Dean Dad makes you a counteroffer you can't refuse: zilch!

emptypocketsGo read Dean Dad on counteroffers, and why he supports his community college’s policy of not offering them to faculty or staff who get other job offers.  He’s careful to specify that his support for the anti-counteroffer policy is dependent on his context at a CC:  “nobody really comes here to study under so-and-so. Our faculty don’t bring in the mega-grants, and for the most part, we wouldn’t have the infrastructure to support them if they did.”  But, the objections he raises to counteroffers seems like it would apply to most of us non-superduperstar faculty toiling away at state and regional universities:  “Other employees quickly get the message, and system-gaming becomes a full-time job.  Loyalty is punished, performance ignored, and internal equity simply forgotten in the stampede.”   

I’m sympathetic to this argument–I have applied for jobs and even got a second job while still at my first job, and although I’ve never had a counteroffer, I dream of the day. . . but Dean Dad’s objection to counteroffers, although noble, seems idealistic in the extreme.  First of all, in order to be competitive for other jobs, a faculty member’s “performance” has to be pretty good–so it’s not like faculty either perform their current jobs well or they apply and interview for other jobs.  The second activity is contingent on the first. 

Secondly, the reality at most universities is that the only way to get a raise is to get a sufficiently attractive counter-offer and make the Dean think you might actually take it.  It’s not the faculty’s “disloyalty” that is driving this system–administrators could choose to reward loyalty, performance, and to honor internal equity, but they don’t (at least, not every year, all of the time.)  They reward entrepreneurship, so the faculty respond by looking out for number one.  Administrators are the people who can change the game if they want to, since they hold most of the cards and all of the money.  But, they don’t want to change the game, because it’s easier (and cheaper!) to reward exceptional performance only when a faculty member has a live offer on the table, rather than rewarding the good performances of faculty who either can’t or don’t have the option of leaving.

I for one am glad that my Dean has made serious counteroffers to some colleagues who had very attractive job offers–in one case, an endowed chair at another university.  These men are some of my best friends and most valued colleagues, so I’m pleased that the Dean recognized their value to the department and rewarded it.  As “Lil Johnny” points out in the comments to Dean Dad’s thoughts on counteroffers, it’s expensive and time-consuming to replace departed colleagues, so it just makes sense to throw down a few more dollars to keep someone who has other options.  Isn’t it better to work someplace people choose to be, instead of being stuck there?  Believe me, when my colleague turned down an endowed chair in his home state, our junior colleagues were watching and listening.

0 thoughts on “Dean Dad makes you a counteroffer you can't refuse: zilch!

  1. I agree with you, Historiann. While I have seen (and been rather disgusted by) professional seekers-of-counteroffers-to-artificially-inflate-their-salaries-to-the-detriment-of-the-entire-department, I also think that the responsibility for this lies largely with administrators, who seem to adore self-absorbed self-aggrandizing attention whores (I mean, with good reason – unfortunately these types can make a department’s reputation), while shamelessly exploiting the loyalty and good feeling of all other faculty. And of course nobody in a dual-academic couple can afford to sit around waiting for their good will and loyalty to the university to be rewarded with the generous bestowal of work for spouse/partner. I don’t like maneuvering and posturing particularly, and I have concerns at the ways aggressive bids for counter-offers have (*in some places*) artificially inflated some people’s salaries/power, causing significant strain to departmental budgets. On the other hand, universities often treat faculty like disposal issues rather than human beings, so who can blame faculty for using any means at their disposal to be rewarded and compensated?

    At my former uni they had a policy of ONE counter-offer. That makes sense to me, because it limits the amount of disproportionate power/salary/goods that go to a small handful of faculty, but still rewards/retains them.


  2. “And of course nobody in a dual-academic couple can afford to sit around waiting for their good will and loyalty to the university to be rewarded with the generous bestowal of work for spouse/partner.”

