by Dr. Sarah Ruth Jacobs
Many faculty members starting a new tenure-track job may find themselves in the unenviable position of struggling to manage aspects, or even the overall circumstances, of their new role. Maybe there are service requirements that were not made clear or seem to be continually added. Maybe there is a lack of support for sabbaticals or other types of leave. Maybe the tenure guidelines seem to change constantly. Or, perhaps the institution is undergoing some turmoil over enrollments or budgetary decisions. Whatever the unfortunate scenario, it is vital that job applicants take time at every step of the job search to evaluate their fit at the new institution. In fact, many of the elements in the initial job posting can help applicants determine their fit. This article will outline some of the major considerations that faculty should entertain before pursuing and accepting a new role.
Do some careful research and consideration before applying. The kind of language used in the job advertisement will usually predict the demands of the role. Is there a long list of service requirements? Does the ad specify that you will perhaps be asked to work on nights and weekends? How many courses are required to be taught? If the list of duties and the courseload appears unmanageable, or does not suit your expectations or plans for research, then don’t apply to the job. If, on the other hand, you do not mind a high courseload and would rather teach than conduct a lot of research, then a higher workload might suit your needs. A quick look at the institution’s Wikipedia page might clue you in to its priorities, its direction, and any controversies. Looking at employee reviews on sites like Glassdoor could be helpful in getting a sense of what employees value or dislike about the institution. Looking at who makes up the department, and faculty’s educational and research backgrounds, might be helpful in getting a sense of values and expectations. Dr. Amanda Licastro, a digital scholarship librarian at Swarthmore College who has successfully fielded tenure-track and alternative academic job offers, advises applicants to “think about the job market holistically in terms of overall quality of life. Consider the location, salary range in relation to cost of living, financial health of the institution, and political climate of the place and institution.”
Don’t be afraid to ask some probing or difficult questions during the initial interviews and the campus visit. The interview and visit process isn’t just about proving your fit to the hiring committee; it is also your opportunity to gauge whether the locality and the institutional and departmental cultures are good fits for your desired career path. Dr. Licastro notes that during a campus visit, “It is absolutely okay, and sometimes even respectable, to ask administrators to discuss the financial health of the institution, the resources for travel and professional development, and salary scale or process for applying for raises…don’t be afraid to ask how the institution is supporting your discipline/department in terms of recruitment and retention, or if the administration has a plan to grow or shrink your department in the future. If you have one-on-one time with faculty who match your gender/sexuality/race, ask them about their experience and if they have felt supported. These questions matter to your mental, physical, and emotional health.”
Do not accept a verbal offer. Ideally, make your demands clear in the initial conversation, or at least ask for the various details of the offer in writing. It is never advisable to accept anything less than a detailed written offer. By the point in which you receive a verbal offer, you should have already discussed many of the details of the service and courseload requirements with the members of the hiring committee. It is, therefore, incumbent upon you to reiterate these details along with your personal preferences and to ask for them to be submitted in writing. Dr. Karen Kelsky, a professional faculty career coach, recommends that a potential faculty member should never accept an offer, whether it is verbal or by email, within the same day: “All offers have room for negotiation. You should first see what the formal offer is in terms of salary, summer salary, teaching load, leave time, research support, expectations for tenure, graduate student funding, service expectations (particularly if it is a joint appointment), support for a spousal hire, and other matters. Until you have these in writing, you cannot make an informed response.” Usually, full-time faculty are automatically entitled to additional benefits, from health care and on-site daycare to retirement funding, but it is a good idea to ask that a reference to these benefits be included in the offer letter. One of the most important details to ask for in an offer letter is the expected service requirements — ideally, these requirements should be as detailed in terms of hourly commitments as the teaching requirements.
Negotiate, but do not draw out the process longer than necessary. Usually, institutions are required to extend an offer for a certain amount of time, without the ability to rescind that offer (though, anecdotally, Dr. Kelsky has observed that it is increasingly common for some offers to be taken back). A time period for consideration should be included in the offer. While this is the potential faculty member’s one opportunity to negotiate, it is in everyone’s best interest that the negotiations do not become protracted or acrimonious. Dr. Kelsky says that it is important for potential faculty members to be aware of what is usually negotiable — salary, summer teaching/salary, funding for graduate student assistants, research/conference/travel support, guaranteed research leave, and spousal hires, for example — and what is usually not negotiable, such as health benefits, retirement benefits, or family leave.
Overall, consider what you are willing to sacrifice for the position. In what is a challenging job market for most disciplines, as well as a challenging fiscal environment for many institutions, it is important for potential faculty members to be aware that most jobs will require some degree of sacrifice. If, for example, you wish to prioritize your research, you might consider negotiating for a lower salary along with a lessened teaching load, if that is even a possibility.