There is a story on Inside Higher Ed (based on this blog post) about a candidate who received a tenure-track offer from a U.S. philosophy department.

She emailed the search committee with some requests related to: salary, maternity leave, sabbatical, teaching load, and start date. Her email ended with "I know that some of these might be easier to grant than others. Let me know what you think." In response, the institution withdrew the offer, saying that her requests revealed that she wasn't a good fit for a teaching institution.

Many of the comments on the IHE story or blog post are in support of the school, saying such things as:

  • The candidate asked for too much and came across as "entitled"
  • The candidate shouldn't have requested a light teaching load initially, when the school in question is a teaching institution
  • The candidate shouldn't have asked about a pre-tenure sabbatical, which is apparently unheard of at teaching institutions

In particular, one comment says this:

indicates how important it is to do your best to understand the culture and needs of the hiring institution, both before and during negotiations

and another that it is

an example of knowing the difference between negotiating with a research school and with a small teaching school

There have been quite a few questions on this site about negotiating a startup package, but these mostly describe the various things you can ask for, and which are likely to have more "wiggle room." Most of the U.S. faculty who answered those are at research institutions, and they suggest that

It's perfectly reasonable to ask for anything

and

Definitely ask for all that you need, and let them whittle you down.

Apparently, that advice may be more or less applicable depending on the type and culture of the institution. My questions are:

Are there really different norms with respect to negotiation in a teaching vs. research institution? What are they?

and, more generally,

What can I do pre-offer to get a sense for what the institution's culture is, and what I can reasonably ask for?

Possibly, the candidate in the story came from a research institution, got advice from her advisor there on negotiation, and never realized that her requests would be perceived poorly at a teaching institution. What could she have done differently?

I am especially interested in a response from anyone who's been on a search committee at both kinds of institutions (though I don't know if we have anyone like that on this site).

  • That's a really interesting question. However, I am not 100% sure that the original story is correct as written - I would assume it is very unlikely that an university withdraws an offer based on an initial package request. I would assume that either something important is missing in the story, or that it is just greatly exaggerated (but I guess we'll never know). – xLeitix Mar 19 '14 at 9:42
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    @xLeitix: The story has gotten enough views and has enough specifics so that it is probably accurate as far as it goes: if Nazareth College had not rescinded the job offer, surely someone would have come forward saying that. I agree with you that there are probably missing nuances though. – Pete L. Clark Mar 19 '14 at 12:02
  • The original applicant "W" has confirmed the sequence of events as well. – Suresh Mar 19 '14 at 17:59
  • @xLeitix I found other examples that claim rescinded offers, so although it is very unusual, apparently it does happen sometimes (details in my answer, below) – ff524 Mar 20 '14 at 6:21
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    It seems fairly clear what happened. It's a small university with a large teaching load and not much funds. The search committee were looking for an additional hire to spread teaching load; someone they can trust to take some of the slack. Aside from the entitled tone of the email, her requests undermined what they were looking for in a candidate. (Whether or not what happened was "right" is, of course, another question.) – badroit Mar 20 '14 at 20:56
up vote 20 down vote accepted

In the time between asking this question and getting some answers here, I read many comments on the original stories and blog posts dissecting the situation, many of which offered useful answers. I am compiling some of them here for the sake of others. As with most information found on the Internet, YMMV.

First, a question I didn't ask but will answer anyways (since xLeitix expressed some doubt in a comment):

Does this really happen?!?!?!?

Unfortunately, though rare, it does happen. Here are a few examples I found on Academic Job Wiki:

  • When I told them I needed some time to think about the unofficial offer (and also noted how early in the hiring season the offer was coming), the interviewing professor emailed me back that it was clear I was only considering them as a "last resort" and that they were therefore rescinding the offer.
  • They thought my request for a revised offer letter that included the new terms agreed upon throughout negotiation was demonstrative of a "lack of faith" which they seemed to take personally. They rescinded the offer and then blamed it on my need for this letter, and suggested that I be more careful in asking for this in future negotiations with other institutions (they claimed this advice was a show of "mentorship" on their part).
  • The dean rescinded the offer. By email. And then refused to take my calls. This is exactly what she wrote: "After having read your stated requests, specifically the number of years to tenure and the MWF teaching schedule, I am sorry to say that we are not able to sustain our job offer to you. At this time I am rescinding the job offer."
  • Two weeks after the job talk, I was offered the position and given five days to consider it... Upon sending my questions and considerations two days later, about 90 minutes passed when I received an email wishing me well in my further job pursuits.

