Friday, March 21, 2014

Round-up # 2 on W's story, and a few of my own thoughts

Later update: See this Daily Nous post for information about and discussion of a petition started by Chad Kautzer (CU-Denver) calling upon the APA to "condemn" the actions of the search committee--I think I'm with those who think this might be too strong, but see the discussion--and to suggest guidelines in the APA handbook on placement practices covering these sorts of situations--which sounds like a good suggestion to me.

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:
(If you're keeping track, the philosophy job market is being talked about (in order) by: Jezebel, Slate, The Guardian, Bloomberg View, Forbes, Slate (again), and the LA Times.)

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 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 And this was disheartening especially given the advice job candidates often receive, e.g., that there is no harm in negotiating contracts.
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.

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.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Round-up of coverage on the academic negotiation heard round the 'net

Update, 3/18: Vim, Ph.D. forwarded me their take on things, some of which engage the Cedar Riener post. Read the pull quote that I've added below in the body of the text; it's reeeeeeaaaaallllyyy good. There was also an article by Katy Waldman in Slate, allegedly, and another at Slate from Rebecca Schuman, who has written about philosophy there before. Her strongly worded lesson from the story: 
Any beginning academic who tries to stand up for herself is lunch for the hordes of traumatized ivory-tower zombies, themselves now irreversibly infected with the obsequious self-devaluation and totalizing cowardice that go by the monikers “collegiality” and “a good fit.”
But really, read the pull quote from Exhaust Fumes.

W's story spread quickly. I'm still processing and finding all the reactions to it. Here are a few.

Inside Higher Ed was the first to pick up the original story and W's follow-up. This was followed by Jezebel's article, where Erin Gloria Ryan places W's story within the context of the advice that women should "Lean in!" and the unique challenges women face when they do. (Does anyone know what that whole leaning in thing was all about? I never really took the time to figure out what the fuck it even meant.)

On the business tip, Inside Higher Ed interviewed Karen, from The Professor is In, who also shared her wisdom about negotiating, including this helpful tip amid other advice (see the caveat):
You should still expect to negotiate your tenure track job offer in nearly all cases.
(For more on the business side of things, see this entry from a Forbes contributor.)

Others picked up on W's disappointment in the "moralizing" reactions to her story. Cedar Riener nicely points out that while W might have gone about things differently, Nazareth's:
actions relate to a larger phenomena, seeing behavior that reflects unpreparedness or unfamiliarity with the situation, and treating this behavior as if it reflects poorly on the person. This is a kind of bias called the fundamental attribution error, and it has particularly pernicious effects in education. (Emphasis added)
(See also how Riener relates it to teaching at the end of his post. I also think that Riener's point extends to many of the commentariat's reaction to W and the "tone" of her e-mail.)

(Added 3/18) Related to this point--reminiscent of what Eric Schliesser described in another context as a tendency of "unreceptive professional philosophers [who] do not wish to see the best in each other's attempts."--Vim, Ph.D. at Exhaust Fumes has this to say about how our quickness to make judgments about others on something so slim as tone represents an uncritical acceptance of certain academic norms (as I mention in the update above, it's so good):
If we think somebody new is going to be an asshole to work with because they expect to be paid a certain amount or would appreciate some limitations on the teaching workload, maybe we need to think more deeply about the system that such a conviction is buying into. The system where the long suffering have dealt with so much crap that they believe everybody else should too. The one where new people have done enough to earn a job offer, but not the respect of discussion if their requests seem impossible. The one where new people are immediately othered—as in “egads, she thinks she better than us” or “she’s clearly not going to be happy here if she’s this kind of person”––the second they suggest they’re entitled to make requests. The one where a response to somebody’s sense of their own worth and tentative articulation of potential needs is perceived not as an opportunity to improve the conditions at a university for its new and future members, but as a threat, competition, and clearly unfair.
On the topic of potential (implicit) bias, David Perry raises worries about the way "fit" can be used to "[conceal] various kinds of bias." Perry notes that though we can't know if any sort of bias was at play in W's case, "in the comments on tone and fit throughout, [he] see[s] acceptable smokescreens for bias."

