So the crazy storms with their stupid high winds swept through this afternoon, and I was without power for about six hours. Now, I wasn’t entirely disconnected from the universe – my phone was fully charged so I was able to whine on Facebook and to read about Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise splitting up on the internet, but I didn’t want to go overboard with phone-related connectivity since who knew how long the power would be out? So I did go out and get some dinner, and I spent some quality time reading – first on my porch and then pathetically with a flashlight in my bed once darkness fell. (I hate reading with a flashlight. What seemed awesome and transgressive when I was 10 now seems… well, like a pain in the ass.) And since I was actually doing work-related reading, I was also trying to annotate in the margins, which is not fun when also trying balance a flashlight. But so whatever, that was good, but it also left me with some time for reflection. (Because yes, I often think about other shit while I read. No, I’m not sure how I do that, but I do tend to do it.)
At any rate, the thing that I seemed to be inclined to think about was about where I am in my career. See, I discovered his week (pleasantly) that my calculations about when I can go up for full professor are actually correct. Now at first you might be thinking, “Um, why was that something that you didn’t just know? That’s written down somewhere?” Well. Here’s the thing. The language in the faculty handbook is not entirely clear, and since the culture of my institution is such that most faculty don’t go up for full as soon as possible (if ever), I didn’t actually know if what I thought was right. But yes, it’s true, I can go up five years from when I went up for associate. Which means that I can go up for full in Fall 2013. In one year’s time.
I’ve written about this before, but I’m too lazy to look for actual posts so I’m not linking, but I am exceptionally motivated to go up for full, first because we don’t have a single full professor who is a woman in my department and second because I want that salary bump added to my base as soon as freaking possible. And also, why not? It’s not like there is a limit on the number of times that I can go try for this promotion, nor will it make me lose my job if I try and fail – my feeling is that at the very least I go up as soon as possible and if it doesn’t have a positive result then I will have feedback about why it didn’t which I can use for my second try. Seems like a no-brainer to me.
Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I do have my own additional benchmarks for what I need to have accomplished in order to go up for full, which have nothing really to do with the time that has passed between when I went up for tenure/associate. The timeline is one thing, but the achievements are another. Since I’ve gotten (frankly) crappy advice about what is required to go up for full (you’ll have a special feeling, I was told, by more than one of my full professor colleagues), I’ve decided what I’d be comfortable with, for my institution, about what I should have done. Basically, I do feel like I need to have a contract for this book that I’m writing before I’d go up, so if that isn’t secured before the deadline next year, I will wait. Frankly, I want for it to be easy for my department committee, chair, and dean to recommend my promotion. I’m not interested in giving them a reason to doubt me or to say no.
But with learning that I’m actually in a position to go up this year or next, I’ve been reflecting a bit about how I’ve managed (or failed to manage) my career post-tenure. In inserting that parenthetical I don’t intend to be falsely modest or to beat myself up. I’ve had “full” on my radar since I earned tenure, and I haven’t been entirely thoughtless and carefree about my activities since then. However, it’s also the case that, in my experience, there is a seismic shift in one’s job once one earns tenure, and as that ground shifts beneath one… well, things get a hell of a lot more complicated than what they were pre-tenure.
I think that’s probably true for all faculty at all institution types, but I think it’s probably more true if one is not at a research university. My sense, though y’all should correct me if I’m wrong, is that the expectations for faculty at research universities remain relatively consistent between the assistant and associate ranks. Just as you were expected to write a book (or publish x number of articles, if you’re not in a book discipline) as an assistant professor to earn tenure, you are expected to write a book (or the equivalent, depending on the discipline) as an associate professor. Basically, my sense is that the “percentages” of how you should spend your time pre-tenure in terms of research, teaching, and service remain relatively consistent once you hit associate, and while service might go up when you hit full (especially), there isn’t a radical shifting of your job description.
At my regional state university, with a 4/4 teaching load, I’ve experienced a radical shift in my job description post-tenure. While I didn’t feel like I was especially protected from service pre-tenure, I realize now that I was very protected from exceptionally time-consuming and politically dangerous service pre-tenure. That’s been the biggest difference in my life over the past four years. While teaching was supposed to be 50 percent of my workload pre-tenure, I feel as if post-tenure there has been an expectation that I will on the one hand teach up to that 50 percent standard while at the same time devoting maybe 20 percent of my time. While research was maybe supposed to take up 30 percent of my time pre-tenure, I think that the expectation now is that research will take up zero percent of my time during the academic year – that research is a hobby that I should take care of in summer and on weekends.
