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The Graceful Goodbye

This is the time of year when deans and department chairs dread the unexpected request for a meeting with a faculty member about an unspecified topic. A resignation may be coming, and our hearts flutter a bit at the thought of having to scramble to cover classes, conduct a late search, or, worse yet, engage in an uphill battle to fill the position the following year.

I have sat on the listening side of the desk enough to know that while I am sad to lose a colleague and perhaps a dear friend, people who submit a resignation usually do so with a heavy heart. I’ve had only a handful of departures that were purely about salary or teaching load. By far the most common reasons for moving are personal: professional advancement, social opportunities, or family necessities. The latter may involve factors like finding educational services for a special-needs child, caring for an aging parent with a terminal disease, or dealing with the aftermath of a divorce.

For the most part, the resignations I’ve witnessed were handled gracefully. Indeed, academe is a small world, so I have been quietly aware of many impending departures, but the actual moment is always difficult. I especially appreciate those who go out of their way to make the announcement quietly at first, giving the chair or the dean a heads-up before telling the department and then the students and the larger campus community.

Advance notice makes it easier to reconcile staffing issues, but even when the notice comes late, graciousness goes a long way toward preventing hard feelings. I always encourage people to contact human resources directly after the announcement to learn about out-processing issues like how long institutional e-mail and health insurance will continue, what terminal payroll looks like, and the ins and outs of retirement accounts.

What advice do you have for people who wish to make a graceful exit?

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