Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Lessons from Kathie Lee

A few years ago, on a snow day, my bride had the tv on in the morning and was watching Hoda and Kathie Lee.  I walked in to ask her something, and heard Kathie Lee set up the next bit: “How to get your man to eat better.”  

“My man?”  I asked.

“I don’t think this is aimed at you,” my bride responded.

In that case, no harm, no foul; Kathie Lee and I have ignored each other for this long, and it seems to work for both of us.  But sometimes I read things that are supposed to encompass the world of American higher education, and I have that same sense of being invisible.  But in these cases, it isn’t just me, and it actually matters.

For example, Kerry Ann Rockquemore had a pair of excellent essays in IHE about the challenges of attracting and retaining minority faculty.  In the second essay, though, in a discussion of efforts to discern why faculty of color leave, I saw this:

“...the failure to extend a counteroffer only reinforced and served as a further push factor to a faculty member leaving.”

And I thought, hmm.  That presumes that it’s possible to make counteroffers at all.  In some collective bargaining environments, it isn’t.  

That’s because in many settings, salary schedules are rigidly prescriptive.  Ironically, the argument for a system like that is precisely to ensure that members of underrepresented groups are treated equally.  By reducing salaries to a formula, it’s possible to ensure that candidates of equal credentials will be treated equally.  (The more cynical formulation would say that incumbents would start screaming “salary inversion!” as soon as you deviate from the schedule for any reason.  That, too, is true.)  A dean who makes an offer beyond the schedule, even trivially so, effectively tapes a “grieve me” sign to her back.  It’s not an option.

Formulaic salaries have arguments pro and con, but if you’re in an institution that has them, don’t take the absence of a counteroffer personally.  It’s not about you.  

I had a similar sense reading Karen Kelsky’s latest, about whether negotiating a job offer could cause it to be rescinded.  Contrasting a candidate with an offer from an Ivy with one from a “small public college,” she wrote:

“Your startup offers will differ by a factor of 10 -- $4,000 for you, $40,000 for your friend.”

I spat my coffee.  No, you won’t get a “startup offer.”  We don’t do that.  We can’t.  That’s not how this works.  And hearing that doesn’t mean that you’re being disrespected; it’s not about you.  It’s how the entire system works.  Whether that’s good or bad is a debatable point, but it’s structural.  

I mention these not so much for myself -- the points aren’t about me, either -- but because I’d hate to see early-career faculty draw inferences from the absence of perks that we simply aren’t allowed to give.  That’s not how it works here.  We hire, too, and candidates from outside the community college world may not know the ground rules.  Better that they know, and not take them personally, then not know and take offense.

Kathie Lee probably didn’t intend to snub me with her comment; I just wasn’t on her radar.  I hope that candidates get these issues on their radar before they draw unhelpful or depressing conclusions from offers that can’t, and won’t, happen.