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I am an associate professor, who has received tenure in the US in 2014. After receiving tenure, I moved to Europe to help my family with some health issues, and found an associate professor position in a country where tenure is 'by law' meaning the position cannot be revoked or taken away. I am now looking to return to North America, and have begun to apply for associate professor job openings.

I have applied for a position as tenured associate professor. I interviewed and was told I was selected by the department as their top candidate. However, the dean at the new institution just emailed me that the new position will be associate professor "tenure-track," meaning I would need to apply for tenure within 4 years.

Clearly, what I had applied for is not what I am being offered. In my view, there is a flaw in their advertising. The position description clearly stated "the University of X invites applications for a tenure-track Assistant Professor or Tenured Associate Professor in...."

While I understand that each university has its own interest in mind, this seems like a very bad start of a relationship. If I accepted this demotion, I would probably do so with some resentment. The University in question is academically equal to the one I first received tenure from.

I am seeking advice on how to respond to this proposition and would be very grateful to hear people's opinions.

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    @Mad Jack: How to follow up with the dean is the question as I understood it. – Pete L. Clark Dec 5 '17 at 14:15
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    Do you have a sense for whether this email was written just for you, or whether you were sent a canned "new hire" email--and maybe got the wrong version instead? – Matt Dec 5 '17 at 16:27
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    One possibility is that they considered you for immediate tenure, but didn't feel confident enough in your qualifications to grant it, so they're offering you a short clock as a compromise. Keep in mind that immediate tenure is kind of a big deal - they're committing to you for life, on the basis of having met you for a few hours. From that point of view, you could consider that you've been considered and rejected for the job you really wanted, but are being offered a different one: you can take it, leave it, or try to negotiate for something better. But it wouldn't be a bait and switch. – Nate Eldredge Dec 5 '17 at 16:46
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    this is not a formal offer and it is specified at the bottom of the email. I understand your points. There is a risk associated with them committing to me. Just as there is a risk in being tenured at a university and leaving it for a temporary position. You are right that this is a different position than the one I am applying to. I just would have appreciated knowing before I made the oversea trip, and perhaps hearing from them during the interview, when the question of tenure was discussed as one of the things that attracted me to the job. – J. Denworth Dec 5 '17 at 17:11
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    I'm a bit confused. You said the ad described the position as "for a tenure-track Assistant Professor or Tenured Associate Professor". Was it ever clearly stated which you were being considered for? – Kat Dec 5 '17 at 22:24
104

Based on what you've said,

In my view, there is a flaw in their advertising. The position description clearly stated "the University of X invites applications for a tenure-track Assistant Professor or Tenured Associate Professor in...."

Well...yes, you're exactly right. It sounds like the department and the dean were not on the same page when the position announcement was posted.

While I understand that each university has its own interest in mind, this seems like a very bad start of a relationship. If I accepted this demotion, I would probably do so with some resentment. The University in question is academically equal to the one I first received tenure from.

Again, I agree completely. You've had two different tenured positions, including one at a US institution of (you say, and I'm going with it) comparable academic quality to the one you're applying for. You applied to this position and interviewed for it -- presumably taking some trouble doing so, since you now live in Europe and have family there -- based on the information you received in writing that it would come with tenure. Only at the end of the process have you been informed otherwise. Well...yes, that's a seriously alarming bait and switch.

In my opinion there is really only one thing to do. You should respond by calling attention to precisely the facts you mentioned to us, especially that (i) the position was advertised as with tenure and that's why you applied for it and (ii) your last two academic jobs have had tenure, including at US institution X (you don't need to explicitly say that it's of comparable academic quality; I would leave them to claim otherwise if they want to), that you are very excited and interested in the job, but only under the original terms: you are not contemplating making an international move from a permanent academic job to a possibly temporary one.

In other words, I think the issue is serious enough to prevent you from taking the academic job...again, for exactly the reasons you say. The type of employer who will not be held to what they told you before is exactly the type of employer to cause you N years of deep worry that they might not give you tenure, and nothing in your question suggests that you should subject yourself to that.

I really hope that they respond well to your holding your ground. Good luck!

32

Assuming starting with tenure is a must for you, you should let the advertised nature of the position go by, as it's not really relevant. You just state that at your career level, you can't entertain an offer that doesn't come with tenure, and you hope that the offer can be modified accordingly. This is absolutely your situation, there's no mincing of words, and there's no way a silly argument about the semantics of their ad can start up.

