Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ask the Administrator: How Soon Can I Leave?

A new correspondent writes:

Six months ago, I accepted an assistant deanship at an institution that requires a long daily commute. I've since come to regret my decision, finding that the 60+ hours away from home is damaging my family life, which, in turn, makes me ineffective in both work and family roles. In your experience, what is a reasonable amount of time for a junior administrator to spend in a position before moving on? Do I need to tough it out for a year before beginning my search, or can I start applying for positions now?

First, condolences on learning the hard way about long commutes.  A few years ago my commute shortened dramatically, and I have to admit that my quality of life improved significantly.  It’s an easy variable to overlook, but we overlook it at our peril.

Having said that, I’ll answer the question with an “it depends.”  It depends on how many quick departures you have in your history.

Most prospective employers will forgive one oddly short stopover.  If asked, you can simply say that life events made the job untenable -- which is substantially true -- and you had to make a change sooner than you would have liked.  If the rest of your history has you doing five years here and six years there, a single aberration isn’t fatal.

But if you have a history of a new job every year, that’s a serious red flag.  If you have a long history of playing job hopscotch, then I have to assume that that’s what you do.  

The administrative job market is fundamentally different from the faculty job market.  There’s much more lateral movement, and much more turnover.  (The two are directly related.)  That means that some level of movement isn’t necessarily alarming, particularly in the early stages of a career.  If a tenure-track professor leaves a college after six or seven years, the default assumption is that s/he was denied tenure; if an administrator leaves after six or seven years, that’s generally considered a good run.  

So if this would be the first ‘quickie’ on your record, I’d start looking for new positions as soon as possible.  One quickie isn’t the worst thing in the world.  If your record is nothing but quickies, though, I’d start asking some hard questions.  

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers -- especially those in administration -- what do you think?  

Have a question?  Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.