Ask the grumpies: When do I tell my department I’m taking unpaid leave as a NTT prof?

Liz asks:

I am in a NTT full time faculty position and finding it is not for me. I am going to take the 2021-22 school year to see if there are any changes that will make me happier in my position (and look at non-academic careers that I may go into), but if after that I choose to leave, when should I let my department know?

I am contracted through May 2022 and am going through the renewal process for the 2022-2023 school year right now.

This is a really hard question to answer because so much of it is, “it depends.”  Like if your department has been evil to you and you have zero intention of going back and you don’t think you will ever need recommendations from them, and they would definitely treat you even worse if they knew you were on the way out, then you definitely would put off telling them until the last possible minute.  If, on the other hand, your department was extremely supportive and just wanted what was best for you and was desperate to keep you and you’re hard to replace, and you had an idea for a one year replacement as a visiting position, then you’d want to let them know as soon as possible so you could help them plan and set all that up.

You’re probably somewhere between those two end-points.  It sounds like from your email that you’re not actually taking next year off, is that correct?

[Correct!]

I haven’t talked to my chair about any issues I am having with this job and plan on talking to [hir] at the end of the semester. Some of the issues I am having would have to be changed at the college level, so I am not optimistic about changes my chair can implement to make this job something I want to do long term. At this point, I would want to walk away sometime in summer 2022.

Thinking of the leave of absence, I would need to justify that this would be beneficial to the university. If I left academia, I would probably not do something related to my field and a leave would probably not be approved.

Ok, so it sounds like you’re thinking of taking a year leave of absence and you’re not sure if you would then return after that.  So you want to leave your options open so that you can return.

Well, first off, there’s no reason to say anything to anyone until you know what you’re doing the year after next.  (Unless there’s some standard procedure for applying for sabbaticals for non-tenure-track faculty?  If there’s a timeline on that leave of absence approval, then you may want to follow that even without something lined up.)

How much time should you give before the end of the 21-22 school year?  That one is harder.  If you knew you weren’t coming back ever for sure (and you didn’t want to burn any bridges), you’d want to give them as much time as possible to find a full-time replacement.  It would also be nice to let them know before classes are scheduled for Fall 2022-23, though of course you don’t have to.   Other than that, there’s not much advice to give.  They would prefer you tell them as soon as you know for sure what is going to happen.  You might want to hold off because it can be weird when it is known someone will be leaving.  If you give them more time, they might be able to replace you fully and you’d be less likely to come back after, but also if you give them less time they might not *want* you back after a year.  If your chair wants to keep you, more time might make keeping you easier.  If you’re not planning on coming back and aren’t going to need rec letters, none of this matters, so you might as well be kind.

Grumpy Nation, what advice do you have for Liz?

3 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: When do I tell my department I’m taking unpaid leave as a NTT prof?”

  1. mnitabach Says:

    I don’t have specific logistical advice. However, from a conceptual perspective, it is important to completely excise any notion of “loyalty” from the decision matrix. Universities & their constituent departments are 💯💯💯 transactional, yet attempt to exploit notions of “loyalty” in order to most effectively extract labor out of their faculty. This doesn’t mean to be a dickehole, but it does mean to decide how to proceed on the basis of forward-looking morality and practicality, not on the basis of loyalty earned for past practice.

  2. Bardiac Says:

    Speaking as a chair who tries to treat my non TT and TT colleagues alike well, it would help to know by April or May for the coming year, at the latest. (I’m in English, and most of my non TT colleagues teach in first year writing, and it’s relatively easy to find someone to teach first year writing in our area. If I were in a different field, where finding someone to fill in were way harder, I’d appreciate a longer lead time.)
    And, also as chair, even if I love someone, if we’ve filled the position they held with another person, and neither is on a long term contract, and both do a good job, then we’re unlikely to fire the second person to bring the first back. Partly that’s trying not to be a jerk towards the second person, and partly that’s saving myself a ton of time on paperwork to hire someone.

  3. kt Says:

    In math, depts (esp this year) can totally pick up an amazing person if you let them know in April. Or even May. The job market’s so bad from what I can tell that the department will be fine — they’ll have no problem finding someone. Just get on out. (Hi from corporate America — the water’s fine and the pay is 2x.)


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