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My apologies in advance if this is a duplicate. I did search a bit about this before posting here.

This is related to my previous posts so, briefly: I want to leave my current position and I have another offer that I will eventually accept (not finished negotiating). I won't be able to "officially" drop the hammer for at least 1-2 weeks (negotiating, getting the offer, signing it, etc.). I teach one absolutely essential course in the fall (a core course in a graduate program) and no one else is qualified to teach it but me.

My question: In a tenure track position, what is the minimal notice period for leaving? This is not a question about "what my department would like" or how to optimize my standing with the department after leaving. This is a question about professionalism-- specifically what is the minimal notice period where the department members couldn't justifiably go around calling my conduct unprofessional. (I couldn't create a "professionalism" tag, so I tagged this with "etiquette")

Clearly, leaving one week before the semester is too late. Giving 2 years notice is probably more than enough. The answer must be somewhere in between. In my own case, I am contemplating delivering the news in around two weeks (so, over three months before classes begin).

Edit: (1) This is related to a previous question I asked

I want to leave my tenure track position before fall. I have great prospects but no new position "locked up": when should I break the news?

But I think it is still distinct. That question raised the issue of whether to inform my department before having a definite offer, in the interest of giving them enough time to plan. This question is about the standards of professionalism in resignation notice (analogous to the conventional two weeks in many non-academic jobs).

(2) Our contracts are year-to-year (August through April) with guaranteed renewal before tenure review. There are no specific terms written there about resignation periods. I could just fail to renew my contract (this issue would arise in about two months) but, still, the question is whether this is meets the standards of professionalism in academia, not whether it's "legal".

  • It might be good to link to your prior question on this subject. – Bill Barth May 13 '15 at 0:03
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    What you are thinking seems reasonable. If you want something official, you should check the faculty handbook or your contract. – Kimball May 13 '15 at 0:13
  • I'm not sure there will be a universal rule of thumb. You might consider, based on prevailing hiring practices in your institution / field / country, how easy it will be for them to find a replacement (either tenure track or not) given various amounts of time. For instance, in my field / country, at this time of year, it would be essentially impossible to make a tenure-track hire for fall, and somewhat difficult to make a non-tenure-track hire. The easier you make it for them, the happier they will be with you. – Nate Eldredge May 13 '15 at 0:51
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    I'm not in an academic department, so maybe I don't get it, but I can't see how this one course is holding you back. Is your department really made of such specializations that a core course, which I have to assume is relatively early, is only teachable by one faculty member? – Bill Barth May 13 '15 at 2:33
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    @Brian: What is this "contract" thing of which you speak? :-) – Nate Eldredge May 13 '15 at 6:24
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Hiring an adjunct or borrowing someone from another department for one course is about the least bad thing that can happen in this world. Giving the kind of notice (9 months?) that would have allowed them to do a full candidate search is impossible for folks who move laterally out of a department. This is pretty common and departments simply have to manage it. Everyone knows that offers are being locked in during the April-May time frame, and sometimes you lose someone key. It would not be unprofessional if you chose to avoid delaying your career by staying for an extra semester in order to make your current department's process painless.

Nobody wants to see you go, but you're working within the system to the best of your abilities. You're not screwing them, and it's not unprofessional to wait to give notice until the new offer is accepted.

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    I believe the word "not" was left out of this sentence: "It's not unprofessional NOT to delay your career by staying an extra semester to make your current department's process painless." – Tom Church May 14 '15 at 3:31
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    I would suggest changing the sentence "It's not unprofessional to not delay your career by staying an extra semester to make your current department's process painless" to "If you were to delay your career by staying an extra semester to make your current department's process painless, that would not be unprofessional." I find the meaning of your original sentence quite difficult to parse. – I Like to Code Sep 8 '15 at 12:06
  • @ILiketoCode Even simpler: "Staying an extra semester to make your current department's replacement process less painful would be professional." — Replacing faculty is never painless. – JeffE Sep 8 '15 at 13:43
  • @JeffE Indeed, your suggested sentence is even better! – I Like to Code Sep 8 '15 at 13:55
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    @ILiketoCode: Unfortunately, it's the opposite sense that the current text carries. Current version can be clarified as: "It would not be unprofessional if you chose to avoid delaying your career; you should not feel obliged to stay for an extra semester in order to make your current department's process painless." – Ben Voigt Sep 9 '15 at 3:12
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The American Association of University Professors has established ethical guidelines for hiring faculty from one institution to another. Perhaps the most relevant clause in their 1993 policy document "The Ethics of Faculty Recruitment and Appointment" is the following:

An offer of appointment to a faculty member serving at another institution should be made no later than May 1, consistent with the faculty member’s obligation to resign, in order to accept other employment, no later than May 15. It is recognized that, in special cases, it might be appropriate to make an offer after May 1, but in such cases there should be an agreement by all concerned parties.

The American Association of Universities adopts a slightly stronger stance:

We believe that a responsible approach for both institutions and the faculty members would be to consider offers made or pending on May 1, or thereafter, to be effective normally only after the intervention of an academic year.

In my experience, US universities that follow these policies do so as follows. Suppose university X wants to hire someone on the faculty of University Y, to start the following fall (typically August 15). If the offer is made after May 1, the appropriate dean at University X first officially requests permission from the appropriate dean at University Y to extend an offer. The dean at University Y will usually agree, especially if the request is made early in the summer, but for late requests or other special circumstances, the dean at University Y may request (or "demand") a deferral.

There is no legal force to these policies, but following them is widely considered good professional practice — bluntly, the protocol is enforced by peer pressure. Deans that don't agree to reasonable hiring requests may find their own faculty hired away without their agreement later. Also, these agreements bind institutional behavior, not the behavior of individual faculty; under normal circumstances, you do not need your dean's permission to resign. (There are some exceptions; for example, my university requires faculty on sabbatical leave to either return to campus for one year after the sabbatical ends or repay their sabbatical salary.)

So if you were in the US, your current dean, and therefore your department chair, would already be aware of your offer. Even if they don't, the AAUP guidelines strongly suggest that three months notice (May 15 to August 15) meets any professional obligation to your current university.

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