Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Things that should go without saying, but obviously do not

After signing a contract to accept a tenure-track job, you should not subsequently back out.

I now know of two people who have done this. And seriously, dudes, what's so hard to figure out? If you weren't sold on the institution, you shouldn't have accepted the offer. If you were waiting to hear from another school where you had a campus visit, you should have told the offering institution that, and asked for more time. But if you thought you were out of the running someplace else, and then they came knocking--or if a fancier job appeared in the spring job list and you applied anyway--you kinda suck.


Doctor Cleveland said...


Renaissance Girl said...

So rude.

Lucky Jane said...

Yikes. I hope that didn't happen to your department. Indeed, it had better not happen to mine.

We always hear that academia is small, and that anyone who does something so despicable will attract a reputation for being a flake. But do we know that such blacklists actually exist—let alone get acted upon? (Crap, what a staggeringly unfelicitous sentence: forgive me for being a little drunk. It's been a long day of classes and meetings. :=)

Sisyphus said...

Grrrr. Just grrr.

I'll go back to my world of absolutely no job offers right now.

Anonymous said...

Sisyphus and I live in the same angsty neighborhood.

Flavia said...

Lucky Jane:

Yeah, I'm not convinced the blacklist really exists. I mean, if you reneg in order to take another tenure-track job, at an institution you think you'd be happy at for a good while. . . what punishment could you receive, exactly? And even if you eventually hope to move, assuming that you publish, it seems unlikely that five years down the line anyone would care.

But rest assured, unethical job candidates! My contempt, disgust, and pseudonymous wrath will shadow you wherever you go. (Even those of you not in my field, whom I haven't met, and who don't read this blog.) Remember! And fear to transgress.

Bardiac said...

On the other hand, my institution has broken my contract, and the state is seeking to do so further.

I feel sorry for the colleagues who thought the job search stuff was over and done, and who now have to pick it up again. But I have little sense that we should be loyal to jobs that have no loyalty to us.

scr said...

I assume this is all to do with the weird MLA-centric hiring process, where if a candidate backs out, you can't just offer a job to your second- or third- best candidate, who have all probably also accepted offers elsewhere?

Outside of academia it's not at all uncommon, if not slightly frowned upon. A coworker recently bounced back and forth between accepting a job offer at another company. We were even joking with him about it before he ultimately changed his mind one last time and left on the last day.

But, of course, to us it's no different than someone quitting in any other way. Either way, you've gotta replace 'em.

Flavia said...


I'm not arguing for unending loyalty to one's institution; I think untenured folk, especially, have to look out for themselves, and I don't have a problem with new hires going on the market again almost immediately if they're unhappy--or simply trying to get to a different location, rejoin a partner, etc. That's good sense and how the game is played.

But this is shitty behavior for which there's no good reason: the two rejected institutions are (to the best of my knowledge) both healthy, vibrant, and productive. In the case where I know more details, the rejected institution is arguably more prestigious than the accepted one--and was left in the lurch during the summer months, when they expected their new hire to show up in the fall.

What's happening in your state and at your institution is appalling. As you know, it's happening in my partner's state and institution, too. I'm about as outraged as a person who isn't herself facing the loss of a job can be. But the situations aren't analogous, and the one instance of (far worse) bad behavior is not an excuse or explanation for the other.

Flavia said...


Yes, that's the problem: usually a department culls their pool of applicants to about 10 to interview at MLA, and then to 3 to fly out to campus. Those are small numbers, and timing is really tricky, since it's presumed they're all fielding other interviews and potentially other offers (and there's always a chance that a 45-min interview at MLA won't translate into a successful 2-day interview, and one of the finalists will get ruled unacceptable).

If you miss the window to hire, you're out of luck for the entire next academic year--and also out thousands of dollars in expenses for the hiring committee's plane tickets and hotel rooms at MLA, and the three candidates' visits to campus.

That happens sometimes anyway, and it's a cost of doing business. But a good job placement officer (if the candidate is a grad student) will tell all the job candidates that it's bad form to accept a visit if they're pretty sure they're not interested, if they already have an offer in hand, etc.

