AHA Activities

Guidelines for Job Offers in History

AHA Council, March 2007

At its meeting on January 7, 2007, the Council of the American Historical Association approved the following statement prepared by the Professional Division.

The American Association of University Professors has drawn up a clear set of principles for offers of academic employment. These guidelines are designed to bring practices within the discipline of history into accordance with those principles.

The Job Offer: Rights and Responsibilities of Department Chairs

Department chairs making job offers should always keep in mind the need to balance two sets of priorities, needs, and values. The chair represents the department, and his or her primary obligation is to obtain the services of the most appropriate candidate, in a timely way. The chair has the right to require that a firm decision be made and reported by a set date, and to tell a candidate that the department will proceed to the next candidate in order if he or she cannot decide.

At the same time, the chair and department who make an offer are attempting to gain the services of a professional colleague. When making entry-level appointments, in particular, chairs must always bear in mind that they are introducing junior colleagues to professional life, and that they hold the balance of power in the transaction. It is always possible, and always wrong, to abuse this position.

Process

The chair is responsible for making a clear, timely offer, stating financial terms, teaching obligations, and other benefits, fully and accurately. If the chair has promised to give the candidate a decision by a certain date, that schedule should be met. In many cases, complications arise and a departmental vote is delayed. In these cases, candidates still in the running should be advised of them immediately and given a new schedule.

In many cases, the offer will be made orally in the first instance. If so, the conversation should be followed by an email that precisely states the salary and other primary conditions. Ideally, the department will then produce a formal letter of intent, confirming the offer in writing and reiterating the conditions. In those institutions where it is possible, the dean of faculty or other responsible official will send the candidate a formal, binding offer letter. Methods will vary, and many are legitimate, but one point is central. Only after an offer has been made in a firm, explicit form, with conditions set down in writing, can a chair properly set a deadline for the candidate's decision.

The candidate must then have a reasonable amount of time, from the receipt of the offer in its written form, to consider the matter, consult mentors and family members, formulate questions and receive answers, before he or she must make a binding decision. In accordance with AAUP principles, this period should last a minimum of two weeks from receipt of the formal offer. Requests for further extensions should be considered, but chairs are not obliged to accept them. In no circumstances should a chair demand that a candidate make a decision on the basis of a conversation unsupported by a written statement of conditions.

If university procedures make it impossible to provide a letter of intent, the candidate may be given a deadline for a decision. In such cases, however, the candidate cannot be considered to be morally bound by his or her agreement until a written document is issued and received, and has a clear right to withdraw his or her acceptance.

The final, binding offer should match or improve on the terms of the initial, verbal offer; if the final offer does not reach the terms first offered, the candidate cannot be considered morally or legally bound by any verbal agreement.

The Job Offer: Rights and Responsibilities of Candidates

A candidate has the right to a firm, complete and explicit offer. In its final form, a formal offer should include information about tenure or eligibility for promotion to tenure, salary, paid and unpaid leave, office equipment, research support, and benefits, from insurance to pension. Initial offers should at least offer full information on the first three points, and candidates have an absolute right to ask for information about all of them.

A candidates has the right to a reasonable amount of time—two weeks or more from the receipt of a detailed offer—in which to make a decision. The candidate may always ask that this period be extended so that he or she may engage in further consultations, or await the outcome of another search; but the chair also has the right to insist on a deadline.

A candidate who accepts an offer should consider himself or herself bound to the institution even if a more attractive offer arrives. But if the first institution has failed to provide a firm, written version of the offer, the candidate may legitimately withdraw his or her verbal acceptance.