At what point is it fair to abandon the hiring of a faculty candidate?

After posting about the hiring flap between Hamline University and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, I wanted to get some views on a few elements.

I asked several hundred college faculty and administrators in MPR's Public Insight Network what they thought about college faculty hiring practices and the role that job candidates' politics (or values) should play.

So when can an institution nix the process and still call it fair?

Most who responded say all's fair at any stage before the signing of a contract -- "People generally don't feel a job is really offered until there is a signed letter or contract," writes University of Minnesota faculty member Greg Filice -- though a few said a written offer, or even an oral agreement, is all that really matters.

Bemidji State University faculty member Carol Knicker writes:

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If we believe in the integrity of the process, an oral commitment is the same as a written offer.

Minnesota State University - Mankato faculty member Georgia Holmes isn't alone in saying the issue is far from clear:

Technically, faculty in our system don't have individual "contracts." We have "appointments" that are governed by the master contract between the union and the state. Under contract law, a contract is formed, once a person "accepts" an offer. What is an "offer" can sometimes be a litigated issue.

Gustavus Adolphus professor Max Hailperin suggests:

An institution should always make explicit in any communication prior to the contract that it is not binding. Assuming that this is done, then termination at any point prior to the contract is fair.

But Carolyn Schmidt, a full-time adjunct college instructor (online) in Wichita, Kansas, writes:

Part-time faculty can be fired at any point for any reason, period. Part-time faculty are fired like this all the time. All the time. I've picked up classes for people who have been fired during the term! Your question was about "fairness" but fairness doesn't even come up in these considerations. Administrators can't typically fire full-time professors easily but they can "react" quickly and decisively to problems (real or perceived) with adjuncts. Adjuncts are regularly shown the door. (They also make almost nothing, by the way.)