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Case 19. Hiring Practices


Allen Smithson was a doctoral candidate at a highly regarded research university. He had finished all the requirements for the degree except for his dissertation, which was proceeding well. His topic was significant, his data had all been collected, and the committee members had seen several chapters. They were confident that he would finish within a couple of months. He also had been a teaching assistant, had made several presentations at professional meetings, and a couple of publications. In short, he was an outstanding candidate.

Allen was on the job market, and on November the 15th, he received an attractive offer (oral, followed up by email, containing the specific terms and a due date of November 28th) for a tenure track, assistant professor position at another highly regarded research university. Following receipt of the offer from the department chair, on November 20th, Allen (without informing his committee) responded with an email message to begin negotiating the terms of the offer, asking for a higher salary, more research support, additional summer support, more money for moving expenses, and a lower teaching load. In the process, he did clearly state his interest in the position, saying that he hoped they could reach agreement.

The chair responded (on November 20th, again by email) with another offer (with the same deadline of November 28th) which he said was the best they could do. It included several increases (e.g., salary and summer support), but was less than Allen had requested. On November 26th, Allen responded (again by email) to the chair that the increased offer was appreciated, and that he was extremely close to accepting the position, but that there were a couple of major sticking points. He then provided justifications based on the nature of his research agenda for the changes in terms he desired. Later the same day (November 26th), Allen received a message from the chair that he was sorry Allen did not accept their best offer, that he was no longer a candidate, and that the department would turn to the next candidate.

The next day (November 27th), Allen sent a message to the chair apologizing for any miscommunication and saying that he was ready to accept the offer, and would have before, had he known that the department could not move further. At that point, the chair indicated that they had already moved to the next candidate.


  1. What happened in this process that derailed Allen’s opportunity for this position?
  2. Has the chairman of the hiring department behaved inappropriately? Has Allen behaved inappropriately?
  3. What, if anything, could Allen do? Does Allen have any grounds for objecting to the retraction of the offer? If so, what actions could he take?
  4. Should Allen's graduate department have taken any actions on his behalf? What could Allen’s department do in the future? What could the hiring department have done to avoid the way things turned out? What might that department do to prevent such a situation from happening again?
  5. Is there any advice Allen's graduate department should give to other students in the future? Are there guidelines that might be created to enhance the integrity and transparency of the hiring process?

Reflect on the above questions and form your own answers before clicking the discussion key to review the commentary provided with this case.