Formerly of the University of the Titanic

So, let’s say you are a tenured faculty member at a troubled institution. It may be a crisis of leadership, a cliff’s edge of a budget from the state, or even the kind of torpor that sometimes overtakes a place. Or, let’s say you are three or four years into the tenure track but it has become clear that the department/university is not going in the direction you had hoped and you now must commence a search in order to maintain your sanity and preserve your career long term.

Your résumé is spotless, your reputation is equally as unsullied, but you are now fielding phone interviews and one question keeps coming up: “Why are you on the market?” Other than saying that you feel like you are serving at the University of the Titanic, you are at a loss for what to say to explain your reasons for looking elsewhere. If you speak ill of your current employers, however, you risk sounding like one of the “nattering nabobs of negativism” (to borrow William Safire’s marvelous phrase) or an ill egg in search of a new nest.

My best advice is that you try to accentuate the positives of the institutions that have called: their trajectories, their reputations, even their locations. Offer even begrudging praise of your current place (“Oh, I would miss so many of the people at my current place . . .”) but quickly turn to the merits of the new place (“but I’m sure that the new colleagues at Bright Hope University would be excellent iron with which I could sharpen my own iron. There are so many folks in the department who have such wonderful reputations as scholars/professors/etc.”).

What advice would you offer to folks who are hoping to be “formerly of the University of the Titanic”?

[Creative Commons-licensed photo by Flickr user Gorrilla Girl.]

Return to Top