Yesterday, Historiann posted about her responses to an AHA survey of faculty, and she wrote:
The survey forced me to confront my growing fears that I’m a “stalled” Associate Professor (tenured and promoted nearly 7 years ago, in 2004), although I can’t say that the service burden at my uni is the problem. After all, because we haven’t run searches for three years, that relieves a great deal of the traditional service burden! I think the bigger problem is my failure to win a grant, and the absence of meaningful support for research at my uni. But, really: what’s the rush? We haven’t had raises in three years either, so what would be the point of hurrying up a book I’m enjoying thinking and writing about at a deliberate pace?
This point of her post drove the comment thread, with people chiming in about their own statuses on the path to full professor, and while I did comment over there, I thought I would do my own post because I keep thinking about my own feelings about my path toward promotion to full professor. Also, I’ve perhaps been mulling this over, too, because at my annual review my chair asked me if I’d begun thinking about going up for full, although it’s worth noting that I only got tenure two years ago, so it’s not like I’m anywhere close to feeling ready for that or to being in a position where my application would receive a positive result.
First things first. I think institutional context is important in this conversation: full professor means different things at different institutions. Notice, I’m saying “institutions” here and not “institution types.” I really don’t think this breaks down by institution type – I think it’s more localized than that. Actually, I’ll go even further: I think the benefits and consequences of promotion to full differ even by department within a given institution. In some departments, the benefits to attaining full professor status are negligible at best (a tiny salary bump) and the negative consequences are not to be ignored (a much heavier service load, much more miserable types of service obligations). In other departments, well, those negative consequences are much less.
The reality in my department, as far as I can tell, is that miserable service lives at the associate level. We kick the asses of junior faculty with a heavy service burden, too – don’t get me wrong about that – but for the most part, we do protect junior people from those committees and those issues that are most political and most sensitive. So, for example, we don’t tend to have junior people serving on things like the senate or the university-wide curriculum committees; we don’t tend to have junior people serving on university-wide or college-wide search committees, etc. Junior faculty are buried beneath what I think of as “busy-work service” – department committees, planning events, non-controversial stuff. It’s when you hit the associate level that the intensity of service has the potential really to ramp up: all of a sudden, you’re being asked to direct programs, to serve on all of those land-mine-filled committees. If you’re not careful, those things can entirely impede your research, and, as I learned last year, make you into a crappy teacher.
And nobody gets promoted based on service. Nobody.
So if people get “stalled” at associate – and if women get “stalled” disproportionately to men, which is definitely the case in my department – what stalls them in my context is not that people chill out after tenure. That they take their time on their post-tenure projects, or that they relax after earning tenure. Rather, it’s that people’s lives become so burdened with intense service that they cannot sustain those activities that are actually valued in the promotion process. At least this is my perception.
And further, there is a good deal of apathy about seeking this promotion: What’s the point when we don’t get raises? Why bother? Who cares? After tenure, what difference does another promotion make?
Now, one issue that exacerbates the apathy… yes, I think that’s the word I want here…. about going up for full in my department is that there is no institutional time-line for seeking that promotion. The conventional wisdom is that you’ll know when to go up based on a “feeling that you’re ready.” It is the case that the provost indicates, not in writing but casually, that probably you need to wait at least five or so years. But that isn’t written anywhere. Also, this “feeling” of readiness – how do you know?
This is the million dollar question. Because after one earns tenure, at least in my department, a faculty member is pretty much left to her own devices. To some extent the structure of the tenure and promotion process at my institution encourages this. Pre-tenure, a faculty member has to put together a binder of supporting documentation every single year, and it is reviewed every single year, all the way from the department through the college and on to the provost. No third year reviews for us! No, sir! Every motherfucking year. While I saw this as a time-sucking burden pre-tenure, I will say that it did make the process totally transparent, and it did give me clear and mostly consistent information about what was expected and abot how I was progressing. Was it unnecessarily bureaucratic? Yes. Was it an exercise in mandatory scrap-booking? Yes. But it did serve to keep one’s eye on the prize.
After tenure, there is pretty much no mentorship about what comes next. Heck, I’ve never even seen what a binder that was successful for promotion to full looks like, though I have heard rumors that it is “very different” from what binders for tenure look like. And even if I had seen such a binder, what would it tell me? Because people go up at any point from 5 years to 20 years (seriously) after earning tenure.
I think the typical thing that happens after most people earn tenure is that for the first year or two, they just celebrate every autumn the fact that they don’t have to put together that freaking binder. But after that, the path is unclear.
Word in the hallways has it that you’re ready to go up when you’ve written a book. As I’m in a book field, this makes a certain kind of sense. But. This is interesting information, especially to a faculty member who published her first book pre-tenure. Do I need another book to go up for full? At an institution where people earn tenure in some cases based on one – just one! – article? Are we, with our 4/4 teaching load really prepared to say that we are a two-books-for-full-professor institution? I’ve asked this question to a number of my full professor colleagues (all male, all but one who didn’t publish a book until after tenure, and some of whose “books” were not scholarly monographs but rather edited collections or textbooks) and the answer that I got was something along the lines of, “well, that doesn’t seem reasonable…. historically, though, people have had a book when they’ve gone up for full….” The conversation at that point becomes circular because, well, I’ve got a book, but it was published before I earned tenure and got promoted to associate, so it doesn’t, for the purposes of promotion to full, “really count.”
