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.