Yikes. Of course, given these stories you could argue that these candidates probably dodged a bullet. But let's assume you aren't necessarily afraid of a rescinded offer, but want to avoid making a bad impression. In that case, on to my actual questions:

Are there really different norms with respect to negotiation in a teaching vs. research institution? What are they?

Yes. Also, per various sources, there are differences in negotiation culture between elite institutions and not-so-elite institutions, community colleges and four-year colleges, public and private institutions, those with current or former religious affiliations and those without, locations where a union is involved and locations where it isn't, locations with large adjunct pools and locations without, etc.

Here's one thing I hadn't thought of: institutions that are seen as "less desirable" places to work for some reason are said to be more sensitive to aggressive negotiation. In these cases,

Negotiating demands can come across as "I’ll only agree to work at a lowly school like yours if you give me all this extra stuff." (The Professor is In)

However, there were also comments that said things like:

I was a candidate just like W, I asked for very much of the same things (more, in fact), and still go the job. (PhilosophySmoker)

The candidate in question herself said

that her request for a starting salary of $65,000 equaled a less than 20 percent increase in proposed pay -- a request she says another college offering her a job had met. (InsideHigherEd)

So, it seems like finding out the culture of a particular institution (rather than generalizing based on institution "type") is more effective. Which brings us to:

What can I do pre-offer to get a sense for what the institution's culture is, and what I can reasonably ask for?

Start by asking: is it negotiable?

A good strategy for starting a negotiation is to simply ask whether there is any flexibility in the terms of the offer... If you get a firm "no", you don't have to risk upsetting anyone with specific requests. (PhilosophySmoker)

and this can even have some nice side effects! The same comment continues,

At my institution... I began by asking this very general question, and the chair immediately responded with a better offer-without my mentioning any specifics and without consulting the dean.

Pre-negotiate by phone

Both Amatya and Samantha Kady pointed out here how difficult it is to read a situation by email, and dozens of commenters out there said the same. For example:

You negotiate over the phone (aiming for the sweet spot between being enthusiastic about the job - you want them to still want you - and asserting your own needs). Then when that's done, you get the agreement in writing. That lets you feel out some things and get feedback on what's doable or not, and on how the requests are being taken. (PhilosophySmoker)

But, know yourself. As The Professor is In puts it:

I NEVER want to see inexperienced candidates negotiate on the phone. Particularly women. People panic and get codependent and agree to all kinds of things too quickly on the phone.

I don't really know what "codependent" means in this context, but I can definitely see how some people might not be able to negotiate as well over the phone. Those people might be better served using a phone conversation as a "feeler" and then proceeding to negotiate over email.

Listen for subtle differences in responses to your requests

One commenter said:

The chair indicated that this was the ceiling for the starting salary... but since he didn't make the same claim regarding the startup, I detected further flexibility, and was able to get it bumped up to 200% of the original offer, by providing an explanation of how I would use the additional funds. (PhilosophySmoker)

Identify and use your ally

If you get an offer, there's a good chance someone really likes you and wants you to be there. Identify that person, and ask them for advice on what to negotiate. They may even tell you about things you hadn't even thought to negotiate for! Specifically, several commenters said that the department chair is often an ally. As one commenter said:

I had a really great Chair. She told me that I was very unlikely to get a salary increase but that there was room to move the start-up. I asked for both anyway, and sure enough, was denied a salary increase but got significantly higher start-up (which I can use for summer salary). The kicker? The Chair spotted something I never would have thought of, which qualified me for thousands of dollars extra. (PhilosophySmoker)

Your ally in the department knows much more than you, and much more than any mentor you might have, what requests can be granted easily and what should not be mentioned at all. Use this!

Ask about "perks" at the interview stage

Many commenters agree that asking straightforwardly about the "perks" (non-salary) at the interview stage helps you gauge supply and demand at the institution in question. Otherwise, you run the risk of

telling somebody who's put in a full 7 or 8 years for a sabbatical that you want one in your first 2 or 3 years? (PhilosophySmoker)

Yeah, that does sound bad! Same goes for things like teaching load and lab space - you can find out during the interview stage what is in especially short supply at the particular institution.

