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I have a good idea of what things to say in my correspondence regarding this matter; here I'm mainly asking how to deliver the news: by phone or by letter/email.

I have received conflicting advice about this. In many jobs (academic or not) the most common advice seems to be to make a phone call, followed up with a confirmatory email or letter. Specifically in an academic setting, I have heard at least two chairs/deans say something along the lines of "Call me with good news. Email me with bad news". Others have said "use the same medium the school used to contact you"-- in most cases I've heard of, the school often uses a mix of written and telephone correspondence.

In my particular case, declining the offer by phone would require scheduling a phone call through an intermediary, because all previous correspondences have gone through the Dean's secretary (sending contracts, scheduling previous phone calls). Based on the non-instantaneous scheduling of our other chats, I suspect this would delay things by a few days (so, it wouldn't be like I could just call his office number for a quick chat). Regardless, it seems rather awkward to go through this process of scheduling a phone call just to say "No Thanks".

Any advice on the general question and/or my specific situation is appreciated.

  • Your own experience will tell you that this depends greatly on the persons, professions, and cultures involved. If they have told you specifically how to contact them about a rejection, abide by that. If you know someone that might know the recipient of the bad news reasonably well, you could try asking them what would be best for that person. – zibadawa timmy May 30 '15 at 23:22
  • Thanks @zibadawa. I do not know the people involved very well. Aside from the interview, and the correspondences afterwards, I have never met them. Only instructions on how to accept the offer were given (sign the contract and return it). Nothing specific was said about how to reject the offer. In this case, I assumed that defaulting to conventional practices in academia would suffice, which is why I asked the question. – Heinz Baked Beans May 31 '15 at 0:22
  • by phone or by letter/email — False dichotomy. Use both. – JeffE May 31 '15 at 0:33
  • @JeffE, I guess I meant it as an inclusive "or", as reinforced by In many jobs (academic or not) the most common advice seems to be to make a phone call, followed up with a confirmatory email or letter --- the question is whether this standard etiquette, or is the standard etiquette that described by chairs/deans who prefer you only call with good news. I guess your comment indicates you're in the former camp. Thanks. – Heinz Baked Beans May 31 '15 at 1:01
  • One practical issue that might matter to the institution: when a candidate turns us down, we are not allowed by the human resources office to make an offer to someone else until we have this response in writing. I'd call or email and then follow up with a letter. – Brian Borchers May 31 '15 at 6:49
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I would say that the most appropriate medium would be to send a written communication, either as an email or as a letter. This carries much more weight than a phone call, as you actually have something resembling a paper trail that you can provide.

Although there is a certain wisdom in the advice "contact them as they contacted you," this is an exceptional enough situation that deviating from that rule seems more appropriate.

The route that I would use is to write a formal, signed letter, then scan it in and send a copy of the scanned letter as a PDF to the intended recipient. The scan will reach them more quickly, and you'll still have the formal communication sent by regular mail.

  • Thanks. To clarify: are you saying that, in general, a written letter is sufficient (or maybe even preferred)? Or, are you suggesting that for my particular situation? In my situation, I could get the SC chair or Dept Chair on the phone probably rather easily, but it was actually the dean who made the offer. – Heinz Baked Beans May 30 '15 at 20:22
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    I think it's generally valid. – aeismail May 30 '15 at 20:33
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    I agree, too. Formal communication, especially for a job application/offer, should be done using a written medium. Normal mail should be (imho) preferred though EMail might be acceptable. – Nox May 30 '15 at 20:36
  • @Nox: Starting with email gets the information across faster, as Nate mentions in his answer below. – aeismail May 31 '15 at 17:16
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[Caveat: Cultural differences may come into play here. My answer is based on the US.]

Time is of the essence in tenure-track hiring. If you are declining the offer, the chair/dean wants to know as soon as possible. They need to move on to make an offer to another candidate, before that candidate in turn gets/accepts an offer from some other institution.

So if you care about the impression you leave with the institution, don't waste time on niceties, but contact them via whatever means will reach them the fastest. If you have a direct phone number for someone, call it. If you don't, or you don't reach them, send an email. Be concise and to the point. If you want, you can include a line like "I apologize for the informality of this email, but I thought you would want to know as quickly as possible."

aeismail's suggestion of emailing a scanned formal letter strikes me as overcomplicated. I think the chair/dean would rather get the news in a quick line or two of text, instead of you taking the time to compose something elegant. Note also that scanned PDFs can be difficult to read on smartphones, and this is the kind of news that a chair/dean would prefer to get immediately, even if they are out of the office.

I'd regard Nox's suggestion of using postal mail as unacceptable. When the chair opens your letter three days from now, their immediate reaction is going to be extreme annoyance that you didn't get them this news three days ago.

You can follow up with a letter (by mail or email) in which you express your regret that you can't accept the offer, your appreciation for their time and consideration, etc. (Indeed, they may even ask you to send such a letter, or dictate what you should include in it.) But that can wait.

  • If job acceptance requires a formal signature (and mine typically have), I would think you'd want to do the same with the rejection notice. – aeismail May 31 '15 at 17:15
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    @aeismail: You can sign the followup letter, and it's possible that, like at Brian Borchers's institution, they can't actually make an offer to someone else until they get such a letter. But with an email or call from you, they can at least start to decide about what to do next, and maybe informally contact their next choice candidate. – Nate Eldredge May 31 '15 at 18:31
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I would write to the dean/provost formally over e-mail. If you wish to write it as a letter, then print or scan to PDF and send that. This can be a very short letter and you do not have to detail your reasons or your regrets.

If you've been in close contact with the department chair and/or search committee members, I think they would appreciate e-mail or phone calls after you've written the dean. These can be less formal, and if you don't want to burn bridges with people who you might still be maintaining relations with, you can go into further details about your rationale and your regrets in not being able to work with them.

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