Friday, March 04, 2011

Ask the Administrator: New Job, New Baby, New Town?

A new correspondent writes with a doozy:

I have been very stressed trying to figure out my job for next year. I
was offered a tenure-track position at University B during the month
of February. My husband and I were extremely happy, because it was a
good position in a great city with a very reasonable salary. I have
been working for University A for 8 years as a lecturer. I really enjoy
working at University A, but the fact that they cannot offer me a Tenure
Track position has been bothering me, therefore I decided to go to the
job market last January and find a more secure position, which
fortunately I found.

To make the story short, we just found out that I am pregnant and the
baby is due mid September. Human Resources web page at University B
states that they do not have the obligation to pay maternity leave to
faculty members who have not been in the institution 12 months or
more. The FMLA protects me, and I would be able by law take 6
weeks off, but of course, with no income, in a new city, where
everything will be new to us.

At University A, because I have been here for so long, I have
accumulated 12 weeks of sick leave paid which can be used towards my
maternity leave. After that, I will be on my own, because the
department will not let me come back and teach at week 12. I would
have to wait for the following semester. Obviously, I have my doctor
here in this city, my friends, and I just feel more protected within
my comfort zone.

My ideal situation, if I could choose, would be to postpone the Tenure
Track position at University B one year and stay one more year as a
lecturer at University A, even though I would not be teaching
Fall 2011. After Fall 2011 and Spring 2012 I would love to move to
University B with the baby, who will be one year old.

My question is: Can I ask for a year deferment at University B, how
do you think they will take it? Will that be offensive?

What if I take my maternity leave during Fall at University A and
start my Tenure Track job at University B during Spring? How do you
think University A will react? Is that ethical or should I stay with
them the whole academic year?

I’ll start with the easy one. Congratulations on the baby! In the grand scheme of things, a new baby and a new job offer are both good news. I know that’s slim comfort now, but it’s true.

And I’ll just put it out there that I’m not a lawyer. So I’ll just go with “what I would probably do,” and hope that my wise and worldly readers have something to contribute.

Tenure-track hires are time-consuming to select. By the time you’ve been selected, the department has made a significant effort to land you, and has quite a bit invested in actually reeling you in. Nobody likes losing their top choice. If you were the second choice and they lost you, they’d have to reopen the search (and take the risk of losing the position altogether).

In other words, you may have more bargaining power at this moment than you think.

It’s worth noting, too, that “due dates” are approximations. “Mid-September” could mean September 15, or September 1, or August 27. These things happen. It’s probably best not to assume too much precision here. A plan that relies on you being in place on, say, September 2 is not without risk.

You don’t mention your husband’s job, if any, so I don’t know how the economics of it all play out, but I believe you when you say that the Fall semester without pay in a new city is probably a bad idea. Those first few weeks are especially harrowing; being detached from support networks then would be really hard. People do it, of course, but we found it hard even with support.

All of that said, my first move would be to talk to the department chair, and possibly dean, about deferring your start for a year. University B wouldn’t be violating its FMLA policy that way, since it wouldn’t be granting you leave; it would be deferring your hire. The worst they could do is say ‘no,’ in which case you’re no worse off than you are now. I don’t imagine they’d rescind the offer, since you’d have a doozy of a discrimination argument if they did, but they could refuse the deferral. At that point, you could play the ‘failed search’ card and simply let them know that an unpaid semester in a new city is not an option for you, so if they can’t find a way to work with you, they’ll have to find a way to work without you.

The best negotiating position is always “willing to walk away.”

The risk, of course, is that they just might call the bluff. At that point, you’d have to either accept the awful deal or stay where you are now and take another crack at the market next year. Between those options, I’d go with the latter, though obviously your mileage may vary.

Good luck.

Wise and worldly readers, I suspect there are good options and angles that I’m not seeing. Do you have any thoughts that could help?

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