W's story has legs, it seems (see also the first round-up for some of the same stories, but with different excellent commentary). It's been talked about in mainstream circles in the following ways:
- As embodying the perils women face when "leaning in" and "how women fare when they try to assert themselves";
- As an example of how not to negotiate from which we can all draw a few important lessons;
- As showing how the responses reflect the tendency of academics to take "any sense of self-worth whatsoever [to be] 'overinflated'";
- And, most recently, as a jumping-off point for a "respected conservative journalist" to dump on feminism. (To which I respond like this. Also, notice her purported knowledge of the case is belied by her conjecture that there were undoubtedly "dozens" of people who had applied to the position; DOZENS! HAHAHAHA.)
More measured, informed responses--some quite fantastic--have been appearing in academic circles. In addition to the excellent ones listed here and the nice coverage by Colleen Flaherty at Inside Higher Ed, I want to single out two more pieces.
First, is Janet D. Stemwedel's (DocFreeRide) piece on reciprocity and the obligations search committees have to candidates. Among other great observations about W's requests for a lighter teaching load being evidence for her commitment to teaching, she remarks:
A job candidate is not a mere means to fulfill your department’s ends. Buyer’s market or not, a job candidate should not be treated as a supplicant deserving of punishment for asking questions in good faith. A job candidate is your potential colleague. A job candidate to whom an offer of employment has been extended should be treated as your future colleague.The second piece I want to highlight is David M. Ball's at Inside Higher Ed. Ball's editorial deftly weaves together the many issues and questions that W's case raises: the relationship between search committee and candidate, the mentoring of students at R1s in preparation for teaching jobs, the unique challenges (and harms) women face in academia, the power dynamics in higher education, and the move colleges are making to employ more contingent faculty. If there's one piece on the topic you should read, read Ball's.
With that in mind, I find it hard to pick out a single quote from Ball's editorial, so here are a few:
To presume that an expression of interest in conducting research speaks to the unfitness of a SLAC candidate or that R1 institutions are in no way student-centered is as counterproductive as the persistent stigma against SLACs amongst some graduate advisers. The ones who suffer amidst all of this misinformation are the candidates themselves....
To speculate on Nazareth’s complicity in these broader dynamics [e.g., philosophy's gender problem] is just that: speculation (and kudos to them for achieving what must have been a hard-won gender parity amongst their tenured faculty in the department). But driving much of the animus against W’s actions in the comments is a sense that she has overstepped the bounds of propriety in a gendered power dynamic in which she is expected to be compliant and grateful for the terms presented her....
As for the argument that the successful candidate in this economic climate, regardless of gender, should shut her mouth: at no other likely juncture will a junior professor have a better opportunity to negotiate the terms of her employment than at the moment of her hiring. The conditions under which she is employed will dramatically shape her chances for promotion and tenure. Negotiated terms matter to future success. Indeed, the tenure track itself doesn’t accede to the logic of the market.I especially like the point that Ball brings up about the perception problems that exist between R1s and SLACs. A quick anecdote on this topic: When I was on the market, my advisor remarked to me before a mock interview: "I don't know how helpful this will be since, back in my day, we didn't even take interviews at teaching schools."
For some candidates, this represents the pinnacle of job market advice they will receive.
Anyway. One reason that I've been silent on the matter is that these two pieces say what I want to say really well. But I do have a few things to add.
First, we should acknowledge something emphasized to me by my (very perceptive/smart) significant other who has hiring and interviewing experience at a tiny non-profit: Hiring and interviewing is hard, especially if you haven't been explicitly trained to do those sorts of things and don't have much help. Now compound the difficulty of hiring and interviewing with teaching and research duties and throw in a dash of making what must seem a monumental decision (colleague potentially for life!). I don't doubt at all the claims that Nazareth acted rashly in rescinding the offer, but they definitely had a tough job.
Second, I want to echo W's push-back on the attempts to divine her character--"spoiled," "entitled," "millennial who has received trophies just for trying," blah, blah, blah--from the e-mail she sent to Nazareth and also from her response to the commenters.
The thought that we can judge anybody's character--even the characters of the members of the search committee at Nazareth--on the basis of something so slippery as the tone of an e-mail, displays incredible over-confidence in one's ability to read others (a possible sign of narcissism), ignorance of how implicit biases influence judgments like the ones being made about W, and an inability to consider how such judgments might embody well-established cognitive errors. (I think some of these points apply equally well to Nazareth's claim that they could tell from W's e-mail that she was interested more in a research institution than she was in teaching; what happened to all the information they received in the rest of the interview process?)
