Lost in Transition

One of the most difficult things about the job search is the monkey wrench that appears out of nowhere, upending what had been a smooth process. There is no bigger monkey wrench than the unexpected resignation of a campus leader.

When I was on the market for the first time, a phone interview turned into an invitation for an on-campus interview. I could not believe my good fortune and was very excited about the opportunity. Three days before the interview, however, the search-committee chair called and told me that the president and the board of trustees had become entangled in some sort of fight and that the president had resigned. The campus was in an uproar, he further offered, and he felt like it would be wrong for them to interview me in the midst of such turmoil. While I was sad about the lost opportunity to land a job, I was grateful for his forthrightness.

I know an administrator who was interviewing on campus for a senior leadership position. He was shocked when the president sent his regrets to the luncheon with the other campus leaders, but was more flummoxed by the cancellation of the private interview with the president later in the day. “His schedule was changed unexpectedly,” was the excuse that was given, hardly a stretch for a president’s calendar, but it still seemed very odd until the next day, when the president’s resignation was announced.

Faculty positions are not, typically, affected by a peaceful transition in leadership at most levels, but for faculty and staff who are interested in moving into administrative leadership positions, transitions are fraught with risks. Interviewing to lead an academic department and the dean resigns unexpectedly? Interviewing to be a dean and the vice president resigns? In conversations about a vice presidency and the president resigns? Each of these positions typically serves at the pleasure of the next level of administration, so it is risky business to continue, particularly if the leadership transition is an unhappy one. I always recommend that people be circumspect in these situations, as the highways of academe are littered with the bones of careers that were caught in the wakes of changes in leadership.

Have you seen someone whose career was affected negatively by a change in leadership that directly affected those who were connected administratively to the person who resigned?

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