Whether you thought because of their ad that the position came with tenure is also fairly irrelevant. Either they see fit to ask their leadership about whether they can bring you in as tenured, or not.

Update: In other words, treat the current situation like any other job offer where you're negotiating for an acceptable situation. Thank the Dean for his or her offer, and say how happy you are about their interest in you. Then say that you can't accept a non-tenured position. Perhaps in this case, you might even add a terse apology that you didn't make that crystal clear earlier in the interview process (as this really comes down to a communications issue, and it takes two parties to have a miscommunication).

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    I appreciate your post. And as I explained to another the text from the ad was added simply to give a clearer picture. "False in advertising" was too strong a language to use. I got carried away. You are right, this is no different than any other job search. – J. Denworth Dec 7 '17 at 10:22
  • I'd +1 this answer if you dropped the "asssuming" part. OP should not accept the bait-and-switch, IMHO, even if he'd been willing to accept the inferior offer had it been made to begin with. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Dec 7 '17 at 21:35
  • @J.Denworth it's a hair different - because of the ad, you know how far they can go. They've tipped their hand. – Scott Seidman Dec 8 '17 at 0:08
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Oh dear. Well, I agree with Pete L. Clark's take on the situation, but I feel it's important not to mince words and to be extra clear about what's going on: frankly, the only conclusion I can draw from your story is that the people you are dealing with are some combination of: unscrupulous, dishonest, acting in bad faith and/or incompetent.

Let me explain. The university that invited you to interview knew full well that you are tenured and are expecting a tenured position, given your situation as someone who has been tenured for over 3 years and is now on your second(!) tenured position, in an institution comparable to theirs in reputation. It seems inconceivable to me that they would think an untenured position would be remotely attractive for you. Thus, if they invited you to interview for a position advertised using the words "the University of X invites applications for a tenure-track Assistant Professor or Tenured Associate Professor", to my mind that means they are representing that:

  1. they consider you (at least based on how you look "on paper") a qualified candidate for serious consideration for a tenured position, and

  2. they know, and know that you know, and know that you know that they know (etc), that you would be traveling to the US for the interview on the expectation of being considered for a tenured position.

If you accept that this is so, how is this consistent with their subsequent behavior, that is, the communication you received from their dean? As I said, there must be some bad faith, dishonesty or incompetence involved. Possible explanations I can think of are:

  • The department invited you for an interview but never intended to seriously consider you for a position. For some shady reason, they want to go through the motions of appearing to try to hire you (or appearing to try to hire someone) but not really wanting to finish the job. They are expecting you to say no to their untenured offer.

  • The department wants to offer you a tenured position, but the dean is against it, maybe because of some internal conflict with the department. So the dean is disingenuously trying to propose to offer you an untenured position, assuming that you'll say no (or perhaps hoping he'll get lucky and you'll say yes).

  • At the time the department invited you to interview, both they and the dean thought they would be able to offer a tenured position, but because of some change in circumstances (budget cuts or whatnot) they are now unable to do so. Instead of admitting that you made the trip in vain, which would be embarrassing, they are pretending they were thinking of an untenured position all along.

  • Etc etc.

I should add that at my university, if we were thinking of offering an untenured position to someone who is already a tenured professor, we would make that very very clear to them before they come to interview to avoid a major waste of time and effort for them. It is clear to me (based on my experience having been a department chair for 3 years) that any university with competent people acting in good faith would behave similarly.

To summarize: this whole situation smells like bad news. You can consider accepting the untenured offer if you think that it's something you can live with and are willing to overlook being treated in this shady way, but personally I think that a rational response would be to politely explain to the dean that you are expecting an offer at a level comparable to your current position, and that if he/she is unable to make such an offer, you wish him/her luck in recruiting someone else - just on the off-chance that there's been some innocent mistake and they will be able to offer you a tenured position after all.

I wouldn't bother complaining or expressing outrage in your response to the dean about the rudeness of making you travel to the US under a dishonest pretext; these (most probably) unethical people are not worth trying to reason with - if they can't respond to your entirely reasonable request, just cut your losses and move on. Good luck!

Edit: when you email the dean with your polite reply, it might be a good idea to copy the department chair, again just on the off chance that there's been an innocent mistake and that having people other than the dean aware of what's going on will help correct the situation more quickly. I don't think that scenario is very likely, but it's best not to make assumptions.

