Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ask the Administrator: Timing a Departure

A new correspondent writes:

I have just started a new term at a community college where I've been teaching for a year (this is my third term), but we may be moving out of state before the term ends, and I really don't know how best to handle it. There are two things going on: my husband has been offered a great work opportunity out of state (he is the primary bread-winner), and we have an offer on our house. At the moment, we don't know if we will be able to come to an agreement with the prospective buyers, and if we don't, I don't plan to say anything to the college, as we would then be here indefinitely, until we do sell the house (very slow market). If we do get the house in escrow, that still doesn't mean we will end up leaving, as houses in this market fall out of escrow for any number of reasons. My husband, therefore, thinks I should wait until we are closer to closing for me to notify the college that I am leaving. However, I feel that it will be a real hardship for the college, as they will probably find it difficult to get someone to fill in for the last two months of the term I would miss. I, therefore, feel that I should let them know as soon as it looks like we have a deal. The downside of doing that, of course, is that if our house falls out of escrow, I won't have a job. They already have two classes lined up for me for next term, as well, so I would be giving up all of that. Either way, I'm pretty sure the college is going to be furious with me, and I certainly feel bad about it. There is a remote possibility that I could find a place to stay with a friend or something and finish out the term, but that would make things very difficult for my husband, as we have farm animals who are my day-to-day responsibility. I would certainly appreciate hearing from you or anyone else who might want to chime in on this situation. I hate the idea of ditching my students in the midst of the term, and I hate the idea of causing difficulty for the school, but I'm not sure what I can best do in this scenario

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with so many variables in play.  I’d start by winnowing them down based on what you actually know.

You have an offer on the house, but you haven’t closed the sale.  That means that there’s no guarantee that the house will actually sell, nor is there any guarantee about when.  You refer to having two months left in the term when you move, but you don’t actually know that; maybe it’ll be two months, maybe three, maybe one, or maybe the sale won’t happen.  

As the seller, you have some control over timing.  You could make the sale in October with a move-out date in December, if the buyer is willing.  You could sell and rent it back for a month or two.  That’s contingent on a willing buyer, obviously, but it can’t hurt to ask.  It might be worth sacrificing a little on the price to get control of the move-out date.  It’s still cheaper than renting, and you could time the move to the gap between semesters.

If your buyer balks at those and wants to move in quickly, and you’re intent on selling, then you hit the ethical questions of when to leave and when to tell.  It sounds like you aren’t confident that you have the kind of relationships with local admins that you’d feel confident telling them about your situation and trusting them not to react badly.  That’s a shame, but it happens.  Certainly don’t give notice until you actually know you’re leaving; if you believe that even the prospect of leaving will be held against you, you’re within your rights to guard that, too.  

Students are another matter.  Whatever you may or may not think of local administration, I’d argue that you have an obligation to the students.  If you believe that a mid-semester departure is plausible, I’d advise constructing the syllabus to minimize the potential damage.  Are there elements of the latter part of the course that could be done online?  If so, maybe you could minimize your trips to campus during the second half of the term. You probably couldn’t eliminate them altogether, but you could get them down to a briefly manageable level.  

In any event, I think it’s unlikely that you’d only have a couple of days’ notice.  If you have at least a couple of weeks, that should give time for folks to scramble for coverage.  It’s not ideal -- I’d expect some people to be annoyed, and reasonably so -- but you gotta do what you gotta do.

Whatever you do, though, own it.  Don’t try sneaking out in the dead of night, leaving students and colleagues abruptly marooned mid-semester.  Once you have solid dates, assuming you do, tell people.  Until then, it’s not their business.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers, what do you think?  Is there a better way to handle the possibility of a mid-semester departure?

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