A few days ago I got an offer (yay!) from a US school. I have about another week before they want a decision. Over the last few days I have been tallying up costs for start up. When should I start negotiating?

And here's the bigger question: my wife and I are expecting our first child basically soon as the fall semester starts - how do I broach the topic of a single semester deferral? I hate to do this but we have a lot of worry about transitioning during such a sensitive time (and their health insurance policy does not allay our concerns plus we have zero connections there and I worry about my wife's isolation as I start a new position). This would be the number one thing for me to take the job.

So how would I go about the negotiation? Would I say A is number one thing I need, then B, then C etc? I should I start ASAP? Should I e-mail where I can cleanly layout reasons for each desire?

In regards to the deferral request, how do you envision the school to respond? It is a small department so not sure how they could absorb the workload. I was planning on going into detail how I would use my deferred time to accomplish tasks that would benefit the school (e.g. grant applications, work on outreach program, prep for spring classes, be willing to take heavier load in spring, get research ready for students etc). I doubt the school will completely dismiss my caution but also worried that deferral will be too much for them to bear.

  • Do they have online classes? Half-semester classes?
    – Dawn
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 18:22
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    Do you really want to defer the start of the job, or do you want to start the job but take immediate parental leave? The latter might be a better option - they might be required by law or policy to grant the leave. I would suggest researching their leave policies on your own (but not mentioning the issue to them yet, ideally not until after you have already accepted the job). Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 18:39
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    There is nothing about paternity leave in faculty handbook (only maternity). I have asked their HR about it but it appears I am out of luck on that front.
    – BeauGeste
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 18:46
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    @NateEldredge: if you meant FMLA leave (in the US), you are not eligible for it within your first 12 months on a new job. So unless there's some other parental leave, you're not covered at all.
    – smci
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 2:01
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6 Answers 6


Let me offer the perspective of a former department chair who was involved in hiring negotiations from the department side. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Hiring a faculty member is a long-term investment. When a department recruits a new faculty member, typically they expect the person to be around for the next 20-30. When viewed through that prism, any short-term concessions, especially ones that come without any financial cost like a deferral or unpaid leave of absence, are fairly negligible compared to the total benefit the department expects to get out of an otherwise-successful recruitment.

  2. Leverage is important, but it’s not everything. An academic recruitment is not usually a zero-sum game where each side tries to exploit the other to the maximal extent they can get away with. Specifically, it is a repeated game where the reputation of a department’s recruitment practices matters a lot for its ability to recruit successfully in the future, and besides, the two parties are going to be working alongside each other for a long time, so it is in everybody’s interest that things are done amicably and in a way that leaves the other side generally happy and satisfied. For this reason, a candidate’s request that can be granted by the department for a relatively low cost will typically be looked at pretty favorably, even in the absence of leverage. (At least this is true in departments and universities run by rational, competent people...)

  3. Keep your cool. From the language of your question it seems to me that you are approaching the discussion from a rather emotional place. For example, you say “I hate to do this”, suggesting that you feel guilty or apologetic about bringing up what you perceive to be a super-delicate or taboo topic. Relax! Such discussions are all in a day’s work for the people you’ll be talking to, and don’t carry nearly the emotional weight that you imagine them to carry. Nor do you have anything to be apologetic about. “Negotiation” in the current context is just a code word for you telling the department what your needs and preferences are, to which the department will respond by telling you what its needs and preferences are, and by a process of joint exploration you and your co-negotiator will arrive at the point in the space of possibilities that is reasonably agreeable to you both. Just bring up the topic of the deferral and anything else that’s on your mind, in a live conversation (ask for a phone/video call with the department chair), and do so in a straightforward, mature, honest and professional way, and you’ll be fine. The worst that can conceivably happen is they’ll decline your request and you’ll be no worse off than you are now.

  4. You should bring up your request as soon as possible. Given the short deadline, any further delay weakens your position, since if you wait much longer, people will wonder if things that you say are important to you maybe aren’t as important as you say they are (otherwise why are you only now remembering to bring them up?). By acting fast you will appear more credible and your requests are likely to be taken more seriously. There will also be more time to explore possible creative solutions that will satisfy both you and the department.

Good luck, and congratulations on the offer, which I’m sure you worked extremely hard to get and is well-deserved.

  • Thanks for the great answer. In relation to 4, do you think I should bring this up separately from other aspects of the offer such as salary, startup etc? One reason I have not brought it up yet is that I am still working on my budget.
    – BeauGeste
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 23:11
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    I’m not sure I can speak to that level of detail, but generally speaking you should communicate all your wishes to the department ASAP, in as much concrete detail as you’re able to do right now. If some details are missing, say you‘re working on them, but let them know that they exist so it doesn’t come as a surprise later and makes it appear like you’re moving the goalposts. And be clear about your priorities - if one thing on the list is much more important than the others, let them know. Keep in mind you have only a finite amount of capital and not all your wishes are likely to be granted.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 23:22
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    So much better and more in depth than my answer.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 16:14

Negotiating the start date is fairly common for US schools. Schools generally want you to start at the beginning of the fall semester, but it is not uncommon to try and start at the beginning of the summer or in January. Sometimes departments have flexibility and sometimes they do not. While there are horror stories of departments rescinding offers, I don't suggest worrying too much about it.

