GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Posts Tagged ‘Tenure’

A New Set of Questions

In Guest Blogger on 2013/01/29 at 04:21
Guest blogger, Natalie T. J. Tindall, writing from Atlanta, Georgia in the US.

In October, I went to see the Pearl Cleage play, What Happened in Paris. During one scene, Evie, the glamorous globetrotter asks Lena, the savvy political consultant if she had ever been to Paris. When Lena said that she had, Evie asked, “Looking for answers?” Lena, responded, “I don’t know about answers, but I sure was ready for a new set of questions.

At that moment, I felt a chill across my body. Those were the words I needed to hear, the words that explained how I felt about my life post-third year review and post-tenure packet submission.

I am ready for a new set of questions.

What Should I Do With My Life?

I did it the Friday before Labor Day: I turned in my tenure packet–two thick binders of paper and specially numbered dividers–to my department chair. I left the office, giddy. And then reality slapped me in the face. After seven years of scrambling to capture the brass ring, switching jobs and states, and building an impressive (according to others) track record, what was next?

I accomplished and was close to accomplishing what I always said I would do: become a professor and get tenured. I worked hard, so hard up to this point. And now what? And for what?

The quest for tenure sucked the marrow out of my bones. My academic friends called tenure “an emotional vampire”; others had some other choice names that I am too polite to mention. For a long time, I felt cloistered in the cell of my own making. Constrained by the tiny basement apartment that was dark and damp most days of the week. Condensed by my drab office space and my colleague’s expectations. Limited by the research that I believed my mentors, my professors, and my colleagues expected me to do. Cramped into corners that didn’t allow me to embrace some identities that may be seen as contradictory to being a professor. Restricted by the walls I built around myself so that no one was allowed in but my emotions were protected from harm, hurt, danger, and strife. Curbed by the limits I placed on my life of what I could and could not do. Reined in by all the things that other ascribed to my life and who I am.

I was burnt out by my job. I was taxed by the amounts of work I gobbled up for the sake of appearances and the lines they added on my vitae, an increasingly long resume that has charted the progress I made in my research, service, and scholastic endeavors. I was overwhelmed by the heavy investments I made into my career and underwhelmed by my lack of a personal life. As someone told me once at a dark period, you were given 1,000 dollars, and you invested 995 of that in your career.

In other words, I poured myself into my career to the detriment of a lot of other things that make life have meaning. After hearing that, something had to change. I tried shifting the external options in my life before to no avail. I fled from what I believed were toxic work environments, but the toxicity and bitterness remained in my life. I withdrew from the soul-sucking committees and positions that occupied my time and psychic energy, but I kept falling into the same ruts. My personal relationships, built on sand, sank and crumbled consistently. And that something was a person: me.

My academic research on black women and work-life conflict issues made me start thinking about the new questions. I was pulled into this project because the call for papers for a book project intrigued me. I never realized how much this research would alter the way that I think about my career and my life.

The term agency popped up multiple times from the respondents and within the literature.  Tindall and McWilliams (2011) defined agency as the

self-created, self-orchestrated, and intentional method of garnering the “power, will, and desire to create work contexts conducive to the development of their thought over time” (Neumann, Terosky, & Schell, 2006, p. 92-93).

Academics exist at the intersection of privileged existence and forced impositions. We have the privilege and ability to shape our lives and choices, yet we often fall into the expectations of what and who an academic should be, get trapped into believing that the guidelines of the tenure and promotion document define us. The life of a professor can become a “second skin” (p. 70), and the identity of being a professor can become the singular role we play and have in our lives. As a participant in my study said, “here we are in the academy because of the flexibility of time, and yet we so discipline ourselves that we blow it” (p. 70).

In  hoity-toity academic terms, agency is ” the capacity of an agent (a person or other entity) to act in a world.” In the plain-speak terminology that is required outside the ivory tower, agency is your efficacy to do you. Put even more simply, I had to ask the question: what the hell is stopping me from doing what I want, going after what I want, and getting what I need?

Those are all valid questions that never entered my conscious, waking life until I turned in the packet. Now, I have the task of figuring out the answers. Agency is all about choices, and I needed to re-evaluate my choices within the parameters of my work and my life. Luckily, I have some time to figure that out.

The Start of the Journey

This day is moving day. My life is condensed to a 10X10 storage facility. Everything I have accumulated between my lives in Florida, Maryland, Oklahoma, and Georgia is there. My academic books are in the discarded boxes from a local liquor store. My clothes are in haphazard piles stuffed into gray and purple storage bins. I’ve given away a lot in preparation for this day.

I have packed my life into little and big boxes (symbolically, literally, figuratively and realistically) for most of my life, so cramming my crap into actual boxes wasn’t a big deal.

