Updated May 10, 2016: They’re moving the conference. A written statement from President Thelma Duffey is here, and a video from CEO Richard Yep further explaining the decision is here.
Updated April 29, 2016: The ACA has released a statement on HB1840 and asking for patience as their leadership weighs its options for the 2017 conference. The full statement is available here.
Updated April 28, 2016: Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed the “religious freedom” bill allowing counselors to freely discriminate, and directly contradicting the ACA Code of Ethics. The ACA should move the conference. My original post, published April 21 under the headline “What should the ACA do about its 2017 conference?” follows. -bc
Those supporting the applicant, identified only as “W,” suggest the college was being sexist by refusing to negotiate with the woman when men negotiate terms of their employment commonly, including in academia. Those supporting the college are responding by describing W as immature and entitled, with criticisms boiling down to “Who the hell does she think she is?”
The histrionics are wrong on both sides. W was, like any applicant, wise to negotiate. But in what she asked for, she overplayed her hand and revealed a worrisome lack of knowledge about the university she was seeking to enter. There is no clear evidence the college was being sexist, even if many commentaries supporting Nazareth and criticizing the applicant have been.
For those readers not in academia, a tenure-track professorship is a big deal. It offers at least the potential of tenure, which at most schools means very strong job security. Tenure-track positions are increasingly rare, so they are very prized — putting universities at an advantage when negotiating the terms for such a hire.
Allegedly — and that term applies to this whole story, since it’s all based on W’s report to the blog The Philosophy Smoker — W received her initial job offer, and treated it like the beginning of a negotiation process. She responded with this:
As you know, I am very enthusiastic about the possibility of coming to Nazareth. Granting some of the following provisions would make my decision easier.
1) An increase of my starting salary to $65,000, which is more in line with what assistant professors in philosophy have been getting in the last few years.
2) An official semester of maternity leave.
3) A pre-tenure sabbatical at some point during the bottom half of my tenure clock.
4) No more than three new class preps per year for the first three years.
5) A start date of academic year 2015 so I can complete my postdoc.
I know that some of these might be easier to grant than others. Let me know what you think.
It is fully appropriate to negotiate salary in such a situation, and W has since said that her request was less than 20% above what was originally offered. The request for capping new class preps may or may not be reasonable; depending on her prior teaching experience, this might limit her to teaching no more than three classes total in her first year (which would be highly unusual), or it might not have much practical impact at all (if most of the classes the university wanted her to teach were ones she had taught elsewhere before, and thus would not need to create from scratch).
The maternity leave request seems silly — the university already would have to accommodate maternity leave in accordance with the law, and it is hard to tell what she meant by an “official semester” of such leave. But W said it was simply an effort to put in writing what she had already been informally offered, so let’s take her at her word there.
W’s mistakes are in the rest of the requests. (By the way, I am using that term “requests” purposefully — those who have been casting her requests as “demands” are themselves failing to understand how negotiation works. They also are apparently failing to actually read W’s letter.) The pre-tenure sabbatical and moved-start-date requests are would give any university pause, not because the requester is a woman, but because accommodating such requests just doesn’t happen at this type of school. A research university might honor such requests, though even there it would be extremely rare.
In a response rescinding the job offer entirely, Nazareth suggests that W should have been aware of that:
Thank you for your email. The search committee discussed your provisions. They were also reviewed by the Dean and the VPAA. It was determined that on the whole these provisions indicate an interest in teaching at a research university and not at a college, like ours, that is both teaching and student centered. Thus, the institution has decided to withdraw its offer of employment to you.
Thank you very much for your interest in Nazareth College. We wish you the best in finding a suitable position.
Liberal arts schools hire faculty to teach. (“Student-centered” is obtuse language, but it generally indicates that the school is focused more heavily on teaching and mentorship than on research.) If they hired for a position to start in fall 2014, they knew they would need someone who could start teaching then. If they would have been fine waiting a year to add a faculty member, they would have waited a year to do the hiring process.
