The Vice of Loyalty

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I've been meaning to blog this for a few days now. It's been a while since I dialed up the ol' Chronic-what?!-le of Higher Ed, and last week, when I did, I happened across a little ditty by Jason "Not His Real Name" Stone, called "The Price of Loyalty." Therein, the good Prof. Stone bemoans the fact that he now makes less money than a colleague of his who, although hired at the same time as he, tested the market, got a counteroffer, and a significant raise ensued.

Now, being a junior faculty member, I will confess that I am still learning the politics of salary negotiations, counteroffers, and the like. But here is how I see it: My productivity and loyalty to my department are not being rewarded; my salary will stay the same. My colleague, on the other hand, will be making several thousand dollars more than I do simply because he played the game.

In a sense, I'm being punished for loyalty to my department, and he is being rewarded for his lack of same. Ever hear the saying "Nice guys finish last"?

To be fair to Stone, there are probably a lot of people out there unaware of how frequently this happens, how there are certain people far more willing to play this game than others, and how the reward system in academia actually encourages this kind of mercenary-ism. Those people, as Stone notes, are paying the "loyalty tax." It was really driven home for me the first time that I saw an assistant professor being hired at a higher salary than I was currently making, which implied that my years of service were less valuable to me than procrastination would have been. (That's not quite accurate, but from the perspective of a relatively new assistant prof with a mountain of debt, that's how it felt, certainly.)

I've made no secret of the fact that that I'll be on the market in the fall--beginning this summer, I'll be going up for tenure, and considering that it's possible that Syracuse would choose not to renew my contract, searching for another position is the only sensible option. Considering that it's possible that Syracuse will renew my contract, having offers from other schools is the only sensible way to provide myself with negotiation leverage.

It's a little daunting, I suppose, to realize that next year at this time, I will either be leaving the ranks of the untenured, or leaving the ranks of Syracuse altogether, but if there's one thing I don't feel about this whole process, it's disloyal. I'm really a pretty loyal person, but I'm loyal to people more than I am to places, and certainly more than I am to institutions. I am grateful to every institution that's supported me, I suppose, but I don't feel awkward about saying that they probably got the better end of the deal in each case. Honestly, I feel as though I have been loyal in about the same proportion (and often more) than my various institutions have been to me.

Michael Bérubé has a nice reply to the recent DOE "report" blaming rising college costs on tenure, and this despite the fact that the number of full-time faculty has dropped substantially in the past 20 years, and faculty salaries rarely keep pace with inflation from year to year. Worth a glance is his parody of the attitudes that are at play in misleading, nonsensical junk like the DOE report. What's neither nonsensical nor misleading is the fundamental disloyalty involved in that mindset, though. Reading reports like that are what make me scoff just a little at Stone's essay. I don't fault him for his naivete, because I think our institutions benefit from keeping us in the dark about the tenure process, about each other's negotiations, and about just how loyal they actually are or aren't when it comes to our continued employment.

I certainly don't mean for this to sound like I have anything against SU, because I don't. I'll have to weigh my feelings about Syracuse if/when I have to make a decision about where I'll be in 07-08, but choosing to give myself options, to me, isn't an act of disloyalty.

That is all.


Wow--you get to negotiate about your pay??

I like this post, because I get frustrated with the very idea that I should be loyal in some way to my institution. It's an institution; it pays me, I do my job. I think some of it comes out of the need to inculcate loyalty in the students so they become donating alumni, and you get this whole kind of mystique of place going on. But it's still, at heart, a job. People don't talk about being loyal to Starbucks when they work there. This doesn't mean I don't take my job seriously or give it my best, but I refuse to let concerns about loyalty govern my plans. Like you, I can't fault the guy who wrote the column, but I found it naive, too.

There's nothing disloyal in trying to improve your position in a negotiation in the Academy, nor is it a knock on a committment to the institution you work at. There's nothing ignoble about doing good work and wanting to be compensated accordingly for it. A healthy-- and successful-- institution recognizes that. It's not the priesthood after all; you don't have to go where the monsignor sends you. Knock wood Syracuse knows it's got a good thing.

Sadly, I remember the very moment I came to the same realization as Stone, or more accurately, complained about it to my department head in front of the rest of the junior faculty. That was year two. We were meeting to talk about procedures, etc, and someone mentioned counteroffers and the work it takes to get those, and I asked "what about those of us who are happy?" And he just kind of blinked at me, and then got that little smile (perhaps a little scoff you describe). And then I realized I'd be going on the market by year four.

Okay, so the first time I read your post a few days ago, I must've skipped the first few lines (context reader that I am), 'cause my reaction was of course, you go, er, guy! Negotiate like hell!

Then I read the first few lines today and caught the reference "Chronic-what?!-le of Higher Ed"--and I giggled. I can use a lot of giggling right about now. Of course, the Narnia rap was superceded by the brilliant Natalie Portman rap.

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This page contains a single entry by cgbrooke published on April 26, 2006 3:20 AM.

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