I am taking off for the winter holidays. I have a few weeks where I am free to do some soul searching and engage in reflexive thought. This is not a taxpayer-funded Eat Pray Love expedition. But I need some time and shape to reconfigure my career and my life. Find something like balance. Figure out my research trajectory that is geared to my interests as opposed to the popular research trends, the research that is expedient and easy to place in journals,  the needs of a tenure committee or my department’s expectations. Figure out how to adjust my emotional and physical investment in my institution to match its investment in me.

This research leave is the start of something. It’s fitting that it starts today–the day with a new full moon and an eclipse. The full moon, according to several life coaches and new age thinkers, is the appropriate time to reset, cast new goals and start new projects.  This day, I am starting on a new and very large project that I have forgotten in pursuit of my degree, tenure, and titles: me.

Natalie T. J. Tindall is an assistant professor at Georgia State University, where she teaches courses in strategic communication and public relations. She is a fiction writer, knitter, community volunteer, and occasional half-marathoner between her academic writing, teaching, and service. She can be contacted via Twitter (@dr_tindall) and e-mail (

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Considering the Allure of the Tenure Track

In Liana's Posts on 2012/08/15 at 08:05
Liana Silva, writing from Kansas City, Kansas in the US.

Last May, Inside Higher Ed reported that Russell Berman, past president of the Modern Language Association (MLA) and Stanford University professor, has put forth a proposal together with five other Stanford colleagues to rethink the humanities PhD there. They tackled the question of whether and how to make the humanities PhD relevant today. In order to accomplish this, they posit that time to degree must be reduced and students should be trained for a diversity of career tracks, not limited to the traditional tenure track career path. In the brief proposal Berman and his colleagues developed, they stipulate that students will have to choose what career track they would like to embark upon by the end of the second year of PhD work, so that they can focus the rest of their PhD work on preparing for that track.

I agree that the humanities PhD needs retooling and that time to degree is a problem, but I wonder about the proposal’s second objective to prepare students for different career paths. I think this is a great idea, especially as someone who “discovered” alternative academic careers outside of my academic training. However, I am aware that many students start (and end) their humanities PhDs thinking they wanted to become a tenure-track professor at a research-oriented, doctoral-granting institution. Granted, not all do (and I know of several PhDs and lamented that they were trained to become professors when they never wanted to teach), but many still see that as the big reward at the end of their graduate careers. I know I did. It’s the reason why we talk about a surplus of PhDs and why some like Leonard Cassuto worry that the answer does not lie in reducing time to degree because there are already so many PhDs and ABDs on the job market already. It is important to make humanities PhD students and PhDs aware of the range of career possibilities with a PhD. My concern is, will these parties be receptive? Or will they always see these options as second-best to the tenure-track? Even if later on they find themselves frustrated by the increasing demands on graduate students and tenure-track faculty, many who see the tenure track as their goal continue to flock to humanities graduate programs.

This leads me to wonder: what is the allure of the tenure track?

Last year I made a conscious decision not to apply for any teaching/tenure-track positions while I was finishing my PhD. I was focused on trying to finish and defend my dissertation, and in order to do that I had to put all my energy into that endeavor. Also, I didn’t feel the pressure to do so, not immediately; last summer I obtained an alternative academic job that I enjoy at a doctorate-granting institution, and even though it is part time it has allowed me to stay in academia and earn a living wage.

However, once I defended and Commencement was just around the corner, I faced a question I hadn’t heard in a while: “so, what are you going to do now?” I think having a job kept that question at bay–as did the fact that I was making progress on the dissertation. Once I made my way back to the East Coast for my hooding ceremony, this milestone opened up the door to the questions as well as to thinking about my academic future once again.

I found myself thinking about the plans I had when I first started my PhD. What about that tenure-track job I once wanted? Am I still in that frame of mind? As I move forward I have been thinking what stood out for me about becoming a professor. Was it the teaching? Was it the opportunity to research topics of my choosing? Was it being able to share my work with students? Was it the possibility of forming future scholars through my mentorship and research? Was it the guarantee of intellectual freedom as an academic? Now that I am in a better position academically and professionally, I wonder often: what is my track? In the meantime, as an alt-academic I find myself carving my own career track as I move forward.

I don’t think the tenure track is bad. I also don’t think all PhDs should run away from academia. Rather, my inclination as a scholar is to question the world around me. As such, I encourage PhD students to question the idea that the tenure track is the only place they can be employed and consider instead whether the tenure track is a good fit. Why do you want to be on the tenure track?

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

The Unbalanced Semester

In Liminal Thinking on 2012/05/20 at 00:42

Denise Horn, writing from Boston, Massachusetts in the US.

