11 No. 1
Knowing Your Worth
Negotiation and the academic marketplace
“Why don’t we have, for the person who’s been at the institution for ten years whose equipment is all ratty, a refresher package?”
“I don’t think Emory should ever concede that it will lose people to better schools. I think it has long done that, has not tried to remain competitive, and sometimes I fear that it is still just trying to be good enough.”
Book Review and Reflections
Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women’s Changing Lives by Anna Fels
Making Academic Writing Unpalatable
Examining violence without sensationalizing or sanitizing
Academic Exchange: What has kept you at Emory for fifteen years?
Bill Buzbee: It hasn’t always been an easy choice. There are many great universities out there seeking possible lateral hires and actively making their schools even stronger. But in the end, probably like most people, I chose academe not to get wealthy but to be in a dynamic environment, surrounded by smart people doing interesting things and good students who want to be challenged. Emory has many great strengths. It is a compact university with a lot of cross-campus friendships and connections. People from different departments visit each other and go to each other’s presentations. Many schools, including much better schools, don’t have that. For me that’s probably the most important factor.
That said, there are expenses to life, and obviously monetary variables matter. Every other school that calls up talks about their salary package and benefits within a short time, and they offer things like chairs. They want to attract you with a combination of the inherent strengths of another school, additional prestige, indications of achievement, and money. Sometimes those overtures are tempting. But I’ve stayed here because I like Emory personally and professionally. Also, I’m in a dual-career family, and I have kids in high school. I’d think twice about uprooting both my wife’s career and my kids’ schooling, and that’s been part of my response to schools that have made overtures.
AE: What do you think of the practice of going on the market just to leverage a counteroffer?
BB: I personally think for anyone to be disingenuous about what they are considering—to play off institutions when you’re not seriously considering leaving—is inappropriate. I know of people who have played that game, who had money on the table and said, Match it. I’ve never done that. Out of respect for Emory and its leadership, I let my deans know when schools are making overtures that I’m considering. I think the worst thing anyone can do is to give no warning and just leave. I also haven’t ever wasted another school’s time on putting together a final package when on balance my family and I decided we were unlikely to be interested in a move.
Other schools usually don’t wait to negotiate, however. They tell you proactively what they would be doing in the package. They know where Emory is strong and where it might be vulnerable. They know Emory hires really good people and has a highly productive faculty, so in one sense it’s a good sign that Emory is being poached on. Frankly, if any faculty member at Emory is five years into their career and they’re not getting calls from people, they probably are not doing as well as they should be. It’s just the nature of people being accomplished. The question is how we can do the same to others more effectively.
AE: Including incentives like the portable tuition benefit?
BB: Yes. I was part of a group that worked on that and presented it to the Faculty Council. I don’t want Emory to be in a situation like other schools that I know of that have lost several, sometimes a majority of their top publishing scholars within one or two years. Those kinds of losses happen at schools that are not able to remain competitive or choose not to be. I think there is no reason why Emory with its incredible wealth should ever be out-competed for someone who’s top in his or her area. We found that people for whom the portable tuition benefit is important tend to be at the apex of their career—people we’d most want to keep or attract. The portable tuition benefit is the one real outlier where Emory is way out of line with its competitive institutions, and where it could overnight change its policy.
Emory now, right across the board, really should be what President Wagner refers to as a destination university—a place where people choose to be and remain. I don’t think Emory should ever concede that it will lose people to better schools. I think it has long done that, has not tried to remain competitive, and sometimes I fear that it is still just trying to be good enough. It has to do what it takes to bring and keep the best people here, be they students, faculty, or staff. If some other school calls up and is willing to offer a substantially better package, especially from a comparable or better school, my guess is very few people at Emory can just dismiss that out of hand. A portable tuition benefit can be a substantial part of any employee’s economic calculation, and Emory is at this point not competitive at all.