Thursday, July 17, 2008


Ask the Administrator: Salary Haggling

A new correspondent writes:

With a little luck and a lot of hard work (and a long, drawn out application process), I've managed to land a job offer for one of the two full time faculty positions open in my department at the CC where I've been adjuncting for the past few semesters.  As this is my first full time job offer,  I was wondering what tips you have about negotiating the salary and benefits package.  I don't have competing job offers to force them to "sweeten the pot," and it's pretty obvious that I will take the job.  Do you or any of your readers have advice for the what and how of haggling?

First, congratulations on the job! That's wonderful!

Now for the bad news...

In the cc's I've seen, there's no wiggle room on the traditional benefits (health insurance, retirement plan, etc.). Those are standard across ranks, and often across entire institutions. For example, at my cc, every full-time employee has the same few options for health insurance, regardless of rank or title. Colleges – and sometimes entire state systems of colleges – can get better deals when they standardize the packages, since it reduces administrative overhead for the insurers and makes the colleges more desirable customers. In unionized settings, such as mine, these packages are spelled out in considerable detail in collective bargaining agreements, so everybody in the union gets the same benefit. (Sometimes newer hires have to pay more for it, but what they get is the same. It's also commonplace for non-unionized full-time employees – that is, administration – to get the same benefits as the unionized folk.) In some states the benefits packages are actually legislated.

Less obvious benefits often offer more wiggle room. These include availability of summer teaching, nicer offices, new computers (as opposed to hand-me-downs), and more desirable schedules. I'd be surprised if you got what you wanted in all of these areas, but you might be able to swing one or two of them. If you can decide which of these are most important, you could start by asking for several and then whittling down to the one or two you care about most.

Salary is tough. If you don't have one of the hot niches (nursing, say, or information security), you don't have a lot of bargaining power. In unionized settings, it's commonplace to have pre-set salary schedules in which new hires are given a number of 'points' based on degree level, years of experience, and the like, and the points you have determine the salary range to within a remarkably small degree of discretion. (At some schools, they'll actually determine the salary literally to the cent. I consider that bizarre, but there it is.) Even if they don't get as precise as I've seen, they'll still be budget-conscious both for good reasons (lack of money overall) and iffy ones (fear of 'salary compression,' or paying newbies more than those already there).

All of that said, you actually have more bargaining power now as a prospective hire than you will as a new employee. Raises are almost always given as percentages, so swinging a slightly higher starting salary will pay off with compounding returns over time, since you'll be getting bigger raises. So take a shot.

I'd suggest taking a few days, coming back with a counteroffer maybe 1500-2000 higher, and seeing what happens. Depending on their circumstances, they may meet you halfway, or they may shrug and say that the offer's the offer, and you can take it or leave it. But even if they do that, you're no worse off for asking.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers – what do you think?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.

I have just completed my second year on the CC tenure track. I asked for 1500 more and I was rejected. Every single junior faculty member that I have spoken to asked for more and got nothing. There was absolutely no "give" in our negotiations. Again, you have to try, but don't expect much. The one thing that I wish I had done was asked for a copy of the union contract before I took the job. I did not see the contract until after I arrived on campus. I could have fought for some more experience "points" than I received. For example, my tenure clock should be the same as everyone else's, but my promotion from instructor to assistant professor could theoretically happen before tenure based on the language in our contract. Without anything in writing at the time of hire that is not going to happen for me. Good luck.
At my CC the union has these things so tightly controlled that the salary ranking doesn't happen on-campus, so new hires are often not given a precise salary.

A bit of digging on the internet might just provide you a baseline for the salary.

I think DD is right -- see if you can wrangle a better office, good computer (or nice laptop) etc.. because traditional salary and benefits are probably set in stone.
Constraints on starting salary should be no secret unless this is a privately held CC! At our NON-union CC, like childpsychprof's union CC, the only point of negotiation for starting salary is credit for previous experience. (Also similar is that the tenure clock is completely decoupled from experience, so there is no "early" option like you often see at universities.) Experience is definitely negotiable.

You are most likely to get useful extras, like the new computer of your choice or a no-cut promise of professional development funds for travel. (There is zero money for travel this year in our CC's budget, but it might be negotiated for a new hire.) Also find out if there is a priority system for summer work. If there is, you might ask for preference there. I've seen high demand from our young faculty for summer classes, probably to pay off their loans.

DD's point about negotiating salary now is 100% on the mark. It was the best advice I got about an earlier job search. Even a small increment is worth tens of thousands over time and all future raises will be fixed (dollar or percent) unless your college has merit pay. Even then, you don't "negotiate" merit pay!

