Job Offers: Are They Professional News?

Consider a Philosophy department that is hiring a new senior colleague. They have two or three outstanding candidates in mind, each of whom they would be unreservedly delighted to welcome into their community. But they can only hire one. They make a hard choice and send out an offer; but it is declined. So they make another hard choice and send an offer to another of their preferred candidates.

Consider now the candidate who gets such an offer from a department they respect, couched in terms of how happy the department would be to have them join. Is there any reason why the department should feel in any way embarrassed about making the offer, or why the candidate should feel slighted in receiving it?

There might be — if the first-choice candidate already chose to publicize the rejected offer, and a professional news blog chose to carry the story. Trumpeting senior offers that are rejected is a way of very publicly revealing subsequent appointments as having been second-or-later choice candidates, with optics unlikely to reflect the completeness of the welcome that a department is offering their eventual appointment. This risks tarnishing a relationship between new colleagues; it interferes in a professional relationship that is (starting the moment the first candidate decides to reject the offer) none of the first candidate’s business; and these, I think, are sufficiently uncollegial outcomes to be worth carefully avoiding unless some unusually strong professional interest is served by making the announcement.

What about job offers, then, rather than offers rejected? Is publicizing offers that have been made, but are still undecided, less professionally corrosive than publicizing those that have already been declined? I have my doubts. Either an open offer will be accepted or it will be rejected. If it is rejected, the effects of having publicized it are virtually indistinguishable from those of publicizing offers already rejected. But supposing the offer is accepted, what will have been the benefit of publicizing the offer before the matter was settled? Prudential concerns might arise here — could the costs of a publicly-known declined offer encourage a university to sweeten the deal during negotiations? But even if this made some sense from the candidate’s negotiating perspective (it strikes me as ultimately self-defeating), that would not elevate it to the level of professional news. Gossip, perhaps; but not news.

Somebody’s actually moving to a new appointment might well be professional news — though it’s worth questioning the presuppositions of newsworthiness that attend such a story. The perceived newsworthiness of a professor’s relocation is just the sort of judgement one would expect to find laden with attitudes and biases about gender, race, and sub-disciplinary fields, and irrelevant halo effects arising from academic pedigree and connections. But even if actual moves were newsworthy, prospective ones would be a very different thing. In general a position is offered in confidence, and until it is formally accepted, it might yet be offered to another candidate. While there may be special circumstances and reasonable exceptions, in general information about job offers is best not treated as professional news.

Why my focus on senior job offers, then? I think that the considerations raised here (being careful with information about hiring processes, out of respect for the relationship between departments and their new colleagues) do apply to junior academic job offers as well, though the typical scale and slightly frenzied nature of hiring into junior untenured positions might make it harder to make confidentiality stick. But ultimately the reason to mention senior hires is because those are the offers that have been treated as newsworthy in the philosophical blogosphere.

A word about comments: This post is about practices, not specific cases. Please do keep comments similarly focused.

31 thoughts on “Job Offers: Are They Professional News?

  1. Graduate students looking to work in a particular area obviously has some vested interest in faculty moves.

  2. I don’t know what you mean by “professional news”. But it is relevant to prospective students considering university U whether faculty member F will stay at U. If the prospective knows that F has an offer from U*, the prospective knows that there is a real risk that F leaves U for U*. Faculty moves affect how desirable certain places are for students making major life choices. So it seems to me that publicizing this information is not engaging in, for want of a better term, gossip.

    I can’t think of a parallel argument for publicizing declinings of offers; some people like to brag, I guess.

  3. Great topic, Lanternerouge. I share your concerns, but I think you may be too diplomatic. [Sentence removed — sorry, I appreciate that you’re talking about the practice, but it’s still personalizing the issue.] Blog announcements of hiring moves are one more of the ways through which unjustified hierarchies – correlated strongly to gender, race, and class – of philosophy tend to be maintained.

    “Prospectives need to know” is a convenient rationale for bragging. There are easier ways for undergraduate students to find such things out – most don’t know about the blogs where these things are publicized anyway (and, quite frankly, no one who cares about the wellbeing of their undergraduate students would introduce them to the relevant blogs).