Third, no one who has discussed this situation responsibly directly attributes the withdrawing of W's offer to her request for maternity leave or to any possible sexism on the part of the search committee. (On a similar point: no serious person has suggested that Nazareth did anything illegal by rescinding the job offer. Did they do something a bit rash? A bit out-of-the-blue? Possibly unjustified from a non-legal, vaguely moral standpoint? Yeah. And for all the various reasons people I've linked to here and previously have mentioned.)
All responsible discussion about the role W's gender might have played in these negotiations, focuses on the cultural or structural realities, academic and otherwise, in which negotiations take place, not the hearts and minds of the members of the search committee (in line with the point above, I think any such speculation about the search committee would be rash and unjustified).
However, negotiations don't take place in a vacuum. The research I've linked to previously shows that women face unique challenges that men do not face when negotiating. So it's a natural topic to consider. And, in any case, I will always be of the opinion that the challenges women and other underrepresented groups face in philosophy is a topic worthy of discussion. I welcome any and all opportunities to talk about this because I think addressing these challenges and making philosophy more inclusive is important for the health--moral and epistemic--of the discipline (for more on the importance of this discussion, see also Zombie's point in the first Inside Higher Ed article).
On the point about sexism having a possible role in W's case, when I was first contacted about the story by a reporter I was asked:
[W]hat do you think of this? Do you think this is particularly prone to happen in a philosophy dept? I'm wondering in particular about the maternity leave request, given some of the stereotypes/reports about misogyny in philosophy.I was taken aback by the reference to misogyny in philosophy. I responded:
I'm not sure I would be comfortable saying that something like this is more prone in a philosophy department than in a department in a different discipline. The request for maternity leave was couched among a few other requests that, as W acknowledged, might have been more difficult to grant than other requests. Given that Nazareth refused to negotiate, we can't be certain if it was one request in particular, or the requests as a whole that made them wary of W's commitment to the school; we can only go off the reasons that Nazareth gave: They thought W a bad fit for the department.I stand by that. The story is mainly about negotiating and how to go about doing it, but that story also bears importantly on the relationship between R1s and SLACs, about mentoring in graduate school, about how to present oneself to a search committee, about the perception of women in academia, about the communication breakdowns between candidates and search committees, etc, etc.
I think there are good and bad reasons for...thinking someone might be a good or bad fit, but given our meager information, I think it is impossible to divine any deeper motives than those Nazareth gave and, as such, it would be irresponsible to level any accusations about the possible role of misogyny in the decision.
I thought the real story was the refusal to negotiate and withdraw the offer without speaking to W...about the worries they had about...fit.... And this was disheartening especially given the advice job candidates often receive, e.g., that there is no harm in negotiating contracts.
But this is a job market story, mainly, and it provides more information on a topic that might have not otherwise been available.
This brings me to my last point. We should all thank W for sharing her story with us, especially in light of the unwarranted abuse she has received (far and wide). For those thinking that W was simply crying over spilt milk: First, notice that the story was never pitched in a way that was meant to elicit sympathy for W; nor did her response have any such WOE-IS-ME, WHY-IS-EVERYONE-PICKING-ON-ME 'tone.'
Second, if W wanted sympathy, she had to have known that she wouldn't be getting it from internet commenters or from philosophers, who, on this blog, call each other names while debating the minutiae of dating one's colleagues/students in a thread approaching (exceeding?) 650 comments (seriously, y'all?).
So you should know that when W first contacted me, she mainly noted that she had a story she thought our readers would find interesting.
She obviously thought right.
But she also sold the interest in her story a bit short (we all did!) and undersold its importance. This is crucial information to have for those who might have mentors who are ignorant of the realities on the ground or who might not have much information themselves. Of course, I'd heard about the fears candidates have that a rescinded job offer was a possibility and I'd heard about the lack of information about how to negotiate and the lack of transparency in hiring decisions, but I hadn't heard about anything so stark as having an offer taken away.
Now I've been blogging about and discussing these issues for the past 7 or so years and I hadn't heard any stories about job offers being rescinded. With that in mind, think back to my advisor who never even considered taking an interview at a teaching school. These are the types of people many of us have advising us about negotiations. That's one reason why I think W's story is important.
So while we may have been naive before, we're all a little less naive now.
For those on the market or entering the market, that's a good position to be in.
-- Jaded, Ph.D.