Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Wandering Eyes...

Nate Kreuter’s latest is well worth checking out.  It’s about the fear -- sometimes founded, sometimes not -- that people have when they look for other jobs that their current employer will hold it against them.

Academia has some pretty conflicted attitudes on this.  On one side, there’s a popular myth -- that may be true in some settings -- to the effect that “disloyalty” to an employer will be punished.  (This is one of the only areas in which graduate students have an advantage -- nobody takes umbrage when they go on the market.)  On the other side, many colleges and universities will only give pay raises as counteroffers.  If you buy the “loyalty” framework, then the only way to get ahead is to be disloyal, whether you mean it or you’re just looking to provoke a counteroffer.

Both strike me as dysfunctional.  

In my own unionized setting, there is no such thing as counteroffers for faculty positions.  Salaries are determined by a formula that’s spelled out in the contract.  While that can be frustrating at the point of recruitment, it does reduce the incentive to solicit offers just for the sake of soliciting offers.  If you receive a better offer, taking it or not is your call; I couldn’t respond if I wanted to.  We’ve lost some great people to better offers elsewhere, and that always hurts, but that’s the nature of the system.  That’s hardly universal, though.

I’ll say upfront that anyone who blames an adjunct for looking for full-time work is a jerk.  Wanting a living wage and health insurance is entirely rational, and to the extent that employers like the flexibility of adjunct faculty, they should realize that flexibility cuts two ways.  On the occasions that adjuncts in my areas have found full-time jobs elsewhere, I’ve just congratulated them and wished them well.  Piece rates are bad enough without asserting some kind of ownership.

But I really don’t see the ethical violation in anybody looking for other positions, either, even if they already have a full-time position.  Some people have survivor guilt about having full-time jobs in this market, but if you don’t like where you are, I don’t know who you’re helping by staying there.  It’s not a crime to want to be happy.

I’m more conflicted about the period after receiving an offer.  It’s fine to ask for a set time period to think the offer over, discuss it with a significant other, and so forth.  That’s standard, and it’s generally accepted to bargain a bit over the length of the waiting period if you’re waiting on another prospect to come in.  But saying “yes” to an offer and then backing out later -- especially if it’s significantly later -- can do real harm.  By that point, the college has turned away other applicants and has started making plans; leaving it in the lurch can leave a bitter taste.  

On the other hand, though, I’d be hard-pressed to explain why a change of heart shortly before starting is bad, but a change of heart shortly after starting is okay.  Viscerally, the two feel different, but I’d have trouble defending that perspective.

I like to think that service to the profession dictates that when someone gets a better offer, the polite thing to do is to take it as a compliment.  If someone else thinks that the person I hired at a middling salary is worth much more, well, I must have great taste in hiring.  

Wise and worldly readers, does it ever make sense to punish people just for looking?  As long as they aren’t neglecting their current job, I’m having a hard time seeing it.

I always tell adjuncts that their commitment to the college is just as long as our commitment to them, mostly that's a semester -- It's not what they want to hear, but it's the truth and it's the way I worked my adjunct days.

I was an adjunct for three schools at one point. I think I was good, I know I was reliable and I know I didn't get complaints from students -- so they seemed to want me. At that point, I also told them that my time was on a "first come, first committed to" basis - namely, I'd take classes in the order they were offered, if they wanted me for a particular section, they'd better ask before someone else across town wanted me at the same time.
Having been a peon in the biomedical academic establishment, it's hard not to judge a faculty member who does the following:
1) looks for a better offer to get more money (that's ok, in itself)
2) boffs the subsequent salary negotiation with the original department such that the relationships sour
3) hurriedly moves their lab to the new university, without the extreme care and attention it takes to get the grad students/post docs to transition smoothly
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I supervise adjuncts in my department, and agree with Patty. However, it's important to note that any faculty member (adjunct or full time) has an obligation to the students s/he is teaching, not just the institution in general.

I would welcome a few defections or lost hires in the full-time world over salary and benefits, as my institution's faculty union is involved in a fractious contract dispute with management. Perhaps such defections would send a message management would hear.
What a question. Are you kidding? Of course it doesn't make sense to punish anyone just for looking. As a rule, you don't owe loyalty to anyone who hasn't committed to being loyal to you. For employers to think otherwise is feudalism, or worse. For employees to think otherwise is Stockholm syndrome.
Class War Class War watcha gonna do

Watcha gonna do when it comes for you

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