Place requests in the context of the institution's specific mission

This is a valuable piece of advice. As a commenter said,

For example, if the reasoning behind fewer teaching preps was to do a better job teaching or to have an appropriate research program (whatever that may be), then frame it that way. (FemaleScienceProfessor)

Visit the library

Here's an interesting one that I hadn't heard before (though it only applies to a subset of institutions):

I’m betting that W or other candidates often get their data from the CHE’s salary survey, which is near useless for this purpose because it is such an aggregate number... If you’re interviewing at a public school, ask for about an hour to yourself in the library. When you get it, go straight to the Reference desk and ask to see the salaries in the department that’s hiring (it’s usually public). Write these down, and when you get the initial offer you’ll know if there’s room to negotiate on this point. (The Professor is In)

While public salary information is also available online in most cases, unlike the internal data this is usually

total annual compensation, a figure that includes summer school, stipends for additional administrative duties, and the like, rendering the number useless (if not damaging) to such negotiations. (The Professor is In)

Some commenters pointed out another, more-complete-than-CHE (though not department-specific), source of salary data: IPEDS

  • That's quite interesting stuff here. – xLeitix Mar 20 '14 at 7:09

Although I agree that you should seek some specific information on the expectations of a research vs. teaching environment, I would suggest that this negotiation was doomed for a different reason...

I know Linda Babcock (the gender/negotiations researcher who is interviewed in the story) personally, and she said that the story is true. Remember that one key issue is that the negotiation was attempted via email. Women are already disadvantaged in negotiation (see enormous research in this area) so they need to use specific tactics to moderate gender-effects of outcomes. These tactics are quite difficult via email.

In fact, I know several researchers who have excelled at doing research at "teaching schools" because they're the only ones bringing in the publications and research grants. Although interest in research may not be valued at Nazareth specifically, it is not a universal axiom for teaching-focused schools.

The research doesn't support the position that negotiation is inappropriate for "rookies" or "non-stars". New faculty get idiosyncratic deals (from lab space to maternity leave) all the time.

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    You're absolutely right that it's better to do at least some of the negotiation verbally rather than through email (and although I am not directly familiar with the research you allude to, it is easy for me to believe that this could be especially so for women). On the one hand, it really does seem virtually impossible to get an offer rescinded this way: a written letter of offer is going to take higher priority than an ephemeral conversation.... – Pete L. Clark Mar 19 '14 at 18:58
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    ...On the other hand to actually persuade someone is much easier when you are talking with them. You can feel out how the other person is receiving your position and react to it in real time. In the case at hand, I found all of the OP's requests eminently reasonable (to ask for; not necessarily to be granted). However she didn't argue for any of them except for the salary, and her argument there was (as detailed in my answer) a poor one. Perhaps she had some convincing reasons for her salary benchmarks that might have come out in person. – Pete L. Clark Mar 19 '14 at 19:01
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    @PLC: YES! Agree! Successful negotiation is extremely nuanced and with women suffering what we call the "double bind" (daed if you do; daed if you don't) when advocating for themselves, context really matters. I can provide references to the articles if anyone is interested. – Samantha Kady Mar 19 '14 at 19:10
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    1. Gender and self-promotion: Rudman, 1998; Heilman et al., 2004 2. Gender in negotiation: Bowles, Babcock, & McGinn, 2005; Bowles & McGinn, 2008; Small et al., 2007; Thompson et al., 2010 3. Gender in job negotiation: Barron, 2003 – Samantha Kady Mar 20 '14 at 0:40
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I have only been a member of hiring committees at my present institution, a state research university. However I have watched people go on the job market at liberal arts colleges and one of my oldest friends is the department chair at a liberal arts college. I will try to ask him about this when I get the chance.

My impression is that the difference between quality and wealth of the university is playing more of a role here than the difference between research and liberal arts college. I know someone who got a job at a top liberal arts college right out of her PhD. Nevertheless she still did a one year postdoc before taking the position. And getting eased into the new job in a way which affords her all the opportunities to keep her successful research program, um, successful is definitely a big part of the mutual understanding between her and her department and college.

