Published Date

June 10, 2024

Resource Type

AHA Standards and Guidelines, For Departments

AHA Topics

Academic Departmental Affairs, Professional Life

Adopted 2007; updated June 2024.

Academic job offers for tenure-track positions are conducted through a process of negotiation between the hiring authority (often the chair, or head of the hiring department) and the successful candidate. This document describes the contours of the hiring process including the role of the hiring authority, and what candidates should anticipate. In cases involving negotiations over family/partner hires please see also Guidelines on Family/Partner Hiring.

Hiring authorities making job offers must balance several sets of priorities, needs, and values. The hiring authority’s primary obligation is to complete a successful hire in order to build the teaching and research strengths of the department. The hiring authority therefore has the right to request the top candidate to make and report a firm decision in a timely manner, so that the department can proceed to the next candidate if the first offer is not accepted.  At the same time, members of the department that makes an offer are attempting to gain the services of a professional colleague with whom they anticipate forming a long-term collegial relationship. When making entry-level appointments, in particular, hiring authorities must always bear in mind that they are introducing early career 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.

A successful job candidate has the right to a firm, complete, and explicit offer in writing before making a final decision. 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. Initial offers should at least provide full information on the first three points, and candidates have an absolute right to ask for information about all of them.

Once the candidates in a search have been ranked by the department and administrative approval is received, an offer can be made. All offers should be clear, stating financial terms, teaching obligations, and other benefits, fully and accurately to the top candidate. In many cases, the offer will be made orally in the first instance. If so, the conversation should be followed by written communication that precisely states the salary and other primary conditions as discussed,  The dean of faculty, or other responsible official, then sends the candidate a formal, binding offer letter. The final, binding offer should match or improve on the terms of the initial, verbal offer. 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 be allowed 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 making a binding decision. This period should last a minimum of two weeks from receipt of the formal offer, although many institutions offer more time for such an important decision. 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, during the search process, the other candidates have been promised 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 immediately and given a new schedule.

Successful job candidates have maximum negotiating power between the time they receive an offer and when they accept it, should they choose to do so. Candidates are therefore well advised to seek counsel from trusted mentors and their own chair or DGS regarding the negotiation process. If they have other potential offers outstanding, or other contingencies, requests for extensions may be made. Hiring authorities are not obliged to extend deadlines for acceptance, as they may not want to lose the opportunity to hire another strong candidate, or risk failure of the search. However, it is often possible to arrive at a mutually negotiated timeline. The candidate’s acceptance of a written offer in writing is considered a contractual obligation. Other candidates are then notified the position has been filled. Failure to follow through on the terms of the agreement can have significant negative repercussions both for the department, which may lose the position permanently, and for the candidate’s reputation in the discipline.

If university procedures make it impossible to provide a letter of intent, the candidate may still be given a deadline for a decision. In such cases, however, the candidate cannot be considered to be morally bound by their agreement until a written document is issued and received and has a clear right to withdraw their acceptance; if the final offer does not reach the terms first offered, the candidate cannot be considered morally or legally bound by any verbal agreement.