Archive for: March, 2014

Job offer negotiations and relationships with our future colleagues.

Many pixels have already been devoted to discussing the case of W, the philosophy job candidate who says her job offer was rescinded after she inquired with the department making the offer about what adjustments in start-date, salary, new teaching preps per year, pre-tenure sabbatical, and maternity leave might be possible. Rather than indicating which requests were just not possible, the department's response to the inquiry withdrew the offer of employment entirely with the justification that the items about which W asked indicated "an interest in teaching at a research university and not at a college, like ours, that is both teaching and student centered."

In case you've been glued to your grading instead of the internet, The Philosophy Smoker has a nice round-up of the commentary. It's worth noting too that some have expressed doubts that this try to negotiate/lose the offer scenario could really have happened as described. Whether it did or not, I think this is a good opportunity to examine the relationship at the center of negotiations between a hiring department and a job candidate -- namely, the relationship between future colleagues.

When an academic department is conducting a job search, it is trying to hire someone to address the department's needs. These needs may include teaching particular courses, developing new curriculum, advising students, spreading out committee work, contributing to a department culture that supports good pedagogy, productive research, and so forth. The specific needs of a department and the specific culture its members create are very much connected to facts on the ground -- whether it is part of a college or university that is teaching-focused or research-focused, how willing the administration is to release funds to the department, how many students the department serves, how many faculty members there are to take on the shared work.

Search committees looking for a good "fit" between job candidates and the faculty position they are trying to fill seek not only candidates who can address the department's needs but also candidates who show some grasp of those needs, some awareness of (or at least interest in) the facts on the ground that constrain how those needs can be met. If the department's primary need is for a new faculty member to teach a significant part of the curriculum and the candidate asks to be excused from all pre-tenure teaching duties, that would probably indicate that the candidate didn't grok the department's needs and might not be able to contribute enthusiastically to meeting them.

However, a new faculty hire is not like a wireless learning-delivery device. A new faculty hire is a human who, in the course of helping to achieve the shared goals of the department, can be legitimately expected to pursue goals of her own.

Some of these individual goals ought to be goals shared by the department hiring the job candidate, chief among them creating conditions in which the new hire can contribute to meeting the department's needs in a sustainable way over the long term. One of the big advantages here for the department is that creating such conditions can help obviate the need for another faculty search, a time- and labor-intensive process in the best of circumstances.

When you've gone through the trouble of a search, you don't want to hire a candidate who'll end up leaving in a few years for a job somewhere else that she perceives as a better fit for her needs. Neither do you want to hire someone who you'll have to replace in six or seven years because she cannot do what she needs to do to get tenured.

Ideally, you want a job candidate who has been reflective about what she may need to be able to do a good job meeting the department's needs and meeting her own needs -- including being able to establish her case for retention, tenure, and promotion.

A job candidate who hash't given this thought may put herself in situations where she cannot do an adequate job meeting the department's needs -- or where she can meet those needs, but only by courting burnout or ignoring other tasks she needs to do to get tenured.

This is a place where the case of W suggests to me a candidate who demonstrated thoughtfulness about how to support a department's teaching mission in a sustainable way. In a small department, faculty members each need to do significant teaching to cover the curriculum. But preparing a course that works well with the actual population of students to be taught benefits tremendously from feedback from those actual students and modification in response to that feedback. W inquired whether it was possible to cap her new course preps at three per year for the first three years. Preparing three new courses per year requires substantial labor in itself. Road-testing them to make sure they meet the students' needs as well in practice as in imagination is the kind of thing that ensures the prepared courses really are serving the needs of the department offering them. As well, limiting new preps while the new hire is getting immersed in the culture of the department is a reasonable way not to spread her too thin.

It may be that facts on the ground mean that the new hire will need to have more new course preps than this or else the department's needs will not be met. But for a candidate to recognize the labor involved in doing the job right should be an advantage, not a disadvantage, in meeting those needs.

The dance between search committees and candidates is complicated and emotionally fraught, each side trying to evaluate "fit" on the basis of necessarily incomplete information since many questions are only answered when the new hire actually succeeds or doesn't in meeting the particular needs in the particular circumstances. In the absence of a perfectly accurate view of the future, evaluating how well a candidate fills particular curricular needs, understands and can support the mission of the department, and will be able to pursue their individual goals (with respect to pedagogy, scholarship, professional development, work-life balance) in this environment requires honest communication on both sides.