(For more takes on W's story with the same general thrust as Perry's, see this Storify put together by Historianess. It also includes what looks to be practical advice about negotiating.)

And for more on potential bias, be sure to not miss out on the update to the original post which included references a helpful reader sent along, which, in her words, are about:
the fair amount of research on the backlash women can face when they negotiate, what causes the backlash effects, and how to keep them to a minimum. For a brief-and-breezy summary I recommend this article in the Washington Post....If you would rather read a journal article with plenty of references to the literature, see [here].
I'm happy W shared her story with us, especially given that the type of criticism that she's been subjected to was easily foreseeable. I'm also glad that for as many "moralizing" comments we've seen and for all the "failure of imagination"--Riener's apt assessment--on display, there have been helpful treatments and comments about the situation like those above.

W's story has (re)sparked important discussions about negotiating, bias in the job market (whether it was at play in W's case or not, we can't know), the role of "fit" in job decisions, the need for strong mentors beyond the dissertation phase of our careers--specifically when it comes to the job market--the relationship between teaching and research and how candidates should go about articulating their views on the topic, etc.

That's pretty cool.

(Comments are closed here, but still open on the original thread.)

(Updated 3/18, see above)

-- Jaded, Ph.D.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

W Speaks About Her PFO FO

W has just commented in the thread about her FO letter. I especially like the part where she mentions "all the moralizing comments" (I've been thinking about just that sort of thing lately in relation to some of the debate surrounding the Colorado site visit report, e.g., the demonstrated collective quickness to judge for ourselves, rather than slowing down and attempting to understand; it seems to me symptomatic of a narrow view of rationality, which if not unique to philosophy and if not something some forms of philosophical training fosters, has been characteristic of a lot of our discussions lately; hopefully more later).

Anyway, W:
This is W — I thought I would just offer a few more facts. 
Up front: I agree with those arguing that I made a mistake in negotiating. It was a clear case of a miscommunication between the institution and myself. This is how I thought negotiating worked, how I learned to do it, and, for that matter, how I think it should work: you ask about a number of perks and maybe get some of them. I was expecting to get very few of the perks I asked about, if anything at all, given what would be possible for a small college like Nazareth. I certainly did not expect to get either a junior leave or a year for my postdoc. I just thought there was no harm in asking.

Since many commenters seem to be interested in the salary increase I asked for. Maybe two things will be helpful.

1. I asked for a less then 20% increase in salary. 
2. When I negotiated for another tenure track offer in philosophy I asked for a more than 20% increase in salary and was offered it. In that case, too, I was not expecting it to be offered. I have also been involved in negotiating in non-academic contexts and (maybe wrongly) got the sense that it works along the “there is no harm in asking”-lines as well. 
Of course my limited negotiating experience by no means provides data about the right or best thing to do in these kinds of situations. 
On maternity leave: 
I had already had discussions with someone at the college about maternity leave, and understood that what I was asking for was already unofficial policy. In other words, I was asking for what they were verbally offering me in writing. 
I would also like to stress that I was very excited about the job and in general about the prospect of teaching at a small college with a high teaching load. If the offer had been upheld, and I would have chosen to not accept the offer, it would certainly not have been because I want a more research intensive job — I don’t. 
The reason for asking about the perks (especially about the course reduction and about limiting the number of preps) was not only to make room for my research but also to ramp up to doing a good job teaching a number of classes that I have not taught before. When I visited I did get the sense that continuing research at a reasonable rate would be expected for tenure. All that said, I think that doing a good job with both their teaching and research expectations is most likely possible without being granted any of the perks I asked about.

