Negotiating in India-- difficulty level: academia
April 25, 2017 11:21 PM   Subscribe

The fantastic news: after several years floating around on 10 month contracts, picking up freelance editing work for peanuts, and generally wringing our hands about the future, my husband and I got assistant professor jobs! The catch: In India! The bad news: the (new) private university is run like a business (eyes on the bottom line). They want you there 9-5 M-F and every other Saturday measured "biometrically".

Sorry for the wall of text. I am a terrible negotiator in general as an anxious people-pleaser and this is my first time negotiating anything, really. Let alone with a bunch of Indian businessmen whom I have never met in person. FWIW I am a white American living in Europe for the past several years, my husband is an OCI. Moreover, though, I am a bundle of very mixed emotions and would love some non-biased help sorting them out...otherwise it's just me and my husband going back and forth in circles for hours. I need to get back to them in the coming days about the contract.

How do I negotiate so this feels like less of a prison? We would be two of less than five international faculty on campus. I am really afraid of being micro-managed--
the faculty handbook is very concerned about the institution's reputation and faculty productivity. Should I ask for the ability to work from home one day a week? It already says in the faculty handbook this isn't allowed. Ask for specific times away from campus, like for language classes? This is more likely. Say I will do my best to be on campus but refuse to check in or out and take it up with me at the year-end review if it's a problem? Is taking such a strong stance against the business culture of an institution before starting just going to make more problems for me and bad blood all around?

Should I just suck it up and learn to love routine and just treat academia like any other job and refuse to check email 5 PM- 9 AM? This might actually change my life dramatically for the better. But I haven't had an actual office job for almost a decade. Though it wasn't soul-deadening at the time, I have come to associate regular hours with waking up when you are 50 and realizing you've been on autopilot for decades. I recognize this does not need to be the case.

It really squicks me out that the "business manager" of the university is my main contact. There is also much more limited leave (30 days of "earned leave" rather than 3 months!) My husband talked to some faculty there to get the inside scoop before the spousal hire was finalized but I feel like I am going in super blind as to what my day-to-day is gonna look like and how controlling/corporate/dysfunctional this place really is compared to your average American academic department. This might just be totally normal first-academic-job shit-getting-very-real, after all. But I have also been told by current faculty/other academics in this city/random Indian family members to go in "with eyes open". OK so-- how do I do that?

NB that this is by far the best option on the table in recent years, and we are going to take the jobs-- the pay is very good by Indian standards, we have a great place to live over there rent-free and already have some friends and lots of extended family (in a good way!). It is so huge that we would both be earning and doing meaningful work-- all the academic friends we have told are amazed we made this happen. It's a fair teaching load and we choose our courses. And, of course, we could hire someone to make us tea every morning instead of working as baristas ourselves. Obviously, if we hate it there, back on the market we go. My husband will be straight-up out of work in August when his fellowship ends, my biggest freelance client (2/3 of my income) is shutting down mid-May. After years of applications for all kinds of jobs both in and out of academia, getting two well-paid faculty-rank jobs in the humanities in a city we want to live in is really pretty lucky.

But I am a catastrophizer and, frankly, terrified. I would be so, so grateful for advice on how to navigate the negotiation process specifically and the intercultural business cultures question more generally.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
As someone working in commercial education in a different part of Asia...I think you're right to be wary, but things might be OK if they are willing to deal with procedural change well. Do you have a reason to assume it will be?

I imagine, for example, that there is an HR department or person. You say working from home is simply not allowed. How did they come up with this policy? Were current faculty consulted? Was it in response to mass absenteeism over unpaid wages, or because of one or two bad apples? What about people out sick for the day - are you expected to check emails from home? If you are, isn't that working from home? Are you paid for that time? What about those six-day weeks (20-plus weeks a year!) - are you paid as if those Saturday hours are...overtime? Something else?

I know all the answers to these questions where I work and knew them before I signed the contract - the documentation was full of examples like this, written in plain English. I think to put your mind at ease you'll need to really read the contract rather closely, write out a few more questions and get them answered.

