Friday, March 26, 2010

Declining Your Offer

If this didn't come from a trusted source, I would not believe it, let alone post it. But a friend at another department just sent me a note telling me that her entire department received an email this afternoon from one of the students who had been offered admission to their graduate program. The subject line was simply "Declining Your Offer." The body simply said, "I'm not coming." And that's it!

Congratulations to the department who succeeded in recruiting this student!

44 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh well. When I was applying for PhD schools I sent an application to one in Canada whose name rhymes with "Mork University", and it disappeared into a void for many weeks, during which time I received a lot of communication and several offers from various other schools. I accepted one from that lot (my #1 school choice anyway). Then one day I got a voicemail message on my phone: "Uhhhh, hiiii. Oh. Uh, my name is whoever-the-hell from Mork University. Well, uhh, we decided to admit you to our PhD program. Give us a call."

Thanks guys, for all the enticement.

Anonymous said...

Let's pretend my name is "Ronald Hall". I got a rejection letter from a pretty great school that came on April 20th with my name spelled "Ronda Haller" with the accompanying explanation that the reason I got rejected was that too many people from my school applied there that year. I was the only person who did.

Anonymous said...

I dunno, given that many rejection letters are so impersonal, would anything be wrong with structuring your 'decline offer' email in the following way:

"Dear Program, thank you very much for your offer of admission. However, due to the incredible volume of acceptances I have received, I am unable to offer you matriculation at this time. I received over 4 offers of admission, and as often happens, there are more qualified programs than there are places I can occupy at a given time. Best of luck in the future,
joe philosophy."

would this be in poor taste?

Anonymous said...

Anon 509, that's a scream and not in poor taste at all. I've often thought of telling my wireless carrier "It's not our policy" when they want to add on features. I think we should do this kind of thing. Reach out and crush someone works both ways, jack.

729 said...

Anon 5:09 PM: Hysterical!

Somebody, please do this. (I know...I know...burning bridges and whatnot...but it still would be pretty damn sweet).

Anonymous said...

I advise that no one do as 5:09 suggests. If you're in a position to send such a message, you've been accepted to a program and likely personal courtesy has been extended to you. If you then decide to fuck around like this because you have multiple offers, in the way that a current North Carolina graduate student did to the grad director of my department and so whose name I am likely not to forget any time soon, it is probably going to be remembered and held against you that you are a dick. And you never know who the vindictive SOBs like me are in the small world of academic philosophy. So save your hijinks for anonymous musings here and don't actually put your name on such an e-mail in declining an offer.

Anonymous said...

Oh come on 10.16 : what did he write?! :-)

729 said...

Thank you so much Anon 10:16 PM. Things posted on Philosopher's Anonymous tend to have far too much influence on the behavior of people in the profession and aspiring to the profession. It's important to have the utmost clarity in these matters. Besides the students who have already managed to behave so dickishly on their own, we on Philosopher's Anonymous certainly need to prevent future dickishness. : )

The Brooks Blog said...

Wow!

Anonymous said...

On 5:09's idea:

Obviously some people might take it badly if someone did that. But why? It's not because of the person's having many offers and not choosing them, that happens several times every year. It's because of parodying the style of their rejection letters. Now, either they'll realize it's a joke but think it's not only not funny, but also not cool--which is insane unless they're the person who came invented this style of letter-writing--or they'll not realize it's a joke and think it's condescending--in which case I'd like to know why it's ok for them to send out condescending letters to the ones they reject but not for the ones that reject them.

Essentially, what it comes down to is either not being to laugh at all, or only being able to laugh at others. Actually, it's more than that, because it's one thing not to laugh at a harmless joke, and something else to even take offense to it.

Anonymous said...

I think the reason some people might (would) take it badly is it's deliberate dickishness. Maybe rejection letters from that very department are condescending (I have no idea -- I can't remember what was in letters rejecting me, and I haven't seen any letters rejecting anyone else). But they are not deliberately condescending; their authors are not so much dickish as clueless. Very different.

I mean, I don't find it offensive, myself -- I'm sure I would laugh if I got that letter. But irony is a delicate thing.

Anonymous said...

Generally when people are condescending it's not that they decide "I'm going to be condescending". Like if you're talking to someone who you think is stupid, you don't think "This person is stupid, I'm going to try to show them I think they're stupid by speaking in a condescending manner". In other words, condescending and clueless usually go together, I can't think of examples of anyone being deliberately condescending.

Anyone who did find it offensive has some serious issues. I mean, you might not think it's funny, but that's a long way from being offended by it. "How dare this person make a joke regarding our super-serious and absolutely genius way of writing rejection letters!"

Anonymous said...

I can't think of examples of anyone being deliberately condescending.

Wow, really? I can.

