I have another year in my contract as a visiting assistant professor. However, it is possible that I might be recruited for a non-academic position before the end of the next academic year.

Would it be okay for example to accept a job if it meant having to leave before the end of the contract? Obviously I couldn't just leave in the middle of a semester, so at worst I'd be skipping out on a year's work or just the spring semester.

Additionally, the potential job(s) are in the same relative location, so I can't cite moving as a reason. (I know people have broken contracts for spouses relocating for work for example). Does anyone have experience with this? Especially considering that the question revolves around leaving academia, I'd be interested to get any feedback.

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    It would help to know the general locale (country), and you'll need to look closely at what exactly the contract says. Contracts often include explicit agreements about early termination, such as giving a required notice period, defined penalty, etc., and vary from weirdly strict to extremely lax.
    – BrianH
    Apr 4 '19 at 1:13
  • Are you worried about burning a bridge, or legal liability? Assuming the former, I strongly doubt that they would be angry, and I really doubt there would be any practical consequences for you even if they were angry.
    – cag51
    Apr 4 '19 at 1:30
  • @cag There might be financial penalties in his contract.
    – nick012000
    Apr 4 '19 at 2:14
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    In addition to the contractual issues, you should consider the reputational consequences. Leaving a teaching position in the middle of a term will probably mean that you will never get a positive recommendation from the institution that employed you. In the US, leaving in the middle of the year between semesters could easily have the same consequence. Apr 4 '19 at 21:42
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    ... be angry or bitter about it or to think that the person involved was behaving unprofessionally. It was my problem to deal with, so I dealt with it. That’s what administrators do, and any administrator who will deny someone a letter of recommendation for deciding it’s time for a change of career after fulfilling their obligations for the current semester, is him/herself behaving unprofessionally in my opinion. (I do agree with Brian that leaving in the middle of a term would be a big no-no - a medical or family emergency would probably be the only reasonable justification for that.)
    – Dan Romik
    Apr 5 '19 at 0:23

Just to clarify, the standard terminology for the action you are considering taking is “resigning”, “quitting”, “handing in your resignation” etc., NOT “breaking a contract”. I’m not just being pedantic here: “breaking a contract” suggests that your contract (together with the applicable labor laws that govern your employment and may override anything the contract you signed says) does not allow any permissible way for you to stop your employment prior to the end date of the contract. Well, I haven’t read your contract and don’t know where in the world you are, but I am extremely skeptical that a normal academia job for a visiting assistant professor would have such draconian restrictions that forbid the normal act of resignation over a multi-year period.

With that said, let’s rephrase your question to say what I think you actually meant, which is: is it okay to resign your visiting assistant professor position to take an industry job? The answer to that is simply: yes. That is what people all over the world in all industries do when they find a professional opportunity that better suits their skills, ambitions and needs. You don’t need to make up excuses about moving or otherwise explain yourself. There is nothing to explain: you simply wish to change jobs, that’s all there is to it.

Hand in your notice, finish the semester or academic year, and go be happy in your new industry career.

One final thought: if your current job includes long-term responsibilities such as advising students, it would be courteous of you to help your current employer by offering to keep some of those responsibilities on an informal basis after leaving. Especially where students are considered, it will likely be frowned upon if you simply abandon them. Or if you are in charge of a lab, you could offer to help train your replacement even if that requires coming in a few times after you’ve already switched jobs, etc. But those are the only caveats I can think of to the general principle I discussed above.

Good luck!

  • Perhaps "terminate" is the proper word for breaking breaking a contract without breaching it. Apr 5 '19 at 18:19
  • @ASimpleAlgorithm IANAL, but I wouldn’t use either the word “breaking” or “breaching” in the current context.
    – Dan Romik
    Apr 5 '19 at 19:21
  • @ASimpleAlgorithm I don’t know how exactly you would use the word “terminate”, but in the normal workplace usage I’m familiar with, it usually refers to firing someone. I’ve never heard of someone terminating themselves (this would be strange, especially since in a different context the word refers to murdering someone).
    – Dan Romik
    Apr 5 '19 at 19:32
  • I would use it as "terminate the contract", which is language I've seen in contracts, that implies something quite different versus "break" or "breach" (as I was trying to say in that disaster of a sentence above). Either party may terminate a contract without penalty, for example (if it says so in the contract), while breaching a contract implies you have violated it. Apr 5 '19 at 20:42
  • @ASimpleAlgorithm good point, thanks.
    – Dan Romik
    Apr 6 '19 at 0:16

If you leave between terms, I think you can be guided by the terms of your contract without other ethical considerations. You have no non-contractual obligations to the students at that time so it is a question of your relationship to an institution. The institution has power to enforce contracts of course.

I'll note that the institution imposes contracts to protect itself and make its processes work smoothly. But it probably assumes that people will take advantage of better opportunities.

You can ask to be released from a contract, of course, and it is sometimes (often?) permitted. The university doesn't benefit from unhappy faculty. There might be no consequences at all, and people will wish you well.

Leaving in the middle of the term raises ethical considerations due to the relationship with the students. But disruption happens sometimes even if not by choice. Severe illness for example means that a faculty member needs to be replaced at short notice.

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