Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Another proffie with a complex...

You might call this one “Institutional Inferiority Complex” (IIC). I realize that some (many?) of my new colleagues here on CM might immediately tell me I need to do a reality check and be grateful I’m lucky enough to be in a tenured position, regardless of location. And, don’t get me wrong: I acknowledge that luck plays a huge part of the process. I know of so many folks from my grad-school era, far more talented than I am, who aren’t in tenured positions and have spent many years wailing and gnashing their teeth, enduring adjunctery and worse. I’m tenured at a Middling Midwestern University (MMU). While I do have many colleagues at MMU that are great, and it generally is a good place to work, I’m beginning to feel this IIC setting in. I’m the product of top-ranked national universities (one of which has produced presidents, governors, ambassadors, etc.). My undergrad and grad experiences were stimulating and productive, as I felt myself energized by the surfeit of talented people around me who really were the cream of the crop – and didn’t squander that talent by snowflakery or gradflakery. (And, full disclosure: I worked my ass off to get into these places and didn’t let up when I got there. Not to mention saddled myself with a ridiculous amount of student loan debt. I *still* work my ass off, for that matter, even post-tenure, garnering teaching awards and such.) For my entire time here at MMU, I have endured much snowflakery in my heavy teaching loads. Pre-tenure I was so focused on the process of getting to the finish line that I didn’t let it get to me and thus didn’t bother to look elsewhere. A few years after the process, however, I’m feeling this IIC set in big time. I keep saying to myself, “I could/should be at a university with a far more talented student population,” but then the old feelings of guilt set in. Perhaps I would feel better if I just got the feeling that other folks here on CM who were tenured at top-ranked universities (Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc.) had to endure just as much snowflakery in their students. But this IIC is becoming so strong I’m noticing that I’m seriously considering applying for tenure-TRACK (i.e. starting the clock over) just to move to an institution that has higher-caliber, more motivated students. (Yes, I hear the CM voices welling up: “NOOOOO!” “Good luck with that”, “Pretentious sot,” etc.) Or perhaps just, à la “Bluto” Blutarski, I should follow the advice to “start drinking heavily.” And remain a devotee of CM, may it live long and prosper. Let the barrage begin…


  1. welcome to CM!!

    my own offering would be to say, it is thus everywhere, dramadoc. good students, bad students, in their current ratio seem to be everywhere.

  2. I'm at a very poor community college, so I can understand the IIC as you describe it.

    Long ago I decided that although I continue to look for a dream job, I'm going to enjoy the job I have. The WORK I do is still good, despite the relative abilities of the population of students I get in middle size town in New Mexico versus NYC or Boston.

    What I mean is, I'm going to be a good proffie, regardless. Don't let the IIC get to you. But keep striving if that's a goal.

    And, welcome, too!

  3. No one gets tenure at Harvard. My husband (an alum) says that may be changing, but in the past it was near impossible for "tenure-track" profs to actually get tenure. People worked at Harvard, and took that experience and put it to use finding another job at an R1 university.

    The irony is that if you want a job at one of the "best" universities, you will doubtless get better students, but you won't have many of them because you won't teach much. I don't know what Harvard's load is...maybe 1-1? I've heard of people moving to places definitely NOT Harvard and just being given a year "off" from teaching so they could continue their scholarly pursuits. Teaching is secondary. People will only care about your scholarship, and if your motivations are finding better students and you get all into that and forget your priorities, you'll be out of a job.

    There are high-caliber smaller universities that have higher teaching loads and excellent students. Unfortunately if you've been teaching at Middling Midwest U, and already have tenure there, they're not going to be hiring you. They want lesexay recentgrad. You might find another job at Middling Northwest U, or Middling Southeast U. But why abandon the devil you know for one you don't?

    So, you should just chill because your anxiety is moot.

  4. DD you need to face the facts; US students are a pathetically mediocre bunch. You want brilliance, move to the UK, Germany, possibly somewhere in China, but then you would have to fight through their crappy systems to get tenure. So in short, ride the wave of mediocrity while listening to the Pixies' "Wave of Mutilation" (UK Surf version is best.)

