Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Like a Thief in the Night

They don’t teach this stuff in dean school.

I hear a rumor that a professor has moved out of his office, and intends to take a job this Fall thousands of miles away. Nobody knows the institution, though, only the geographic region. He has family there.

I’ve received no communication at all from this professor. Neither has his chair. Neither has human resources.

I wander by his office, and notice that not only is it empty -- this from someone who has some pronounced “packrat” tendencies -- but that his nameplate is gone.


I email him, asking whether I should report a larceny, or if there’s something I should know. No response.

Keep in mind that this guy has tenure, and is technically entitled to his full slate of classes in September unless he resigns in writing. Since he didn’t sign up to teach summer classes, the fact that he hadn’t been around for the last month or so didn’t raise eyebrows. I’m supposed to assume that he’ll be back, rested and ready, in September.

It’s entirely possible, of course, that he’ll be back, ready to go. Maybe he’s having a midlife crisis, throwing all his worldly possessions in a box, seeing America from a convertible with a woman who’s too young for him, and snapping out of it by Labor Day. Maybe he’s the victim of a really clever prank. Maybe he has already headed out for wherever he’s going, and just couldn’’t be bothered to tell anyone. Maybe he’s trying really hard to find something there, but hasn’t yet, and wants the safety net. Maybe the black helicopters took him. Maybe he knew too much about the iPhone, and Steve Jobs had him, um, rebooted.

I have no way of knowing.

If he doesn’t return, of course, we’ll have to scramble to cover his classes, and I’ll get the “the administration should have known” stuff. But if we get his classes covered and he comes back, we’ll have some cranky substitutes on our hands. People don’t like prepping for classes that get taken away at the last minute.

Emergencies happen, I get that. I’ve had professors die mid-semester. But the fact that he cleaned out the office suggests some level of forethought.

Wise and worldly readers, you make the call. What’s the best administrative response to this?

Two things I'd do right away --

1) cyber-stalk the other school. Look for mentions of your prof's name on their website. Look at the class schedule and see if they have him/her listed. That seems to be pretty solid evidence that they aren't planning to come back. With the evidence, call them. Ask directly if there could be some truth to the grapevine -- and then ask if there could possibly be another Dr. X --in their discipline -- teaching classes in their home area.

2) Find some reason to call them about one of your classes. It may be a possible equipment change in their room, it could be a possible schedule tweak / swap with a colleague etc. It could also be a possible release time position you think they'd want to be considered for -- anything to get them on the phone to talk about fall.

3) Find some reason you would reasonably have noticed that their office is empty. Claim that they had student workers helping some folks change offices and it seems to be the case that all of their stuff was accidentally put in storage by those workers... you are calling just to make sure they didn't go in and have a heart attack --
Talk to HR or hire a private detective. Use your own funds if you have to. This is clearly too important to wait for the official reimbursement approval channels. ...Otherwise, you'll have to be your own detective---e.g. the cyberstalking mentioned above. - TL
send your prof an email that you are reporting his disappearance to the police
Well, first of all you want to find out whether this guy really has left. Call every number you have for him including whoever he put down as an emergency contact, talk to whoever he worked with most closely, and send an assistant to check whether he is still living at his listed address in town.

If you can reach him, your problem is probably over.

If he just seems to have vanished, you need to talk to your faculty association and the college attorneys to see what you can actually do about it. Presumably the faculty association understands that instructors can't just be found on the fly, and if he is still missing a month before classes start, action of some sort is warranted. I would push for at least an involuntary leave of absence for the term.
Echoing what others have said, the telephone is the best non-in-person method of communication in this situation. I know a fair number of folks who don't check their university/college email when they're not teaching, so the fact that you got no response to an email could mean absolutely nothing.

I also echo trying to get somebody to drop by the guy's house.

If those two things are accomplished, and if you hear not a peep from the guy or any of his other listed contacts? Then, yes, I think you do call the police (the guy could have cleaned out his office and then killed himself, which I know is morbid, but it was the first thing I thought of in reading this post)and reassign the guy's classes.

That last paragraph is totally the nuclear option, though. I think if I were in your position I'd exert some pressure on the department chair before I did all of that about the situation. Right now, this "he took another job and isn't telling anybody" thing is just a rumor. It could be a rumor that was generated by his cleaning out his office, which he could have had any number of reasons for doing. To my mind, the breakdown of communication here is something that the *department* is responsible for second (with the faculty member being responsible first). Make the department feel the heat, and I think you're more likely to get answers.
Talk to his department chair again, and ask him/her to develop contingency plans in case the professor doesn't return.

I'm guessing that someone in his department knows what's up, or is more likely to be able to find out than you are. By putting the planning burden on the department, you increase the probability that you'll get the info you need, while still letting the department take the lead in handling the instructional fallout.
Did he turn in his keys? Is any college property (hardware or software or textbooks) missing from his office?

I'd say you have a fiduciary responsibility to check those things once it has been noticed that the office has been cleaned out; ditto for using every emergency contact you have to see if his personal property has been stolen so you can contact campus security and the police about the theft. (Did you ask campus security if they saw anyone moving out in the dead of night or on a weekend?)

But my primary suggestion is to put the Union to work on this. What are the contract requirements?

And what happens if he has not notified you by the first work day of the semester? Is he still on direct deposit?
Inside the Philosophy Factory -

According to the post, no one knows what the other institution, if there is one, is.
The problem with a web search is that Google is less likely to turn up a new position, and classes ze is teaching are probably still TBA. But it wouldn't hurt to feed it the full name and subject area and see what turns up.