    Great point, anon, and another reason to reject unilateral disarmament on the part of the faculty. If we were actually rewarded for doing our jobs and focusing on the university that hired us–what Dean Dad calls “loyalty,” we’d give ’em loyalty. But they don’t, so it’s hardly “disloyal” to seek better employment conditions if one can find them.

    Dean Dad is getting shellacked in the comments, and more than one person has questioned his equation with interviewing for other jobs with “disloyalty.” I can’t emphasize enough to people who are in an academic couple, or to people who are in jobs with term contracts or who are adjuncting: don’t ever count on loyalty being rewarded. Never, never, never. Have another strategy for getting a tenure-track job, or securing suitable employment for a partner, or both.

    I know too many people who have served a department loyally in term contracts, as adjuncts, or both, who were overlooked when it came to hire someone to teach that field in a tenure-track job. I have never seen this service rewarded–in fact, I think it works against you to be the “loyal” person doing the job, moving the meat, when all of the applicants for the t-t job are like the sexy new lovers about whom we can fantasize endlessly. If you’re there, they’ll assume that you want the job, if only to avoid the hassle of moving. They’ll assume that you’ll do an interview or give a job talk if one of their top-choice picks drops out or bombs out. Why waste a perfectly good interview on you, when you’re just sitting by the phone anyway?


  3. Sounds like just more dumb-bunny deanspeak, and an example of why deans don’t write articles or books. Is there any compelling reason why a community college couldn’t seek to have faculty who “people come here to study under,” rather than just “come here to absorb X tuition-equivalent units?” In lots of industries the reputations of specific performer/agents, even (maybe especially) at small firms, are a big part of the firm’s goodwill equity. Maybe people don’t “come there to study” under specific individuals, but maybe they do better with them (what deans like to call “retention”). Wouldn’t a rational dean want to reward that factor?

    If his faculty is as generic as he seems to want to believe, why does he assume they would all start “gaming the system” as soon as someone else got a raise? In any transactional enterprise, all actors have to decide what the worth of any opportunity or move is. This guy sounds like a formulaic rhetorician/pencil-pusher.


  4. Although I generally agree with Historiann and others that counter-offers are an important part of our negotiating arsenal, I do think there is a need for balance. At my fine institution one cannot get a raise beyond the 1-3% COLA without an outside offer. This includes the year you receive tenure and promotion. That’s right–no raise with promotion, even to Full. This leads to demoralized faculty who are eager to seek outside offers if at all possible. And the salaries of those (like me) who chose to stick it out, mostly because of spouses and school-aged kids, plummet relative to new hires. So yes to counter-offers, but only in the context of the occasional merit raise.


  5. Widgeon–bummer. That’s the kind of atmosphere a Dean or Provost could change easily–by rewarding people for more than just outside offers. But they won’t–and if faculty stand down and act “loyally,” they’ll reap the (lack of) rewards.

    I’m not saying there are no corrosive effects of catering to the superduperstars, as Widgeon’s and anon’s comments suggest. I’m saying that the entrepreneurial spirit is totally in the control of Deans either to reward or discourage, and stories like these suggest that there are no rewards out there if you “stick it out mostly because of spouses and school-aged kids.”

    If it makes you feel any better, Widgeon, salary compression among advanced assistants and Associate Profs is a problem everywhere. I was being underpaid relative to some of my colleagues, and was able to make a case to my Chair, who in turn made a successful case to my Dean, that my base salary should be bumped up even above my merit pay last year. (And I’m so glad that I asked last year, and didn’t wait!) So there may be a remedy you can pursue outside of getting an outside offer.

    Indyanna, I don’t think Dean Dad is a “dumb bunny.” I think he’s perhaps reasonably cautious about not wanting to unleash the spirit of entrepreneurialism within his faculty, the pitfalls of which are suggested by anon’s and Widgeon’s comments. But you’re right: to follow his logic to his conclusions, workers have no right to ask or bargain for better pay or working conditions–if they don’t like it they should just hit the bricks. This seems rather short-sighted when you consider all of the unpaid, uncompensated work colleges and unis rely on the regular faculty to perform. I’m not seeing the “reward for loyalty” in his plan–all I’m seeing is, “if you don’t like it, hit the bricks.”