  5. I agree with Stella. Harvard's load btw:2-2. And you are probably not going to get far applying to places at a lower rank. I've been on several searches for junior folks and we always get applications from people like you. Sadly, even if we wanted to, the Deans would never allow us to consider a candidate with tenure at another institution. Aside from the desire for "lesexy recent work" as Stella aptly puts it, it raises a huge can of procedural worms: how do we evaluate you for tenure in six years? Do we only count work you've done since moving here? In other words you need to crank out another well-reviewed book. That hardly seems fair. But neither is giving you full credit for work you did elsewhere. Easier just to throw the application in the reject pile.

    Anyway, I've taught in the UK, at an Ivy (where Stella is correct, they ain't tenuring your ass), at a flagship state school, and at my current over-priced, haughty east coast private university. And I can guarantee you that students are students, and that flakery abounds. Maybe the specific form of flakery is a little different at each place, but flakes are flakes, they come in flurries, and everywhere in academia is a cold-weather environment.

    A friend of mine likes to say that by changing jobs you never escape your problems, you just trade one set of problems for a new set. If you are lucky, you will find the new set more interesting than the old set, at least for a while. But you'll never get away from them. I've been around the R1 block, and I can guarantee that wiser words were never spoken.

    But by all means, take your shots at the associate level searches, few though they may be. You might just discover a new set of problems.

    Good luck.

  6. Harvard is 2-2! That actually surprises me. Is that universal or are entering faculty given less to teach? A friend that teaches at Columbia is going to get a whole YEAR off teaching before tenure.

    How easy is it to negotiate that load?

  7. A couple decades ago, Yale was giving only 9% of its t-t proffies tenure. It might be a lower number now.

  8. You may also have that profound malaise known as "tenure ... now what."

    Fortunately, my institution begins the flogging all over again till you make full. what?

  9. A year of junior leave is pretty standard stuff in the top tier these days. In fact, anything less than a guaranteed semester at full pay in your third or fourth year is cause for serious alarm. Sometimes you can negotiate a lighter load for your first year if you have never had a tt job before, but after that you get what everyone gets. The scam lies in what your 2-2 consists of. There are folks who never teach lecture courses, and some who can get two grad seminars instead of the usual one. But those tend to be super-senior people who have also done their time as chair or dean, or who got some huge-ass outside offer that allowed them to negotiate a no-lecture load as part of a retention offer.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. I got my Ph.D. at Dartmouth. I was quite amazed by the snowflakery their undergrads showed, even at the time, which was 20 years ago. The sheer stupidity and grade-school-level lack of preparation weren't as bad, but that feeling of entitlement was FIERCE.

    Aside from being just grateful for a place at the table in a highly competitive field (astronomy), something that keeps me going here at Middlin' State U is writing an intro textbook. This would never have happened if I'd been somewhere more prestigious: no doubt I'd have been told to stop wasting my time and get back to the next refereed publication and external grant application. Since I test out everything in my textbook on my own students, everything must be clear and easy to understand. The reason I do what I do is because I've been dreaming about it ever since I was a little kid. Writing textbooks was part of the dream, from at least as far back as when I was an undergrad. Importantly also, I have made friends here: if I were to leave, I know I’d be missed.

  12. It is also fair to point out that while we do give junior faculty a year of pre-tenure leave, we also expect a lot for tenure, so fair's fair there. If your standard is a well-reviewed first book and articles, plus evidence of progress (i.e. refereed publications) towards a second book, then you need to give your junior faculty some time off teaching so that they have a fair shot at meeting that standard. Otherwise you are setting them up to fail, and yourself to serve on yet another search.

