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A Bird In The Hand

As the chair of a large academic department at a state university, I interviewed a promising candidate. We worked out teaching schedules for fall and spring semesters, with the possibility of a temporary full-time position for the following year. I spent a lot of time nurturing this candidate, giving her the schedules she wanted, pushing to get her contracts issued early, answering a lot of questions, providing course syllabi, etc. In mid-August, she attended a three-hour orientation session for new part-time faculty and continued to be in contact with questions. The candidate gave me a verbal commitment to accept the teaching assignments for both fall and spring semesters. Eight days prior to the start of fall semester, she returned the contracts unsigned and also notified me through email that she had taken a temporary full-time position at another institution, but that she was still interested in teaching at our institution in the future. I was furious that she had given me no indication that she was still seeking full-time employment a mere week before classes began. Had I any indication that she might not take our position, I would have made arrangements with another candidate to fill in on short notice. Teaching is not like other jobs – you can’t just put off the students for a month while you find another instructor.

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Did she have a responsibility to notify me that she was still seeking full-time employment? Am I justified in my anger and unwillingness to consider her for any future teaching assignments?

P. M., Salem, MA

The short answer to your question is, yes, your anger and unwillingness to consider her for future employment are justified. Even though the contracts hadn’t been signed and returned, she gave you a verbal commitment, and at that point she was honor-bound to live up to her agreement. Eight days ahead of the start of the semester is too little time for you to find an alternative instructor. In fact, once she accepted your offer, she should have backed out of consideration for any other job position that posed a conflict.

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One of the hardest things about a job search is recognizing that a bird in the hand means you quit looking for the two that might still be in the bush. When an applicant receives an offer, it is imperative that an answer be given and honored if the job is accepted. Once the offer is accepted the hiring entity will turn away other potentially qualified applicants. Opening the search up again is time consuming, difficult and unfair to the other qualified candidates who may have moved on to other possible opportunities. Once made, a commitment to a job should be honored. Not only did this applicant go back on her word, she also torpedoed any chance of teaching at your institution in the future. Given that her position at the other institution is temporary, she can’t afford to close off future opportunities.

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