There was plenty of much warmer emailing going on between Nazareth’s philosophy department and myself before I sent the negotiating email you saw on the Smoker. And I had hoped to have sufficiently communicated my excitement. Earlier in the day before I sent the email posted, I sent another email that was meant as a warning that I was now switching to what one might call a “negotiating tone”. I obviously didn’t do a good enough job communicating that, though. 
All this said, I am flabbergasted by all the moralizing in the comments on this thread. Hopefully a few philosophers on the market can learn from my mistakes.
Comments are closed here, but open on the other thread.

-- Jaded, Ph.D.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A new kind of PFO: Mid-Negotiating, Post-Offer

Update, 3/21: See this and this round-up of the news coverage and insightful commentaries.

Update, 3/14: See W's response here

Another reader of the blog writes in about the "fair amount of research on the backlash women can face when they negotiate, what causes the backlash effects, and how to keep them to a minimum. For a brief-and-breezy summary I recommend this article in the Washington Post." Our helpful reader also says, "If you would rather read a journal article with plenty of references to the literature, see [here]."

We're perhaps past negotiating season for those who secured job offers. But some people might still be negotiating, and some will definitely be negotiating in the future. This story is especially relevant to those people.

Spiros had a discussion on negotiating some time ago (Leiter also has a thread up about deferring a post-doc that is relevant here). He ended the post by asking:
But is there any reason why recruiting Universities should expect would-be new faculty to manifest that restraint themselves by simply not asking for the usual deal-sweeteners? Could it be right to give would-be new faculty the sense that merely asking for more stuff serves to (lightly) strain the new faculty's relationship with the administration?
W, a friend of the blog shared a story about 'negotiations' with a SLAC--Nazareth College--that shows how at least one SLAC thinks about potential employees asking for "the usual deal-sweeteners." Now, it's not clear how much or if this story generalizes at all, but it's worth pointing out that at least in the case of this SLAC, asking for some fairly standard "deal-sweeteners" was cause enough to retract the offer altogether without further discussion.


The SLAC's thinking was that by asking for certain things W had "[indicated] an interest in teaching at a research university and not at a college...that is both teaching and student centered."

I don't see how that necessarily follows or can even be easily divined from W's attempts to negotiate (I've included the relevant e-mails forwarded to me below). At the very least--and of course, I've made this judgment on the basis of limited information--I think that if the requests did raise questions, the SLAC should have discussed with their reservations about her interest in teaching at a college.

If there were any doubts, questions wouldn't have been hard to ask, especially if they had entertained her candidacy through multiple rounds of interviewing seriously enough to offer her a job. Why did W want the things she requested? Because she cared more about her research than teaching? Were some of her requests to ensure she had the time to do what she needed to do to get tenure and teach well (while possibly getting other parts of her life started, hence the request for maternity leave)? Etc.

If W was unable to answer the questions in a way that demonstrated her commitment to providing the type of education a SLAC wants to give their students, then I could understand their position. But to send a PFO on the basis of a few requests--some of which appear prima facie reasonable (maternity leave, an increase in salary), but some of which W acknowledges as "easier to grant than others"-- seems a disproportionate response (even if it was well within the rights of the SLAC to do something like that).

Here are the e-mails.

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.
Yup. That's it. End of correspondence there. It's that last part, the refusal to negotiate before rescinding the offer of employment, that I found really flabbergasting.

-- Jaded, Ph.D.

Monday, March 10, 2014

New News in the Philosophy Web-O-Sphere

There have been some recent developments in our little corner of the tubes, which I thought were worth mentioning:

Carolyn Dicey Jennings is collecting tenure-track, post-doc, and VAP hiring information at NewAPPs, here.

Prophilosophy, which emerged in 2012 as an alternative to Leiter's blog before petering out last year, is back. Prophilosophy can be reached at

Additionally, Justin Weinberg has started another new professional philosophy news blog, the Daily Nous. The Daily Nous can be reached at "dailynouseditor [at]". There is also a Facebook page.

--Mr. Zero