In response to “Practicing collegiality, and what to do when it’s not returned,” onlooker writes,
Perhaps you have thoughts on this question: What if a [tenure-track Assistant Prof.] were to leave [a] post after [the] first year? Can one resign a TT position within a year (especially for a “more prestigious” school) without ruining . . . relationships with [hir] colleagues? Is moving quickly considered okay within the field at large or can it damage your professional reputation?
onlooker: I’m sure that taking a more prestigious job will only enhance your reputation as a rising star in your profession! But, I think you ask a really good question, which seems to boil down to “can I do this without seeming like I’m a complete jerk?” My answer is yes, of course–unless you want to look like a jerk. (I’ve done that–it’s fun! Especially when I delivered my big F.U. speech at the last faculty meeting I attended in my former job. But, I’m sure that others will want advice on how to make a more graceful exit.)
The fact of the matter is that some of your soon-to-be former colleagues may be resentful of you–but they’re probably the types who would have been resentful of you if you had stayed put for the rest of your career. Most well-adjusted people will be happy for you–and, quite frankly, I always take it as a compliment when someone in my department gets offered another job, because it’s evidence that mine is not a department where careers come to die. Assistant Professors have left my department for the University of Toronto, the University of Chicago, and UC San Diego–so I’ve been happy for them, and proud on their behalf. (It’s a small consolation for those of us left behind! Please don’t take it away from me.) Other people will seek jobs because their current location is far from a partner or family, or offers no prospects for finding a partner and/or making a family, if that’s what they want to do. I think most sensible university faculty get it that there is no job that’s perfect for absolutely everyone.
So, how do you resign a tenure-track job without being a complete jerk? First of all, while you’re still holding that job, try not to be a complainer. Your colleagues who will be staying put have their own frustrations about their jobs or the institution, but no one likes to hear constant b!tching from a colleague who’s not seeking constructive solutions for hir problems. (Nota bene: there’s a difference between seeking advice in solving a problem, and just complaining. Examples: “This 4-4 teaching load is kicking my butt. I notice that you have managed to publish quite a lot–can I ask how you do it?” versus “This 4-4 teaching load is ridiculous! I’ll never get any research done!”) Secondly, be discreet about your job search. Depending on your circumstances, you might want to keep it entirely confidential unless and until you get invited on a campus interview, and then you really should inform the Chair of your department. (If you reasonably fear retribution for merely interviewing for another job, then you may keep it entirely confidential until you resign. But if you work in a department that has treated you decently, then inform the Chair when you’re invited to campus.)
Finally, if and when you have accepted another job, try to inform the colleagues closest to you in person. (In a small department, you should inform everyone in person, if at all possible.) Anyone in your current department who wrote a letter for your dossier absolutely must be notified in person, and thanked many times over for their support and generosity. Even if you were treated badly by some colleagues, those who treated you decently should be notified in person, before you send out an e-mail over the department listserv. Tell them how much you have appreciated their guidance and assistance, and how grateful you were to have had the opportunity to work with them. (It’s quite possible that you got your foot in the door at the other place because your current department took a chance on you in the first place.) You can also tell them how exciting your new opportunity is for you–but focus on what you’re going towards, not what you’re running from.
I think this advice holds even for people who have been around 2, 3, 4, or 5 years, by the way, not just for resignations in your first year of a tenure-track job. We all understand that sometimes the perfect job comes around right after you’ve taken another one. (Well, for some lucky duckies, anyway!) Again, the normally well-adjusted people will get this and be happy for you. (Those who aren’t happy for you–or who can’t even fake it briefly to congratulate you–well, hang ‘em. Being that miserable is a choice they’ve made, and not something you can change with some perfect language in your resignation letter or a magical handshake goodbye.)
Dear readers–what do you think? What have I missed or got wrong? Are there ways in which bitter, envious, and vindictive former colleagues have haunted some of you? (When I resigned my first job, there was no one in that small department who could really harm my career–or so I think, anyway. And that F. U. speech? I have no regrets! None. I smile broadly when remembering that day. But it’s not a course of action I’d recommend for most people.)