I am writing this post so I don’t have to tell the same story a number of times. I was up for tenure this year, so I went on the job market. For those unfamiliar with the inside baseball, the logic behind applying for other jobs when you apply for tenure is this: In the worst-case scenario, this helps ensure you will have a job if you get denied tenure. In the best-case scenario, having an offer from another university means you can ask for a better raise in salary if you do get tenure.
Four for Four
Having been denied tenure at Duke by my senior Sanford School colleagues (an interesting story which I am more than happy to discuss privately), going on the job market turned out to be a great idea: Out of four first-round interviews in early January at the American Economic Association meetings, I received four excellent job offers, and the offer I just accepted is a significant improvement — better pay, lighter teaching load, and so on — on my current job.
Many people who get denied tenure only begrudgingly leave the university that denied them tenure. This couldn’t be further from the truth in my case. In retrospect, getting denied tenure at Duke will probably end up being one of the best things that ever happened to me. Among many other positive changes:
- I am joining a department where my colleagues understand and can thus appreciate my research.
- I am joining a department where I expect to have numerous opportunities to explore new research areas and work with colleagues.
- I am joining a department where I will finally have a chance to work with graduate students in training the next generation of researchers.
- I am joining a university that has long history of generating groundbreaking research in agriculture, food policy, and development. Among other things, my new building is named after a pioneer of agricultural and development economics who was on faculty at Minnesota, and Norman Borlaug did his PhD at Minnesota.
- My wife and I are moving to a vibrant metropolitan area where we already have a number of friends and where cultural amenities are in excess supply relative to how much leisure time our respective jobs leave us with.
What would have happened had I not been denied tenure? Transaction costs matter, and inertia is a strong force, so even if I had gotten the same offers, I likely would have ended up not moving. And I would’ve been unhappy for the foreseeable future.
We all have stories we tell ourselves in order to sleep better at night, and maybe I’m just whistling Dixie. But maybe it simply is the case that sometimes, life just forces you to make the right decision.
One of the few things I remember from my one semester of Arabic is the proverb fi al-haraka baraka (فيالحركة بركة), “in movement there is blessing.” Indeed there is.