Candidates should be honest about their long-range aspirations and should not pretend to be a good fit for a position if they are not. Search committees should be expansive in their recognition of the plurality of individual goals that probably fit with the department's needs. Both sides should understand that job candidates are frequently in a moment where they are legitimately poised between -- and open to -- different professional environments and trajectories, different people they could become within their professions.

It's suboptimal for a department when a candidate pretends to be a good fit and accepts a job merely to stave off unemployment until her dream job somewhere else comes along. By the same token, it's suboptimal for a candidate when a department cares only for its own needs rather than taking the candidate's individual needs into account.

A job candidate is not a mere means to fulfill your department's ends. Buyer's market or not, a job candidate should not be treated as a supplicant deserving of punishment for asking questions in good faith. A job candidate is your potential colleague. A job candidate to whom an offer of employment has been extended should be treated as your future colleague.

Punishing your future colleague for asking what kind of support is available for her professional endeavors (including her professional endeavors that directly address needs your department hopes to meet by hiring her) suggests there is something badly wrong with your understanding of your relationship with that future colleague. It suggests that you are OK with using her, and it probably doesn't bode well for your relationship with any new colleagues you manage to hire.

Whatever the facts on the ground may be, exploiting members of your professional community as mere means rather than recognizing them as legitimate ends in themselves is bad behavior -- the kind of behavior job candidates should not expect from hiring departments. If that's the relationship you expect to enact with your new faculty hire, you should at least have the decency to spell this out when you make an offer so job candidates will have no illusions about what it is you're offering.

(Crossposted at Academe Blog)

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ScienceOnline, #scioSafe, and ways forward together.

Mar 08 2014 Published by under Communication, Conferences

This document grew out of the #scioSafe session at ScienceOnline Together 2014. It is an attempt to reflect the sentiments of a substantial portion of the ScienceOnline community, though we recognize and appreciate that this community is large and holds a diversity of viewpoints. We offer this document in the sincere belief that we share with the leadership of ScienceOnline a desire to make this organization and its endeavors going forward shining examples of the good that can come from powerful collaborations between motivated people.

What we are asking for:

1. More frequent and clearer communication from the ScienceOnline Board to the community.
Members of the community feel out of the loop on changes that the Board has planned but not fully implemented, on actions that the Board may be considering (or may have considered but rejected) and on the reasons that the Board has chosen to follow a particular course of action rather than the alternatives. Whenever possible, we would appreciate that communications from the Board include:

  • what was done
  • why it was done
  • alternatives that were considered and why they were rejected
  • explicit identification of instances where deliberative details cannot be shared due to legal, financial, or other considerations.

2. More transparent mechanisms for engaging with and responding to communication from the community to the Science Online Board.
Members of the ScienceOnline community who have made suggestions, shared concerns, or asked questions of leadership are frequently unsure whether what they have communicated has been heard and shared with the Board. We would appreciate, wherever possible, public acknowledgement of the feedback communicated to the Board, as well an indication of how (if at all) the Board plans to act on it.

3. An expanded ScienceOnline Board of Directors, including members from more diverse background.
We recognize that there are current plans to expand membership of the existing ScienceOnline Board of Directors. We encourage the organization to move efficiently on this expansion. We ask that the expertise of members of the Board and their responsibilities to the organization be clearly and publicly communicated. In addition, we ask that the selection criteria for Board members and timeline for member searches be made transparent. We suggest that one or more of these appointments be directed at the goal of improving representation of and communication with the larger ScienceOnline community.

4. A strengthened response team and more clarity on available official responses to reporting to support meaningful implementation of ScienceOnline conference Code of Conduct and Harassment Policy.
We applaud the Board of ScienceOnline for adopting a strong Harassment Policy and conference Code of Conduct. We urge the Board to take the necessary steps to ensure that these policies can be enforced to achieve welcoming, inclusive conferences. These steps might include hiring external professionals to serve as the response team or providing direct training of a community volunteer response team by external professionals. In addition, we ask the Board to seek guidance from external professionals to create a mechanism for anonymous reporting of incidents. As well, in light of the large barrier that exists to people speaking up about conduct that makes them uncomfortable, we request that the Board clarify the likely range of responses to conference-goer reports. We recognize that some of these steps will have costs associated with them, but we are willing to help the Board meet those costs.

