The academic internet is aflame with this story of a job candidate in philosophy who got an offer from Nazareth College, made a counter-offer--and then got told that, as a result of her requests, her offer was rescinded.
Now, I know the college in question, and so I have a very real sense of how unrealistic her requests were (her proposed salary, for example, was probably 30-40% higher than what they'd offered). But so what? You tell the candidate "no"--or you improve the offer very minimally--and you let her decide whether that's something she can live with. Instead, the college rejected her preemptively.
Predictably, a number of the comments on both the IHE article and the original blog post are keen to blame the candidate. But as others have pointed out (including Stephanie Hershinow, who brought the article to my attention and my Twitter conversation with whom inspired this post), the way someone behaves in the context of a high-stakes negotiation isn't necessarily an indication of their true personality or attitude toward the job. A recent Ph.D. has probably never been in this situation before, and is likely operating according to other people's advice. Family and friends who work in the business world aren't reliable guides, but often even one's graduate-school mentors and advisors aren't reliable, either. They may simply have no idea what's possible at an institution very different from their own.
My own job placement officer was no help at all. When I got my offer from RU, eight years ago, the dean quoted me a salary and a fixed amount for moving expenses, told me I'd be getting a new computer and printer--and then asked me to tell him how much I needed in start-up research funds. I knew enough to try to negotiate, and I came up with a rationale for a (modestly) higher salary, but I had absolutely no idea what kind of range was reasonable for start-up funds at a regional state institution. So I emailed the job placement officer at my graduate program. To his credit, he at least indicated that he really didn't know what was reasonable at a place like RU before adding, "I can tell you, though, that when I started at INRU my own start-up budget was $60,000."
Uh, yeah. Not helpful.
The thing is, negotiating is hard. Most of us don't do it often, and when we do, we're usually caught between the terror of losing out on something we desperately want and the fear of squandering our one opportunity for leverage. I got a very good deal with the job I just accepted, but that's partly because I wasn't dying to take the job. I already had a job I liked and I knew this offer wasn't going to go away just because I asked for too much. So I asked for the very far end of what I considered possible. They agreed immediately. Honestly, though: if I'd been dying for the job, I wouldn't have asked for as much. I would have been afraid to.
The philosopher, however, asked for what she wanted. Maybe, like me, she didn't care enough to make a more careful offer; she's currently in a post-doc that she apparently wanted to extend, and she may have figured that she'd have better options next year. I wouldn't necessarily blame her for that. Candidates get a huge amount of pressure from their graduate institutions never to say no, even when they have good reasons not accept: no job prospects for a partner; an isolated region unlikely to be welcoming to certain minorities; not enough money to live on; or just a place that gives off a bad bad vibe. Candidates know the market is bad, and know they're not supposed to say no. But it's not just the prima donnas who sometimes have a hard time saying yes.
So though I'd counsel any job candidate who was serious about a particular job to research the institution and to make requests basically within the realm of the possible, this philosopher's approach is otherwise pretty unobjectionable. From what she shared of her email correspondence, she made her counter-offer by first expressing her enthusiasm for the job and then laying out the areas in which she hoped for movement. She acknowledged that some might be more doable than others and asked the committee for their thoughts. This is exactly the way women get counseled to negotiate: without being apologetic or wishy-washy, but also without issuing ultimatums or insisting on any one item.
Nazareth chose to read this as a sign of her outrageous and unreasonable personality, and I suspect there may be a gendered component to this response. (I have a friend who negotiated hard at her hiring, got strong terms--and her chair made snide, resentful remarks about it for years.) Really, though, it sounds like the old "you can't dump me--I'm dumping YOU!"
*Updated March 14: comments thread now contains a link to additional information from the candidate.