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    I think you missed an optition. They invited the candidate thinking that they would be a good fit for the department and that they could make a competitive offer since they have comparable rank to the candidate's previous employer and have been told that tenure could be offered to the right candidate. After the interview it was decided the best offer that they could make to that candidate was one without tenure. This could have come from the Dean alone or the whole search committee. It does not mean anything was done in bad faith. – StrongBad Dec 6 '17 at 13:48
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    @StrongBad I disagree, if they were so unimpressed with a candidate with OP’s situation and history then they would simply reject him/her. See also the comment I wrote under your answer. – Dan Romik Dec 6 '17 at 16:45
  • It's not bad faith precisely but: "We have the option of hiring a tenured associate professor, we considered all the candidates, interviewed a tenured associate professor and then decided he was the best candidate.... but he's not so good that we want to offer him the tenure he already has right away, although we think we'll give it to him a few years down the line." is a strange way to proceed. If the best you can do is offer a demotion to your top candidate, it's a pretty screwy job search. – Pete L. Clark Dec 6 '17 at 23:15
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    @PeteL.Clark are your expressions "strange way to proceed" and "screwy" not just polite, euphemistic ways to say "someone is being dishonest or incompetent"? If not, what other explanations do you have to offer for the "strange" and "screwy" ways these people are behaving? – Dan Romik Dec 6 '17 at 23:27
  • @Dan: I don't have any other explanation to offer. I also don't know exactly how job searches in all US universities and departments (e.g. architecture) work, so I leave a bit of room because of that. – Pete L. Clark Dec 6 '17 at 23:49
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The job search in the US can be a confusing process. It sounds like the position was being advertised for someone with experience ranging from an assistant professor tenure track level to an associate professor tenured level. For whatever reason, they have made an offer to you at the associate without tenure level. This does not seem to me to indicate a flawed search. It is just what it is. For example, in my field tenured associate professors are expected to bring with them considerable extramural funding. The offer might be a compromise between your seniority/experience and things as an international candidate that you are lacking. You need to talk to the Dean/Search chair to understand this.

Leaving a tenured position for a non=-tenured position is clearly a step down. To some, tenure is not the ultimate goal and increased salary or better quality of life (and possibly even decreased teaching or better start-up) can offset the loss of tenure. The amount you value tenure is something that you need to decide for yourself and then work with the Dean/Search chair to see if a mutually acceptable agreement can be reached.

One thing that I would be concerned about is that at many universities nontenured associate professors are rare. While a non-tenured offer with a one-year probationary period is fairly common, a four-year non-tenure period seems odd. I would want to know how often this occurs and what benefits that provides over an assistant level position and what benefits you will get when you get tenure. It is also absolutely critical that you understand which of your previous accomplishments will count towards your tenure review and how the tenure process works for associate professors.

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    The job search in the US can be a confusing process. Unless you mean this as a euphemism for "the job search in the US can involve interaction with some dishonest, unethical and/or incompetent people", I am afraid I will have to disagree with you. In the ordinary course of affairs when a job candidate is dealing with honest people, one would never encounter such "confusing" situations. You are being way too charitable with your assumptions about the hiring university's motivations. See my answer for a more detailed analysis. – Dan Romik Dec 6 '17 at 7:53
  • @DanRomik I think it is much more likely that the Dean is honest and authorized the search at both the assistant and associated level in good faith. The Dean decided that the candidate the department put forward wasn't good enough for tenure. I believe had thereceived been a better candidate, the Dean would have offered tenure. Maybe I am being too charitable. – StrongBad Dec 6 '17 at 13:52
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    The Dean decided that the candidate the department put forward wasn't good enough for tenure. — If that's true, the appropriate response from the dean is to reject the department's proposed offer. – JeffE Dec 6 '17 at 16:20
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    @StrongBad the dean’s actions are inconsistent with your good faith hypothesis. As JeffE says, if the candidate is so unimpressive to the department or dean, their logical course of action would be to reject them. Offering an untenured position to someone with OP’s employment is disingenuous and indicative of bad faith (or, being as charitable as I can, incompetence). It is as if they said “we don’t like you for the position we flew you out here to interview for, but how about working as a janitor? We think you could be great for that!” – Dan Romik Dec 6 '17 at 16:39
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    @StrongBad -- it's probably rare that somebody makes the "best" offer they could. They make the "best" offer they think will attract the candidate identified for hire. – Scott Seidman Dec 6 '17 at 17:07
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To add to Pete Clark's excellent answer, sometimes an institution will hire at the Associate Professor level, but with a pro forma tenure review after one year. For various reasons, they are unable to hire someone directly into tenure. However, with such a short review period, tenure is virtually guaranteed.