5. A clarification of Bora Zivkovic's relationship to the ScienceOnline organization and its conferences, events, and initiatives going forward.
We appreciate the swiftness with which Bora Zivkovic was removed from leadership of the ScienceOnline organization in the wake of revelations that he harassed multiple women, including women within the ScienceOnline community. However, the last official statement from the ScienceOnline organization specified that he would not be attending any ScienceOnline events in 2014. Members of the community would like to know what happens after 2014. We ask the Board to seriously consider making the separation between Zivkovic and the ScienceOnline organization, its conferences, events, and initiatives permanent.

6. Serious exploration of transition to a membership organization.
We recognize that ScienceOnline is currently incorporated as an educational non-profit rather than a membership organization. This means that at present, individual participants in ScienceOnline events are essentially customers. Active segments of the community banding together to provide suggestions or feedback, to volunteer their efforts or raise money for the organization, function more or less as lobbying groups, whose only recourse if their feedback is not welcome or seriously engaged is to vote with their wallets and their feet. While this relationship flows logically from the current organizational structure of ScienceOnline, it leaves members of the community in a suboptimal relationship with the organization and its leadership. Recognizing that reorganizing ScienceOnline would require time and resources to navigate bureaucratic hurdles, we nonetheless urge the Board to consider the benefits to both members and the organization that may flow from actively engaging the community in the ongoing business, large and small, of ScienceOnline.

7. An entirely elected leadership for the ScienceOnline organization.
In the event of a successful transition from its current organizational structure to a membership organization, we hope that the Board of Directors will become a democratically elected body, representative of and accountable to the interests and needs of a diverse and vibrant ScienceOnline community.

Background for the #scioSafe session:

A significant number of attendees of ScienceOnline Together 2014 came to the #scioSafe session at 12:00 noon on Saturday March 1, 2014, in the lobby of the McKimmon Center. (Those who were taking a headcount put the attendance at something above 65.)

This was not a session in the official conference program, and so was announced in a tweet just two hours before the session was to start. Because the word was spread primarily through Twitter, a number of people didn't know the session was happening until it was underway or until after it had wrapped up. Also, there were six other officially scheduled sessions going on concurrently (at least two of which I had wanted to attend). So, since humans can only be in one place at a time and are always making the best choices they can with the information they have, we heard the voices of the people who came.

It's worth noting that a number of us who felt the need for a session like this -- the session some of us thought "Boundaries, Behavior, and Being an Ally" was going to be -- had been asking Anton Zuiker and Karyn Traphagen to put something official on the schedule before the end of the conference. Since an official session was not scheduled, we put one together in the spirit of ScienceOnline's unconference style.

Indeed, once this session was organized, ScienceOnline leadership made themselves available to engage with those convened and their concerns. Executive Director Karyn Traphagen spoke to us right before session began, indicating that she was busy attending to logistical details but would be available to speak to anyone who wanted to during the lunch session. Board members Scott Rosenberg and Anton Zuiker asked if they could join us in the session but were asked if they could let us convene without them, the better to be candid about our experiences and hopes going forward.

There was agreement within the session that participants would respect requests not to transmit particular contributions to the session via social media or other means.

Summary of what was expressed in the #scioSafe session:

Many people expressed their hurt with how the leadership of the ScienceOnline organization had dealt with their needs and concerns, especially around issues of harassment and pressures not to discuss it, to get over it, to forgive on someone else's timeline.

Some expressed concern that there was never a clear official acknowledgment at the conference from the leadership of the harm done to members of the community by harassment from one of the founders of ScienceOnline, and moreover there was never a clear official acknowledgment at the conference from the leadership of the harm done to members of the community by the minimization of that harassment, casting those upset by it as "bitter," by another founder of ScienceOnline still in a leadership position. The impact of Anton Zuiker's post of January 2014 was deep, with many in attendance expressing that they were not sure if they would ever be able to trust his judgment again.

The lack of official acknowledgment of particular events, more than one person shared, conveyed a message that we should not use the ScienceOnline conference spaces to name and discuss problems like harassment, nor to process our responses together as a community. Some pointed to the "Boundaries, Behavior, and Being an Ally" session as one where they hoped to find such a space but were thwarted by the way the session was moderated. Others mentioned clear (and unfriendly) signals from members of ScienceOnline leadership that continuing to discuss these issues, whether face to face or via social media, was inappropriate, a refusal to let go of things.