But I would also remind the writer that administrative paranoia about state budget cuts and no-show students is spectacularly high right now in our region. Maybe DD can speak to what it is like in his region. If you reject their offer by asking for a lot more, they could possibly (depending on union contracts and legally binding local policies) make an offer to the second person on the list.
"I've seen high demand from our young faculty for summer classes, probably to pay off their loans. "

Probably an incredibly stupid question, but if you're salaried, how do you get paid more for summer classes? Is there a bonus?
Depending on the institution, the salaried portion of the year may be two semesters, or three trimesters/quarters, and faculty can pick up summer classes for pay. There are also places where summer is part of the regular teaching load, but that is less common.

I'm at a different institution, but I'd echo trying to get even a little bump in salary. Other things to consider asking for: travel money, copying expenses (if these aren't covered), phone calls, professional development funds (for books, training conferences in software or statistics or whatever is appropriate for your field), equipment, anything you could imagine would make your teaching life easier but that isn't routinely covered by the department/school. If you can, asking your current department colleagues what they wished they'd asked for can be enlightening.
Yeah, I agree with everyone here.

It did surprise me a bit that when I took my CC full-time job, and when I've interviewed at others, that they have all had very rigid prescriptions about the terms of their contracts. (My state university full-time job was not that way, but also low-balled me.) I tried for relocation costs at the CC. When I was denied, my dean consoled me that he couldn't get them either.

A side issue: I think this puts CCs at a competitive disadvantage that, if it weren't such a hirers' market, would really hurt them.

The advice about looking at the union contract is really good. Perhaps you could call HR to inquire about the point system, asking how each of your experiences were counted. If you can make a case that one should be counted as more, you should absolutely do so. That's probably your only chance at more money. Probable points of inquiry: you may be in a field in which a Master's in considered terminal; adjunct experience is often counted as a percentage of full-time and you may have adjunct taught at a higher equivalent load. However, at least at my (recently former) CC, HR has maybe 25% of the staff they should have, and really doesn't have the time to do that sort of explanation/negotiation. You just have to try.
In response to others' comments, can someone explain more about how to negotiate a higher level of experience at a CC? HR made it seem like it was non-negotiable. E.g., I heard that some schools count Teaching Assistantships as "academic experience" but then others do not. Is that a card I can play?

A comment about the difference between CC's and universities reminded me of something I never put in any of my "jobs" series articles. Many of the differences have their roots in history, which can vary from state to state. In my state and some others I know about, early "junior colleges" grew out of K-12 just like "vocational training". Not only can this show up in a 'step' pay structure like is found in K-12, but other things as well. Even though our CC is completely unconnected in any way to the K-12 system in our state, I learned a few years ago that our buildings are under the K-12 fire code rather than the university fire code! (Makes sense, sort of, since we do get a lot of dual-enrolled HS students attending class on our campus, but we don't fall under any of the K-12 laws requiring fingerprinting of all employees.)

As for the question of negotiating credit for time served, that will be governed by local policy. From what I have seen, we only count assignments where you had full teaching responsibility for an entire course, like our adjuncts. We consider other things (like a teaching assistant) as "experience" for the job, but not as credit toward pay.

At our college you would need to get the Dean to back up your request to have some past experience counted in a certain way, and probably get your level of responsibility documented from the other end as well if it was not obvious from your title.
Agree 100% that salary, per se, probably isn't negotiable and that your only shot is where you are initially placed on the salary scale. When I was hired at a CC right out of my post doc, they didn't want to give me any credit for my teaching (TA and post doc) because it was "part time." My grad adviser (unbeknownst to me, thank goodness) wrote a letter with supporting documentation on my behalf and they repositioned me at one step higher. Only about $3000, but over a career it adds up!
The only way you can improve things in most systems is, if you adjuncted several places, they add up to full-time experience. When I was teaching about 15 sections per year, they declined to count anything over 10, (which was their full-time) -- so, I ended up losing about 3 semester experience on initial placement because I couldn't earn 1.5 years experience in a calendar year, no matter how much I taught.
I just took a position (very happily) after teaching at SLACS full time, at the assistant professor level, for over ten years. I had worked outside of academia a bit ---long story, not relevant--- and clawed my way back to academe. My position is in English, and there is no room, really to negotiate. Other disciplines, such as nursing, info tech, econ, have higher starting salaries. However, the chair saw to it that I got great perks without having to ask: I got the hours I wanted for classes, new computer, plenty of summer teaching (extra $$ if I want it), but best, I got a bump up in rank to Associate Professor. I don't know if I'd recommend trying to negotiate this; some CC's don't have rank and tenure (this one does; my rank comes without tenure, but with a big vote of confidence in that direction), but if anyone out there has a great deal of full time experience, this might be one thing to look into.
For the person who posted the question, since you've been an adjunct where you've now been hired, I would guess that a lot depends on your relationship with your chair: is it possible for you to ask her/him if there is anything you ought to negotiate ? I'm several days late replying to this. Let us know how you did ! Best wishes !
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