It’s the equivalent of grade inflation, a topic we are all more than willing to discuss. Tenure inflation however, appears to be our most taboo subject. I am feeling twinges of guilt as I type. All academic milestones are letdowns, no degree earned or grant funded provides nearly the emotional high one hopes for. But these accomplishments do come with piece of mind, the comfort of knowing one’s efforts were recognized. But even this has been taken away through tenure. It simply doesn’t matter. Had I written half as much, blown my grant money on candy, and canceled all of my classes you would simply “explain” away my behavior at each successive review phase. My young self did not know this.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Tenure… My life has been punctuated with a series of academic milestones. College, graduate school, more graduate school, tenure-track job. All occurred in rapid sequence. No time off, no breaks, no extra year here or there. I knew all of this would happen, because I decided that all of this would happen long ago when I took “Introduction to My Field” as a stoned undergraduate. The decision was not based on arrogance, simply the realization that I could excel in this field if I really wanted to. So, I did. My young stoned-self foresaw a clear life trajectory. As I approach tenure, which I will receive in a few months (that is not arrogance either, my record is more than sufficient), I should be happy. I am not. I have seen colleagues with egregious publication records, truly pathetic teaching skills, and the kind of collegiality that forces one to start a blog such as this one sail through the tenure process. I am realistic. I can admit that I am not a superstar of my field. But, if all of us in my field could be projected into a blank night sky, you could see my star without a telescope. It may not be the brightest, but it could be identified. I think that is all tenure takes really, a presence among a constellation of others that doesn’t require too much squinting and effort to see. But when I receive tenure you are placing me in a class of stars that I cannot be grateful to join— most are the types of stars that you can have named for a loved one for a small fee, a blurry little image capturable only by the most sophisticated of telescopes or your average computer user with access to Photoshop. I know, that sounds really lousy of me. But I’ve been working very hard, and I was hoping for a greater sense of accomplishment as I meet this milestone. It just seems like a starrified pile of bullshit, I say what you want me to, you vote how the Dean and the Tenure Committee wants you to, they vote how the BOT wants them to…and all of you want this to be a nice smooth sail. No lawsuits, no pissed off university factions, no future job search. But in following this course you are doing me no favor. With your past tenure decisions you are implying that my tenure is derived from your goodwill. This is not necessary. I actually published meaningful things, put effort into my classes, and consistently got my work done (on time I might add). Now here I am and none of this seems to matter.