  4. There’s a contradiction in your post. You point out there’s no shame in being a department’s second choice, and then you lament that some people might learn someone was the second choice.

    There simply is no shame in being a department’s second choice, or third choice, etc., so no one should feel bad about learning this about their offer or others’ knowing it.

    I’m concerned about a possible effect of this post. This blog disproportionately influences women rather than men. Women should be encouraged to tout their accomplishments and certainly to ALLOW others to tout them. Getting a job offer is an accomplishment. It would be terrible if more women stopped allowing these public announcements of their desirability, while men kept allowing them.

  5. When I was applying to grad school (many years ago now) there were at least 3 or 4 cases where people I were particularly interested in working with had offers to go elsewhere, and in at least some (I can’t remember for sure now, but at least two) the people in question did move, but not until after the time when it was necessary to make a decision. Because I knew they had some significant chance of moving to another department, I was able to apply more widely than I otherwise would have, and found a happy home. It’s also pretty clearly not true that undergrads who are applying to grad school don’t know about the blogs that publish such information (the reader polls on one of the established this pretty clearly). This information is highly desired and sought out by people applying to grad school, and would be very hard to get if it wasn’t published. Now, maybe there’s good reason still to not do this, but we should at least take this very significant loss into account. (Of course, such notices, either by blogs or the department, can be done very poorly, [edit] but I’d think that just because something _can_ be done poorly wouldn’t mean it shouldn’t be done at all.)

  6. Our MA-granting department has between 8 and 10 students applying to PhD programs every year. They all know about all the blogs. The professors don’t tell the the students about the blogs. (The students tell the professors about postings to the blogs.)

    I think information about the possibility of faculty leaving a department is relevant information for prospective students.

    In the days before blogs, this information was less evenly spread. Students from more-privileged institutions had more of this information than students from less-privileged institutions..

  7. Matt, thanks for sharing your experience. I think there really isn’t much else that a student in that position could do, except apply more widely. The sooner the professor will decide, after receiving an offer, the less need there could be for going public with the offer, rather than announcing after accepting (or declining and not announcing at all). But the longer the professor will take in deciding, the less practical use the information will be for those students notionally predicating their decisions on it, except inasmuch as they decide to apply elsewhere. But then, instead of announcing a confidential offer for a position that might yet go to someone else, why not just announce: “I cannot yet reasonably predict whether I will be taking graduate students at my current university in the coming year. If your first choice for graduate study involves working with me, I advise delaying a year or going with another choice elsewhere.” For someone whose overriding concern is to let graduate students know that they might not be available at their current institution but can’t commit to being at a different one either, that seems to give all the relevant information. And if that seems a less appealing announcement to make, it’s probably because (as Pepe Nero and Tenured Female Professor observe in different ways) publicizing that one has received a job offer is substantially about something other than informing graduate students.

  8. I was my department’s third choice. Many people that I interact with professionally know that; I don’t hide it, particularly if in conversation with someone who is on the job market and may end up in a similar situation (I’m not quite ready to broadcast it on the internet, though). People can be first or second or third or fourth choices for various reasons; the people who were first and second choices for my job are excellent philosophers who have gone on to do fantastic work elsewhere, but this wasn’t the only consideration – they also fit the department’s perceived needs in the specific sub-area better than I did. I was the first choice for a job I turned down (in competition with those same two other people), but quite possibly mostly because I seemed more enthusiastic about living in that location. I was (maybe?) the first choice for another (non-junior) job where my rejection of the job may have been used to leverage a better offer from the administration for the next candidate in line – who may have otherwise been too hard to get, and thus may have been a better hire overall for the department. However, I agree that publicizing rejected offers is not a good idea, because we’re likely to take such transactions as a measure of status of the department (they couldn’t get that person) or of the candidate (she was third choice, after all), ignoring all the complexities of why offers are made in the order they are, and the fact that there might be no real quality difference between candidates.