Now, if you want to know why many people stall at associate, part of the issue is this rumored requirement about needing a “book” to go up for full. If you grant people tenure and promote them to associate based on one article – not one article a year, not one article every couple of years, but just one article from their time of hire to their time of tenure/promotion – it’s entirely likely that some, if not many, of those people don’t actually have a book in them. Or if they did at one point have a book in them, the working conditions of this job plus the low bar for tenure/promotion to associate combined to beat the book that they might have had in them out of them. If what you hear every time the conversation about going up for full occurs is that you need a book, and if the longest thing you ever wrote was your dissertation, and that was 10+ years ago, you might just give up on the idea of striving for promotion to full. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable response, actually, even if it is problematic for a lot of reasons.
But so anyway, there is then the issue of whether a series of articles can “work” for the scholarship side of promotion to full professor. The jury is out on this, as nobody in my department has ever tried that. To be fair, probably part of the reason that nobody has ever tried that involves the fact that most of my colleagues haven’t published more than a handful of articles (see requirements for tenure/promotion to associate). Because we don’t reward or recognize research, we don’t do research, except research is primary in earning full professor rank. And so it goes. People stall out at the associate level.
With all of that being said, and even with all of the vagueness about the process, I care a lot about earning full professor rank. I care about it for a lot of reasons, most of which have little to do with any material rewards that promotion would afford me.
- On my campus, while associate proffies do a lot (indeed, most) of the heavy lifting, it’s full professors who have those important “what is the direction of the university” conversations with upper administration and actually get heard. Full professors are who you call when things really matter, and to some extent they have more freedom to choose where they invest their service energies. It’s notable that not one of the full professors in my department serves on a major university-wide committee. No, the associates do the grunt-work, while the full professors are who you call when you want to do some really neat thing, or who you call when you need that extra push to make something happen. Your service burden actually goes down once you hit full, while your authority and ability to shape the process and the future goes up. That, my friends, is a job situation I can get behind.
- There is not a single female full professor in my department. Fuck that.
- Since I actually do care about research and I enjoy being an active researcher, I might as well get credit for doing that and being that.
But so I’ve got my reasons. But what is the path? As you might gather from my description above, I do feel a bit like I’m going it alone in figuring out that path, which in some respects is freeing and in some respects is irritating. As I think about my path to full, and what I think it includes, I suppose I have the following items on my agenda:
Research: I think it’s ridiculous that one would need a second book out in a department like mine at an institution like mine in order to go up for full, so I am not going to hold myself to that standard. I’ve basically been publishing 1-2 articles a year (some shorter, some longer, some less prestigious and some more prestigious), and I intend to keep up that pace. In the meantime, I’m at work on the book manuscript. I think that I would be comfortable submitting my application for full with 6-ish articles, as long as 3-4 were substantial and well-placed, obvious contributions to the field. I anticipate being able to meet that goal no later than 2015. In the meantime, I’m also working on the book manuscript, though, and depending on the progress that I make with that project, I can also imagine being comfortable going up once that book is under contract and well on its way to production (assuming it finds a publisher! assuming I can get the manuscript completed!) even if I didn’t have the articles I envision above. So I guess, in terms of research, I feel like 2015 might be the year, which would put me 6 years out from earning tenure/associate, which seems about right to me.
Teaching: To some extent, the beauty of teaching at a place with a heavy teaching load is that the teaching portion of one’s application kind of runs itself. I’m a good teacher, and I teach good courses. I’ve done a good job of developing new courses, and it’s clear from what I teach that I’m keeping up with my field. I’ve also been having a good time experimenting with my teaching, and in really pushing myself to develop strategies that facilitate my students’ deep understanding of the material while also being engaging and fun. So I don’t really have any goals with my teaching other than to keep all of that up.
Service: This is the tricky one. I think it’s all about balancing the need to be visibly engaged in service with the need to guard myself from becoming overburdened with service. Which is not an easy balance to strike. For the time being, my impulse is to focus on just one or two Major Service tasks and to say no to everything that does not contribute to those tasks, within reason. (I mean, obviously sometimes one has to take one for the team, or has to step up for something small. I’m not saying I won’t do that, but I am going to be very careful about doing that. There is no reason why I have to do all the things.) What I will not be doing is agreeing to direct a program, chair any university-wide committees, or anything in the realm of those things. Getting to full is much more important than any of those things (in part because once I get to full people will be less likely to ask me to do most of them!).
Now, is this the “right” path? Honestly, I have no possible way of knowing. As far as I can tell, there isn’t any one “right” path to full, at least not where I work. But I feel like if I do all of the above I’m doing all the things that I think make a professor, and isn’t that what this is all about, after all?