Mugged by an Offer

“Bob” was on the market for an English position and had been looking forward to attending the MLA annual meeting in December, his first since completing his doctorate. By mid-October, he had already been tapped for several interviews and was honing his thoughts when out of the blue came a call from one institution.

“We are trying to get a jump on the MLA and would like to interview you the first of November. Can we calendar you?”

He agreed and gladly completed the on-campus interview process. To his shock, he was offered the job before Thanksgiving.

The institution was a middling one, and the salary and benefits were moderate but not terribly strong, but what troubled him the most was that the department seemed to have no sense of community whatsoever. It members were polite, but visibly passive in the interview process. He found himself less than thrilled when he thought rationally about the offer.

A job in hand? No MLA cattle call? Benefits for the following year? He felt crazy, but his mentors told him that if he had this offer, he would have more. If nothing else, one adviser noted, he could accept the offer and sign the contract but back out if he got a better offer in the next few months.

“They are mugging you with an offer,” he said, “and they know that they are running a risk that you will quail before you start.”

Bob felt that his reputation would be at stake (academe being a small world after all) if he signed and then resigned, and in the end, he felt like if he had this offer, he would be likely to get another. He turned it down. By March, his gamble paid off, and he landed a better offer at a better institution.

Do you know anyone who has been mugged by an untimely offer? How did it turn out? What do you think about institutions that try to get a jump on the usual timeline of traditional searches that use professional conferences?

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