I have a tenure track job offer from school S. This school appears to have a two-stage strategy to negotiate a low salary with candidates. Early in the process, HR discusses the salary range, [MIN, MAX]. At a later stage, when the first candidate is chosen, in the first step HR will negotiate with candidate, to a mutually-agreed compensation; that's proposal A. After A is reached, HR will say, this is now my proposal; department still has to approve my proposal! Then comes the department head, which reduces the compensation further, to proposal B, likely to be the MIN value! The department head states that this is the final offer and cannot be negotiated.
I am in an excellent position to get several offers from other institutions. But results will appear in March or afterwards (some applications are now just being reviewed). On the other hand, if I accept the offer from S, it's not ethical to withdraw and join other schools later on.
The strategy of S sent me a negative signal about the school administration. However, I much like the faculty there and the school and the program are great fits. I am giving it a second thought whether I wish to join S. I now have to decide:
D1. Insist on proposal A (despite the fact that the department claimed that offer B is not negotiable)
D2. Reject the offer, do not live with a low salary, and pursue other applications for good (including an rearlier delayed offer)
D3. Accept the offer B, and don't argue over a few k USD a year.
Using this experience as an illustrative example, I would like to ask some general questions. The questions might be of interest to all applicants seeking faculty positions, when they negotiate salary:
Q1. Is two-stage negotiation a well-known business strategy to lower compensation package?
Q2. Is it ethical for HR to agree to a proposal, and later claim that it was countered by higher authority?
Q3. To what extent HRs have autonomy in negotiations?
Q4. Statistically, how often "final offers" are bluff/final? Your answer could depend on who says "this is our final offer and non-negotiable," HR or upper-level authority.
You may consider several cases for HR:
HR1. HR declares his autonomy level "before hand." For instance, he or she may say "Before starting, I would like to brief you on our procedure ... ", or "I am in full charge."
HR2. HR does not make any statement regarding his/her decision making independence. It may do so after a first agreement.
HR3. Employer sets bounds (MINs and MAXs). By definition, HR should be able to make independent decisions withing those bounds. Otherwise, the HR, the candidate, and the negotiation process, are being dismissed and disrespected by institution (and what's the point of negotiation with HR).