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I am interviewing for a tenure-track position in the United States. I am currently a tenure-track faculty member at another US university. In my cover letter, I stated that I wished to keep my search confidential, at least until the flyout stage. Now that I am at the interview/flyout stage, I am trying to figure out a strategy for providing a contact/reference from my current department without damaging my relationships if I stay in my current position. I already have three official letters of reference from faculty at other institutions.

What sort of communication between a prospective department and a current department is typical/expected at this stage? Could it be limited to calling a junior faculty member for a discussion? What sort of contacts should I prepared to offer or what sort of statements should I be prepared to make? (I realize one option is just to ask the prospective department, but that is a conversation I would like to be prepared for before opening.)

Some relevant details:

  1. My current department is small. There are just a few tenured faculty, most of whom are quite close to the chair. (or who I don't know well because they have been on sabbatical/other reasons.) If I ask a tenured faculty member to give me a reference, the chair would likely know.
  2. I have been told that my chair "holds a grudge." I could see this being true.
  3. I do have a junior faculty member in my department who I have revealed my search to (they are also quietly searching). I think this person would speak well on my behalf. This person is not in my direct specialty.
  4. I believe I have a good reputation in my current department.
  5. My other major mentors at the university are in the administration for my department. I don't think these people hold grudges, but I am not convinced they have an incentive to keep my search confidential.
  6. I applied because the new department is in a city where my family lives, it is also higher-ranking than my current department. I am early pre-tenure but I could not afford to pass up this opportunity.

This question is related: Should I request a letter of recommendation from current employers that don't want me to leave? However, my situation is different as I have a current position and more of an incentive to keep the search private. I also have some indication that my current chair may not be pleased by this.

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    I don't think any contact with your current department is expected. Generally you are only expected to provide references who will write letters on your behalf, and it's not required that any of them be from your current department. Academic circles are small, and somebody in your department may find out anyway. Hopefully their reaction will be to incentivize you to stay. – David Ketcheson Jan 5 at 18:40
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    @DavidKetcheson: Without a letter from someone in the current department, the hiring department might wonder if the candidate is being fired, forced out, or is leaving because of some serious problem with their performance. A letter from within could reassure them that the candidate is doing fine in the current department, and is leaving of their own volition. – Nate Eldredge Jan 5 at 20:29
  • @NateEldredge This is what I am concerned about. – Dawn Jan 6 at 3:38
  • @DavidKetcheson So if you were on the hiring committee, would you encourage me to just say I prefer no contact with my current department? Or would you say to offer up a phone conversation with my colleague who is also an Asst Prof? – Dawn Jan 6 at 3:41
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    When I have been on hiring committees, we never sought a contact within the current department. If you are shortlisted, then the committee thinks you're pretty amazing, so why would they suspect you are being forced out? My experience is with heavily research-focused departments, so YMMV. – David Ketcheson Jan 6 at 6:02
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I don't think any contact with your current department is expected. Generally you are only expected to provide references who will write letters on your behalf, and it's not required that any of them be from your current department. Academic circles are small, and somebody in your department may find out anyway. Hopefully their reaction will be to incentivize you to stay.

When I have been on hiring committees, we never sought a contact within the current department. If you are shortlisted, then the committee thinks you're pretty amazing, so why would they suspect you are being forced out? My experience is with heavily research-focused departments; this might be different, say, at a small liberal arts school.

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