  9. From the OP: “The perceived newsworthiness of a professor’s relocation is just the sort of judgement one would expect to find laden with attitudes and biases about gender, race, and sub-disciplinary fields, and irrelevant halo effects arising from academic pedigree and connections.”

    My policy at Daily Nous is to announce all moves to tenured positions in departments that have graduate programs (that people tell me about; I don’t lift such material from other sites, so if you want your move announced on DN, you need to contact me). Having such a policy, I hope, removes the influence of biases in that particular domain.

    Sometimes, emails notifying me about senior hires include news about non-tenured or non-tenure-track hires. I will admit I do not have a policy in place about whether to include those hires in my announcements of the senior hires. It is more of a judgment call.

    I agree with Matt (@5), mm (@2), and Anonymous (@1) that faculty moves are important information for prospective graduate students.

    I also agree with Tenured Female Philosopher (@4) that there is no shame at all in getting a job for which you were not the first choice.

  10. Thanks, Tenured Female Philosopher. I don’t think there is a contradiction, though I’m open to being shown one. This is just one of many situations in which there is no shame in something’s being so, even though it can be foreseeably embarrassing, demeaning, or intrusive to have it very publicly announced.

  11. There’s no shame in getting a job for which one wasn’t the first offer, but I take a slightly different view than the other tenured female. Suppose one is the woman who wasn’t the first offer, but the second. While there’s no shame in being second (or third) for the kind of position that might be announced under senior moves, sexism is such that people will say things to the effect of shaming ‘oh, well, she was their third choice: not the best” (when of course we all know that, and for heaven’s sake in these markets, “not the best” is an obscenely mistaken thing to say under such circumstances, and the sort of thing that wouldn’t be said about men in similar positions. And if you doubt that such will be said, well, you know what blog to read). Should this stop first-choice women from allowing their offers to be publicized? I suppose I don’t think so, by itself. But the very real effects of that need to be acknowledged I think. It also puts the women who are second or third choice in a tricky position– to contemplate taking a new job when the whole world knows one was the second or third choice, whether from blogs or Facebook or elsewhere– might make one feel like one would be starting that job ‘behind the reputational eight-ball’ (not fair, but true). And that could make recruiting more difficult.
    For prospective students, I suppose I’d only want to add a couple of words of caution. If you know senior faculty have other offers, or prospective offers, that’s indeed something to consider. But you might also want to consider that having such an offer is a mark of respect for the work of that professor (which, if they stay, is a good thing for you), and that anyone whose doing very good work might get such an offer–grad school is a long haul. My general advice, for all that advice from anonymous philosophers is worth, is that this is one of many reasons its really good to try and find programs with multiple people working in the fields in which you think you’d like to work.

  12. I don’t think ‘prospectives students need the information’ is a good reason to publicize offers. If a prospective student is accepted to a department, they should ask any and all professors they might want to work with if they’ll be taking students on in the next few years. This questions covers all manner of information a student might want and give the professor as easy out if they might accept an offer (or go on a long sabbatical or take a half time appointment elsewhere or take parental leave or….). Any prospective student should be able to do this, no matter where they’re coming from.

  13. I was second choice for my (current) job, and I don’t think it occurred to me even then (let alone now) that there was anything shameful or problematic about that.

  14. Thanks, all. I’m not sure how it came to seem that the point was whether there is anything shameful in being a second or third or nth choice for a position, given how clearly that’s ruled out at the start of the OP. There is also nothing shameful in having a paper rejected from a journal with a very low acceptance rate; certainly not in the fact itself, nor perhaps in announcing it oneself. Yet it is predictably any combination of embarrassing and intrusive to have that fact announced by someone else, even if it might somehow magnify their kleos to do so.