In the story at hand, it seems that Nazareth College felt like the person it had offered the job to was making a slew of demands that could not be met by an institution of their caliber. I am very eager to discuss the specifics of that strange situation, but that was not the question, so I'll just restrict to one thing: the applicant mentioned that she wanted a higher salary that was closer to the going rate. The salary that she wanted -- $65K -- is the going rate in her field at some places (and probably less than the going rate in others; in STEM fields $65K would not be competitive at a reasonably research-intensive university) but is not the going rate at small, less than wealthy institutions. If you want the salary that some other place is going to offer you, you really need an offer from some other place which has that salary. That was the big outlier of a negotiation mistake that I saw (it does not justify rescinding the offer, though! to me, that is a truly bush-league way to do business) in the story. By asking for a benchmark salary you are calling attention to the fact that the institution under consideration is not as good as some others, to which a fitting response be might be to have them call attention to the fact that you are not as good as some others.

There was a time when a top fifty liberal arts college really didn't need or want the majority of its faculty to do significant research, especially if it took time away from their teaching and meeting with students. That time has passed: my friend at the liberal arts college publishes at least a paper a year. That is a higher publication rate than some of my senior colleagues who are full professors at my top fifty research university. And I care about teaching more than the stereotypical "research mathematician" but not particularly more than the average in my department: almost all of us care about teaching, and are at least solid teachers across a wide range of levels and courses; more so than I would have expected, in fact. When I visit a liberal arts college it is a very enlightening experience because the amount of emphasis and priority given to the basic academic goals are palpably different, even upon arrival. But it's also enlightening because the basic academic goals are recognizably the same, just weighted somewhat differently. I think that the difference between a good liberal arts college and a good research university should not be exaggerated...and I certainly think that the things that desirable job candidates are looking to secure in order to take jobs a these institutions are very similar. Nothing that is reasonable to ask for in negotiations at a research university ought to get your offer rescinded at a good liberal arts college, that's for sure!

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    @ff524: In my experience, if you are offered $X per year as a salary, the way to get $Y > $X is to reveal that you have a competing offer at credible university for $Y. Speaking personally, I received offers $X < $Y < $Z, with $Z/$X > 1.28! This made me not want to even negotiate for with the lowest offer, but a friendly outside member of the hiring committee insisted that I mention the much higher offer. After telling the other two schools the highest offer $Z, the revised offers became $Z, $Z and $Z-$1K. – Pete L. Clark Mar 20 '14 at 3:01
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    Well yeah, but not everyone has a generous competing offer to use as leverage – ff524 Mar 20 '14 at 3:02
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    (I agree completely with your last comment. It is essentially my point!) The moral of my story at least is: it's not so much the percentage increase; it's the willingness to match a competing offer. If you want to ask for X% more just because you feel you deserve it: good luck, but that's a much harder sell. Asking for on the order of 20% more without a competing offer ought not to get your offer rescinded, but in my opinion it is quite naive. – Pete L. Clark Mar 20 '14 at 3:03
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    "The point I'm trying to make is, I don't think 20% more as a counteroffer screams "out of touch."" Have you yourself ever negotiated a 20% increase in a starting offer without a competing offer? Or do you specifically know anyone who has? I don't, and I have direct experience on both sides of this issue. In my opinion 20% more does seem "out of touch", and while it should not result in the offer being rescinded, there will likely be a lot of eyes rolling in the department, and you will not arrive having made the best possible first impression. – Pete L. Clark Mar 20 '14 at 3:12
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    In fact, if someone offered for a 20% raise in my department without a competing offer, I know exactly what would happen: the answer would be a flat "No way; you would then be making more than most of the tenured associate professors." In fact in my department the "standard" starting assistant professor salary is much more competitive with top universities than salaries in higher academic ranks, and for that reason getting a 20% raise even with a competing offer would be difficult. In the situation that I described myself, it was not that $Z was so high, it was that $X was so low. – Pete L. Clark Mar 20 '14 at 3:20

This is based on my experience as a student on the job market and on the experience of my cohort,on what faculty told us and the stories we heard from the junior faculty that our school hired. My school is a research school.

In our field, rookies generally do not negotiate.

