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Selfish Jerk

I was once laid off from a tenure-track job for vaguely-worded "financial reasons". As Marcus notes, the university will have no problem laying you off, if their budget, plans, or whims demands it. Furthermore, if you were the last hired, you will likely be the first fired. Your colleagues will express regrets and then do nothing to defend you against the administration.

So, absolutely, apply for other jobs. You owe your employer nothing except the work you have been paid to do.

weighing in

I think it is fine to take a job in such circumstances, as described, and go on the market. Of course it is bad for the department that just hired you. I was in such a department, and we lost someone and the line. But you must think of your own career here. In fact, I think people look more attractive to other colleges when they already have a TT job. The only reasons I can think of not doing this are: (i) one's family is sick of all the moving for your career, and (ii) one has job market fatigue, and needs rest. But do remember, when your new department finds out that you are trying to leave they are not going to like it. That is the reality. The former colleague of mine who left, told me she got a job offer. I was somewhat delighted for her, because our department was somewhat dysfunctional and toxic.


I took a TT job that I was worried about for some similar reasons, and ended up leaving after 2 full years for another TT job. I look back and think: "Why didn't I take the post doc instead of the TT job with red flags?" But of course, if I did take the post doc, I might not have looked as impressive as a candidate applying to move up. I do think that having a TT job can make it easier to land another one (as I did, in year 2 of my first TT job).

My advice is this: if you can't even see yourself somewhat happy in the TT job, and there is no chance you will be there long term, don't take the job. If you are open minded and willing to give it a shot, take the job and apply for dream jobs in year 1. No one will hold it against you for taking a dream job. Then get aggressive about applying out in year 2 if you are unhappy. If you get a job, don't be a jerk and make sure you do all the work you need to do until your last day there - teach well, perform your service duties, etc. You won't burn bridges with reasonable people.


The primary thing to keep in mind is that a tenure track job provides no real job security. Until you have tenure, you can very easily be let go for a wide variety of reasons. And you should never expect any sort of loyalty to you on the part of the university regardless of how good a relations you have with others in your department, the dean, etc. So long as you do not violate your employment contract, you should have no worries about looking for other jobs and moving when a better deal comes along.

The Ghost of David Lewis

OP's guilt is the unfortunate product of a low-cost labor retainment strategy leveraged by institutions with toxic work environments or undesirable/unaffordable locations (inclusive 'or'). You owe nothing to your institution above what is stated in your contract. Your institution knows this. They wrote the contract. If they don't want you to apply out in the first year, they should stipulate it in your contract and compensate you accordingly.


I believe it is morally justified to move for reasons about job security. The moral issue for me is that in most cases, one must show that they want to stay (maybe I am wrong but this is what I've been told). Making others believe that you truly want this job and want to stay for a long time is important to get hired.


I certainly don't think the OP has any moral obligation to stay, and I completely understand the strategy. But I will echo what Marcus says. First, search committees put a lot of time (and resources) into this and when you hire a TT person at anywhere except an elite R1 you are hiring for the long haul. And if they person leaves and its a SLAC and regional school, there is a good chance they might lose the line.

On the other hand you don't own them anything. However, I would encourage the OP to take the job and give it two years. Build up your pubs and teaching portfolio while keeping an eye on the market for perfect dream jobs. If by year three you are still unhappy, go full out on the market. I have been in the same mid-sized city for 19 years, and when I got here I HATED it. My partner showed up a year later and we planned to be here 2 years max. She decided that a place is what you make it, and that she was going to make the best of it. 18 years later we are quite happy here, and will probably die here ;-) Not saying that will happen for everyone, just saying it might be worth a shot...

Running from death

Paul ...
You are right that a place is, to some extent, what you make of it. But the thought of dying somewhere led me to move ... (I do not mean that I jumped on a camel and went from Damascus to Alleppo). I was in a place where the prospects of being there forever looked grim ... But I stayed a long time before I could move.

Prester John

I think it is ethical to accept a t-t job and immediately begin looking for another one. One is obligated, legally and ethically, to do the work that one is being paid to do and, ethically, to do work of a calibre dictated by the norms of the profession and your institution. Yes, there is a cost to the department and even faculty should you move on, but you don't work for the department or the faculty, and I think this is sometimes lost on folks just out of the gate: you work for the university and are a functionary in that larger machine. You are entering into a contractual employment relationship with the university, not with the department (I'm sure they're lovely people) nor are you being engaged by 'Philosophy'. Not only that, but spending money and time on recruiting is a cost of doing business, which is built into the budget. If you move on, they'll deal with it.


I think the only ethical problem would be if you gave a clear and intentionally misleading perception that you would stay longer. If you didn't, then I see no ethical problem. We don't require people to pass up major life benefits because there would be small indirect detriments to others, others to which you hold no contractual obligation.


I agree with all those commenters above who say that it's morally permissible to apply out, even just after one has begun a TT job. I do want to share a personal story.

I did that, and I got an on-campus interview at a place that fall. One of the faculty at the interviewing place flatly said that I was immoral, refused to shake my hand upon meeting him, and generally treated me as though I had burned down a village.

I share this story to let you know that, even if you succeed, you might incur some unhappy people at your new place. This isn't morally important, but it's a prudential concern that I didn't see highlighted in any of the comments above.



Wow that is a pretty extreme story. I think someone like should have had no role in the search and should not have been allowed to vote.


I know I’m late to this party, and this is unlikely to be seen, but: I agree that one has no moral obligation to exploitative employers, and that there may be good reasons to move. But it should at least enter your calculations that you are taking a job from someone else. Moreover, given how many tenure lines are not replace when someone leaves, there is a serious chance that one fewer philosopher will ever have a job because of this move. That should matter in your decision.

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