A primer on the elite academic job market

Jason Zengerle, in a TNR effort to knock down Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski a peg or two, criticizes new Duke President Richard Brodhead for kowtowing to Coach K’s market value: Never, it seems, has a coach had such an upper hand in a relationship with a university president as Krzyzewski has at Duke. Confronted ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast.

Jason Zengerle, in a TNR effort to knock down Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski a peg or two, criticizes new Duke President Richard Brodhead for kowtowing to Coach K's market value:

Jason Zengerle, in a TNR effort to knock down Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski a peg or two, criticizes new Duke President Richard Brodhead for kowtowing to Coach K’s market value:

Never, it seems, has a coach had such an upper hand in a relationship with a university president as Krzyzewski has at Duke. Confronted with the prospect of Krzyzewski’s departure, Brodhead essentially begged him to stay. He took Krzyzewski to dinner to tell him, as he later recounted, “how deeply he was valued here and how much I hope he’ll stay … [and] of my personal respect for him and our deep hope that he’ll serve out the rest of his career at Duke.” He joined a rally outside Duke’s basketball arena, Cameron Indoor Stadium, to chant “Coach K, please stay!”–even locking arms with students to form a big human “K.” And, of course, he approved unspecified “modifications” to Krzyzewski’s lifetime contract with the school–which had been signed in 2001–that, while certainly falling short of the Lakers’ $8-million-a-year offer, no doubt cushioned the steep opportunity cost to Krzyzewski of staying at Duke. It’s hard to imagine Brodhead doing all this for a star history professor tempted by the Ivy League.

I’ll grant Zengerle that an indoor rally is highly unlikely for a star history professor. However, the other two measures — personal schmoozing by the president and matching an Ivy League offer — would actually be quite likely from a private university with deep pockets –i.e., Duke. In fact — even for social sciences like history — the academic job market strongly resembles baseball after free agency. Star academics flit from institution to institution, or threaten to do so unless their demands are sated. For example, last year the New York Times Magazine ran a story about New York University’s latest recruitment drive. One tidbit from the story:

Academic wooing makes other forms of romance seem straightforward in comparison. It begins in rumor and often ends in abject spurning; its convolutions occur somewhere near the juncture of Freudian psychology and economic game theory. Academic economists appear to have a peculiarly keen interest in continually testing their market value by flirting with interested schools. Yaw Nyarko, who has been at N.Y.U. since 1988, says ”it’s taken for granted” that some advance their salaries by getting the school to match an offer from somewhere else. As such, a department in the suitor’s role often finds itself expending time, energy and self-esteem on what turns out to be an elaborate tease. According to economics department chair Douglas] Gale, a typical batting average in senior faculty recruitment is about .200 — that is, two hires for every 10 offers.

Read the whole thing.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner

More from Foreign Policy

Newspapers in Tehran feature on their front page news about the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, signed in Beijing the previous day, on March, 11 2023.
Newspapers in Tehran feature on their front page news about the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, signed in Beijing the previous day, on March, 11 2023.

Saudi-Iranian Détente Is a Wake-Up Call for America

The peace plan is a big deal—and it’s no accident that China brokered it.

Austin and Gallant stand at podiums side by side next to each others' national flags.
Austin and Gallant stand at podiums side by side next to each others' national flags.

The U.S.-Israel Relationship No Longer Makes Sense

If Israel and its supporters want the country to continue receiving U.S. largesse, they will need to come up with a new narrative.

Russian President Vladimir Putin lays flowers at the Moscow Kremlin Wall in the Alexander Garden during an event marking Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin lays flowers at the Moscow Kremlin Wall in the Alexander Garden during an event marking Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow.

Putin Is Trapped in the Sunk-Cost Fallacy of War

Moscow is grasping for meaning in a meaningless invasion.

An Iranian man holds a newspaper reporting the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, in Tehran on March 11.
An Iranian man holds a newspaper reporting the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, in Tehran on March 11.

How China’s Saudi-Iran Deal Can Serve U.S. Interests

And why there’s less to Beijing’s diplomatic breakthrough than meets the eye.