    Philosophers’ behaviour at parties does sometimes leave me wondering, but I find it hard to believe that it would be regarded as socially and professionally unproblematic behaviour, a straightforward reportage of non-shameful facts, for one philosopher to say to another in a crowd of their peers (including the other’s new colleagues), “Oh, I hear you just took the job at the University of X! Yeah, they offered that one to me first, but I turned them down.” What would be wrong with that, given that (as I insist) there really is nothing shameful in being a second choice? And would saying this to the entire internet, via a news site or blog aimed at the whole discipline, be relevantly different? This analogy fits best with announcements of offers rejected, I think, but at least some effects plausibly transfer to cases where an offer is announced but then (necessarily publicly, by that point) subsequently rejected. Is it really a burdensome constraint to publicly celebrate a new appointment after it’s been confirmed?

    The question of whether announcing mere offers is done for the sake of graduate student information is a good one; I appreciate the thoughts that have been shared on that. But as I noted earlier, a simple announcement that one cannot yet commit to working with graduate students at one’s current university would give all the same information to graduate students. That seems a really very different kind of announcement, though — to the degree that it seems to be for a largely different purpose.

  15. The worry about grad students would be abated, but obviously not completely so, if philosophy had more of a standing expectation that when you hire away a faculty member from a phd program you take with them all the abd students they are chairing.

  16. Fwiw, Lanternrouge seems to me just right that something that is not shameful can nonetheless be something a reasonable person would prefer their professional network not to know. I’m sure we can all think of examples.
    I’m a bit puzzled why there is a need to post outstanding offers ‘for the sake of prospective students’. The only prospective students who need to now about possible faculty moves from Dept X are students who are either accepted or wait listed into X’s grad program. Those students can be told directly by X or by the faculty member in question. I’m with Lanternrouge in not seeing the rationale for the public broadcast.

  17. The only prospective students who need to know about possible faculty moves from Dept X are students who are either accepted or wait listed into X’s grad program.

    Not only those ones – also students who have applied, but not yet been accepted, (and might now apply to other places) or who will soon apply. I’d say that the “ask if they are taking new students” option, while possible, seems significantly inferior to me. Perhaps this can still be outweighed, but the harms here mostly seem speculative and idiosyncratic, so I guess I’m far from convinced that there is a real problem that justifies the possible harms (even if those harms are themselves relatively small, as I’d admit.)

  18. The issue of second or third choices is not the only problem with making offers public. One further problem is that it creates a culture where one gets professional credit and respect merely for receiving job offers. This is bad for several reasons. For one, it gives people an incentive to seek out offers that they have little credence that they will accept. For another, it creates yet another non-merit-based (and very possibly gendered biased) form of professional hierarchy. Here’s an example to illustrated how this can happen: I’ve been approached by a top department with strong interest in making me a job offer. As my family situation does not allow me to move from my current location, I made that immediately clear and the strong interest never materialized into a formal offer. Now consider another colleague (potentially male) who is approached by the same department and doesn’t have such family commitments…

  19. Is it not foolish for people to make any decisions–including grad students–based only on someone receiving an *offer* of employment by another institution? All of the grad student worries seem to suggest that it’s good that there’s publication of *accepted* offers, not merely of offers (not-yet-accepted or rejected). No? I can’t think of a single decision that ought (read: normative) to be affected by there merely being an offer, nor can I think of any decisions that ought to be affected by a declined offer. I can think of many that ought to be affected by someone accepting an offer. So I’m not seeing any good positive reasons for publishing rejected offers.

  20. I don’t understand how the possibility of another colleague being able to accept such as an offer is an example of gender biased professional hierarchy (a man or woman could both be location bound by family obligations). In addition, people may seek out other offers for a variety of reasons — so they have leverage in their current department for additional pay or some other form of compensation or incentive. There is nothing wrong with that. People do this all the time in the private sector. Further, that offers can contribute to professional respect seems reasonable, as it generally means the person is a highly desirable candidate.

  21. Anonymous: I think that this is the reason: because it trades on a gender imbalance with respect to home life, in most cases. Women spouses of men academics tend to be viewed as more ‘portable’ (to ‘follow’ the husband’s career) than men spouses of women academics. This asymmetry is why men who receive a senior offer are, statistically speaking, more able to accept.