Good luck! India is an amazing country but do make sure this position is good enough to let you really enjoy it.
posted by mdonley at 1:35 AM on April 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

As far as the leave goes, you'd get less annual leave in Australia. We get four weeks each year (20 days if you are full time). Including academics. Three months is not universal, and non teaching time is by no means non working time (if anything, it's busier).

I find the 9 to 5 bit intriguing. If you kept strictly to those hours, even with the alternate Saturdays, I think you'd have a better work life balance than many academics do. I can't quite imagine how they would control everyone (between classes, meetings, seminars, it's not like you can be tied to your desk) so it will be interesting how it goes in the longer term. But if you don't have strict boundaries work just expands to fit the time you spend. As someone who has always worked in office jobs, I don't think you need to fear the deadening feeling if you enjoy your work. You can enjoy it between 9-5 as well as any other hours. The bad bit of the 9-5 grind is when you hate what you do, hate your colleagues etc. It really doesn't have to be that way.

Congrats on the job!

(I'm in admin at a university, work 9-5. But love my job and don't begrudge the freedoms the academic staff have. And a lot of them, especially those with families, try to keep those kinds of hours anyway)
posted by kitten magic at 2:04 AM on April 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm not an academic, but I am Indian, so with that caveat...

Universities in India are nothing like universities abroad, especially in the US. The one I did my undergraduate studies on was on the slightly less restrictive side of things, and there was an 80% attendance requirement, a dress code for both students and teachers, and cell phones were not allowed. I'm not talking 'you can't use your cell phone in class,' I'm talking, 'bags are regularly checked and phones are confiscated.'

I can't speak to the academic side of things, as I ran hell for leather from academia after my MA. But as to the sexism aspect... even my very liberal, very progressive university (the one that's currently in the news for speaking out against the actions of the government) has a [Uni] Teachers' Wives Association and not a [Uni] Teachers' Husbands' Association, as one of my professors pointed out. And our sexual harassment policy is one of the broadest, and best enforced, in the country. So caveat anyone female.

I don't have any actual answers for you, other than to warn you that yeah, it's a hell of a culture shock, and you should be prepared.
posted by Tamanna at 3:43 AM on April 26, 2017 [13 favorites]

I have some experience working in India and with the Indian academic system.

As far as I know, many of these new "private" universities, as opposed to the older state universities, will be trying to model themselves in some way on a "liberal arts" school model from the US, and one thing that they will pride them on/ people notice is that they do not have to conform to the standard rules about syllabi and course content that the larger universities do there. But then they are probably going to be very business-minded, and run somewhat like a corporation, because that is the new culture which is creating them. All that being said, they do want to attract the best talent, and it's highly possible they can turn out to be more flexible than they seem at first.

Feel free to PM me if you like; I might be able to be a bit more concrete if I knew where specifically you were headed.
posted by Stilling Still Dreaming at 4:09 AM on April 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

As far as the 9 to 5 thing goes... look, I'm an academic, I get it. You get used to the flexibility really fast, and it's really nice to be able to schedule doctor's appointments in the middle of the day, or do some laundry, or just lay out in your backyard and sun for an afternoon because you're relatively caught up. But think of it this way - the work's got to get done, no matter when you do it. How often have you found yourself catching up on email at 1am, or turning down a Sunday brunch invitation because you promised your students those papers would be back on Monday, etc.? If you're like most of us, pretty often. :)

9 to 5 M to F and every other Saturday averages out to slightly less than 40 hours a week, assuming an hour lunch built in. Now think about showing up, getting your work done, and yes - not checking work email after hours, not writing committee reports on weekends, not doing that manuscript review at midnight. Instead, you can do whatever you want from 5 to 9 and on Sunday and your alternate Saturdays, and stay up pretty late during the week, because a 9am report time's not bad. If you're efficient (you don't say what the teaching load is, but since you get to pick your courses, you shouldn't have many new preps other than adjusting for their curriculum/culture), there's no reason you should work after hours ever again. That, combined with picking your own courses, good money, actually getting jobs near friends/family, and a free place to live? You've won the academic lottery.

