In mid-July I made the decision to leave the University. The 2011-2012 year was a very tough one. I started the year with tenure and began working as Clerk of the Academic Senate. Even though budget conditions continued to be bad on campus I thought that I could help to guide the University through the crisis. I also thought that I could influence a discussion on how the core values and mission of the University could help us decide how to allocate resources both in good times and in bad times. Unfortunately I was at the very least very optimistic and at most horribly naive to think that I could have much influence in these areas. In reality I spent a lot of time drafting minutes, coming up with emergency responses to policies from the President’s office which would then mysteriously become unnecessary, and generally wasting a lot of time getting upset or angry at various things I couldn’t do anything about.
By the end of the year I was exhausted and made a list of things that I needed in order to stay at the University. Although the University pays poorly, additional compensation was not on the list though it would factor into my decision during the summer. As I was aware of the financial state of the University, my requests were designed to have a minimal financial demand. I decided to meet with the Provost to ask for what I wanted and I did expect the Provost to say “No.” The Provost did surprise me by not saying no immediately but instead taking 6 weeks to give me a “probably not” and a few more weeks to finally say “no” outright.
During that time one of my daughters was referred to an orthodontist who recommended that some procedures start immediately. Procedures which are rather costly. I actually couldn’t afford the additional medical bill, even with the salary of a tenured professor, so I found work as a consultant programmer to help cover those bills. I was pretty successful right away and helped my client earn a large contract. I was offered the opportunity to stay on as an employee with a significant pay increase from what I was making at the University. When the Provost’s reply came back, I took the new job.
Looking back, I feel as though I should have made this decision sooner. The early years at the University were marked with anger and frustration at never having enough time to spend with my daughters or my wife. The middle years marked with unacceptable demands such as a fake furlough program or requiring that my wife and I both teach classes on the same night so that we had to scramble to find child care that would run until midnight. And then the final years where the University dismissed my wife and asked me to continue to give them my all. All of these conditions were unacceptable to me, and yet I continued.
Moving forward I am building definite boundaries around my time and my family which I will not let work interfere with. I believe it is possible to work hard and be successful without making work the center of your life, but I do not think it is possible for me to do that in academia. The thing I have learned from all this is that I should not stay in a bad situation expecting it to get better. I always imagined the next thing (i.e. getting a postdoc, then getting a tenure track position, then getting tenure) would make things better, but if things are not good now then they probably wont get better without change.