  22. Are they viewed as more ‘portable’ or are they? Given tenured female profs example that WAS the case. How they are viewed is irrelevant to how the person being made the offer responds. Unless, what you’re saying is that women are not given offers if they are married because they are viewed as more likely to stay put because their husband’s are not ‘portable’. I don’t think this is what you’re saying. In regards to your point that there are no good reasons to publish rejected offers, here’s one: I’m a grad student interested in studying with Professor X. She rejects an offer, but the mere existence of an entertained offer may indicate the Professor X is contemplating a move. That may influence my decision, especially if I’m interested in studying with Professor Y at another institution who has no discernible plans to leave.

  23. Rachel: when you say “statistically speaking” does that mean there’s some data on this? If so I’d be interested to see it – can you share a link? (If it’s just a turn of phrase then fair enough.)

  24. I’m not so much concerned about the gender dynamics of reporting offers prior to acceptance; the problem is that it’s crass, doesn’t help anyone, and could damage others. The only good purpose identified so far is the very minimal possibility that a prospective student would be more motivated to inquire before selecting a grad school only to study with Famous Professor X, whose potential but not actual moves are deemed worthy of advertisement. But if Famous Professor X is seriously entertaining offers, that’s something she ought to be telling prospective grad students anyway, and if she’s not, then it seems better not to report it. Am I missing something, and the reports of not-accepted offers are really some sort of fishing expedition for additional future offers that might be entertained?

  25. Why is reporting offers prior to acceptance crass? There’s nothing inherently wrong with celebrating your own success or crowing a bit about something that feels professionally gratifying.

  26. Anonymous writes: “In addition, people may seek out other offers for a variety of reasons — so they have leverage in their current department for additional pay or some other form of compensation or incentive. There is nothing wrong with that. People do this all the time in the private sector.”

    I disagree that there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m interested to see if my disagreement is widespread. At the very least, the fact that this is common in the private sector doesn’t convince me that it’s an ethical practice in the context of a university. There are some important dis-analogies: many university professors are public employees (of a sort), and of course the private sector doesn’t have tenure, which makes the relevant bargaining positions different. Senior professors who seek out other offers to leverage better terms from their current institutions strike me as engaged in an objectionable display of bad faith.

  27. Perhaps, but maybe one would leverage the offer to make the point to one’s home institution that their compensation/benefits/incentives/research funding/etc aren’t on par with other major universities. Perhaps by doing that, one could improve the lot of not just oneself, but others as well. Leveraging doesn’t have to be a zero sum game where some people lose and others benefit. There are many places where junior professors start out making 45k. These, of course, aren’t major universities (and likely no one is going to report their offers on any blog), but that pay is dismal given the time and hours one puts in on the job. So, someone at one of those institutions may seek out another offer because money is genuinely an issue, but hopes that their home university could match. While doing so, he or she may make the point that the starting pay is abysmal and others may be forced to consider leaving for the same reasons…Ever seen a grown man cry because after 10 years he’s tenured, but not making more than 50k–with kids who need to go to college? I have.

  28. Mathieu, I don’t think much of that practice in the private sector, either. It’s fine to toot one’s own horn on occasion, but I don’t think this is the right sort of accomplishment to brag about. A job offer is not comparable to an award for merit won in open competition, though it may seem that way to some people. I would find it similarly crass if a lawyer or architect publicized employment offers she had received from other firms and then turned down. The practice reminds me of those students back in college who would brag about all the grad/law/med schools they got into but chose not to attend, as if simply saying which offer they did end up accepting was insufficient. The same is true of high school students touted for receiving thousands of dollars in scholarship offers when they’re only going to accept one of those offers and the rest won’t matter. Meanwhile, the students who weren’t admitted have the pleasure of learning that others scorn what would have been a great achievement from their perspective. I suppose I was simply raised to find that sort of thing crass, but I respect that cultures vary and not everyone is bothered by it. I would be embarrassed to have other people declare my empty achievements in this fashion, much less to do it myself.

  29. I appreciate the perspectives raised in these comments, including those that are not specifically relevant to the points made in the OP, but which broadened the discussion.