Here at University of Venus, we talk a great deal about work/life balance — how to maintain the balance between family, private life and the demands of academia, which are many. Looking back at some of my remarks or answers about the issue, I sound fairly confident in my abilities to enjoy my life and get my work finished.

But this semester, I’ve been terribly unbalanced and that unbalance was unhealthy and detrimental to my well-being. Even though my personal life is great — I have a wonderful and supportive partner, a close-knit group of friends, a loving family, an adoring dog and a pretty healthy social life, I became depressed. I gained weight, I stopped going to my yoga classes, I slept late whenever I could, and my writer’s block became overwhelming (so much so that I haven’t kept up with my UofV posts!). How did that happen?

Well, panic.

Panic because I can see the “finish” line — tenure — and yet to get there, I put a great deal of pressure on myself to make certainthat I could get there. We all know that publish or perish trope about academia — it’s been tattooed on our brains since we were little baby graduate students, and the pressure never stops. My third year review letter, for example, gave me faint praise for getting my first book out as I came up for review, but then extolled me to “ramp it up” before coming up for tenure: to write a second book, get some articles out, and generally over-perform. I took that to heart, did more field research, got a book contract, sent out two more journal articles, and created a fairly ambitious research plan.  And taught, a lot.

On top of that, I took on even more service commitments. I served on numerous committees. I said yes to every guest lecture. I played nice with the admissions office. I spoke with student groups, and I had lots of coffees with colleagues.

Getting that second book finished (the conclusion is still evading completion), teaching, and serving, as well as trying to keep a semblance of a personal life, have taken their tolls. The real issue with trying to impress so many people is that you never feel as though you  can impress them, that nothing you do will be good enough, because that finish line called “tenure” often looks like a bar set so high that you can’t possiblybe that good. And the system is also set up to make you believe there are enemies where there are none, so I spent far too much time worrying about comments, sidelong looks and imagined slights.

Instead of going out for a good long walks or to a favorite yoga class, I sat at my desk, forcing myself to churn out work. I ate a lot of licorice (my secret addiction) and my favorite comfort foods. I threw out most of what I wrote, and started again, then again, every time berating myself for not being a writing machine, unlike “everyone else.” I took no joy in the compliments and praise I was getting on my work and instead focused on criticisms, most of which were my own. I had weekly anxiety attacks, and found myself complaining bitterly about my work.

But the end of the semester is a time to reflect. I didn’t finish everything I meant to finish this semester. The book is almost there. I’m still waiting on a revise and resubmit decision on an article.  But—but…I did get an article accepted for publication. I was nominated for a teaching award. I got to know my colleagues in a different way because of all those committee assignments and coffees. I realized the dean actually  likesmy work. I went to a conference and met interesting people who also liked my work…

I took a good long look at myself last week, and took a big long breath. All those pressures and deadlines that made me panicky and anxious were pressures I had put on myself. I was the one who didn’t make time to breathe and I was the one who punished myself. I got on a plane to Indonesia the other day, and I’ll be meeting students here on Tuesday to begin a great program on social entrepreneurship. I took some time out for myself today, to remember why I like doing what I do.  I went to a yoga class by a rice paddy and reveled in my standing balance poses.

I took a big breath and thought, I really do like what I do. I just have to remember not to forget to balance.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Groundhog Day: Being Off the Tenure Track

In Uncategorized on 2011/05/11 at 08:55

Lee Skallerup Bessette, writing from Kentucky in the USA

(Disclaimer: This is an honest post. I expect to be criticized because I am complaining. While I am grateful for my current position, with 75% of current faculty teaching off the tenuretrack, we need to start speaking out about all the reasons this trend is both wrongheaded and destructive. We are the majority, and we can’t be fighting amongst ourselves or silenced because of fear or shame. This post is in honor of Antonio Calvo.)

I came to a depressing conclusion about my career recently: I have reached the pinnacle of my job. Not even a year in, and I have smacked up against the glass ceiling of working as contingent faculty. There are no performance raises or promotions. No (or few) upper-division courses. No university committees or curricular administrative duties. This past year will closely resemble every upcoming year until I retire or leave my current university. But even if I do leave, being off the tenure-track (and a trailing spouse) means that it will be a new school, but an almost identical situation, unless I quit teaching and move into an administrative position.

I read my fellow UVenus bloggers talking about how challenging (and ultimately rewardingtheir jobs are, or how much intellectual variety they encounter in their position, and I am envious. I remind myself that “the grass is always greener” and that I chose to be in the position I am in, but it butts up against my ambition. That’s right, I am ambitious and that leads to restlessness. I want to move upward, or at least forward, and be in positions that offer new challenges. And, yes, one of my interests is university administration and leadership. Where I currently sit, that path is closed off, or at least very limited.

