This is a re-post of an older Chronicle Vitae piece that has been de-activated. All the advice remains relevant.
Q: I’m applying for my second tenure-track job. What are things I need to be careful of?
Karen: When you have a tenure-track job and are applying for another one, there are two sets of challenges to be aware of. First: Should you disclose the search to your current department? If so, how? Second: What kind of credit toward tenure or previous service will you get from the new department?
(Of course, it goes without saying that all the other challenges of the typical job search apply here too.)
Regarding the question of when and how to tell your current department: This depends on your circumstances. If your department is a collegial and friendly one and if your reasons for needing or wanting to move are well-known and generally considered valid—you have a spouse who lives and works in another state, for example, or you study the sea turtles of Georgia but currently work in Oklahoma—then you can let the chair of your current department know that you are on the market. Ideally you will want a warm, supportive letter from the current chair, expressing regret that you are seeking to leave but understanding of your reasons and enthusiasm for your teaching and research and service record.
I would not make it widely known throughout the department that you’re on the market because it’s generally bad for morale and some colleagues might resent you. And if you’re unsuccessful in the job search, particularly if the effort extends on for years, your fund of goodwill in the department might really decline.
If your department is a treacherous and vindictive one, however, do not disclose that you are on the market. People will take what they consider your “disloyalty” personally, and they will make you pay for it. In that case you may have to go without a letter from your current campus or find one from someone outside your department.
If you do seek a letter from outside your department, it should come from someone on campus who is tenured. The writer must be able to reassure skittish search committees that you are a legit, well-regarded, and successful colleague who is leaving not because of drama and intrigue (or worse), but because you are seeking resources or opportunities not available to you otherwise.
If there is any chance at all that you’ll consider staying at Institution #1, then you should tell your department chair at one of two points—either when you’re invited to a campus visit or when you’ve received an offer but have yet to accept. If the department wants to keep you, and it has the resources and will, it might be able to make a “preemptive counteroffer” that will match what you would likely get from Institution #2. In fact, it might extend that offer as a way to stop you from even going on your campus visit. Alternately, if you’ve already gone on the visit and gotten an offer, then Institution #1 may make a regular counteroffer that simply meets or exceeds the goodies that you’ve been promised by Institution #2.
It’s also possible that Institution #1 has no means or no will to make a counteroffer of any kind, in which case it will happily (or bitterly) send you on your way.
Once you accept another offer, you should tell the department right away. Rumors will fly, and they’ll be demoralizing, especially for any graduate students with whom you’re working.
Now, regarding the question of what kind of credit you’ll get toward tenure at Institution #2: That is a thing that you must negotiate and clarify very carefully indeed. Typically universities will give you credit for some, but not all, of the years you’ve served at another institution. Thus, if you’ve been at Institution #1 for four years, you might get something like two years of credit toward tenure at Institution #2. This is just an example, and your individual case will vary based on the relative ranks of the institution, among other variables. In other words, if you are moving from a very low-ranked institution to a high-ranked one, you’ll get less credit than if you are doing the reverse. And other variables may apply.
In general, Institution #2 does not want to be unduly generous with credit toward tenure. This is because they want to keep you in the probationary stage long enough to fully “vet” you and make sure that you develop a truly compelling local case for tenure—particularly in terms of fresh new research done while on that campus, and quantity of courses taught on that campus. In other words, they want the tenure at their campus to reflect, as much as possible, work done on their turf, not somewhere else.
If you are moving as an assistant professor, you probably are impatient for tenure and dissatisfied with having to wait longer to get it. However, I urge you to exercise some caution. You don’t necessarily want to go up for tenure early at Institution #2 after you’ve only been there a couple of years. You want to make 100 percent sure that your dossier rises to the level of tenure for that institution and that you’ve taught enough there, and gained enough friends there, to secure a slam-dunk tenure case.
So while rushing to tenure at Institution #2 will be tempting, and I absolutely recommend that you negotiate hard for some years of credit, I don’t recommend that you push for tenure right away, or within a year of arriving. It takes a while to build up your profile at the new department, and it is wise to leave enough time to do that.
Dear Readers: Have a question about the academic job market and/or professionalization? Send it to me! I welcome any and all questions related to the job market, preparing for the job market while in graduate school, coping with the adjunct struggle, and assistant professorhood. Send questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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