Rescinding a job offer after a negotiation attempt--kosher?

Here’s a story from the academic world in which a woman received an offer for a tenure track position, and replied with the following email:

The college replied as follows:

TLDR: She replied to the offer by attempting to negotiate for better pay and various benefits, and they replied by rescinding the job offer.

People in academia are generally up in arms about this, though this isn’t universal. Some complain, for example, that her email showed an entitled attitude that justified the rescinsion. (I am not sure that is a word but it should be.) A reply to that argument is that to think of negotiation attempts as evincing a kind of “attitude” is to misunderstand the practice of negotiation completely. If you don’t want to negotiate, just don’t negotiate, stand on your original offer, and let the candidate take or leave it. No harm no foul as they say.

A petition to the American Philosophical Association has even been started, asking the APA to weigh in against the college and amend their handbook to deal with situations like this. About a hundred signatures at this moment, I don’t know if it will go anywhere but it’s all over my facebook feed today.

Well, I’m curious what you guys think. I’m particularly curious how this would be viewed “in the real world (i.e. outside the academy).” How would this rescinding of the offer be viewed? Business as usual? Unusual but totally justifiable? Okay but stupid? Positively unethical? What do you think?

And whatever the answer is to the question of how it would be viewed, how should it be viewed?

We’re way ahead of you, Frylock.

Sorry!!! :frowning:

No harm done–but I kinda wondered why you hadn’t chimed in on that other thread. :slight_smile:

The general rule in contract law is that if you counter-offer, you’ve implicitly rejected the original offer, so the party that made the original offer is under no obligation to keep the original offer on the table, unless the offer was stated to be open for a set period.

So in this case, by asking for different terms in her counter-offer, she rejected the university’s offer and they could choose to end negotiations.

(Not intended as legal advice, of course, but just to comment in a general way on a matter of public interest.)

In general, if you make a reasonable request in your negotiation attempt, the company won’t rescind the offer. They may say no, but totally rescinding the offer is rare. The problem is that this woman made a totally unreasonable request.

There are cases where a candidate accepts an offer under pressure from a company while waiting for a better one, and then rejecting it when the better offer comes through. That is considered as acceptable. And it works the other way too. Intel at one point, due to budget cuts, rescinded a whole bunch of offers.
It may suck, but I think in general it is better if both parties really want to get together - which is not true when one party rescinds an offer. So, letting it go is better than the alternative.

Rescinding an offer is always kosher, if it is to the advantage of one making the offer in the first place.
The contents of the offering are supposed to be for the advantage of one making the offer, and if rescinding an offer is to their advantage, it is kosher.

*Rescission *would work, I believe.

:confused: Most of the counter-offer attempts I’m familiar with weren’t a rejection, but a request for accomodation. “I’ve already planned and paid for a two-week trip to China, scheduled to start the Saturday after your desired start date; would it be acceptable to start after the trip?”

The response was “when come back, bring pictures”, but if it had been “the guy you’re replacing starts his new job a week after that start date, handover will be rushed enough as is”, the job-seeker would have cancelled his trip.

I don’t know if this is a matter of our contract law being different or of societal attitudes.

In my experience (both inside and outside academia) such terms would have been discussed during one of the many stages of the interview process. In fact I was once on the hiring side of such an event where we rejected a well qualified above-average candidate simply because he was making all kinds of unreasonable demands and obviously had an opinion of himself that wasn’t supported by the reality. But this was all part of the interview process; he simply never got an offer. Maybe my experience isn’t typical, but I wouldn’t regard the job application process like buying a house where written offers and counter-offers go back and forth, I would expect that stuff to be settled verbally in advance. By the time the directive goes out to HR to send an offer letter, in my view there should be no further surprises, or at least, nothing truly significant. This person seemed to be redefining the entire job description.

It sounds like this woman was having major second thoughts after having already received a formal letter of offer. Also, it sounds to me like the college was particularly spooked by her after-the-fact request for a light teaching load, since teaching seems to be primarily what they do. Seems like a weird situation where the college made a bad hiring decision and the candidate made a bad judgment call. I’m sure she was shocked to get the offer withdrawn. I’d put it down to a lesson learned.

Sounds like this could have been cleared with a 10-minute sit-down conversation.

Perhaps the university should have discussed this with her before making an offer, yet it is their right to rescind it once it became evident she had different intentions with the position.

In the corporate world an offer can and does get revoked for whatever reason you want. It could be after you’ve already started. A lot of companies have a probationary period where you really can just let people go because you don’t like them. Happens all the time.

I think people are confusing two separate questions here: whether it is legal to rescind, and whether it is OK to rescind. And by ‘OK’ we can mean any number of things, including, in good taste. I don’t think anyone is questioning whether it is legal–we all know it’s legal.

I think what Bone is saying is that this is commonplace in the corporate world, and I agree. It might be considered less common in the polite society of academia, but academia can be pretty damn ruthless, too. In any case, as per my earlier post, I think she brought this on herself, if indeed she already had a formal offer letter and was trying to make major changes after the fact.

If, OTOH, this was all still at a discussion stage, and they were indicating informally that they were interested in making an offer, then the question of ethics doesn’t even arise. It’s like “yes, we were interested, but in view of your desired terms, now we’re not”.

Either way, I don’t consider that the college acted unethically. I consider that maybe they conducted their interview process incompetently. But that’s just based on my limited understanding of the available evidence.

The university did absolutely nothing wrong. Until there is a contract signed by the two parties, the whole process is an extend interview. Making sure there is a good fit between the two parties is a valid consideration. In this case, given that 1) she’s likely to be at the job for a long time and 2) she’ll be dealing with students, I think that judging these “soft” factors are more important than if she was getting an ordinary job in the corporate world.

I don’t know how things work in academia but in the parts of the private sector I have been exposed to, you are frequently forced to make a choice early on between money/career track and lifestyle/family. Law students graduating from Harvard have to make this choice and I suspect that well credentialed philosophy PhDs must face a similar choice as well.

No, there’s not really much of a choice (in academia). You make “the choice” early on when you are choosing a major as an undergraduate. If you then make it into a well credentialed graduate program and make meaningful relationships (people that can get you jobs), then you are well credentialed. The candidate tries to time her exit from a program into a Tenure-Tracked job, but there are welfare programs if that doesn’t happen immediately, including, extended departmental funding, limited-term appointments, post-doc (hopefully), or Adjunct. But the time spent on welfare is inversely proportional to TT job prospects.

It’s a simple contracts question. Somebody who makes an offer is entitled to withdraw it at any time up until it’s accepted.

Frankly, if she sent me that email, I wouldn’t hire her either.

The way I’ve done it is I discuss the offer verbally. I’m not going to go through the hassle of writing the actual letter unless I know they will take it. This isnt like TV where two people write on a paper and slide it back and forth.

I usually start the negotiations by asking straight out what level of compensation they are looking for. They can bring up other incidentals like vacation or sign on bonuses or stock or whatever but if they don’t then I won’t and they will get the default. Once they say their figure I work from there. I’ve had folks go too high and too low but this gets worked out well before I’ll put pen to paper.

If I make an offer that is substantially the same as we’ve been discussing and they come back and want to change it? Well I’d recind too.