But let’s note: going up for full means that your supposed to perform in all of those areas, and you’re supposed to be producing at a higher level, or at a more important level, than you did pre-tenure in order to make it to full. Is it a mystery why most people at my institution never even bother trying to go up for full?
Now, before I go further, I really and truly have loved having tenure, in spite of the challenges that it has presented, both in terms of the work and in terms of how I relate to colleagues. I’m sure I could have handled some of those challenges with more finesse, but at the end of the day, tenure is a privilege, and it’s one that I’ve enjoyed. Like, seriously, it is a pleasure. And I’m very lucky to have it, even at the institution at which I have it. My feeling is that tenure is the best thing since sliced bread, and it sucks that people in every career don’t get to have it. I never experienced a post-tenure slump, in terms of the whole existential crisis about “what does it all mean?” and I have never regretted pursuing a career in academia.
I do feel as if I’ve let things overtake me that haven’t necessarily been the most positive for me, professionally or personally. I do feel that I have experienced a certain amount of pressure, particularly in terms of service, but also in terms of teaching, that has not been good for me. I do feel that I haven’t handled that pressure terribly well.
So reflecting on the past four years, what do I wish I would NOT have done?
Aw, fuck. I suck with this sort of thing, because I’m the sort of person who is all about, “all of the things have brought me to this point, so it’s all good….”
What do I wish people would have advised me not to do?
This is an easier question.
- I wish that people would have advised me not to serve on a dean’s office position search committee where I was the one newly tenured person, and where I was the one woman on the tenure-track. But when the dean asks for you, how do you say no?
- I wish that I would have been much less of a team player about my teaching schedule, because in being that, I taught 11 different preps over the course of three semesters, which was terrible for me, sure, but which was really terrible for the students whom I taught.
- I wish that I had not been lured into super-political university-wide service, which would make people in my department hate me and which would me make me hate my university as well as myself (at least sometimes).
- I wish that people wouldn’t have advised me to “relax” about research. Let’s note that I didn’t follow that advice, but getting advised in that way made me kind of hate the people who advised me in that way, as well as others who followed that advice, because I love doing research. Research has never been my problem. But wow, it is my problem when the people who are supposed to be my colleagues don’t value it.
- I wish that people would have cared more about my well-being than their own comfort (or lack of discomfort).
But none of that was what happened. And now, I’m looking at my life over the past four years, and I’m really pissed off that I didn’t have the support that I needed, and I’m really pissed off that I didn’t do stuff that I enjoyed or that had meaning to me in the spirit of community when really all that it resulted in was a target on my back and people treating me like shit.
I’m still idealistic enough that I’m not totally checking out. I’ve just changed my direction, and I’m on to other things. But I now understand why people do check out, which I didn’t understand at all pre-tenure. That’s bad, people. Because I now look forward to checking out. I now feel like, you know, who the fuck cares? I don’t want to check out now, mainly because I’m only 37 years old (nearly 38 years old). But I look forward to the day that I will stop caring, and I never felt that before.
I hate that one of the reasons that I want full professor rank is so that I can tell people to fuck off. I hate that one of the reasons that I want full professor is because I am so angry that I’ve been doing all this work for four years while other people have been sitting idly by and letting me do it and then criticizing me for what I’ve accomplished. And what I wish, most of all, is that I hadn’t let this happen. I wish that I’d stood up for myself, and I wish that I’d taken care of myself rather than putting my career and my life in my institution’s hands. I wish that I had been supported in doing those things that I really am best and most suited to doing, like teaching and designing rigorous classes, doing strong service in the community and in the profession, and doing research that might not be setting the world on fire but that is making a really important contribution. Here’s the thing: nobody prohibited me from doing those things after tenure, but it’s also true that nobody – NOBODY – supported them.
The good news is that I’ve discovered all of the above now, and so now I’m advocating for myself to do the work that I’m best at doing and that I want to do. But I sure wish that it hadn’t taken 4 years for me to figure out that I needed to do that.