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The higher education sector seems fraught for every employee these days—faculty, staff and administrators alike. Many people feel burned out and demoralized and want to give up on their institution. Leaving your institution can be a challenging prospect. It’s like breaking up in a relationship. Are you thinking about leaving your position? Have you left? Started a new job? No matter the stage you’re experiencing, here are some tunes reflecting the possible range of emotions from sadness and despair to anger, disbelief and grief to relief and joy.

In the spirit of K-Tel Records’ “Disco Dynamite” (procured with babysitting money in 1976 and still in my possession) and the mix tapes of my punk-fueled college days as a purple-haired art student, I offer readers an old-school compilation of classic songs for contemplation, courage, inspiration, resilience and celebration. If you have Spotify, listen to the playlist here.

STAGE 1: I Didn’t Sign Up for This Nonsense

The dean asked me to be the art department chair because its people can’t get along (I teach accounting). A student was banned from Target because they’ve been caught shoplifting for the fifth time. A trustee hired a donor to teach a class. A faculty member bought themselves a car with grant funds. A staff member saw the department chair having sex with their executive assistant on an office desk (she is now crying and afraid of retaliation).

  • The Clash, “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” 1982
  • Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler,” 1978
  • Paper Lace, “Billy Don’t Be a Hero,” 1974
  • Johnny Cash, “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town,” 1958
  • Paul Simon, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” 1975

STAGE 2: Let Me Tell You Why This Institution Sucks

Budget cuts. No raises. They never clean my office. The institution’s tag line is insipid. I can’t find a parking place. I can’t bring myself to attend one more meeting about banning scooters. The CFO has 37 cats; those are some questionable decision-making skills. The library is shut down for four years due to asbestos abatement. President Puffy Coat actually said someone was unlikable; doesn’t she know people who live in a glass house shouldn’t throw rocks?

  • Carole King, “It’s Too Late,” 1971
  • Bon Jovi, “You Give Love a Bad Name,” 1986
  • Pat Benatar, “Love Is a Battlefield,” 1983
  • The Smiths, “Work Is a Four-Letter Word,” 1988
  • The Chicks, “Gaslighter,” 2020
  • Dolly Parton, “9 to 5,” 1980
  • Whitney Houston, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me),” 1987

STAGE 3: Screw It. I’m Out of Here!

I published 10 articles this year, taught five classes, received fives and three chili peppers on RateMyProfessor, and chaired the scooter committee. Still, I only received “meets expectations” on my evaluation. I was so tired I tried to open the front door of my apartment with my office key. I’m too old to be running to another building to use the bathroom because someone blew up the bathroom in my building.

  • Dionne Warwick, “(Theme From) Valley of the Dolls,” 1968
  • Fleetwood Mac, “Go Your Own Way,” 1978
  • Lesley Gore, “You Don’t Own Me,” 1963
  • Nancy Sinatra, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” 1966
  • Johnny Paycheck, “Take This Job and Shove It,” 1977

STAGE 4: Am I Doing the Right Thing by Leaving?

Why do I have to fill out this online application; can’t they just read my résumé? Another Zoom interview (should I wear school colors? Should I blur the background? Maybe I should buy a ring light). I’ve watched the entirety of The Crown for the fifth time; now what? I think my 12-year-old is tired of me giving lectures about why The Crown is historically inaccurate. If I don’t find a job soon, I may have to be a greeter at Walmart. I miss dining hall pizza and Rice Krispies treats.

  • Joni Mitchell, “Both Sides Now,” 2000 version
  • REM, “Losing My Religion,” 1991
  • Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, “Don’t Give Up,” 1986
  • Rolling Stones, “Time Is on My Side,” 1964
  • Neil Sedaka, “Breakin’ Up Is Hard to Do,” 1960
  • Journey, “Don’t Stop Believin’,” 1981
  • David Bowie, “Changes,” 1972
  • Taylor Swift, “Shake It Off,” 2014
  • Abba, “Take a Chance on Me,” 1977

STAGE 5: New Job. New Day. Hooray.

This university is ranked higher than my last institution (even if rankings are a tissue of lies)! What a beautiful campus! Look—a parking space right outside my building! Wow! My office seems bigger and is at the other end of the hall from the bathroom! And I’m paid more and have a travel budget! The president doesn’t seem crazy! Bonus: this town has a Target, Starbucks and Trader Joe’s!

  • Queen, “We Are the Champions,” 1977
  • Boston, “Don’t Look Back,” 1978
  • Florence and the Machine, “Dog Days Are Over,” 2010
  • McFadden and Whitehouse, “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” 1979
  • Johnny Nash, “I Can See Clearly Now,” 1972
  • Katrina and the Waves, “Walking on Sunshine,” 1983
  • Diana Ross, “I’m Coming Out,” 1980
  • Katy Perry, “Firework,” 2010
  • Gloria Gaynor, “I Will Survive,” 1978
  • Pharrell Williams, “Happy,” 2013

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