  6. Getting outside offers may be the only way someone can demonstrate their market value. Of course, Deans can always decide to make counteroffers in some cases but not others, to achieve desired goals, whatever they may be.

    There is also a “reverse” issue: Some law schools leave endowed chairs open, reflecting a Dean’s view that no one on the current faculty is worthy of holding them, but maybe some lateral hire in the future will be.


  7. Historiann:

    Dean Dad says, “If you want to keep the best performers, pay for performance. [Counteroffers are] not the same thing.” I don’t see him saying that the current system at his community college is ideal, just that counteroffers don’t seem to him to be the way to improve the situation. As for how he *would* improve the situation, I can’t speak for him, but I know in the past he has spoken in favor of multi-year renewable contracts for faculty. Presumably he would argue that the time for negotiations is when contracts are coming up for renewal, or that incentives for performance would be built into the terms of each contract. You may be right that this alternative would be unrealistic; I can’t really judge.


    “Maybe people don’t “come there to study” under specific individuals, but maybe they do better with them (what deans like to call “retention”). Wouldn’t a rational dean want to reward that factor?”

    I actually read Dean Dad’s blog regularly, and my secondhand impression is that retention at community colleges has less to do with love of faculty and more to do with things like how many remedial classes students are forced to take before they can start earning credit, whether it is simple to get the coursework needed to transfer to a 4-yr school, straight-up financial concerns, etc. I think the “good enough” standard is in force at that level, beyond which the returns on counteroffers to keep outstanding faculty–instead of, say, adding hours to the tutoring staff–start to drop off sharply.


  8. I’m not sure how much power deans have to make this type of change — perhaps a provost can. My sense is that at most institutions there is a chain. The chair asks the dean, the dean asks the provost or perhaps it’s the “associate provost for retention” or someone like that. While deans may control a budget, they may have to ask for more money to cover an increase in someone’s salary, particulary if it’s a hefty increase.

    Dean Dad’s post (strange choice for a handle) makes a distinction between the hiring of teaching labor and the reputations that go with retention offers at research universities. While I understand the business logic of saying that if someone will teach 5-5 for $30,000, why raise it to $35,000 with a counteroffer — but that is a case of institutional disloyalty. Dean dad says to his faculty — you have done a good enough job that someone else wants to hire you for more money, but we expect you to work here for less. That cc. is disloyal not only to its faculty but to its students, who deserve the best possible education.


  9. timna,

    In case you haven’t noticed, most community colleges over-use (abuse?) adjuncts for about $2K a course, and they are the primary teaching faculty on the campus.

    So, a 5-5-5 (Summer-Fall-Spring) would be about $30K. At some places a little more…and others a little less.

    Then again, adjunct rarely get any counter-offers, so we must obviously be talking about tenure-stream faculty, who in some fields at some school truly do work ~4-4 for $35K. Most of my friends jumped for joy at their $40K T-T offers.


  10. There’s a real gender issue here: some research suggests that women ask for, on average, 10% salary less than men. I heard a lecture where the researcher found that women tend to think they will ‘prove themselves’ after they get a job and then be rewarded, whereas men think they are worth more up front. And, of course, your only position of power to negotiate is before you sign on the dotted line.

    I’d be fascinated to see studies of who gets retention offers, for how much, and how it breaks down by race/gender, etc. Do women, who more often have employed partners, seem less likely to leave an institution? Are women less brazen about going on the market, selling themselves, playing the game?