Wait, you must be saying, aren’t you the same person who wrote that the tenuretrack position isnt all its cut out to be? Indeed, I am, but I think the larger issue is how out of balance working in academia has become; those who are on the tenure-track are doing more and more administrative work because there are fewer and fewer people to perform those duties. And I, for one, would be willing to take on some of those duties, if it were properly compensated.

I think that’s one of the biggest hurdles that contingent faculty faces: constantly being undervalued and under-appreciated. We have the requisite talents, skills, and ideas, just not a position that uses them. The myth that the contingent faculty ranks are filled with under-qualified, failed scholars is just that, a myth. And, if it isn’t a myth, a 75% “failure” rate for academics is pretty dismal. Being repeatedly told we should just be grateful for our jobs and shut up only allows for the myth to perpetuate itself. We are failed scholars because we allow others to define us as such.

There is also the larger question of the ever-shrinking pool of leadership candidates in higher education, or at least candidates who are actually academics. This is especially acute when you consider that a majority of those off the tenuretrack are women and visible minorities. In ten, twenty years, who will be leading our colleges and universities? I understand that few academics have any interest in leadership positions, but I would think that the number would significantly increase if we looked in that pool that makes up the 75% majority of faculty members working today. Many have already displayed leadership qualities by redesigning programs, starting student groups and community outreach programs, etc, usually with no compensation or recognition. Others have been busy leading union chapters and negotiations, starting groups such as the New Faculty Majority, and speaking out about contingent issues. Aren’t those skills what we are looking for in higher education leadership?

(No, you don’t need to point out that the corporate university has no room in their leadership slate for those whose experience is union-centered; this is part of the problem, no?)

Tenure is important not just because of academic freedom and job security (oh, and student success), but also because it opens the door to other opportunities, opportunities that are unavailable to those who are not on the tenure-track. We are not “failed scholars,” nor are we all simply satisfied with teaching, with no interest in research or administration/leadership. There is talent and ambition just waiting for an opportunity. The university that finally realizes this and acts on it will be in the forefront in reinventing higher education moving forward

So, what are you waiting for?

Lee Elaine Skallerup has a PhD from the University of Alberta in Comparative Literature. She has taught in two Canadian provinces and three States, and is now branching out as an Edupreneur. You can visit her blog at and follow her on Twitter (@readywriting). Lee is also a regular contributor at University of Venus.

Senior Instructors and the University Space

In Guest Blogger on 2011/05/10 at 02:45

Janni Aragon, writing from Victoria, British Columbia in Canada

After working for more than ten years in higher education as contingent faculty (adjunct in the US and sessional in Canada), I got my first full-time, tenure line job two years ago. I’m now giving my job some careful thought. My salary started in the Assistant Professor range based on the same equation that the research tenure-line faculty have: year PhD earned, years of teaching, publications, and more. My benefits package is the same, as well. What makes the Senior Instructor position markedly different is that it is more cost-effective in terms of the sheer number of courses and students taught.

At the campus where I am employed, Senior Instructors are a combination of the full-time tenure-track instructor and the seasonal sessional faculty. The Faculty Agreement states that Senior Instructors are teaching-intensive faculty. The normal load is 8 (yes, you read that right) courses per year. Senior Instructors are assessed based on 80% teaching and 20% service. There is not an expectation for publication; however, if a Senior Instructor publishes it is assumed that the publications will focus on pedagogy or perhaps the scholarship of teaching and learning.

I am in year two of teaching three courses in the Fall, three in the Spring and two during the Summer. I am the department’s only Senior Instructor and I am also one of the department’s Undergraduate Advisors. In other faculties, the teaching load might vary. I have a colleague in the Commerce Department who only teaches six courses, but also is the advisor for one of the graduate programs. Another colleague in English teaches four each term and has the Summer term “off.”

I spend lots of face time with our undergraduate students and this is a really good position for me. But, it is not for everyone. I am reviewed annually, like the other full-time faculty, and I also qualify for time off. However, my tenure review for the possibility to become a Teaching Professor is not until after year 11! The big reviews are at years four, seven, and eleven. This is brutal. However, I view it as part of my job security and the reality of where higher education is today. After two years, I do feel that I am lucky to have this track—I am a good teacher and mentor and I enjoy the work.

I do think that more universities should adopt this full-time, two track model. I know that there are lots of other instructors in higher education who have superior skills at teaching, service, and research; who would thrive on this model. I have job security and I know that I am in a collegial department. I have always enjoyed research, don’t get me wrong, but when this job was posted—it sounded like a dream come true. Teach as much as I was currently teaching but get paid considerably more and be regular, full-time faculty?! When I have had conversations with other Senior Instructors, it’s obvious that we share an interest in teaching. Most of us resign ourselves to teaching during the Summer months—May-August at our institution. Then, we attempt to get research completed during the other two months.