You might argue that pushing her start date would not be a tremendous burden on the university — they could always hire more adjuncts — but this ignores the very real needs a university has for program administration, student advising and mentorship, and faculty governance, tasks that simply are not accomplished by part-timers. Depending on the school’s accreditors and their own internal targets, they might also have been hiring full-time faculty to meet specific requirements for the ratio of full-time faculty to full-time students.
And pre-tenure sabbatical — a (typically paid) break from teaching of a semester or more so that one can focus on research projects — is virtually unheard of. Would you go into an entry-level position in any company asking for a four-month break in your first few years?
The problem isn’t that W is a woman making these requests. It’s that the requests go far beyond what is reasonable in this context. Any good negotiator will be willing to walk away from a potential deal if the other side seems to be asking for too much. Perhaps the university unfairly blamed W for her naivete in making the requests, but regardless of whether those requests were viewed as troubling behavior in and of themselves or as a larger statement about the candidate’s preparedness, they would be enough to turn many universities away from her. It is an employer’s market in academia.
I would be the first to say that too many universities use that obtuse language of being “student-centered” to chill faculty into shutting up and making do with what the university is willing to offer them. It gets used to imply that faculty members should repress their own needs and desires in salary, benefits, and work-life balance in order for students to have lower tuition, greater access to faculty, shiny new sports facilities, or even guns on campus. And I agree with David Perry that questions of “fit” in an academic culture should be viewed skeptically, since they can be smokescreens for various forms of bias. Faculty absolutely should be critical of the use such terms, and absolutely should call out sexism where it exists in the negotiation process surrounding faculty hiring.
But there is no truly convincing evidence that sexism is present in Nazareth’s response to W. If anything, this simply seems to be an example of the importance of what one commenter on the original post noted:
This indicates how important it is to do your best to understand the culture and needs of the hiring institution, both before and during negotiations. […] “Will so-and-so be a good colleague and carry their fair share of the burden?” is often one of (if not *the*) most important considerations during the hiring process at small institutions.
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The Philosophy Smoker has a nice run-down of various commentaries since their original post was published, and takes a refreshingly positive and level-headed view of the whole debate.
Your comments here are welcome. You can post them in the comments below, by email to ben[at]bencaldwell[dot]com, or on my Twitter feed.
When can a therapist decide their own morals and values outweigh those of their clients?
The AAMFT has kindly made my article on conscience clause laws in mental health the cover story for the September issue of Family Therapy Magazine. You can read the article here if you’re an AAMFT member.
Of course I’m biased here, but I think you’ll find it worth the read. While I’ve written about the topic a few times here on the blog (most recently, I wrote about conscience clause laws being considered in Washington, Texas, Arizona, and Michigan), my focus here has been much narrower than it is in the magazine. In the FTM piece I take a broad look at the issue, from the origins of conscience clauses to the best arguments for and against them. While these laws are often spurred by a desire to protect religious practitioners, you don’t need to be religious to be impacted by them, and you might be surprised at what the laws would appear to allow:
Most conscience clause laws are so broadly written that they could allow […] therapists to refuse to treat sexually active unmarried couples, or therapists morally opposed to immigration to refuse treatment to clients based on nationality, even in a mental health emergency.
Is this a price worth paying to protect therapists’ moral views? My skepticism is raised when considering that the religious practitioners and legislators backing these bills often seem to have a desire to legitimize discrimination against gay and lesbian clients. So, you know, that’s not okay. But the issue isn’t black and white, as I hope the magazine article illustrates.
In addition to the main article, a sidebar I had written about conscience clause laws being considered or adopted in various states around the country was transformed into a really cool national map infographic. I wish I could take credit for that — it’s great visual layout — but that’s all magazine staff. Check it out.
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I have another article in the works proposing a way therapists could consider the appropriateness of a conscience-based referral, within the fuzzy boundaries of existing law and the existing AAMFT Code of Ethics. So stay tuned for that (for several months, in all likelihood, but I’ll keep you updated).
Your comments are welcome. You can post them in the comments below, or email me at ben[at]bencaldwell[dot]com.
A session on plural families at last week’s AAMFT Annual Conference in Portland used the term as a parallel to sexual orientation.
