In addition to learning that I should fund sociology at the 2013 annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, I also spent some time with senior colleagues, one of gave me some advice that is relevant to my continuing series on Academic False Consciousness. As faculty members, he said, we should always be loyal to individuals but never to institutions. The reason for this is that individuals are much more likely to be loyal to us than institutions and to think otherwise is to ignore everything that Marx tried to teach us.
I was reminded of this conversation when talking to a staff member who had recently decided to leave my school for a better job. Because the timing of his departure coincided with the beginning of the new academic year, some in the administration had grumbled about the difficult position that he put the institution in. Of course, if the same administrators had decided that he should be fired it seems unlikely that they would care what time of year it was.
The difficulty of discerning between loyalty to people and loyalty to institutions at a liberal arts school is that it can be hard to tell where people end and institutions begin. The staff member who quit his job certainly made things more difficult at the institutional level because it will be difficult to replace him in a timely manner. It will also, however, create an additional burden on his former coworkers, who will be asked to do more in his absence. Although thinking about his coworkers may have caused him to question his decision, it is actually the institution that will decide on the timetable for his replacement and whether or not his position will be filled with a temporary employee in the interim. If the institution decides that it will not, the burden on his former coworkers is not the fault of the employee who is leaving for greener pastures.
In the end, most of his coworkers supported his decision because they understood his reasons for leaving. The fact that he had found a better opportunity did not bring about the end of their loyalty to him. Although I think that we should dig in and make the most of the opportunities that are available to us in the positions we hold, the fact that we are given these opportunities should not prevent us from seeking better opportunities elsewhere.