The Senior Instructor model is also good for students. They need more instructors at the front of the classroom who are tried and true experienced teachers. To me, this means instructors who are permanent faculty focused on teaching and all that this means. I attend our Learning and Teaching Centre’s workshops related to teaching, technology, and student retention and I am always trying to learn more about effective teaching. I know that many of my part-time colleagues do this as well, which speaks volumes to their dedication to an institution that has invested so little in them. Anecdotally, I do not see many full-time colleagues outside of those in leadership or administrative positions attending many of the teaching or retention workshops. This is cause for another discussion.

I have left untouched the conversation about how universities are moving away from the old models and employing more contingent faculty. I know that this is the reality for so many of my dear friends and colleagues across the globe. I am suggesting that the Senior Instructor track might offer job security with a teaching focus and a regular faculty salary and benefits.

I have heard that the majority of Senior Instructors are women. Although I have not verified this, it would not surprise me to discover that it was true. Most University of Venus readers know all too well that women faculty predominate at the more junior and vulnerable end of the academic pipeline.

Janni Aragon is a Senior Instructor of Political Science in the Department of Political Science at the University of Victoria. She is an occasional blogger at University of Venus and her areas of interest are varied: Gender and Politics, Women and Technology, American Politics, Feminist Theories, Youth Politics, and Popular Culture. Currently she is working on a co-edited Introduction to Women’s Studies textbook and when she has time, she blogs at

The Tenure-Track Position: No Longer the Brass Ring?

In Uncategorized on 2010/10/25 at 23:55

Lee Skallerup, writing from Kentucky in the USA.

As I write this, my husband and I are currently spending quality time together; I am writing this blog post while he works away on a report mandated by the university, his third this week. We are stealing this time “together” after he had to run back to work for a four hour meeting at 4:30 in the afternoon. Meanwhile, I went for a walk with my kids, read them stories, and then went through my Twitter feed.

My next-door neighbor has been neck-deep in State education policy discussions, on top of her own teaching, research, and university service duties. When she asked me how many meetings I had to attend during our fall break, I answered none – it’s not in my job description. Instead, I graded papers, spent time with my kids, blogged, and worked on completely modifying the second half of one of my courses.

I am in an incredibly privileged position: I have a relatively stable full-time teaching position at the same institution as my spouse. I get benefits, a pension, access to all of the same internal funding and professional development opportunities as tenure-track faculty, and only have to teach one more class a year than most other tenure-track faculty.

And I don’t have any administrative responsibilities. No meetings, no sub-committees, no ad-hoc groups, nothing. I am not barred from attending meetings, and I make sure to attend departmental meetings in order to understand the culture of the department and university and get to know my colleagues. I also I think it’s important that those off the tenure-track are seen and heard. But my colleagues whose afternoons are dominated by a variety of meetings? Not me, no thanks.

I don’t have yearly tenure progress reviews, trying to jump over an ever-raising bar. I’m not worried about how my colleagues are judging the work that I do, whether or not it “advances the field” in a meaningful way. I’m free to blog, research and write on authors who write in French, even though I teach English, as well as not feel guilty about spending time with my young kids. If I publish something, great. If not, well, that’s OK, too. I like the idea of being able to go to conferences that might otherwise be considered a waste of time, like on social media (not that I have yet).

The tenure-track job has become an almost-unattainable goal and, seemingly as a result, those who are on it are increasingly run into the ground. I watch my husband and my friends put in very long hours (where were the authors of Higher Education? looking, anyway?), often working on tasks unrelated (or tenuously related) to their teaching and research. I’ve asked before, but what does academic freedom really mean anymore when others (administrators) are increasingly deciding for you what “counts”?

trail behind and I watch. I don’t like what I see unfold in front and around me. I like my blogging, I adore my research and teaching, and I love that I get to spend a lot of time with my family focused on them and not thinking about a million other things I should be doing to help my tenure case. I teach classes (developmental writing) in areas that I don’t have a degree in. I research and write about literature (French) that is in a different language than I teach. I’ve pretty much assured, through my actions and attitude (not to mention this post), that I will be trailing and off the tenure track permanently.

As things stand right now, I’m OK with that.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.


To PhD or Not to PhD

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/09/10 at 23:23

Meg Palladino, writing from Boston, Massachusetts in the USA.

