One of the things I have always found rather weird and off-putting about German academia is the way that some professors include a section in their CVs about the Rufe – the offers of chairs at other universities – they have turned down. I understand, intellectually, why this happens: in many cases, especially in the past, a professor stayed at the salary level at which they were originally appointed, unless they could wave an offer from somewhere else at the university management and negotiate a better deal, so it was only rational to apply elsewhere on a regular basis – and clearly it continues to be a means of arguing for more support staff, more research money and the like, as well as a recognised indicator of social capital. Further, if everyone knows that every job will attract applications from a load of high-powered established professors who don’t really want it but will take at least six months to play this possible future university off against their current university before declining the offer – which is why, from a UK perspective, German appointment processes take a staggeringly long time – then the people who actually end up taking the jobs, two years later, won’t feel at all embarrassed that it’s all out in public: you weren’t competing on a level playing field, so winning by default, so to speak, isn’t an issue.
So, in context, it’s perfectly intelligible – but it still makes me feel uncomfortable. Partly, it’s a reminder of how hierarchical and inegalitarian the German academic system can be, certainly in the humanities: it’s bad enough that there are so very few permanent positions and so many highly qualified people competing for them (see fascinating article from 2013 on how academia is like a drug gang in this respect), but it’s worse when those who already have jobs – and so don’t have to worry about the fact that the appointment process drags on for years – continue to play the market and so slow the whole thing down. I’ve heard it suggested that the reason why many German universities no longer pay travel expenses for job interviews is to try to discourage applicants who aren’t serious about the position – but that further discriminates against those in marginal, fixed-term contracts as opposed to well-paid established professors who can more easily afford the train fare.
Partly, I may be projecting the British experience – where in most cases a department desperately needs to fill a vacancy in order to keep the show on the road, so offering a job to someone and having to wait six months for them to make up their mind is a total nightmare – onto a completely different context; if the Faculty knows it will take two years to fill a position because that’s what it always takes, it’s prepared for that, and my sympathies for departments being messed around by candidates are misplaced. Finally, I suspect I am just being incredibly English (or maybe British); it offends against all sorts of ideas of fair play, modesty, self-deprecation and so forth to advertise that one turned down a chair (the British tradition is much more focused on outward equanimity and inward seething resentment from those who get passed over – but that’s probably true in Germany as well).
So, it’s with the aim of demonstrating my partial integration into German academic mores that I now proudly (well, half-heartedly) announce that I too have turned down a Ruf to a German chair – but I’m still being thoroughly British about it by (a) not telling you which university (though I don’t think the confidential appointment process is ever very confidential here) and (b) declining the invitation within a day of receiving it, rather than nine months. I am a little nervous that this – the rapid Ablehnung, that is, rather than the public announcement – may be taken as a sign of disrespect; perhaps I ought to embark on protracted negotiations with them and with Exeter, to show that I was serious and that they were right to make me the offer.
That’s not going to happen. I was absolutely serious when I applied (however many years ago that was…) and at the interview; I really would like to experience a different higher education system properly, rather than just as a visitor, and while I’m perfectly aware that the grass always looks greener on the other side, there are many things about German universities that are very attractive – especially now that I’m threatened with having my European identity taken away… But, having accepted the offer of a position at Exeter with alacrity just a couple of months ago, I’m certainly not going to attempt to change course now, let alone play with the possibility as a bargaining chip.
And if it had been a straight choice a couple of months ago, rather than everything being determined by timing..? Still Exeter, I think; the prospect of working with some really exciting new colleagues with whom I share a load of interests – not just in Classics & Ancient History but also on the political theory side – outweighs the prospect of getting to grips with a totally different system as the all-powerful Professor, with added Europeanness – especially as this way I get to maintain my German links via ongoing collaboration with colleagues in Berlin. And, while Brexit does create the possibility that, if all goes utterly pear-shaped, I’ll be looking back in a few years’ time wondering about what might have been, the fact that I made it to third place on the list for a proper German academic position means that I can always try again in future if that seems the right way to go.
Of course, what I should now be doing – given all the recent rhetoric about accepting the Voice of The People, focusing on making Brexit the best possible Brexit in the best of all possible worlds, making Britain Great Again and so forth – is writing this up as a “Why I’ve Turned Down A Foreign Job Offer To Stay in the UK!” story. I’m sure there are going to be any number of “that’s it, I’ve had enough, I’m off to Canada” articles in the next few years, especially with various countries making noises about incentives to attract disaffected UK academics (they think they need incentives??). How better to bury my inconvenient involvement in the Remain campaign and to show that I’m now fully signed up to the glorious new order than to offer a counter-narrative..?