Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Ask the Administrator: Academic Limbo

A new correspondent writes:

A year ago, I was told that a full time position would be posted to replace my
part time position and that I was welcome to apply for the new job. Since
then, the request for the position has made its way from the department
chair to the dean. This process was prolonged because both the department
chair and dean were replaced during the request process. I am on an annual
contract at this point. For a variety of reasons, I need a full time
position next year. Usually, my contract negotiation involves the receipt
of a memo in May, one month before it expires, informing me that I need to
request reappointment. There is no negotiation because the contract
limitations of my current position prevent me from being appointed at a
higher rate of pay or as a full time employee.

My impression is that dealing with this issue is not a high priority for
anyone and I would like to force the issue but I'm not sure how to do it,
nor am I certain as to when I should begin. I've considered looking for
another position at a different institution, just in case things go badly
for me during the recruitment for the new position (assuming it happens at
all) and to help with the bargaining over salary. My current plan is to
start looking for jobs in Spring and to go to my department chair to force
the issue when I have a firm offer from another source. How do you think
this would go over? Is there a better way to go about addressing this?

My major concern is timing - if I got an offer from someone else, I would
have to decide pretty quickly whether or not to accept. Since just posting
the full time position is not complete after over a year I'm not sure they
could respond in time. The paranoid part of me wonders if the foot dragging
is a sign that they're not really that enthusiastic about keeping me on and
are trying to wait me out to see if I'll just leave.

Any thoughts? Alternatives?

Look for other jobs.

Things may work out at your current college. It's true that the wheels can turn maddeningly slowly. But it's also true that circumstances change, that new managers frequently don't hold the same priorities as previous ones, and that a financially straitened college will, all else being equal, prefer the path of least resistance. Since it doesn't look to the college like you're going anywhere, there's no particular urgency to keep you. The path of least resistance is the status quo, which looks sustainable as long as you aren't making any noises about leaving and you keep coming back year after year.

I don't think you can force the issue without leverage. I'd absolutely advise against the bluff you can't keep. Don't make threats you aren't prepared to fulfill. If you do that and the college calls your bluff, you have relegated yourself to “difficult crank” status for the foreseeable future.

Once you have another acceptable offer in hand, you have leverage. At that point, you can threaten to leave and actually mean it. The new leadership won't be able to free-ride on your goodwill anymore; either the college steps up or you step down. If you've set it up right, you win either way.

From my side of the desk, I'll just add that (with rare exceptions) extended delay usually indicates low priority. (The exception is when external circumstances force delay. For example, right now the Perkins grant folks are diddling with the documentation requirements, so our grant request is floating around the federal bureaucratic ether. The entire administration of the college wants the grant to go through and the items to be purchased, but it's out of our hands now.) I'd guess, based on your synopsis, that your intuition of low-priority is probably right.

Good luck!

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.