A reader writes in:
We talk a lot about getting a job in philosophy, but is there anything one should know about leaving a job? Say you have a better offer. Say you are a year into a two year VAP and something permanent comes along. Say you accepted a job and now want to accept a better one? Who do you tell first, the chair or the dean? Should you make sure to have a contract before leaving? How awkward is it? Must one formally resign? What questions must one ask? Anyone with experience have anything to offer?
I think these are great questions to ask! Alas, I have relatively little personal experience relevant to most of them. I did leave a 2-year VAP at the University of British Columbia after my first year there for a job in the US (mostly because my fiancee at the time, now my spouse, could not work in Canada). And I don't recall it being awkward at all. Indeed, I don't recall there being any expectation that I would remain there for the full 2 years--as it seemed to be pretty much assumed that VAPs there would be on the job market each year--and I recall everyone being happy for me when I landed my job at Tampa. For the next 6 years, I was in a VAP at Tampa, and there too everyone basically knew I was on the market each year, and there was no awkwardness at all.
My only other experiences with anything remotely close to these topics are second- and third-hand. First, a number of years ago I a friend who accepted a job at one place only to accept a better job before beginning the first one. Unsurprisingly, I do recall there being some bad blood between the department and candidate--and, given how time and resource-intensive a job search is for a department, it is hard not to be sympathetic with the department. At the same time, the person in question simply told me they had an offer they couldn't refuse--and, if I recall, that was probably a pretty good description (the job they finally accepted was, by all accounts, a "dream job"). One final case I have some recollection of was recounted to me by someone at a conference, who had just hired a candidate into a TT position the year before (at a teaching-oriented SLAC). They had just hired the person the year before, but the person was already known to be looking for other jobs at research/R1 departments. I recall the person noting that, yes, their department was very upset about the situation--as the person they hired had made it seem in the hiring process that they wanted to be at their university, whereas it was clear from Day 1 on the job that they just wanted to leave for a better job.
I know these stories don't exactly answer the reader's questions (they are just stories!). But still, they're the best I have--and perhaps a place to start a conversation. In any case, do any of you have experience with these issues, either as a job-candidate or member of a department with individuals who have left for another job? If so, do you have any helpful advice for our reader?