Nazareth College was probably smart, not sexist, in rescinding tenure-track job offer

Education - Grad HatThe interwebs are in their typical fits of consternation this week over an accusation that Nazareth College, a small liberal-arts school in New York, rescinded an offer of a tenure-track professorship in philosophy to a woman who had attempted to negotiate the terms of the hire.

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.

# # #

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.

Boy trouble

A discussion of Kay Hymowitz’s Manning Up and Leonard Sax’s Boys Adrift.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

The Strong Man of the Police School (1906) - TIMEAWhile men have long been stereotyped as perpetual teenagers, a swath of recent books and articles have expressed rising concern about the failure of boys and young men in the United States to achieve traditional markers of adulthood. Young men appear to be falling behind young women in educational achievement, meaningful careers, and social relationships, and often seem unmotivated to move forward in their lives.

I have been reading both Kay Hymowitz’s Manning Up and Leonard Sax’s Boys Adrift, two books that take jarringly different perspectives on what is happening to boys and young men in America, and what needs to be done about it.

As a social critic, Hymowitz is unconvincing. Manning Up reads like more like the off-the-rails final essay from her Marriage and Caste in America than the sharp, concise and well-supported other essays that led up to it. In Manning Up, Hymowitz far too frequently relies on anecdotes as evidence, as if Sex and the City reflected the average American woman’s daily life. Manning Up displays assumptions about feminism and suggestions about men that Hymowitz never bothers to defend, like the notion that men marrying at later ages is bad for women and society. The book is not as shrill as some of its Amazon reviews would have you believe, but neither is it particularly strong in landing its argument. That argument essentially is that feminism is to blame for the struggles of boys and young men, but it is up to men to adapt to the changing world, and they’re dropping the ball so far.

Boys Adrift is a welcome contrast. It frames the problems American boys are facing in the context of five causes: Video games, teaching methods, prescription drugs, environmental toxins, and devaluation of masculinity. Some of those proposed causes may strike you as questionable at first (that was certainly my reaction), but Sax lays out the research on each quite well.

Perhaps more importantly, the tone of the book is right. Sax strikes the difficult balance between objective researcher and social activist, landing somewhere in the neighborhood of a concerned, but not panicked, parent. Boys Adrift is clear and convincing, and while it makes a number of public policy arguments, it focuses primarily on what parents and family members can do to ensure their own sons are the motivated and active young men we would all want them to be.

By simply confirming what some may want to believe about men, Hymowitz is likely to enjoy higher sales. But Sax wrote the better book.

# # #

What are your thoughts on the struggles boys are facing in the United States? Have either of these books, or others, changed your thinking? Your comments are welcomed. You can also email me at ben[at]bencaldwell[dot]com, or share your reactions via Twitter.

Does it matter that 80% of MFT interns are women?

If you have been to see a therapist lately, I’d bet good money I can guess the therapist’s gender based on their licensure. You saw a psychiatrist? Probably male (75 percent as of 1996, though declining since). Anything else? Probably female. The shift among psychologists has been most overwhelming: 72 percent of 2005 doctorates were women, compared to just over 20 percent in 1970. Clinical social workers, professional counselors, and family therapists are all likely to be women.

It would be naive, at best, to say that women are more naturally drawn than men to “helping professions.” Lots of professions could be categorized as “helping,” including surgery — one profession that is still fairly gender-balanced. So what actually causes the discrepancies in psychotherapy?

Education. In social work and family therapy, the female majority continues to swell, due in no small part to larger trends in education. Women are now significantly more likely than men to start college, finish college, and go on to graduate school. In California, among those who have their graduate degrees and are working toward licensure as MFTs, a whopping 83 percent are women. An even larger 86 percent of those working toward clinical social work licenses are women.

Money. Are men staying out of these professions for simple economic reasons, the same reasons they seem to stay away from craft-selling web sites? Perhaps. Some evidence suggests that as professions shift toward higher proportions of women, pay rates in those professions decrease. If men are making career choices based on improving their chances of good pay, family therapy is something of a gamble. Pay averaged about $55,000 per year as of 2002, but varies widely based on work setting. It is certainly possible to make a six-figure salary in the psychotherapy world — I know some who were able to do so even very early in their careers — but it is not common.

Attitudes. Women in medical school in the UK demonstrate more positive attitudes toward mental illness, psychiatry, and psychiatric patients than men do. This mirrors findings from the general population in the US, where men are more likely than women to see mental illness as a personal failure. This issue gets more complicated once other gender stereotypes are thrown into the mix: In one recent study, men and women were both less likely to view “gender-typical” mental health symptoms (a man with alcoholism, a woman with depression) as genuine mental disturbances, and less inclined to help, compared with gender-atypical symptoms.

Relational factors. More than men, women in the US believe it is their responsibility to be caretakers of relationships. This element alone may be enough to explain the disproportionate gender balance in psychotherapy, as women appear to be more attuned to relational issues generally and health issues specifically.

All of these possible explanations lead us to the bigger question: So what?

Does it matter that such a large majority of therapists, especially early-career therapists, are women?

In a word, yes. It matters. It matters because graduate school continues to become more expensive, and if the genderization of the field puts downward pressure on salaries as noted above, it may become harder for therapists to make a living.

It matters because men already are unlikely to come to therapy in spite of its likely benefits; male therapists (and this is certainly arguable) may be better able to convince men to come to therapy, and to stay in therapy long enough to benefit.

It also matters because of the larger message it sends — if men and women truly share responsibility for the success of their marriages and families, how is that message reinforced with a marriage and family therapy profession that is practiced largely by women, for female clients?

Of course, none of this should be read as a value statement about therapists of either gender. We are seeing in the MFT world a trend mirrored throughout higher education and social services professions. It is important that we start asking now what this genderization will mean, whether it is a trend worth trying to change in MFT (certainly not a foregone conclusion; this could be well argued either way), and if so, how that might be done. I welcome your thoughts.