You should also be asking yourself why this prof left in this particular way. The reason for leaving could be as simple as "mom is sick" and "good job is available", but is there anything in the local culture that would make this prof want to make your life and those of other faculty in that department particularly difficult? Are there no social connections between the members of your faculty?
Other folks have the phone call thing right, I think.

But I think CCPhysicist is asking important questions. What is it in the department or culture that makes someone want to leave that way?
Agreeing with the point Bardiac and CCPhys. brought up: What is going on with the dept and the prof isn't talking to anyone? It would be understandable to say "hey, I know I have tenure, you all are great, but I have this chance to be near my family and after X years, I'm going to do it." I can't help but wonder if something more is going on--mid life crisis, health crisis, etc--or if something has happened in the dept to warrent his leaving.

I'd try contacting via phone and e-mail. Heck, I'd even make up a "I have someone I'd like you to mentor please respond by [a certain date]" to show that you really need a response. If you still don't get one then I'd follow up with all the other suggestions. If you know the region, you may still be able to cyberstalk as well.
I assume you've already done a procedures-manual-dive and didn't find anything that really covered this? There aren't any summer-contact-level policies in place? I know we were generally supposed to leave a working phone number to reach us at as part of final check-out in spring at most places I've worked.

How set is his specific slate of classes for fall? I work at the high school level, and I've had my classes switched around on me over the summer (and I was pretty ticked that no one told me until I showed up in the fall, since I was *very* reachable by phone and email over the summer since I was taking additional grad classes in the same town), and that's something that isn't union-actionable or anything at my level. To the degree that you can, you may want to shift his schedule to adjunct-friendly multiple-section classes that lots of other people could teach at the last minute. Obviously, trying multiple ways to get in touch with him first would be a must before going that route, since that's an irritating thing to have happen to you over the summer without warning. A possible re-do of the schedule would also explain *why* you were trying so hard to get in touch with him, and I know I wouldn't find it irritating to have someone try five ways of reaching me if they were considering changing my classes around but wanted my input first!

I also like the idea of pushing it back on the department chair, since that's who'll probably know best who could cover those classes at the last minute if he doesn't return so it makes sense to ask them to start the contingency planning now.
If I faced this, I would take the empty, name-plateless office as reason for alarm even if I hadn't heard the rumor. My thought is that I'd try every contact number/email I have for him, expressing concern and a high sense of urgency that he let me know he's okay. If I didn't hear back, I'd get my VPI and HR involved--something is clearly up, whether it's planning to take a new job or something personal crisis-y. In a nutshell, I think I'd pretend I hadn't heard the rumor and treat the empty office as cause for significant concern about his well-being.
Completely empty office? Certainly a reason to contact him to ensure that this isn't a student prank gone wrong — I've had students crazy enough to do something like that, and as a prof I'd be pissed to get back ready to begin and discover everything I'd left in my office had vanished and no one did anything about it.

OTOH, if you believe the rumour and reallocate his classes, and it turns out that he'd moved his office out for a mundane reason (he was told Facilities would be painting it, say) then he'd be justifiably pissed…
Oh God that's hot -- make the union do it!
Talk to the dept chair. Have the chair call every number the dept has for him b/c the office is empty and you are concerned. If you can't find him, report him to Security and maybe to the police. Somebody at the cc knows where he is or there is something wrong with the collegial relationships at the cc.
Whatever you do, make sure you updated us on the outcome! This is too interesting of a mystery not to hear the ending...
Am I the only one who saw this as a blessing and not a curse?

I understand the administrative issues facing the Dean, but if this is any indication of the kind of person this prof was, then good riddance!

Oh what I wouldn't give for one or two of ours to disappear into the night for a job far, far away - it's called addition by subtraction...
Yes, I agree to lean on the department chair, go by his house, etc.
When I was in grad school, we had a tenured prof go missing. it was awful, there were mysterious possible sightings at 3 am at Kinko's, but he never appeared at school, his house seemed unoccupied, the department chair refused to break into his office, his classes were re-assigned. Finally, maybe a year into his disappearance, his ex-wife went to the dentist and the dentist mentioned that her ex-husband wasn't looking so well! Turns out he had a serious mental breakdown. Awful stuff. He was committed to an institution for a time, he was let go from the university, he was a broken man. it was unreal.
So, What strikes me is that I can't think of a single other occupation where this would be acceptable behavior - a cc dean
This is kind of a neat story, but DD, you gotta do something about the Learned Helplessness. There were a lot of options listed here.
I with anon at 11:23 on this. I cannot think of any other occupation where this would be acceptable behaviour. Is this a result of tenure?

What would be your reaction if he were an adjunct; or a non-tenureed professor? What would be any manager's reaction in the non-academic world?
Gee, that kind of sucks for you DD. But it does not suck as much as when my wife's employer laid off her and twenty other people at 11.30 am on a Friday. Her boss handed them boxes, gave them 30 minutes to clear out their personal effects and hired two security guards to escort them from the building. I understand that this little scene plays out with some regularity during the ongoing Great Recession.

So yes, the prof probably has flown the coop. If he or she were civil they would have notified you. But employers really can't expect much sympathy these days. This is one rare occasion when the shoe is on labor's foot.

The good news is that no matter what happed, its not your fault and you can find adjuncts by waiving about a few c-notes at the parking lot of one of the local R-1s, pace Doonsbury.
am still curious what happened here - or is it still unresolved?
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?