That does not appear to be the case here, with a four-year review cycle. I would not recommend accepting this offer. Regarding the immediate question, I concur with the advice to bring this up with the dean as a serious issue.

  • I did not know about the pro-forma tenure review option. The dean wrote " The tenure-track appointment is for four years. You are eligible to apply for tenure as early as one year after the date of first appointment. However, the normal time to apply is in the penultimate year of the tenure track appointment." The language does not sound like the 'pro-forma' scenario you outlined, or does it? – J. Denworth Dec 5 '17 at 16:04
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    I would further add to this that, in my experience, a job offer with such a pro forma tenure review is usually made when the candidate has not previously held a tenured position, or not previously held one in the US. (And especially if the candidate has no previous teaching experience, for example if they're being hired from an industry position.) But none of those seem to apply here. – Mark Meckes Dec 5 '17 at 16:25
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    @MarkMeckes, I disagree. Some institutions are forbidden from offering anyone a position with tenure, hence the pro forma review. However, in this case it doesn't seem like a pro forma review. – vadim123 Dec 5 '17 at 16:47
  • @vadim123: That's true, and I meant to be referring to institutions that aren't in that situation; I should have been clearer. But since the OP applied to a position that was advertised as tenured... – Mark Meckes Dec 5 '17 at 17:45
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    So... all this talk of "some places can't offer a Tenure position out of the gate" - if that is the case... why is it not advertised as solely tenure track? Why mention "Tenure Track OR Tenure"? "OR" means they can offer it out of the gate and him being offered Tenure Track is a deliberate decision - NOT a limitation by "rules". If it IS a limitation - then that's false advertising. – WernerCD Dec 5 '17 at 19:05
0

I agree with that last post, it is negotiable, noting that sometimes the process does take some time (as per the pro forma discussions) and may not be successful. My guess is that the 4-year clock suggests that the department or leadership is worried that coming from Europe you will not have considerable (recent) experience in the U.S. funding process or that they want to see proof that you will succeed. If I were in your situation, I would not move from tenured into a 4-year clock even if given strong assurances that granting tenure will "not be a problem". As to negotiating, I would highlight your success in U.S. prior, including award of tenure, and highlight your plan of attack for funding your lab. Plus, if you were top pick at the current institution, you likely can be top pick elsewhere. Finally, when moving (if you choose to), ask your current institution for a leave of absence; if things go bad, you can consider going back.

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The only verbiage you present from the university is:

"the University of X invites applications for a tenure-track Assistant Professor or Tenured Associate Professor in...." [bolding mine]

That sounds to me that applications that are submitted will be considered for a Tenured Associate Professor or a tenure-track Assistant Professor. Perhaps there is more information that you are leaving out, but based on what you have presented, I don't see any reason to be confident that a tenured position would be offered. If distinction was important to you, you should have asked for it to be clarified.

As for how you should respond, you should decide whether you are willing to accept these terms. If not, then tell them that you are not willing to accept anything short of tenure, and be prepared to not get the job. They might be able to work something out, but don't count on it.

Also, "demotion" is not an entirely accurate term in this context, since it is not within a particular institution.

EDIT: In English, words often distribute over "and" and "or". For instance, in "You can have soup or salad", "you can have" distributes over "or", giving the implicit meaning "You can have soup, or you can have salad". What distributes depends on context and can be ambiguous. You seem to have interpreted this as "the University of X invites applications for a tenure-track Assistant Professor or applications for Tenured Associate Professor in...." That is, some applications are for a tenure-track Assistant Professor, and some applications are for Tenured Associate Professor. However, without this distribution, it can be interpreted as meaning that each application is for a position that will either be tenure-track Assistant Professor or Tenured Associate Professor. The university could have been more clear, but you shouldn't have just assumed that the interpretation that favors you is the correct one.

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    OP was offered neither a tenure-track assistant professor position nor a tenured associate professor position. The position offered was tenure-track but non-tenured associate professor. Only the most tortured parsing of the ad's language would include that precise offer as a possibility. – JeffE Dec 7 '17 at 1:29
  • You seem to imply that Assistant Professor and Associate Professor are equivalent. Is that true? – sgf Dec 8 '17 at 13:14

protected by StrongBad Dec 6 '17 at 3:02

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