Good luck, whatever y'all decide!
posted by joycehealy at 5:16 AM on April 26, 2017 [7 favorites]

the (new) private university is run like a business

It really squicks me out that the "business manager" of the university is my main contact

This is worrisome. I don't know much about academia in India, but I do know that they are extremely rigid and strict in their business practices. In many cases scruples are questionable at best when the bottom line is all-important in that part of the world (that can happen in the west too, but at least businesses tend to respect government regulations around labor rights.) A 'private' university will be run as a private business, and such businesses often overlook government laws and rules and get away with it via bribes and networking (I use networking here generously - it's more like someone's wife's brother's nephew works in a government office post, here's a few thousand rupees to look the other way.)

In short, this means you're unlikely to enjoy the sort of human consideration that's given to academics - or really, any person in a white-collar workforce - in Europe or North America. They may be more progressive than most businesses, but they've already shown you amply that they're priority is their bottom line. That said, if you're white, there's a sort of weird obsequiousness with white foreigners in that part of the world, so you may not find rules strictly enforced against you should you like to request exceptions. Just be very cognizant of the fact that private businesses there are run ruthlessly and oftentimes unscrupulously, and in general workers' rights will be a lower priority over the bottom line should there be a conflict of interest.

I hope that your stint there proves me wrong, and that you love this new life path you're about to embark on! Good luck!
posted by Everydayville at 6:09 AM on April 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

So, I don't know your field, but reading your description (especially the part about its being new, and your contact being the "business manager") left me with deep unease. Especially if you think you might return to the west eventually, are you sure that this is going to look on your CV like anything but Low-Class Semi-Scam University? A job at the Indian equivalent of DeVry would probably be an active detriment to a CV going forward. You've talked about consulting other Indian academics, but, again, unless you are planning to stay there indefinitely, you really need an understanding of how the school is perceived in the west.
posted by praemunire at 11:34 AM on April 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think everyone reading this from a Western academic perspective is going to be uncomfortable with this setup. I'm not sure how much weight I would give that shared discomfort.

Look, it's a 9 - 5 job with a month's vacation. That's the bottom line. The two of you have so much riding on this that I would be inclined to just take the jobs, suck it up for a year, and get the lay of the land before re-negotiating or seeing what the edge options are in three months or when your contract is due for renewal. I don't think you are currently negotiating from a position of strength.

But what do I know? I would look very hard for a specific and India-relevant subreddit to ask there as another option.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:58 PM on April 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

I am not an academic, but I am an Indian educated in India. Currently living and working in India. I have friends who are in the academic field, but AFAIK none in a private sector university.

With that out of the way, I think DarlingBri has the right idea. It doesn't look like you have much of negotiating power at this point. Also, like in many things in India, rules are easier said than implemented. I think you will probably find a fair degree of flexibility on the ground in how these things are handled.

On negotiation itself, please note that a lot of negotiation in India is essentially I'll-meet-you-in-the-middle. They offer 10, you ask for 20, and both settle at about 15 or so. It is ok to negotiate salary etc, but I don't think there will be much flexibility on quantum of leave. If they have better houses on campus, you can probably get an upgrade ("we are 2 profs in 1 house, so you are saving 1 house, at least give us a bigger/better one").

The much harder thing will perhaps be the adjustment to a different culture, both in the classroom and outside of it (and then, outside the campus).

As an aside, In India, many campuses are not open, as in they are a sort of city within a city. Entry into the campus is regulated so that random people don't wander in. It makes most such campuses safer than the outside, if a bit isolated. During my 4 years of college, I never actually *needed* to leave the campus for anything - food, entertainment, banking.. almost everything was available within the (fairly large) campus.
posted by vivekspace at 4:17 AM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

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