Academics shouldn’t be penalized for moving – that’s what Americans do

Perhaps more than any other country, American society gives its citizens freedom to move from place to place and from job to job. However in higher education, there is a strange irony. In a country which has one of the most mobile populations in the world (40 percent of the workforce changes jobs yearly), some faculty members, administrators, and board members look upon those who move frequently with a level of suspicion which denigrates otherwise excellent credentials. It seems that academia values freedom of thought only as long as all the thought is done in one place.

In far too many colleges and universities, search committee members overvalue what they define as stability or permanence — how long a person kept a job is considered as important as how well they did it. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American worker will change jobs ten times in a lifetime — and careers at least three times. Contrary to this profile, people in higher education seem obsessed with staying in one place. As a result, the professorate is afflicted by a cultural zeitgeist which can discourage professional growth, creativity, and diversity.

Faculty caught in a tight job market struggle to find a tenured position then cling to that appointment, even if they hate it, because a person seeking a new job is seen as either being in trouble or trying to take an assignment from an insider with years of service. Someone who has changed jobs several times is suspected of being “a climber” or a “job jumper.” In many cases, the unwritten rules against frequent job changes are unwritten but strictly enforced.

Colleges and university administrators experience similar problems. Like their counterparts in business, industry and the military, they usually have no choice but to move. However, in the minds of many search committees any brief appointments are “too many.”

This is particularly myopic because it may be easier to acquire a variety of management and supervisory skills by spending brief periods at several different colleges than by spending the same period at only one.

Author Peter Drucker has written that “Higher education must rethink its views on mobility” if it ever hopes to take its rightful place in what Drucker calls the “knowledge society.”

“People no longer stay where they were born either in terms of geography or in terms of social position and status,” writes Drucker. “The essence of a knowledge society is mobility in terms of where one lives, mobility in terms of what one does, mobility in terms of one’s affiliations.”

Over many years academia has developed an elaborate system to protect those who want to stay in one place. It is called tenure. In this new age, universities should also develop policies to avoid discriminating against job candidates who want to move, and possess experience and skills gained through professional assignments in more than one place. It is time to consider effective performance as being quite obviously more important than the number of years one has accumulated at a single institution. No longer is it correct or advisable to dismiss the candidacy of an otherwise qualified applicant merely on the grounds that he or she has changed jobs “too frequently,” especially in a society which values mobility.

Colleges and universities must begin to recognize the worth of faculty and administrators who earned their experience and skills through the risky business of job changes and geographic relocations which exposed them to new challenges. It is wrong to discriminate against those who bring fresh ideas into colleges and universities through their willingness to move throughout the American higher education community.

People willing to move contribute to the strength of our economy and the diversity of our society. It seems unwise to prejudge those who move as somehow not as effective or deserving as those who steadfastly remain in one position.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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