One of the workshops I attended at last week’s AAMFT Annual Conference focused on “plural families” — family structures that involve more than two partners and their children. The presenters argued that members of these families (seen most often in the US in Colorado, Nevada, and Utah, in offshoots of the Mormon church, which officially banned polygamy more than 120 years ago) may well wind up in a family therapist’s office, and that the therapist needs to be prepared to work with the realities of their complex family structures.
The presentation was fascinating, and appropriately non-controversial: These presenters were not arguing that a plural family structure was right or wrong, just that it exists, and that therapists may be confronted with it. Fair enough.
What piqued my interest was their use of the term “relationship orientation” to describe one’s leanings toward monogamous or polygamous relationships. Are we moving toward considering a preference for monogamy or polygamy as simply one more demographic variable, not subject to change and worthy of equal respect in all its forms?
In a pair of essays for Slate, Michael Carey (a pseudonym) has argued that exact thing. He first suggests that, like gays and lesbians, polyamorists often feel compelled to hide their relationships even from close family members for fear of judgment or even expulsion — and that the lack of societal acceptance reflects prejudice. In the second, he notes that half to two-thirds of polyamorists do not experience their relationship orientation as a choice. (These numbers are from Carey’s experience, and he doesn’t pretend they are research-based.) For this majority, their “innate personality traits make it very difficult to live happily in a monogamous relationship but relatively easy to be happy in an open one.”
Don’t focus too much on that word “innate,” though. How much of a desire for polyamory is nature and how much of it is nurture isn’t especially important when arguing for moral acceptance of poly relationships, Carey argues:
Nobody ever claimed that Mildred and Richard Loving were born with some kind of overwhelming predisposition to prefer partners of another race and that they thus couldn’t marry somebody of their own race. Choosing an interracial partner was, and is, a choice. So what? The correct response to the nature vs. nurture question is: There’s no way to know for sure, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is that people love each other, treat each other with respect, and live happy, productive lives.
Now, I should be up front about my own moral place here. I have no problem with poly relationships as long as there is no dishonesty involved and no one is getting hurt (at least, no more so than happens in the normal course of monogamous relationships). What concerns me here is where the parallel leads us. If “relationship orientation” is as inflexible as we now understand sexual orientation to be, and if participants in poly relationships are not being any more or less moral than anyone else, do we have a societal moral obligation to honor poly relationships with equal status as monogamous ones (whether straight or gay)?
In other words, do we owe them plural marriage?
The overwhelming science on gay and lesbian couples show that they and their children are harmed by societal discrimination and suffer from being unable to marry in a wide variety of ways. This is in spite of the fact that children of same-sex couples are just as healthy as those from straight couples.
The situation is different for poly marriage. While there may be many exceptions, poly relationships are generally understood to be oppressive to women, and polygamous families and cultures may have negative outcomes for children on a variety of measures. So there is ample reason to take a very cautious approach to polyamorists pushing for societal acceptance.
Legal status of polygamy worldwide (click the image for full details)
I’ll admit I have never been a big believer in the “slippery slope” line of reasoning, which essentially argues that if you raise the speed limit from 55 to 65, then you’re going to have to raise it to 200. You don’t, of course; raising it again even to 70 would be a different debate. Slippery slope arguments are often nonsensical fear tactics used to argue for the status quo, by suggesting that the alternative is an extreme alternate reality that no one has actually suggested. Applied to gay marriage, some argued that it would somehow logically follow that if we allowed same-sex couples to marry, we would then have to allow people to marry box turtles.
It is debatable whether re-legalizing polygamy equates with raising the speed limit to 70, or whether it would be more like raising the limit to 200. For now, I’m looking at it more like 200 — a radical and potentially damaging change.
But lots of people once felt that way about gay marriage, too. And it seems the language debate we once had around sexual orientation being a preference, a lifestyle, or an orientation is starting to replicate itself for plural families. As we saw with gay marriage, the outcome of the language debate has a lot to do with shaping what happens next.
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Your comments are welcome. You can post them in the comments below, by email to ben[at]bencaldwell[dot]com, or on my Twitter feed.