Aliens, pumpkin pie, birds, solar energy, language, coffee, football, traveling, new shoes, Kon-Tiki, walking my dog, weather, doing P90X , cooking lasagna…there are so many things I like to think about. Mary Churchill’s recent post made me wonder if I’m cut out for research and academia. She writes of not wanting to “unplug” from looking at life through her academic lens (and loving it), even while on vacation. I, on the other hand, am far too fickle to look at any thing in any way for too long a time. I know that a dissertation means just that and I have my doubts.

When I think about where I want to be in five years, I can imagine a few different scenarios, and one of them involves getting my PhD. It seems like there are many more reasons why this wouldn’t be my best choice. I have no interest in fighting for tenure, I am worried that I might not be able to sustain the focus necessary for a dissertation, and I don’t see myself as a college president in the future.

So, why should I go on for a PhD? What are the benefits? In what circumstances does it make sense? Officially, a PhD would demonstrate my competence in research. It is also a valued credential that would offer prestige, and possible financial gains. Unofficially, it would feed my ego and boost my credibility in certain circles. Getting a PhD would offer me the opportunity to have a mentor, learn from peers, and even take a few classes that are genuinely exciting. Most compellingly, a PhD would allow me to become intellectually engaged in the study of a particular field.

Perhaps I’ve watched too much TV. Maybe I am shallow, or it’s because I am a Pisces. I need to unplug from my work. If I don’t, there is no way that I could go back to work the next day. I begin to feel battered by the constant email and the blinking of my phone, showing me that there are new voice mail messages from faculty, students, and other administrators waiting to be heard.

I wonder if I belong in academia. I love my career, but I also love the moments that I don’t have to think about it, whatever unidentified lens it is through which I look at life. When I go to a new place, I look at the lampposts, the blades of grass, and inhale the new scents in the air and let them carry me away. Perhaps if I had the research, training and background of a PhD, I will be able to see some of the more frustrating aspects of my work in a more nuanced way and think about the larger picture. I would have more perspective to step back and analyze the situation.

Another scenario I envision is becoming an entrepreneur. I wonder if I am cut out to build my own business. I could sell a college education to aliens, pumpkin pie for dogs, and lasagna to football players. Or maybe it is just time to take a vacation.

This post was also published on Inside Higher Ed.

From the Tenure Side-Lines

In Uncategorized on 2010/09/03 at 21:57

Guest blogger, Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, writing from Evanston, Illinois in the USA

I took the unthinkable step off the tenure track when my second son was born. I have no desire to return, but I do crave recognition of my role as a member of the scholarly community. I continue to produce scholarship, but as someone on the tenure side-lines, no one cares or accounts for the time and energy it entails. I think my talents are put to better use where I am than as the proverbial tenured professor, but I also think my scholarship positively influences my work in this setting as much or more than it did when I was ‘in line’ for tenure. People assume that leaving the tenure track means you lost interest in research and writing. For me, and I suspect for many others, nothing could be further from the truth.

I firmly believe that in order to teach a subject you must be actively engaged with it. The accepted paradox of the American academy is that those who research most teach least. I find the flip side of this equation a greater perturbation. Those who teach and advise undergraduates most intensively are not merely released from requirements to publish or perish (a blessing) but discouraged from maintaining their scholarly expertise. Because I am an administrator, I have nowhere to turn for financial support when my papers are accepted to conferences. Sometimes, I wander the halls of power with my tin cup and accumulate just enough to buy my airline ticket. Sometimes, I am too proud/ashamed to go begging. Regardless of how I pay my academic bills, none of my time is protected to allow me a few hours in a library or an archive. When I write, it is squeezed into my lunch hour or time taken away from my family on weekends and sleep in the wee hours.

I can and do teach in addition to my administrative (which are actually advising) responsibilities. I even get paid. The service I render the university as someone able to advise students about research proposals and presentation style, however, stems from my scholarly activity. I learned these skills from experience, and I maintain my skills by using them. While I consider my continued scholarship an essential part of my position, no one else does. Indeed, friends in the academy tell me that what I do is simply impossible, and I should stop for my own good. Fortunately, my editors and commentators have not yet been apprised of the futility of my efforts.

As we continue our discussion about who teaches whom what and why, I want to underscore the necessity of practicing what we preach. If we advise students on studying and research abroad, we should be active researchers with connections abroad. If we advise students on scholarly careers, we should be scholars. At most of the institutions I know, this is not the case. Advisers in these areas may have doctoral degrees, but the moment we are asked to advise students on their own paths, we are cut off from the very activities that qualified us to advise them. At the highest levels, presidents, provosts, and deans fight fundraising’s encroachment upon every waking minute. For those of us in the tuition trenches without tenure, we struggle to present the virtues of scholarly inquiry while watching our own projects perish.

