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How do I frame my exit from a state university under duress in applying for new jobs ?

I am pre-tenure in the United States, and I find myself needing to change jobs because conditions at my University re: COVID have gotten to the point where they threaten my safety, and that of my family. I will not go into detail about this. The situation become so negative that my chair has approached me to offer their support for either my staying, or support through writing me letters of recommendation to leave.

I am in a strong position academically, and tenure is all but guaranteed in two years (including one year added for covid). I am currently writing for multiple positions.

How do I frame my reasons for applying for new jobs, which is entirely related to the behavior of my state, less so to my university, and not in the least to my department, which has worked hard to protect and help?

As a small additional question I wonder if I even want the letter from my chair, as it may invite questions?

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    By the time you line up a new job COVID will be over. If your department is supportive can you just push up your sabbatical and take it now? You have to be reasonably close to earning it anyway. – user133933 Feb 24 at 23:40
  • @Libor Pretenure sabbaticals are the exception, not the norm. They are only found among the most wealthy universities. – Anonymous Physicist Feb 25 at 9:05
  • Applying for new jobs will do nothing to protect you from COVID if you continue doing your current, unsafe job until you get a new one. You should get a consultation with an employment lawyer. If they cannot help, then you should resign promptly. Safety is more important than a job. In the unlikely event you have a union, talk to them. – Anonymous Physicist Feb 25 at 9:09
  • Indeed, no pre-tenure options of this nature. Multiple individuals have take the litigation route, and I wish them well. I will not be taking this route. I do have a union. They are engaged, and have effected little change in a year. – user104495 Feb 25 at 13:55
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Your personal circumstances should not affect your attractiveness as a candidate.

People move for personal reasons all the time: spouses getting better jobs elsewhere, proximity to better medical care or schools for their kids, less taxes, affordable housing, or because the weather sucks where they are now (shoutout to the British Isles!).

This question may arise in personal conversations when you interview, but should not be a factor (or even mentioned) in your application materials.

If your department head is supportive and your move is motivated purely by personal reasons, then you should have them write a letter.

I would advise against getting into details that may present your current institution in a negative light. Interviewers like candidates who present themselves as team players. Statements like “the university put me in a situation that threatened my health” may come across badly. Try to word it a bit more gently: “I heard that prospective institute name has excellent healthcare and this is a factor in my decision”.

Good luck!

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  • In this case, it is "state politicians put me in a situation that threatened my health" which is likely to get sympathy from academics. But it could also be worded along the lines of "I found out that your state has better public health policy and this is very important to me personally." – Anonymous Physicist Feb 25 at 9:11
  • I like this. Another colleague has advised me to skirt this issue entirely, and rely wholly on simple flattery of the new location. – user104495 Feb 25 at 13:57
  • @AnonymousPhysicist "conditions at my University re: COVID have gotten to the point where they threaten my safety" I'm reading this as conditions in the university. Sorry for nitpicking but even in states with relatively lax regulations universities can still enforce policies that keep faculty, staff and students safe (mine does). – Spark Feb 25 at 14:10
  • @user104495 in addition, positioning your move as founded purely on COVID-19 concerns may make hiring committees uneasy about your long-term commitment to the university. Who's to say what you'll do once the pandemic dies down (fingers crossed!)? – Spark Feb 25 at 14:13
  • Also a risk is that it seems like you're jumping so you don't get pushed. Always gonna raise the question of what went wrong and if you can fix it in your new job. I'm not sure what the best way to address this would be, but relying on just flattery probably isn't it. – user133933 Feb 25 at 14:31

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