~ Academic Monkey
I’m five years into my tenure clock at a mid-size R1 school in the Midwest. I have a good job. The pay isn’t great, but I’m relatively sure I’ll get tenure. Students are very good to me, my colleagues are fantastic, and I’ve had some luck with grants and publications that make everything look good. I'm pretty happy here. But I have a problem: money. Well, money, and love.
Three years ago, my partner of 16 years was diagnosed with a mental illness. The details don’t really matter, and I refuse to give up on him now that he is seeking treatment. However, before we realized what was going on, he did some things that were not responsible. He opened a lot of credit cards and took out a few loans – in my name as well as his – and before I was aware of his mental illness, he was $86,000 in debt. We didn’t have a lot of money and now the debt has ballooned to $130,000. He is now in treatment and I am doing my best to pay down this money while he gets the help he needs.
The thing is, I have been offered a single-year job in private industry that would pay me more than $150,000 next year. It’s a single-year opportunity, it involves working in the Middle East, and when it’s done I would have to come home again. If I took it, I would be able to get out of this debt and move past the terrible thing my partner did to me; to us. At the same time, if I take it, then I will have to get off the tenure track and I’m worried that I will never get my chance again.
This job is about triple my normal pay and it would really mean a different life for me. But the sacrifice would include giving up something so valuable: a tenure-track job near my family at a good school with great colleagues. What should I do?
It’s something really special to read about such a profound violation followed by a steady commitment to the violator.
There is an answer to your problem as you frame it, but before I get to that, you really need to ask yourself: is this really your problem? You have chosen to become partners with someone who is disabled with an unnamed mental illness. Many people do this; I love many people who struggle with mental illness. But this partner took out loans in your name, stole your identity, and destroyed your credit. I am very sympathetic to your situation, but it seems less of a “partnership” and more of a “gross violation that is grounds for breaking up and never talking ever again.”
You need to take a step back before shelling out all this money and sacrificing your career for something someone else has done. You're not yet tenured, yet you've been with this person for 16 years. I'm going to guess that you met as teenagers and the formative moment of your life is making it difficulty for you to imagine life without that influence.
I promise you: breaking up with hurt, but you will survive and look back and realize that this was not a good relationship. But this is not what you want to hear. You want a solution.
The answer here is that you should explore an option to see if you can take a leave of absence for a single year. You indicate that you are in good standing with your tenure committee. You might be able to take advantage of family leave in order to deal with this financial crisis. They might extend your clock by a single year, especially considering the magic words of “mental illness” and “fiscal crisis.” See if HR or Administration can help you navigate this situation with lesser-known policies for professors with cancer, ailing parents, or other challenges. Alternatively, if you are really in good with your chair, you might be permitted to convert your courses online for a single year while going abroad to this opportunity. It would be a terribly tough year, but you could pull off a $200,000 year before returning to your tenure clock.
If your school does not have such programs, then I would recommend staying at the tenure track and looking into a side job like online teaching. Tenure is too much of a diamond to give it up; you could even explore other, better-paying jobs later *after* you are tenured. But extra jobs really isn’t the ideal, is it. The ideal would be to exonerate yourself from this debt by separating from this partner and reporting his actions to the authorities so that you can expunge this debt in court and move on with your life.
Think about it.