I pledge to continue my perhaps pathetic attempts to be an academic administrator in hope that someday my definition will make its way out of my dreams and into reality.

Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe is associate director of the office of fellowships and teaches history and American studies at Northwestern University, from which she earned her B.A. (1992). She earned M.Litt. (1994) and M.Phil. (1995) degrees in European History as a Marshall Scholar at Cambridge University before completing her Ph.D. at Princeton University (2000). In her so-called spare time, she fights household entropy, gardens, bakes boozy bundts, enjoys breakfast in Bollywood, and writes scholarly papers about funky monks. For more, visit or find Elizabeth on Twitter@ejlp and LinkedIn.

This post was also published on Inside Higher Ed.

When Tenure Disappears: Walking Away from the Ivory Towers

In Happy Mondays on 2010/07/26 at 19:30

Mary Churchill, writing from Boston, Massachusetts in the USA.

When William Julius Wilson wrote When Work Disappears in 1996, he wasn’t saying that work was actually disappearing. He was saying that work as urban poor folks had known it had been forever changed – factory jobs with benefits had all but disappeared. Today, new positions at factories receive thousands of applications and people are willing to move their families halfway across the country for a full-time job with health insurance. I grew up in a GM family in Flint, Michigan. My father worked night shifts on the line. When he died in 1984, his annual salary was in the $50k range and our family had amazing health benefits. Those jobs have disappeared.

Twenty years later, I earned my PhD and entered a surprisingly similar job market with what seemed like a handful of tenure-track positions receiving hundreds of applications. Tenure-track positions are disappearing. Changes in both of these sectors are the result of changes in the economy and the nature of work. The company is no longer loyal to us and we are no longer loyal to the company. We cannot afford to fool ourselves into believing that these changes have not had radical impacts on work within higher education.

At the same time, we are being told that we need to “constantly reinvent” ourselves to remain relevant and marketable. Many of us have parents who worked for the same company for 40 years – they had been bored and it had been “just a job.” At that time, there had been a discrete line between their jobs and the rest of their lives. This line has disappeared. In academia, we have been trained to think for a living and we cannot stop ourselves from thinking, all the time. We aim for a work/life balance that provides the space for creativity. We believe that meaningful work should have an impact outside of the workplace and that a meaningful life should have an impact outside of the home.

So, how do we get there?

One problem lies in the fact that we are being trained under an old model. In the majority of our PhD programs, we are trained for one position, one role – that of faculty member, one who is primarily a researcher and secondarily a teacher. We take courses in theory and methods within our discipline. We are not taught the theories and methods of teaching. We do not complete practicums in teaching. It is assumed that we are brilliant thinkers who will be able to convey the results of our research in our courses. This is rarely the case.

We need to rethink PhD training. As tenure disappears and PhD enrollments continue to rise, we have to accept the fact that PhD candidates need to be trained to work outside of academia and that our knowledge-based economy needs PhD-trained knowledge workers in all sectors – not just in higher ed.

What should this include?

  1. Teacher Education – PhDs should be certified to teach high school students (Our K-12 systems are suffering and the market is flooded with unemployed and under-employed PhDs).
  2. Higher Education Management – PhDs spend enough years within their institutions – they should know how they work.
  3. Leadership Development – Teamwork, decision-making, management, communications – the basics to make PhDs productive knowledge leaders.
  4. Media Training – Communicating ideas to a larger audience-Why do we keep some of our best-trained minds from having an impact?

We are squandering the wealth of our knowledge workers. We are forcing them into the confines of a narrowly prescribed identity where the majority write for free and teach classes at rates that keep them at poverty levels. Many are severely depressed, disengaged, and forgoing long-term partnerships and families of their own.

Let’s turn this around.

If tenure is disappearing, let’s face this head on. Let’s create a vision. Don’t train your PhD students to become your replacements. Train them to create a new society, a better society. Give them the hope that they can make an impact and change the world. Don’t pitch them into a snake pit of hopeless competition for a diminishing number of positions.

Train them to become knowledge catalysts, to make a difference.

Train them to walk away from the ivory towers.

Mary Churchill is the Executive Director of University of Venus.

This post was inspired by many conversations over the years. I would like to thank Diana Brydon and Kris Olds for sending great reads my way. I would also like to thank Jim Stellar, Sara Wadia Fascetti, and Leanne Doherty for recent discussions on the topic; the amazing writers at UVenus for being inspirational rock stars; and our incredibly supportive editors at IHE.