Without other offers, or a current position, you have limited leverage to force their hand. I suggest you simply ask when the start date is and if it is flexible. They might not be able to accommodate a January start, but maybe they can reduce your teaching load the first semester.

  • OP has not stated a country. Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 15:13
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit technically, you are correct, but there are a lot of signs that suggest it is a US school. That said, to make sure there was no confusion, I started my answer with US schools ...
    – StrongBad
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 15:33
  • Yeah I'm kinda nitpicking. :) Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 15:41
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit : "Tenure-track", and "Fall" suggest a North American. "Health Insurance" suggest USA (Canada may use Health Insurance like much of Europe does, but I wouldn't expect the same sort of issues.) Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 13:24

You're now at a point where your and the department's objectives align: you want to go there, and they want you to take their offer. They also want you to start on a positive note. A good department head will recognize this and work with you on any constraints you may have.

Yours is a legitimate issues. I may not bring up the issue of isolation of your wife (because that's unlikely going to change by just delaying the move), but bringing up the issue of health insurance and giving birth is clearly something everyone in the US can relate to.

So I think that you exploring whether it is possible to delay starting there is an entirely reasonable thing to do, and the department head will see whether that is possible. Their goal is to get you long term and for you to be a happy member of the department; a single semester deferral is a small price for them to pay for that. Of course, whether your request can actually be made to work is an entirely separate issue (and has to do with whether they have already budgeted you to teach, and whether they have the flexibility to replace you for a semester). But at the very least, they're not likely going to think that your request is totally frivolous -- go ahead, and ask.

  • "isolation immediately after giving birth" is a real issue. It is likely to decrease once the child is slightly older and going to mother and toddler groups. (Also the mother will get more than a few hours sleep a night). Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 13:26
  • @MartinBonner: Fair enough. I didn't mean to belittle the issue, but you probably knew where I was going with this. Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 21:19

Some things you can consider:

  1. You might be able to negotiate salary for part of the summer, quite possibly even with the benefits being active. I got summer salary in my current position without benefits, but I know at least one person who asked and received an early start to their health care.
  2. You might have better luck asking for a reduced teaching load the first semester, rather than a delayed start. Especially since delaying the official start date of your position may delay the benefits package as well, unless you specifically negotiate this.

I do generally agree that it could be risky mentioning that you are expecting. This is the kind of thing they are not allowed to ask about, for precisely this reason. But I strongly disagree with the other answer saying you have no room to negotiate without another offer. They want you as their top choice (even if you were their second choice, you are now their top choice), and they certainly don't want to have to end their search empty-handed. They want to hire someone who will be happy, productive, and long-term, so you do have some leverage in negotiations.

I think cases where startup negotiations actually lead to a rescinded offer for asking too much are very rare (obviously there have been some well-publicized occurrences, I think they are widely discussed because they are so rare). As long as your requests don't suggest that you are out of touch with the university culture, you should be fine.

  • Asking about reduced load is a great point. E.g. in research math departments it's typical to have a 2-1 teaching load and for new hires to get one or two teaching reductions. This means you could ask whether teaching 0-2 the first year is an option. (You would still be expected to work so this might not be as good as delaying the start, but it may be better than starting in the fall and teaching a full load.) Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 16:19

How to approach negotiating the start date of a tenure-track position?

When we perform searches in my department, we either need someone to definitely start ASAP, or we are growing in other areas that have some flexibility w.r.t. start date.

So, when you interviewed, you had a chance to figure out which of the two searches yours fell into: did they ask you a question like, "Are you able to start by Fall 2018?" If they did, and you told them "yes," then chances are they are expecting you to show up prior to the start of Fall 2018 to get prepared for your semester, etc. I would expect the search committee might seriously start looking over the remaining candidates, if, in this scenario, you were to ask for a delayed start.

If the search committee didn't ask you if you would be able to start by a certain date, then I would at least ponder the situation a bit more seriously on your end before deciding to tell your prospective employer that you cannot start by fall. The worst they can say is "no," but I would imagine that there has to be a decent chance of being able to work something out, even if it is not your ideal outcome (should you be willing to accept it under those revised conditions, of course).

Good luck.

  • Start date was not brought up during campus visit but a start date was given in the advertisement. My expectation is that they will try to work with on this and likely alter their benefits policy or start date so we can get health insurance much sooner.
    – BeauGeste
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 13:32

Frankly, I think their reaction will be laughter. Most adults have children and you want a semester off because you're just doing what everyone else does? This is a small school and they need a teacher in the classroom. If you can't do that, you're not worth messing with.

For whatever else you think you might want to negotiate over, realize that their hands may be tied. The department may really like you and perhaps would gladly raise the salary or add perks, but the dean cares only about his budget and he gets to decide and he very likely won't decide in your favor.

Yes, I'm a cynic, but you have an offer. My advice would be that you either take it or leave it. I believe that the only negotiation possible in these matters is "I have an offer for $90K from this other school. I'd rather come to your school, but you've offered only $70K." You can't negotiate without leverage and I don't think you have any (yet.) I'm assuming you don't have a Nobel prize, because if you did, you wouldn't be considering "small schools".

Sorry for the straight talk.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 18:42

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