When Is a Job Offer Really a Job Offer in Academia?
It may sound like a silly question. Or maybe it sounds like a question on the final exam of some first-year law student’s Contracts course –often another forum for silliness. But it’s not so silly when you receive a phone call, email or letter from some departmental, college or university official asking you to move across the country or across the world to take a new job. And it’s not so silly when you are on the other end of that transaction doing the asking –some might say wooing— to get a would-be colleague to move across the country or world.
Offers and acceptances are part of everyday life, so we tend to think that we know them when hear, read one and or write them. But it might be a little more complicated when it comes to a job-offer, especially when the job is for a senior faculty position with tenure. And some of the complications have, I think, substantial ethical dimensions. Even if the job-offer doesn’t include tenure, there are some less-than-obvious process issues worth thinking about so that academics on both sides of the prospective transaction do the right thing. So let me start the new calendar year with my own take on some ethical issues associated with job-offers in academia: what they should include; how they should be conveyed; what contingencies might render a “job offer” moot; and how to respond to contingent and non-contingent offers so that you are fair to both your current and prospective future institution.