The Influencers:

  • Burawoy, Michael.2010. “A New Vision of the Public University.” Transformations of the Public Sphere series. Social Science Research Council (SSRC) website. Brooklyn, NY: USA. (link here).
  • Clemens, Randy. July 6, 2010. “Taking down the ivory towers: A new role for universities.” 21st Century Scholar blog (link here).
  • COACHE. 2010. The Experience of Tenure-Track Faculty at Research Universities: Analysis of COACHE Survey Results by Academic Area and Gender. COACHE: The Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. (link here)
  • Craig, Natalie. July 12, 2010. “Successful women are a study in flexibility.” The Age. Australia. (link here).
  • Croxall, Brian. July 15, 2010. “Six Ways to Make Adjuncting More Effective and Fulfilling.” Prof Hacker blog. The Chronicle. USA.(link here).
  • The Huffington Post. July 13, 2010. “Female Profs Less Satisfied in Jobs than Males: Study.” (link here).
  • Jaschik, Scott. July 12, 2010. “Job Satisfaction and Gender.” Inside Higher Ed. USA. (link here).
  • Maas, Bruce and Michael Zimmer. July 7, 2010. “What Do Newer Generation Faculty Want from IT Services?” EDUCAUSE Presentation. (link here).
  • Macleod, Hugh. July 3, 2010. “’the only way to keep your job nowadays is to constantly reinvent it’” The Gaping Void blog. (link here)
  • Wilson, Robin. July 4, 2010. “Tenure, RIP: What the Vanishing Status Means for the Future of Education.” The Chronicle. USA. (link here).
  • Wilson, William Julius. 1996. When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor. Alfred A. Knopf. New York, NY: USA.

This post was also published on Inside Higher Ed.

Theatre Academia: The Stage of an Attentive Audience

In Under the Rain With No Umbrella on 2010/05/19 at 09:00

Last week, for some reason, I felt the need to go into my photograph archives and find the pictures of myself performing on stage, either as a vocalist or as an actress. I used to be a very active student in the arts performances during my high school and university years. I took part in several plays, wrote a few plays myself, and sang in school bands as a vocalist, even guest starred as a vocalist from time to time in cafés and bars where my friends were playing. I loved the feeling of being on stage.

I must have been good at all of that, because my friends and family thought there was a chance I would apply to a conservatory to study music or drama. At the time, I thought that I enjoyed music and drama so much that I would be unhappy if I had to do either one to earn a living. So I opted for my second best choice, studying international relations and being an academic. I thought being an academic would allow me to still be in touch with my very artistic side. I believed that in academia I would have more time and opportunities than I would have in the private sector to get more connected with the arts. I was both wrong and right.

To me being an academic meant to teach while you are learning all the time. It equaled being a professional student in a way. It meant progress, it meant self-development before anything else. In this view of progress and self-development, a good academic would not only be an expert in her own field, but would have multiple interests and would engage herself in them. I planned on doing that while struggling to become an academic. My main area of interests lied in literature and the performing arts and I expected myself to be engaged in these fields. I thought somehow I would find a way to write non-academic books, act in an amateur company or to sing again on stage all the while I was climbing the steps of higher education.

I think I failed on that. In today’s competitive “publish or perish” academic world, we academics hardly have time for ourselves. Forget about being engaged in production of the arts and in performing on stage, it became harder and harder for me to be a consumer of the arts: I used to go see several plays per year as a student. Now I am lucky if I get to see a few. This situation brought a sense of impoverishment, as if I was deprived of a certain part of my personality for the sake of a career.

However, that is why the feeling of being on stage in my own academic activities became all the more important. For a long time, I’ve seen teaching in class and presenting at conferences as performing on stage. I feel like I am performing while I am teaching, with a room full of students as the audience. I know there are no lights, no music and no applause at the end of my performance, but still when I enter a classroom, I feel I have things to deliver to my audience and that I must do that the best way possible. I try to dress up more elegantly the days I have classes to teach, then use all parts of the stage once I am in the classroom, look the students in the eye, keep my voice in an awakening tone, even watch for the intonations of words I want to emphasize. I also feel like no matter what happens in my personal life, I must appear in front of the students and perform my class with all these details to the best of my ability. I know it does not always happen but when the students are attentive, I feel like a winner.

I feel similar when I present papers at conferences. To me this is even more personal and artistic, because I get to present a paper that I myself have written. So not only I am acting on stage and delivering a message but I am also the author of the play. At conferences I generally get some applause in the end and hopefully some feedback afterwards. I get to meet with some of the audience later on and exchange ideas. I am performing before the eyes of colleagues who do the same thing for a living who thus know what it feels like. While I am at conferences I actually feel at home, on the stage of a truly attentive audience.

I may not have found exactly what I am looking for in academic life. I definitely have not found as much time as I wanted for my artistic side. But apparently I have compensated this with something else, the feeling of being in theatre academia where I feel happy when I am on the stage of an attentive audience. That is enough for the moment to keep me in.


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