In short, people perceived a lack of official transparency from the board of ScienceOnline, both about specific events and general stance towards harassment and responses to it, that meant many of us had to keep having a conversation about the conversation we were not having (or were getting the message that we were not supposed to be having). Multiple people in attendance expressed that they want to be able to move on from this conversation to focus on the other topics on the program but that they felt they could not until this issue of climate had been addressed. The official silence from leadership paired with the unofficial pressure from certain members of ScienceOnline leadership to keep quiet or get over it made the ScienceOnline Together 2014 conference feel unsafe.

It's worth noting that new attendees at the session also identified the official silence on specific events as alienating, describing their feelings of being out of the loop and wondering if they were really a part of the community.

A number of the conference volunteers on the response team, tasked with helping conference-goers with incidents of harassment or violations of the conference Code of Conduct, shared their concerns that they may not have been given the training, tools, and especially support they needed to fulfill their roles. In particular, they felt concerned about their ability to effectively respond to harassment when, ultimately, response to their reports would be left to management. The lack of clear (and enforceable) consequences for violations of these policies, coupled with tenuous trust for ScienceOnline leadership, meant many in attendance had little confidence that the harassment policy or Code of Conduct would do much.

A question was raised about what mechanisms, if any, were in place in the event that those in leadership positions violated either of these policies. Given the current reporting structure, those present wondered how members of the ScienceOnline board, for example, would (or could) be held accountable for engaging in a harassing or disrespectful manner with a conference-goer. People expressed that it was hard, in the current climate, to have faith that the proper channels would work.

The conversation shifted to the broader question of the relationship between the community and the ScienceOnline organization and its leadership. Some present wanted more clarity about what the leadership's goals are for the organization, and about where the community fit into those goals. There was a recognition within the assembled group that Science Online's status as an educational non-profit puts constraints on its activities and its priorities, but there was also a desire for a clearer explanation of what that meant as far as the involvement of members of the community and accountability to their interests and needs.

Some suggested that a significantly bigger board (of 10-15 members) could help ensure better representation of the diverse interests of the community. Others suggested that there should be at least one community-appointed member of the board (although the group recognized that the logistics of this could be complicated). Still others voiced the opinion that reincorporating as a membership organization would be a better way to ensure that the organization and the community were accountable to each other.

Despite these differing views, there was wide agreement that the community would benefit from a clear statement of how the leadership of ScienceOnline sees the community in the mission of the organization, and a clear statement of how, if at all, leadership of ScienceOnline sees itself and the organization as accountable to the community and its needs.

Signed by:

Brian Abraham

Eva Amsen

Michele Banks

Aatish Bhatia

Deborah Blum

Bethany Brookshire

Raychelle Burks

Katy Chalmers

Kate Clancy

Russ Creech

Jen Davison

Lali DeRosier

David Dobbs

Drug Monkey

John Dupuis

Peter Edmonds

Nicholas Evans

Emily Finke

Matthew Francis

Suzanne E. Franks

Simon Frantz

Sonia Furtado Neves

Greg Gbur

Jacquelyn Gill

Brian Glanz

Dwayne Godwin

Stephen Granade

David Grinspoon

Marga Gual Soler

Nicole Gugliucci

Tara Haelle

Samuel Hansen

Kelly Hills

Frances Hocutt

Karen James

Anne Jefferson

Eric Michael Johnson

Madhusudan Katti

Greg Laden

Pascale Lane

Tom Levenson

Ben Lillie

Rachael Ludwick

David Manly

Erik Martin

Maryn McKenna

Joseph Meany

Elizabeth Moon

PZ Myers

Brent Neal

Liz Neeley

Kelly Oakes

Jeffrey Perkel

PhysioProf

Erin Podolak

Sandra Porter

Elizabeth Preston

Catherine Qualtrough

Kathleen Raven

Eve Rickert

Alberto Roca, Executive Director, DiverseScholar

Adrienne Roehrich

Lauren Rugani

Matt Russell

Travis Saunders

Marie-Claire Shanahan

Matt Shipman

Justin Starr

Janet D. Stemwedel

Melanie Tannenbaum

Andrew David Thaler

John Timmer

Holly Tucker

Brandi VanAlphen

Hannah Waters

Mindy Weisberger

Allie Wilkinson

Emily Willingham

Natalie Willoughby

Josh Witten

Ed Yong

David Zaslavsky

If you would like to add your name to the list of signatories, please leave a comment to let us know.

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