field while, in fact, continuing to play the field, you are being dishonest.

Anonymous said...

Sorry. I just don't buy it. My department would be almost none the worse for the wear if a recent hire bagged on us. We might grouse a bit, thinking that it was a shame that we couldn't hold on to our hire, but I'm certain that we'd find someone to fill the teaching responsibilities and move on, either offering the job to the next place candidate or failing the search and moving it to the fall again.

Frankly, I can't help but think that the true assholes here are the ones who would want a new hire to follow through even though that candidate had gotten a job that was potentially better for him, his life, and his career.

Seriously, what kind of selfish pricks are you guys? I would be very happy for the candidate.

Anonymous said...

Interesting 9:32. We had someone bail on us two years ago for a far, far better job than what we offered (like we are complete shit and this is a job in a top 20 Leiter-ranked department with a huge salary). Some members in our department are still seriously pissed off at the guy. I didn't get it. Sure it was a bit disappointing but come on, it was a much, much, much better job. I don't blame him at all for taking it and I was genuinely pleased for him. We then offered the job to our number two candidate who worked out just fine.

Anonymous said...

9:32, I know! Wanting someone to keep their word is so selfish! Commenters on Philosophy Smoker will gain enormously if other people show integrity and honesty -- I'm sure that's the only reason they're in favor of it.

Asstro said...


The point is that they haven't given "their word" that they'll forgo all other gainful and productive employment. They've agreed only to join the department on a tenure line and to work toward tenure.

12:32 raises an actual case where, and I think he's right about this, the faculty should be happy for the candidate. The faculty who are pissed at the candidate simply fail to understand the agreement that they made. That they were put out and didn't get their man, I think, is selfish.

Some here routinely fail to understand that.

Anonymous said...

1:40 here, 3:12.

Okay, then let's be clear as to why this is still a problem for people who are sitting here talking about whether or not you are an asshole for ditching on a job you accepted.

So far as I can tell, the reasons for thinking some is a dick for backing out of a job they've accepted is that accepting the job constitutes a promise, or some kind of contract. "Will you start working here at such and such a time?" "Yes, I will work here starting at such and such a time." Then, if you renege, you are a bad, selfish jerk because of one or some combination of the following reasons:

(1) you are somehow breaking a promise or contract with the committee,
(2) you are inconveniencing your colleagues
(3) you have made some other job candidate's, who would have gotten the offer had you not gotten, somehow worse
(4) the school may no longer be able to hire someone, thus potentially depriving the department of a faculty member
(5) It is somehow dishonest
(6) If its okay for a candidate to back out, then it is okay for a school to back out of a job offer; that’s clearly absurd, so obviously its not okay for a candidate to back out.

So far as I can tell, each of these has been rebutted quite clearly by other people, so I won't repeat their points. The only thing that hasn't been pointed out that inconveniencing your once-future colleagues isn't automatically a reason to think backing out of an offer makes you a bad person.

"We aren't talking about your administration, 1:40, we're talking about your philosophy department. You know, the ones you (with a smirk, no doubt) call "colleagues". Because they're the ones who suffer if you accept a job offered to you in good faith and then ditch the suckers when you get a better one next week."

I quite like my colleagues, not all of whom are philosophers. We're a mixed department, you see, comprised not only of philosophers, but also artists, humanists, dancers, musicians, writers, and the like. All of these people -- all of them -- understand how the job market works, because most of them had jobs they left to take their present job. Most of them have probably interviewed for or sought better jobs. We realize people have different concerns and different lives, and try not to fuss ourselves too much over professional inconveniences, when they happen, and recognize them as par for the course in such an environment.

Beyond that, I'm not sure that causing some person or group of people professional inconvenience is a reason to think someone is an immoral asshole. Just because the search committee will be unhappy with it doesn't mean it's wrong -- it just means its the sort of thing that makes people unhappy. And I don't see how any person who has ever held down a real job would take something like "I'm afraid I've received a better offer" as indicative of a person's moral failings, because it is unpleasant to hear that or have to do more work or something.