Only the star rookies do. If you're a rising star that is being simultaneously pursued by Harvard, Princeton, Chicago etc and you're tipped to win the MacArthur Grant or something then you have Market Power. You get to negotiate and universities will throw money and perks at you to be able to hire you.

Our school hired a rookie faculty where two universities got into a bidding war over her and she got a sweet deal eventually. From what I recall, a good 30K above the standard contract.

For the rest of us mere mortals, with no market power, there are no negotiations. The schools make it absolutely clear up front what they can do for you. The contracts are standard for a given university: a research fund, base pay and performance pay, teaching loads, preps, administrative burden, possibility of sabbatical, maternity leave etc. These features are usually identical for all junior faculty in a given department in that University. They're also usually trying to do the best they can and have no interest in short-changing anyone.

Research schools usually try to encourage rookies and give them a light teaching and administrative load for the first few years but after that as the low man(person) on the totem pole, it is understood that you have to have some flexibility in terms of helping the department when some unforeseen need arises.

Also in smaller departments, hiring a colleague is a lot like getting a family member. You are going to be with them all the time, share a lot of decision making power, and you can't get rid of them. Therefore, how well you get along with them is very very important. That's why when you have some special request about your contract, this conversation needs to happen in person or on the phone so you can gauge the other person's response and react to that. If you come across as tone deaf and difficult then that's not the sort of colleague anybody wants, especially if you're not some star researcher.

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    I'm not an expert, but "take it or leave it" deals for faculty (even junior faculty) are not common at least here in Europe. – xLeitix Mar 19 '14 at 15:04
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    What (general) field are you in? What part of the world? (If you don't mind answering.) – ff524 Mar 20 '14 at 8:03
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    Econ/Finance/Business. US – Amatya Mar 20 '14 at 21:25

I have never been on a search committee.

A teaching institution hires people to teach. A research institution hires people to conduct research. (primarily) A teaching institution will not make negotiating concessions that prioritize research ahead of teaching. A research institution will not make negotiating concessions that prioritize teaching ahead of research. That said, many institutions that are widely viewed as teaching institutions wish to be research institutions and will negotiate accordingly.

There is no need to be secretive when making a negotiating position. I suggest you outright ask which aspects of the contract are negotiable. You should also ask junior faculty at the institution if they will give you advice based on their experiences. I also suggest asking the departmental secretary, who probably knows everything.

Union institutions may not be able to negotiate with individuals at all.

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    I'm having troubling thinking of concessions a candidate might request which prioritize teaching ahead of research. Do you have any examples in mind? – Mark Meckes Mar 19 '14 at 13:51
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    @xLeitix: Yes, that's conceivable. I'd certainly say that it would be a terrible idea for anybody at any institution to try to negotiate different criteria. (This is as opposed to changes in the tenure clock, which sometimes are negotiable.) It would send a signal to your future colleagues that you don't think you could earn tenure under the department's usual criteria. – Mark Meckes Mar 19 '14 at 15:53
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    @Mark: At some SLACs they have relatively recently imposed hard requirements on a total number of publications for tenure. And though they may sound small to us, they are enough to make some present and would-be tenure track faculty nervous. (I know of a case where a graduating PhD student told me about the research requirement at the SLAC where she had just accepted a job: 1 paper. And she told me this with real trepidation. I just tried to keep my poker face while I told her that she would probably be okay.) – Pete L. Clark Mar 19 '14 at 19:28
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    I have heard that, in practice, even at rather good SLACs, exactly what a "paper" means is somewhat negotiable: it need not mean something that would appear on MathSciNet, for instance. Perhaps a candidate has already written or is currently writing a paper or two which truly and openly has no research content (think Math Horizons rather than even the College Math Journal). I have heard of such papers being counted towards tenure. One might imagine trying to negotiate it in advance. (One might also imagine it blowing up in the candidate's face, as you suggest...) – Pete L. Clark Mar 19 '14 at 19:33
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    @PeteL.Clark: That's a good example, thanks. And slightly off-topic, regarding the student who was nervous about needing to write 1 paper pre-tenure: I well remember, once upon a time, feeling like I wasn't sure I'd ever do anything else worth publishing. – Mark Meckes Mar 20 '14 at 10:41

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