    The system may not be how we want it, but I think there is an argument that women and other under-represented groups should learn to play it well — and then have the power to enact change…


  11. Shaz–we talked about this in a thread about negotiating salaries. Squadratomagico wondered if men were more willing to go on the market to get a raise than women, and I wondered if women (with jobs) on the market were less likely to get outside offers because of the perception that they would be less likely to move than men. Also, Deans might be more prone to think a man would in fact take an outside offer, while a woman (esp. a married/partnered woman, with kids) would be more prone to stay put. This might add up to (once again!) women not being offered as much to stick around, because of this gendered perception of their likelieness to move away. So, I think you’re right that gender is operative here in a variety of ways.

    Mark K.: I see your point. My main point in response to Dean Dad is that it’s not “disloyal” faculty who are creating this situation, it’s Deans who choose only to reward people for entrepreneurship. Also, I didn’t like his implication that workers should sit down and shut up, or move on. That strikes me as unnecessarily hostile, and not at all compatable with a “pay for performance” system! (Besides, if in fact people who receive counteroffers leave after 18 months, what’s the harm? That’s only 3 semesters of paying an inflated salary, after all.)

    And, Rad Readr says: “you have done a good enough job that someone else wants to hire you for more money, but we expect you to work here for less. That cc. is disloyal not only to its faculty but to its students, who deserve the best possible education.” Right on. I take your point that Deans can’t make these decisions without money and support from above, but they sure as hell have more power and control over these things than individual faculty have.


  12. This guy seems to be whining that if only the damn faculty would stop being so damn disgruntled about their salaries, all would go well. He pathologizes discontent: if you’re not happy with your pay, you’re a bad fit at your school and should just leave.

    I’d have more respect for this point of view if administrators weren’t so insistent on sowing hierarchy and zero-sum competition among their instructional staff. It’s a power trip for them. They never seem to favor uniformity in pay. They enjoy determining whether Prof X is better than Prof Y and sprinkling dollars accordingly. Any expression of entitlement or desert by X or Y is heresy, and must be squelched.


  13. Historiann:

    I guess I’m not seeing as big a gap between your view and Dean Dad’s. I read him as saying that if deans create incentives for faculty to look around for other jobs (“disloyalty”), as opposed to incentives that reward local success (“performance”), then rational faculty are quite reasonably going to choose to look around. He seems quite aware of who is responsible for the incentive system.

    As for “we expect you to work here for less”…granted, I’m an administrator. A library administrator, but an administrator no less. But I think this is a great oversimplification. It is less “we expect you to work here for less” than “we can’t pay you more than equally deserving folks just because you have someone else interested in you.” And the reality at my institution at least is that we can’t always pay everybody what they deserve relative to the market as a whole.

    My reaction to staff who aren’t happy with what they’re being paid isn’t to tell them to “sit down and shut up,” it’s to be transparent with them about what can reasonably be expected to happen within institutional policies and politics, and to advocate for them when I’m persuaded by their case. Sometimes it works out, and they get a raise. Sometimes it doesn’t, and they leave for greener pastures.

    As an administrator, I consider *both outcomes to be equally successful*. In both cases, I have been loyal to the individual (by first hearing them out and then advocating for them if appropriate) and to the library (by not destroying relationships with other units by making the individual’s case a hill to die on) and to the institution (by fulfilling my fiduciary responsibility). Both outcomes are not equally *happy*, but they are equally *successful*.

    A personal anecdote…I was once the director of a small public library. When I received an offer from another library, they asked if they could make a counteroffer. I answered, honestly, that the amount of money it would take to get me to stay was larger than I could accept in good faith. They valued my performance and likely would have paid the extra money, and the library probably would have been managed better if I had stayed on longer. But it would have strained relationships with the city government, it would have pissed off the other employees (who had recently been denied raises so as not to embarrass the mayor, who had frozen the wages of city departments), and it would have made the budget wobbly.

    The ethical decision was for me to leave for the greener pasture. I wasn’t silenced or disrespected. Everyone was just being realistic about the librarian job market and my particular status within it at that time.