    In the comments more focused on the OP, I think there are three main suggestions in reply. Two are that such announcements are justified because they provide important information to graduate students, and that they are justified because (this kind and degree of) self-promotion can be laudable for one reason or another. Neither justification is particularly necessary if one thinks (and this is the third) that announcing offers after rejecting them, or before they have been accepted or rejected, is neither harmful nor professionally questionable. The idea that self-promotion is not so much laudable as entirely permissible, also expressed in the comments, would apply in this case.

    I take the “no harm done, no professional issue raised” view to be false. At least, the suggestion that there is no shame in being a second or later choice for a hiring, as I noted earlier, strikes me as beside the point. There is no inherent shame in many situations or activities that one will predictably be embarrassed to have publicly announced by someone else. Nor do I see much engagement with the thought that, if one has rejected or ends up rejecting a position, then publicly revealing insider details on how the search played out is a professionally dubious intrusion into – at least a sort of carelessness with the details of – someone else’s business. Whether one recognizes this as doing much harm is something of a separate question. Still, I recognize that intuitions about the bounds of collegial or professional conduct in a community of scholars can reasonably vary.

    The two justifications offered as outweighing these problems do not, in my view, outweigh it. Celebrating success is fine, but it is not untethered from whether the particular behaviour is considerate or collegial; and one would need a peculiar confidence that the pleasure one plans to take from the celebration would vitiate the embarrassment and professional line-walking associated with releasing the news of the offer without having accepted it. (Nor, of course, is announcing something to the entire discipline via the internet the only way to celebrate success.) And the question of using job offers to leverage a better deal from one’s current institution is an interesting issue, but a different one. It requires one to reveal the offer only to one’s administration and not to the discipline as a whole.

    As to announcing that one has been offered a job in order to provide information for graduate students, there seemed to be little appetite for the suggestion that any information of plausible use to a graduate student would also be conveyed by a professor’s announcing that they cannot yet commit to supervising students at their current institution. (So phrased, this practice could also cover cases of faculty undecided about whether to retire, or perhaps dealing with health difficulties.) This would respect the confidentiality of hiring processes, and avoid the risk of embarrassing another philosopher or the department they are newly joining. But such an announcement has little feel of back-patting about it; in any case, it didn’t get much uptake.

    Further to the idea that announcing offers informs graduate students of the elevated risk of a move, I would point out also that if one were just at the stage of being seriously interviewed or courted for a senior position, even from a shortlist of 1, one would never announce this as professional news in the absence of an offer — even though it would be true that there is, at that point, a real risk of a move. Less of a risk than when an actual offer has been tended? Yes, usually. But arguably not so much less as to account for the complete non-existence of the practice of issuing public announcements that one is merely being in the running for a different position.

    But then, announcing that one is being merely interviewed would risk embarrassing the announcer, if the offer never materialized — especially if someone else were then to announce having received the offer. (NB: even though there is no shame is not being offered a position!) It might also be recognized as an airing of confidential hiring-department business at a stage where doing so could change whether an offer gets made. In short, the pattern of such announcements seems more clearly to correlate with what would reflect well on the professor (even if that risks eventually embarrassing someone else, or making a public show of details of how their appointment unfolded), than with a general commitment to informing prospective students of an elevated risk that the professor might soon be elsewhere (even if that risks embarrassing the announcer).

  30. I have a concern about this not yet mentioned here: the way in which these postings implicitly make the profession sound eerily like competitive sport, such that these announcements are framed to say things like University X “makes a bid for” for Faculty Y, sometimes alongside commentary on how such a “bid” might enhance the rankings of University X. This strikes me as close kin to how sports reporting operates, with this or that team seeking to improve next year’s bowl chances by making a play for quarterback Z. I suppose my reservations about this language might be idiosyncratic, not caring much for the breathless excited tone sports talk in this vein tends to have. This is less about whether it’s newsworthy than about how subtleties in how the news is expressed steer toward ways of conceiving the profession and its activities. But I wonder if this is an impression more widely shared.

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