I am a relatively new tenure track faculty member at my school. For many reasons, I am certain I want to leave my current position. All of my reasons are professional reasons; there are no relocation issues or anything like that.

I do not have a new position lined up but I am being actively recruited and feel that having a new position by the fall is a near-lock. Regardless, my finances are strong and, outside of good personal relationships with a couple colleagues, I have absolutely no hesitation about leaving this position.

One issue for my department is that some of my future classes are "important" (required classes that, right now, only I am qualified to teach). I do not want to put them in an unnecessarily difficult position. Therefore, my main question is:

  • when should I break this news? Given my certainty about this decision, should I tell them ASAP?

  • Or, should I follow the general logic that one should never leave a position without a new job lined up? What if this means waiting two more months, REALLY leaving them in a tough spot for covering my "important" fall classes?

As a secondary question:

  • any advice about how to break this news? Some of my reasons are related to the way the program is run and the behavior of some of my colleagues. Should I go into this, or should I simply say that the position turned out the be a poor fit and that I must move on?
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    It is a good thing to think of this issue, but/and institutions, as entities, would not be as thoughtful about your welfare. Yes, the brunt is taken by other people, not the institution, but this is sort of a "human shield" that the institution (effectively instinctively) takes to prevent you from thinking of your own best interests... Sadly, therefore, do not tell them anything until you have the new job signed-and-sealed, or you risk disaster. Apr 14, 2015 at 0:38
  • Thank you @paulgarrett. Based on your knowledge of these things, does one risk significant "blow back" (for example: angry responses, attempted future sabotage) by waiting until 1-2 months before the new semester starts to break the news?
    – ThePiecer
    Apr 14, 2015 at 0:41
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    Well, obviously, people will be unhappy to some degree, but that's a false indicator of what you should do, I claim. You and your current colleagues (as is the case everywhere) are trapped in a certain system, which pits you against each other, blah-blah-blah-Marxist-alienation-blah, ... But, yes, that sort of analysis, in perhaps-calmer terms, is right on the money. The key diagnostic is whether the_institution would worry (!?!) about you when they planned to rearrange. (Hint: no, not in a million years.) The fact that your current colleagues may be inconvenienced should not... [cont'd] Apr 14, 2015 at 1:08
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    [cont'd] ... cause you to do some sort of self-immolatory altruistic thang. Your colleagues will be understanding (or, if not, 'effim because they're jerks, anyway) and at worst it'll not be a big deal. There is some tiny possibility that the institution will do something to plan for coverage of your expertise... but if football or basketball confound them, it'll just be lost... :) Apr 14, 2015 at 1:10
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    I'd like to offer a dissent. You are a professional, and as such, more is expected of you than the bare legal minimum. You're not a low-level clock puncher, and as such, professional expectations are that you will endeavor to help the institution succeed. Tenure, respect from the community, and a decent salary all come with expectations that aren't present for the guy earning $10/hr. You're not expected to doom yourself, but you are expected to provide the university with enough warning so that they can find a high quality replacement.
    – Tom West
    Apr 14, 2015 at 5:14

2 Answers 2


Giving notice in 6 weeks time gives them the entire summer to replace you. Wait as long as you can to give your potential next department the time to make you a formal offer. As soon as you have accepted it, tell your current department chair. Don't do it before you have the offer in hand and have accepted. Unless you outright resign effective tomorrow, your current department may assume you are fishing for a counter offer, a raise, or early tenure. Without waiting until you have accepted the potential offer, you may end up burning even more bridges through this process even if you deny that you are trying to force your current department to upgrade you. If you don't walk out the door immediately, then you will have to spend the next several weeks being around your current colleagues. Wait until the semester is over and you have completed your obligations for the spring at the very least.

  • Thanks Bill. My current semester is very nearly over, with only final exams left and final grades left to administer over the next 1-2 weeks. I had every intention of finishing that piece, at least. It sounds like you agree that giving my chair advanced noticed is not as important as looking out for my own interests, which is helpful. Also, to be clear, I am not concerned about "burning bridges". I never intend to return to this department or rely on them for anything. My concern is more about doing what is "right" by them.
    – ThePiecer
    Apr 14, 2015 at 1:48
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    In addition, do not formally send a letter of resignation unless you have the final, signed and sealed contract from your other university. C.f. Steven Salaita. Apr 14, 2015 at 3:08
  • @BillBarth, my objection to your position is that it assumes that the university's bureaucracy allows instant search-authorization, and my own institution has a strict deadline on all replacement hires for the next year. A resignation can be made effective immediately, the end of the semester, the academic year, or next year -- what the dean needs is, simply, a letter of resignation.
    – user6726
    Apr 14, 2015 at 5:09
  • @user6726, so what? If OP doesn't care about burning bridges, then it's better for him to resign after he's accepted the new offer even if that's in August. Anything else exposes him potential unemployment. The department will find someone to pick up his teaching load if they can't hire fast enough. They certainly have the line and can pick up an adjunct or VAP if they can't immediately do a TT search. If every department chair would swear to hold slots for folks who want to look around, then he could be sure that if it fell through he'd still have a job, but nobody does that.
    – Bill Barth
    Apr 14, 2015 at 12:17
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    @ThePiecer, burnt bridges include people who may become reviewers of your future work (for publishing, for grants, etc), not just people you have to pass in the hall or rely on for tenure votes.
    – Bill Barth
    Apr 14, 2015 at 12:24

Based on what you say about the certainty of the decision, I would inform the department now (and this may mean turning in a written letter of resignation, so that the administration will authorize a hire). But that assumes that you would leave even if no other job materialized, so you should be really sure about the worst-case scenario. As for giving reasons, I would only give details about the reason if I thought it would be useful to reveal that, and only if you trust the person(s) that you tell. There is a risk that your resignation could get "spun" in a way that haunts you after you are gone.

  • Thank you. So, a "safer" approach is to, even if asked, give a non-descript answer regarding my reasons for leaving? Should this news be delivered to the head of the department or the dean of the school?
    – ThePiecer
    Apr 14, 2015 at 0:43
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    Please do not inform them now... You're creating dangers for yourself. Apr 14, 2015 at 1:11
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    The standard protocol is to inform the head of department, who informs the dean. Informing the dean directly can be seen as making a pointed statement especially about the chair, in which case you should give a detailed reason. Basically, burn your bridges if and only if you really intend to leave behind a conflagration, and it really does not sound like you want to do that. I also urge you to explicitly say "Yes I intend to resign even without a position to move to", because that is so unusual a situation that it's hard to believe that you really mean that.
    – user6726
    Apr 14, 2015 at 1:21
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    Thanks again. It's really more of an expression of my certainty that I will have another position within weeks or months (one of the departments recruiting me has informally asked me to discuss terms so they can formulate an offer). Of course, I do not want to be unemployed next fall but I also really do not want to remain in my position for another year and leaving mid-year seems like far more inconvenient than leaving mid-summer. Your tip about informing the chair, and not the dean, has been noted.
    – ThePiecer
    Apr 14, 2015 at 1:26
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    It's one thing to verbally say "I will leave this university in the fall; I'm telling you this because I understand that you will need to make accommodations". It's an entirely different thing to hand in a signed letter of resignation that formally binds you to resign your position. It is entirely common to say the former but wait with the latter until you have the new position locked in. It is not uncommon for the latter to happen four weeks before the next semester starts, and there is nothing wrong with this. Apr 14, 2015 at 3:11

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