Ooh, I Bet You Wonder How I Knew

Apologies to Marvin Gaye, but "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" seemed true for the topic of leaving an academic job on so many levels. The question I've been meaning to get to about the job search has been the question of how it impacted things here, at the school I'm soon to depart.

Ash asked some tough questions in her comments on the previous job tracking post:
...what kinds of reactions you're getting from colleagues, students, family etc.

Is it even possible to control the spread of information at a SLAC, where everyone seems to know everyone else's business? If nothing else, how do you keep friends/well-wishers/whoever from spilling the news on Facebook before you're ready to tell the world at large?
Dealing with life after the job offer has been one of the most confusing and difficult parts of the process for me. As I've said before, I love my department, so there's a sizable risk in leaving that the place I land won't be the community I have here. I'm rolling the dice in that regard, though the hope is that more resources, better pay, and an environment I think I'll enjoy more will make up for any problems.

The short answer to those questions is: you can't stop the grapevine, but you can contain it now and then.

Keeping a lid on things was tough. My roommate teaches at the same university, for starters, and most of my friends in the area do as well. And it's impossible to keep them out of the loop. Compound that with the fact that at least one person in your department is likely to serve as a reference for you if you're at the point I'm at - untenured and trying to leap from my first tenure-track job to another. And if they're halfway observant, the people you work with know the signs anyway: short, unexplained trips are a pretty big tip-off, for example, particularly if they aren't happening at conference season for your discipline.

I actually think, to what extend you're able, it's better not to try and be secretive about the process, though there are certainly times it is better to. I let the senior faculty know awhile back that I was looking for a job, in part because I needed letters but also because I like this department and my hope is that I leave in as good a shape or better than I found it, and one thing that means is that they've got to have time to prepare for my absence. I also tried to let them know why I was looking to leave: that the salary here wasn't enough, that being here made it harder to deal with aging parents, and that the resources I need aren't here.

Of course, that doesn't mean you volunteer everything either. For example, I didn't tell anyone about my interviews, but I would have had they asked. I'm sure they knew that I was going - in fact, at least one colleague told me after the fact.

Where I did intentionally keep quiet about things was once I had an offer, because that was stressful enough without having to answer questions at my door. And it kept me from having to think about a counter-offer from my current school. Probably I should have been glad to have gotten an offer, as it would have helped me negotiate a better position, but again, knowing I want to leave made it seem unfair to people and a program that's been very good to me. In any case, I've been direct in asking the folks who know not to say anything - and if there were particular people I didn't want to know, then I said so directly. Here, and probably everywhere, there are a few key folks who can't keep a secret to themselves, so you've got to prepare for that. But I think you have to assume that sooner than you probably want, word is going to get out.

Even now, with word well out and about, I find talking about taking a new job awkward. There are a lot of Institutional Believers here, who can't imagine why anyone would ever leave this place, and they seem to take these things very hard. I have a colleague whose back visibly stiffens every time word of my departure is heard. The day the story broke, that same colleague seemed unable to look at me or speak to me until I broached the subject directly. I worry that others are going to take this personally as well, though so far everyone - even the rigid backed academic I just spoke of - indicate that they understand. The topic came up at a gathering a few nights ago, and it was the most awkward I'd felt in years.

And, of course, I haven't figure out how and when to tell students. It's an interesting moment, having seen colleagues leave before, that gives insight into how students see faculty. Really, in their minds, some faculty become fixtures - less a part of the scenery in their college dramas than a really important prop.

Okay, maybe that metaphor doesn't work.

In any case, they like their worlds well-defined (as we all do, really), and most of them (in my experience, at least) don't understand how academia works in anything but the most rudimentary fashion so it isn't surprising that for some students the sudden departure feels particularly distressing. And with some of them, I do feel like I'm abandoning them. I've found myself composing a sort of last will and testament to the department, a list of little things to do and watch out for once I'm gone with particular students. I think, really, I'm probably only a couple of weeks away from meaningful hand grasping and hushed words of wisdom, like some dying octogenarian in a made-for-tv movie.

Of course, they aren't tied into the same grapevine, so it's entirely possible that a lot of them wouldn't know if I don't tell them until they turned up at the start of next term to see I'd been replaced by that lovable pinch-hitter "Prof. Staff." It would almost be easier if they were privy to faculty/administration gossip, because then I wouldn't have to chose the moment (or none at all).

See, Marvin had it right: there's heartbreak attached to this, even when the decision was an easy one.


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