|I don't think I'm revealing any big secrets when I say that I'm the first Blogging the Renaissance blogger -- if I can still claim to be one, after being disappeared for so long -- to be going through the tenure process. This seems to merit some commentary. My department is meeting very, very soon, and right now I'm finishing up the "tenure file," for their reading pleasure.|
The thing I want to say about tenure is this: we should all relax. I'm probably jinxing myself here, but I've heard so many people freak out about it, and so many people talk about the process itself as though it were some enormous task they had to accomplish, some huge project, that I feel the need to demystify it a little bit. There are definitely things to freak out about in our professional lives. Getting the book published, chiefly. But, honestly, that's about it. To get tenure -- and I'm talking here about the kind of institution that actually *gives* tenure -- you really only need to accomplish a few, pretty basic things. You have to have good teaching evaluations. OK. But as far as I can tell, on my campus at least, *everyone* has good teaching evaluations: students are incredibly generous on those things. At State U, the average (on a scale with 5 as the best) is about 4.5 You just can't tell me that the teaching is actually that good. If there's grade inflation, there's also evaluation inflation. So teaching evaluations aren't a big issue. As for "service" -- well, that ain't nothin'. I've been on committees that never even met. That leaves research -- ie, essentially, the book. (Plus the "and a half" that you have to dream up, for the file). And that, on the other hand, is something, and something big.
But the issue with the book is really an issue about the current state of academic publishing, and therefore in part a separate conversation. For tenure, under the guidelines that seem to be generally accepted these days, if you do your work and manage to publish the book, everything else happens as though by magic: maybe there are departments that are crazier than mine, but it really seems to me that if you're just a little bit canny about how you interact with others, and if you have just the slightest self-awareness about your position, you will fulfill all departmental and university expectations without really even realizing you're doing it.
And as for the "tenure file" -- please. It's a glorified CV, with a little commentary.
Now, I should admit that I'm in a department that has been *very* supportive, and at a university that is pretty sane in its practices, at least as far as tenure goes. I'm sure there are places where these things aren't true, and I'm sure there are places where the amount of pressure on junior faculty is just higher, on a day-to-day basis. At this point, every time I run into a colleague in the hallway, they tell me that the meeting about my tenure will be "a celebration." That seems to be the word they've settled on. So, this may not be a typical situation. But even the scary stories I've heard circulated are not really always that scary, when you hear them as an outsider. Academics are an anxious people, and I think most of this is in our minds. The scariest things, in the long road to tenure, are the everyday interactions: in other words, the really taxing thing is a kind of magnified social anxiety. But that social anxiety has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual, concrete tasks we're expected to accomplish. Those are no big deal.
None of this would apply, of course, if I were writing about, say, Yale, rather than State U. But I take it that at places like Yale there's basically no such thing as tenure any more anyway.
OK, I've definitely jinxed myself. Back to the unlocalized, pointless anxiety.