Anyway, if the Director of Grad Studies at Decent State earnestly attempts to write a respectful letter, and then gets a sarcastic letter from some 21 year old who's just decided to go to Awesome U. and is taking one last opportunity to make fun of Decent State and its DGS, I can see why she might find it less than charming. But if you think that means she has "serious issues", then you should go right ahead and write your funny letter. Yeah, stick it to the man!

Anonymous said...

10:16 here.

Does this really need that much spelling out? When an offer is extended, it is almost always extended by way of a personal call or other sort of personal contact. It is not Institution X sending out a form letter, it is Philosopher Y, who has busted his or her ass looking at a whole lot of applications and who is now in charge of overseeing his or her department's recruitment effort, addressing the applicant personally. If you want to fuck with that person to make a joke, go right ahead. And become known as an asshole, as aforementioned UNC student is known to me, and to multiple others.

Anonymous said...

And, no, the point is not to 'stick it to the man'. That doesn't make any sense. The point is to make 'the man' laugh because they know all about PFOs and have been on both ends of them. But sometimes 'the man' takes everything a bit too seriously.

Anonymous said...

March 27, 2010 1:28 PM wrote:

"When an offer is extended, it is almost always extended by way of a personal call or other sort of personal contact."

At top departments in the US, yes, but in the UK it never works this way; in Canada it varies quite a bit. When I applied to graduate programs, I got a number of offers of admission that were just form letters or form emails not even signed by a faculty member. It would be odd if someone at one these departments that communicate with you by form letter took offense at receiving a humorous form letter in reply. True, someone took the time to look at your file and decide to admit you, but you're not making fun of that person, and in the kind of cases I'm talking about, that person never contacts you personally.

Totally different story, of course, if a faculty member contacted you personally, as is the norm at good US departments.

Anonymous said...

If someone can dish out thoughtless and impersonal PFO letters but can't take one, that's sad. If I received this student's letter, I probably would have taken it to be a joke and a joke that wasn't horrible.

(Favorite PFO email of the year, btw, came in the form of an email from a certain school in Scotland where the subject line just read:

[name of school]: Bad News!)

Anonymous said...

6:27

Exactly! It's like according to 1:16 if the school sends such a PFO it's a "respectful letter", but if a student does it's a "sarcastic letter" "making fun" of the school.

I mean, obviously, it is a joke, a parody of this kind of PFO. But in order to parody something, it has to be somewhat absurd to begin with, which this kind of PFO is and everyone knows that, including the people who send them.

Anonymous said...

It's been a helluva lot of years since I got my PFOs, but the fact that they are *still* often in the form of "we were pleased that Dr. X of Bettadan U accepted our offer" or "there were many excellent candidates but unfortunately you were not selected to be a finalist" or just a rude Wittgensteinian silence does seem to warrant parody and ridicule. PFOs are really inexcusable. But 10:16's point is well-taken; the more you are civil to colleagues the better off you'll be in the long run, and the better off for all of us in philosophy as well.

Anonymous said...

8:09

But the flip-side to 10:16 is that, the less self-described vindictive SOBs there are in philosophy, the better off everyone in philosophy is.

Anonymous said...

Ah 8:40-Grasshopper, you have grasped the pebble from my hand.

Anonymous said...

Actually, no. Without some vindictive SOBs, the assholes are more free to act like assholes. So it's good to have a few vindictive SOBs around, especially if it isn't clear who they are.

As they say, an armed society is a polite society.

Anonymous said...

The student who sent the email declining the offer is a hero. If you lot can't see that you must be older, and less punk, than I thought!

Anonymous said...

It's like according to 1:16 if the school sends such a PFO it's a "respectful letter", but if a student does it's a "sarcastic letter" "making fun" of the school.

Uh, yeah, that's exactly what it's like. (This is 1:16.)

I think lots of DGSs are trying to write a respectful letter. Maybe they fail (as I said, I don't remember the content of mine and I've never seen another one). If you think that's not true, then we just disagree about what DGSs are like -- in my (admittedly limited) experience they are dedicated, respectful people. (I grant to 1:23 that they don't tend to be particularly young or particularly punk.)

And obviously the letter from the student is sarcastic. That's the whole point.

I didn't (and still don't) mean to make a big deal out of this, but to my mind, it's just obvious that a parodic letter to a DGS could be taken in different ways, anywhere from admiring your sense of humor to jotting down your name in the "Dickheads I have encountered in philosophy" notebook (it's a fat tome).

Anonymous said...

@1:23

Get the fuck off my lawn

Anonymous said...

Okay, something weird going on here. I've had plenty of rejection letters from departments in my time, but I can't say I thought of any of them as condescending PFOs. I mean, they were rejections, sure. That's tough to take. But condescending PF0s? Disrespectful? Nah. If I don't make it, I'm happy with a form letter telling me that.

Anon@5.09's letter is hilarious. But if you actually send something like that, you're a dick. And you deserve to have people thinking you're a dick.

Anonymous said...

I still want to know exactly what the student who ended up at UNC did which so pissed off 10.16.

