Unsurprisingly, I’ve been thinking a lot about exits recently, what with Maren leaving ALT and me announcing my (not so) imminent OU departure. I’m going to start with an ice hockey example, so for those with an aversion to such things, you may want to skip a paragraph. Last year the Chicago Blackhawks let their franchise player Patrick Kane leave for the New York Rangers. Kane had been with Chicago for 16 seasons, winning three Stanley Cups. He’s nicknamed “showtime” and yet, he went to the New York Rangers for practically nothing this year. The reason? He didn’t want to go anywhere else but also Chicago wanted to give him the exit he wanted. Their General Manager commented “we achieved what we wanted, and that was to put Patrick on a team that he wanted to go to. That’s the main goal here: hopefully get some assets here, which we feel we did, but mainly was repaying a player that’s done so much for the franchise.”
That may be just PR and behind the scenes the organisation were all furious, but let’s take it at face value for now and transpose to our slightly less well-paid lifestyles. When Maren left ALT recently it was to a timeframe that suited the organisation, but also one that allowed her the exit she desired. I’m leaving the OU in a manner that is again, mutually satisfactory – I get a nice redundancy about after 29 years, and leave having completed my term as Director of the Open Programme. Getting the exit you want and deserve is pretty rare these days.
But on that front, I know colleagues who have left the OU previously have been rather shocked at how quickly they are erased. Their email account stops working the day they leave, they immediately cease to have library access, and their keycard is rendered defunct (these impacts can be alleviated by getting visiting or Emeritus status it should be noted). One gets the sense that they would happily be digitally removed from any photographs also. I know there are security, licensing and access reasons for doing this, but as I mentioned in the post on self-sabotage, I’m pretty sure we don’t need to do it that hard. I have heard similar things from other unis, so I don’t think this is just an OU problem.
HEIs have realised effective induction policies for staff, particularly compared with when I started when it was basically “off you go.” But at the other end of the career profile, I don’t think the off-boarding (is that even a word?) is as effective, especially for those not going to other institutions immediately. There used to be a (weak) joke that with the graduation ceremony, higher education was the only business that held a celebration when its customers left. Since then all unis have become better at maintaining alumni contact. This is partly (mainly?) a business driven approach, as those people may return or if you’re a Russell Group, bequeath you a fortune from their illicit gains. But it also has some aspect of maintaining good will and connection.
Staff who leave an institution similarly may have good will towards it (they may often have ill will it should be acknowledged). They also contain a good deal of institutional knowledge, contacts and social history. There is a benefit to the institution in making that exit a positive experience, and then maintaining some informal network of ex-staff. In a career as in life, we all want the exit we deserve.