    The rest of what I would like to say, I am having trouble putting into words. Certainly, I agree with you that faculty should have leverage with administrators when it comes to discussing compensation. Certainly, there are administrators who prefer their faculty to be reliably quiet and compliant. For all I know, such administrators are the majority, and if so, you have my deepest sympathy. But, but, but. Not being able to keep a good person is not always a failure, and it frequently is not a commentary on the value placed on that person. Institutions have different resources, often widely different resources. And while administrators have some control over how resources are allocated, they don’t–especially in public institutions–always have much control over the size of the pie, or the size of some of the pieces (insurance, utilities, contractual obligations). “There are limits to what we can do” is not just a platitude, it’s the bedrock reality of life as an administrator.

    All that said, on the question of whether counteroffers are better or worse than other ways of rewarding recognized achievement by faculty, I don’t really have the knowledge or experience to have an opinion.


  14. Mark K.–thanks for your further explanation. I totally see where you’re coming from, and I think you say this especially well: “Not being able to keep a good person is not always a failure, and it frequently is not a commentary on the value placed on that person. Institutions have different resources, often widely different resources.” This is very true, and you conducted yourself honorably in the way you left for your “greener pasture.”

    Perhaps it’s the corollary on the faculty perspective that I think is lost on Dean Dad. If I may borrow your phraseology, “Leaving a job for more money does not mean that one didn’t hold one’s former employer and colleagues in high esteem, nor is it necessarily a sign that faculty are ‘greedy’ or ‘disloyal.'” because as you say, “institutions have different resources, often widely different resources,” and we all have to pay our own bills.

    Dean Dad’s comment that counteroffers are merely an “attempt to postpone the inevitable through a palliative that doesn’t address the real issues” suggests that he doesn’t understand that sometimes it really is the money. I have a colleague who is doing incredibly valuable and important work in a particular subfield, and who really likes her job and frequently comments that her current job saved her (professional) life because it permitted her to escape an abusive work environment. But–she left behind a job with a unionized faculty with great pay and benefits much more generous than we offer at Baa Ram U. She also is the main income for her family, so she has to think very practically. There’s no question but that she likes her job here and is highly successful–but there’s no doubt in my mind that if she gets offered a better-paying job she’ll be off in a flash. This is not because she is greedy or disloyal or “not a good fit.” It’s because she’s worried about paying her bills and putting her kids through college. C’est tout.

    I think this is maybe a gentler way of saying what LadyProf said above! Why don’t we deserve to be paid what we can get? Why is it “disloyal” or evidence of a “bad fit” if we hit the market? (BTW, I had a post about our profession’s unusually money-phobic attitude, which I think is a class-inflected hangover from the days when we all were “gentleman scholars.” Just click here for a trip down memory lane…)


  15. Mark-

    Re: your comments: “As for “we expect you to work here for less”…granted, I’m an administrator. A library administrator, but an administrator no less. But I think this is a great oversimplification. It is less “we expect you to work here for less” than “we can’t pay you more than equally deserving folks just because you have someone else interested in you.” And the reality at my institution at least is that we can’t always pay everybody what they deserve relative to the market as a whole.”

    My point in putting words in Dean Dad’s mouth was an interpretation of what he was saying. I was not talking about administrators in general. I too do some administrative work, but I try to avoid administrativespeak. Institutions make choices, and while I have no knowledge of your particular institution, I know that at a lot of places it may be something like “we can’t pay you more…because we’re pumping money into the new student center.” Now I know there are some good reasons to build a nice student center, but it’s still a choice. Maybe the choice is to support a different department or unit. Not so much we can’t — as we choose to put our money elsewhere.


  16. Historiann, thanks! I do think sometimes it’s just about the money, but I am also used to looking at money as part of “fit.” At this point, I can’t separate out budgets from other aspects of organizational culture. (Rad Readr — your comment about choice rings true, which is a big part of why I count budgets as part of culture, instead of being something just “out there” like the weather). I have no idea if the same could be said about Dean Dad.

    “Why don’t we deserve to be paid what we can get?”

    A complicated question. My short answer is: you do.