Really, more than fucking over the hiring institution, it fucks over other job candidates. If you accept a campus visit (much less an actual job, only to later reject it!) at a place you really don't want to work, it means some other candidate, who might be really be excited about that job, doesn't get the interview, and doesn't get the shot at the job. In a tight job market and with a narrow window of time in which to hire, that's really shitty behavior.

Z said...

Although, to be fair, the problem is partly structural. Grad students looking for jobs are in the worst position. Schools often try to pressure them--often giving less time than the MLA mandated 2 weeks to decide--because they fear losing out to another school. This is a bad way to do things.

Instead, MLA should mandate a single date by which offers need to be made, and then answered. Say, Mar 1 and Mar 15. If you get offered the job earlier, you still have till Mar 15. But you need to respond by Mar 15 in any case. Then the second round for those schools turned down by their top choices can begin in a more free-for-all manner. Then the third, etc.

I've seen a ton of grads get put in really awkward positions by schools. You can't really turn down a job just because you don't love it, given the market, but you may have other possibilities looming. And when the decision may affect the next 30 years of your life, it's harsh for it all to come down to a week or two of timing, isn't it?

I agree you can't back out of a signed contract, certainly, and I agree that you should not accept a campus visit (or interview for that matter) if you have 100% decided you wouldn't accept the job. But better to avoid putting grads in a position where they feel they have to do these things. That is, better to choose a system that benefits the grads even at the cost of making life a bit more difficult for the hiring schools (even if it means occasionally a search fails), than vice versa, given who is in by far the weakest position structurally.

Susan said...

In the short term there is probably no black list, but in the long term, this does bite. A recent discussion about a potential hire who has traveled around a lot sort of went, "Is zie someone who wants to be here? Or are we yet another stopping off point?"

Flavia said...

Z: good points, all. Make this happen, please?

Historiann said...

This is so interesting. I sympathize with your point of view, but I have a somewhat different take. I'll post on this later today, after I do my housekeeping and start some epic loads of laundry.

(Hope your wedding planning is going well.)

A said...

When (several years ago) I was offered a job in the fall (ie before the AHA) several people advised me to take it, sign the contract, and stay on the market anyway. I didn't, but I was angry at being placed in a position where that advice made sense.

Z said...

I wish we had funds to go to the MLA and fly three candidates out. Our MLA committees, if we have them, are composed of those department members who are going anyway: they have papers to give or are on the market themselves.

But since we now fund our own conference travel and since the method described above often means the "committee" does not even speak the same language as the candidate, we have moved to phone interviews instead of MLA ones.

We seriously pick through the applications and look for 10 very different candidates - not all the most technically competitive (i.e. not all PhD in hand, not all superstars). Then, we listen really closely to what they have to say about fit. We have to, because we only have funding for the plane ticket of *one* candidate, although not necessarily food / lodging for them (in which case we donate in cash or in kind). If they don't totally screw up the interview, they get the offer. If they do, or if they turn us down, we beg for authorization of another visit.

So, hiring is hard and it sucks when people fly the coop, it really does. But I really do think the candidates should try to get the best possible deal -- after all, our institution isn't an easy place to work / isn't an easy place to make a career, and people deserve to do the best they can.

Ultimately, I think this is a problem of the market and the hiring system, not the rudeness of the candidates. Candidates are also having to make big decisions based on so many unknowns.

These things having been said, I also do note a new tendency toward mega egotism on the part of some newer faculty. I see behavior now I just didn't before. I wonder whether that, too, isn't an effect of the general atmosphere that has been created with all the budget cuts, the adjunctification, etc. People are really on edge and have been living on edge for some time.

Z said...

Note: The first comment by Z and the second comment by Z are by two different people. Two different Z's. Just in case you were wondering...

Bardiac said...

I heard that we have two signed contracts that candidates have just notified us they're not coming.

And I have to applaud them.

It does suck for us, but it's "our" own fault. As one of the candidates reportedly said s/he couldn't move his/her kids to a state that was willing to cut education so drastically.

It's bad times for us in so many ways.