Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Lifetime employment, for now

On Monday I was notified that the Board of Trustees had approved my tenure. So I have job security again. Or at least until the state decides to abolish tenure.

I know: I never exactly mentioned that I had to give up tenure to take this job. It's not something I was particularly happy about, and it's one of the reasons I negotiated an unpaid leave from my previous college. As I've written before, the casualization crisis means that even the luckiest among us can be convinced of our precarity (an experience that does not, alas, always translate into solidarity with those who are truly precarious), and I'd had some paranoid idea that someone might just decide it was cheaper to get rid of me.

This is, of course, a thing that has happened in the world--but after a couple of months I felt confident that it probably wasn't going to happen here, or to me. The vast machinery of a unionized, public university, with its predictable policies and procedures, was one reassurance. I also noticed that administrators, when they met me, either already knew who I was or seemed unusually pleased to be told. And I had to remind myself: right! I was a good hire! Everyone's happy here!

I mean, I didn't feel that way at every second. But it was good to feel that way sometimes.

*

So what's it like, going through tenure again? On the one hand, the external review process gave me very little anxiety. I knew I had a strong research profile, if only because I'd had four more years in which to build it up. But everything institution-specific was stressful, not because my university doesn't have clear guidelines, but because they were entirely new. Ordinarily, one goes through a third- and fifth-year review, so by tenure-time the genre of the dossier is deeply familiar. But I hadn't gone through those reviews at this institution. I was also the first person in living memory to arrive with so many years of prior service, so my file didn't look like anyone else's. Moreover, I had virtually no track record of service at my new institution and very little teaching. So I remained apprehensive that some committee at some level would decide I needed more seasoning--or that I'd violated a hugely important requirement in having sixteen tabs in my binder rather than the regulation fourteen.

But it wasn't all bad. In addition to the compensations that came with my hiring (the fact that I'd kept rank and gotten a good raise and start-up package), there were a few pleasures to go along with the tedium of snapping in and out tab dividers and protective sleeves. I do like thinking about what animates my pedagogy and my research, and I kinda like assembling information into a clear and digestible format. And because my new employer cares a lot more about quantifying research quality and impact--which means I had to hunt down every last citation or review of my work--I wound up with a delightful document that enumerates my book's reviews and quotes the single best sentence, phrase, or in some cases, isolated words, from each one. Tendentious? Yes. The best I will ever feel about myself? Just possibly.

Even more surprising was how enjoyable the external review process felt. I don't have access to the recommendation letters, of course, but because the reviewers get mentioned and quoted in small, glowing snippets in the recommendations made by my departmental and college committees, I do have their names (and a few of their nicest words). It's moving to think that these six people, half of whom I've never met but all of whose work is essential to my own, were willing to sit down and read just about everything I've ever written. And for what? A token honorarium. There's a lot more generosity out there than we sometime remember, and I'm grateful for it.

*

So on balance it was okay. But I sure as hell better not have to do it a third time.

15 comments:

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Congratulations!

Fretful Porpentine said...

Congratulations! I've been putting off applying for full professor because I can't face the thought of putting together another damn binder, so I am in awe of your organizational awesomeness!

Undine Spragg said...

Congratulations,Flavia!

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

Yay! Congratulations!

I'm going up in the fall, but I want to put together the binder in early summer -- maybe get it done in May, if possible. That way I won't have to think about it any more. I feel like I've been thinking about it too much with all the shake ups going on around here.

Susan said...

Congratulations! Even if not surprising, it's always a relief. And as someone whose institution with rolling 5 year contracts suddenly converted them all to one year contracts, I get the sense that nothing's secure.

I love your attitude to putting together your binder, and I'm jealous that you get to know who wrote your letters. (Ours are written by Reviewer A, B, C, etc.) It is a treat to read what others say about us!

Contingent Cassandra said...

Congratulations! Caution is, indeed, wise in the present (or any) environment, and taking good care of one's own interests is in no way at odds with standing up for others' (in fact, having tenure can aid the latter). Glad it was, in the end, not only a successful but also in some ways a satisfying process.

nicoleandmaggie said...

Congratulations!

Belle said...

Congratulations indeed!

Bardiac said...

That's great news! Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

Hurray for you!
ChrisinNY

Megan said...

Congratulations

Miriam said...

Congrats (again)!

Flavia said...

Thanks, all!

And Susan: yes, I gather this is unusual. At my spring conferences I saw 4/6 reviewers, including three with whom I have a slight, friendly acquaintance. One, upon seeing me, immediately self-disclosed that s/he had been one of my reviewers, and said warm things about my work; the other two chatted with me a bit but did not, and I was like, "oh, I guess they don't know that I know? Okay! We'll all just pretend nothing happened here! But let me communicate my silent gratitude to you with my mind rays, you lovely humans!"

What Now? said...

I'm so glad to hear this, Flavia! Congratulations.

anthony grafton said...

Congratulations, Flavia!