    As you’ve pointed out, though, “what faculty can get” is materially determined by administrators. The question of “are faculty wrong to seek counteroffers?” is very different from the question of “do counteroffers make sense as an administrative tool?” I don’t think faculty are wrong to seek counteroffers, or any other individual or collective action that improves their situation. (I’m a checks and balances kind of guy; I think something is wrong when people *aren’t* actively protecting their interests). I am agnostic about the relative effectiveness of counteroffers in generally maximizing faculty satisfaction and performance. (I just don’t know enough, and unsurprisingly, faculty and administrators seem to have widely varying opinions).


  17. Apparently, I’m late to this discussion. A few thoughts:

    1. As the original post noted, the salary scale is collectively bargained. It is based on quantified criteria (points), and deviations from that salary scale have brought long and expensive legal action in the past. In considering whether to make a counteroffer, I’m not just looking at the individual person. I’m looking at the cost of the grievances, arbitrations, and settlements that will surely result. To leave that out is to get my argument fundamentally wrong.

    2. The point system makes the gender argument a red herring. You don’t get points for gender. Starting salaries aren’t negotiated; they’re determined mechanistically, and either taken or not.

    3. As Mark K. correctly noted, the resources at my disposal are finite. Even if I agree that someone is a top performer, there’s only so much I can afford to pay for that job. Sometimes, leaving is the best outcome. Just because you think you’re worth more than I can afford, doesn’t create on obligation on my part to indulge that. Start writing blank checks and you will quickly find that there’s no end to it.

    That said, I agree that “loyalty” is a loaded word, and I should have chosen a better one. What I was trying to get at, which Mark K. pretty much got and you apparently didn’t, is that you get what you pay for. If you pay for internal performance, you’ll get it. If you pay for seniority, you’ll get that. And if you pay for people to spend their time looking for other jobs, you’ll get that. I prefer the first option, though some prefer others.

    I’ll admit being somewhat disappointed in the level of this discussion. Thanks, at least, for defending me from the ‘dumb bunny’ charge.


  18. Meeeeeoooowww yourself, Dean Dad!

    We used your general disapproval of competitive counteroffers to launch a general discussion that relates to a number of issues we’ve discussed here before, including especially sex bias in faculty salaries. So sorry it doesn’t rise to your “level.” But as you note, when you used the word “loyalty” (and implied its opposite) to describe people who keep their options open by applying for other jobs, that gets a lot of faculty members’ backs up.

    In my experience and in the experience of others here, “loyalty” is used to bludgeon faculty into submission, and rarely is it returned. But we agree: you get what you pay for. We at 4-year institutions don’t see anything rewarded other than by demonstrating our market value by winning fellowships and other job offers. But, we’re not the ones who make the rules, are we?


  19. “We’re not the ones who make the rules, are we?”

    Actually, yes. That’s the meaning of “collectively bargained.” The union helped set the rules, and agreed to them. And it was the union who brought the grievances targeting deviations from the salary scale. For some reason, this basic truth keeps going unacknowedged.

    As for loyalty, I’m sure you’ve heard of tenure. That sure looks like institutional loyalty to me.

    Again, I don’t mind if people look elsewhere. People make their own choices for any number of reasons. But I’m not going to reward it, and I’m not going to pretend not to know that on average, someone who accepts a counteroffer leaves within 18 months anyway. (That point also went unacknowledged here, for whatever reason.)

    It just isn’t as one-sided as you make it.


  20. Re: leaving 18 months after accepting a counter offer: my institution requires retained faculty to sign an agreement that they won’t leave for X years (I’ve seen up to 5) after accepting the retention offer, or be forced to pay back the excess.

    And outcomes are obviously different at different institutions, but I certainly haven’t seen the 18 month leave date at my public institution.

    We also have a fairly mechanistic salary scale, and I’d argue you DO get points for being the right gender: perceptions of what counts as achievement, ‘real’ scholarship, etc. is very tied to it, as innumerable studies have shown.


Let me have it!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s