Pretty please...

Dan said...

Actually I do not think an armed society is a polite society. It is one in which there is less petty crime, certainly. But what moulds manners in individuals, especially youth, is being corrected, and if necessary told off, by those who are already inducted into the practice – usually the older members of society. Now if those currently impolite members of society, especially the youth, react aggressively to being corrected or told off – and especially when they might be armed – the older wiser members will keep their own council, and the impolite will remain impolite.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic immaturity. Like pissing in one's own living room. A mischievous 10-year old boy's so-called "courage."
And, btw, I can't imagine a female student doing the same.
I'm glad there are "vindictive SOBs" out there. Hooray 10:16.

Anonymous said...

"there were many excellent candidates but unfortunately you were not selected to be a finalist" ... PFOs [like that] are really inexcusable.

Uh, why? Serious question. Is it just the passive voice? I know that sort of sentence is boilerplate nowadays, but hell, it's usually true. As the DGS of a grad program, I send off tons of grad-school rejection letters. My standard letter includes a line (although in active voice) about our not accepting many excellent applicants each year. It probably doesn't make the recipient feel awesome, but I don't want dejected applicants to think, "Geez, I must suck," because we reject lots of applicants who don't in the least suck.

Anonymous said...

2:13

Hi--I'm 8:09, and I do appreciate that you have a tough job--I'd not like to write those letters! My point about the quote is due to the passive language as married with the subtle contrastive sense of the "but": it leaves open an unintended inference that the recipient is not among the excellent-candidate-class. How about "We regret that we will be unable to offer you admission to our program. The tight competition for the few slots available this year made our decision all the more difficult knowing that we would be unable to offer admission to many deserving candidates. We wish it were otherwise; we wish you the best in securing placement elsewhere." I put in the "otherwise" phrase to encourage inference that the recipient was among those "deserving" without actually actively implying that specific conclusion. But again--I'd not like be the "lonely at the top" signatory of those letters.

Declining to comment said...

I'm not posting.

Anonymous said...

8:09:

OK, I can see that, and your version is a lot better, although I think that calling the passive-voice version "really inexcusable" is a bit harsh. I'd give, as an example of something really inexcusable, a department that doesn't bother sending out its rejection letters until it's done squaring away its incoming class, with those hardcopy letters arriving a couple of weeks after the April 15 deadline for accepting or declining most offers.

Anonymous said...

8:05--I agree with that. I suppose my skin was thinner years back, and the ick persists. Offense is always taken after all, and as such is not paralleled with it being offered. Again--I've not been in your place as declining applications--and I appreciate the hot-spot position you are in.

Anonymous said...

Not everyone takes as much care in drafting rejection letters as 2:13. Certain elite institutions seem to take pride in sending out terse or outright rude rejections letters to applicants -- as if having a strong faculty gives them license to be assholes.

A couple of years ago, I received a rejection letter from MIT's graduate philosophy program that began with the following sentence (or one almost exactly like it): "We are not offering you admission." None of the content that followed did anything to blunt the first line; but actually, that might have been impossible to do, since the entire letter was barely three lines long. The person who wrote it deliberately made it sound harsh.

"I'm not coming" might not be a politic way of declining an offer, but if the school s/he was declining rejects candidates the same way that MIT does (or at least, did), then it would hardly be inappropriate.

Anonymous said...

The rejection letter must be direct; it must not be blunt. The passive voice is inexcusable. The letter must slather the rejected with praise but never insincerely. Any letter failing to meet these conditions is offensive. The DGS at MIT deliberately made the rejection letter sound harsh, taking pride in his rudeness. He and Brian Leiter had a good laugh about it later. Assholes.

PLO (Please lighten up) said...

@ anon 7:17 "The passive voice is inexcusable."

Rape is inexcusable. Genocide is inexcusable. But using the passive voice in a rejection letter? Don't be ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Misacronymization is unacceptable!

Chairephon said...

Erm, I mean inexcusable.

7:17 said...

PLO,

Missing the ironic tone in a blog comment is inexcusable!

PLU (formerly known as PLO) said...

@ 7:17

"...for if we and the author cannot imagine anyone taking it ironically, it can hardly have been intended as ironic, and there would be no reason at all to believe that it is."

Monroe Beardsley

7:17 said...

PLU/PLO,

Mea culpa.

Chastened,
7:17

Anonymous said...

The prickishness of the student's letter wasn't so much about it's content but rather that he or she saw fit to send it to the entire department rather than just the DGS.

Dan said...

Let's not forget that some very good philosophers have rubbish social skills. Perhaps even heading towards being autistic.


This offers a bit of a dilemma. If we care about philosophy we will want such people to be financially supported so they can continue with their philosophy, which generally means giving them a job in a philosophy department. And having them in *your* department can be stimulating, and (once they are famous) raise your profile - but at the same time it can be a pain...