    At places where one can get tenure with a contract and a book manuscript somewhere in the publication process--or even just some articles--then not guaranteeing junior leaves is not an abuse.

    p.s. I know that there are very few disciplines left that are "book" disciplines, and that some number of refereed articles is the standard in most disciplines these days, I'm just talking about my discipline, where the book is still the gold standard, and refereed articles are desirable/required, but not the ultimate goal. Your mileage may vary, but I think it is safe to say that tenure requirements are different at different types of schools in your disciplines too.

  13. And Stella, there are no places with sub 2-2 loads. I had a "tt" job at one of the big three, and while tenured faculty got their guaranteed sabbaticals with full pay and whatnot, when people were in town they taught the full 2-2, no exceptions, no excuses.

    While there are individuals who through some combination of course releases for administrative work, journal editorships, outside grant money, and a kick-ass retention offer, might work the system for a 1-1 or 2-1 for some period of time, there are no institutions that have that as their standard load. I know we have it better in the top tier, but nothing remotely like that.

    Anyway, since the original post was about institutional envy, I thought it germane to point that out. There are some things to be envious of--guaranteed leaves, big research accounts etc.--but nobody is getting a free ride either--the publication pressure is a lot higher, and you are expected to be "highly visible" to use a euphemism favored by my administration. And you definitely don't escape the flakes. Just remember, their parents are paying 50K a year for that grade. They never tire of reminding you of that "fact."

    Also, I just wanted to say to Froderick that if your intro textbook takes off, you'll be laughing all the way to the bank. A lot of summer houses and more have been bought with textbook money. I know someone who wrote an intro textbook in my discipline, and his advance alone was nearly four times my current salary. I hope it works out for you.

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. Archie--Oh, I'm not envious at all of people at R1s, especially the "elite" R1s.

    I guess I'm thinking of the standard deals some of my friends got at research unis their first years. Many of them taught less than 2-2 until tenure, and they weren't at Harvard. Others higher up on the food chain transferred from one R1 to another got to opt out of teaching entirely for awhile to finish their books.

    2-2 as the default setting seems correct for an elite R1, but I wonder about all the jostling for release time, and how many ft people actually teach that load.

  16. Stella,

    Sure, I've negotiated a year off every time I've moved. Although to be fair I always had outside money to help the pill go down with the new employer. And I should also point out that the only place that gave me any static about it before agreeing was the Ivy (more on that in a second).

    I've done a lot of negotiating and I have never heard of anyone getting a course release every year until tenure. Their first ever year on the track, sure, but not beyond. So while I'm wondering if someone wasn't exaggerating a bit to make their deal sound better than it was, I'll have to take your word for it that it can happen.

    People are pretty secretive about these kinds of things as a rule, but looking around at my colleagues, I can say that almost all of us teach the full 2-2. Win grants and get time off, no questions asked. But when you are here, you are here, unless you are doing something demonstrably time consuming like chair, dgs, dugs, or editing a journal. That's a short list of people. Like I said before, the scam is in what you teach, not the load, which tends to be pretty fixed.

    Anyway, that's been my experience everywhere I've worked except the U.K., which has a totally different system, and therefore doesn't count. In fact, the only place here in the U.S. that was rigid was the Ivy. There you could only take time when you were scheduled to get it. The rest of the time, if you won a big grant they would buy it from you (deposit the equivalent sum of money in your research account while you turned the actual grant down) and then send you back into the classroom until your turn for leave came. And that was true for the most important member of the department as it was for the least--me, at the time. And they expected three books for tenure--although you got nine years to produce them--and even then there were no guarantees about how it would turn out. I enjoyed it for a while and then left and never looked back.

    So, again, I take your word for it that your friends got what they said they did, but I've spent my entire career in these institutions and I have never, ever, seen anything like what you are describing. In fact, in some ways the higher you go on the prestige ladder, the less flexible they can be about a lot these things. If I had to identify the most generous of my employers, except for salary it was definitely the flagship state school.

    And it was the original poster who I thought was expressing envy (or its inverse--she called it IIC) not you.

  17. Archie:

    Interesting. The world of "grants" is kind of an unknown to me personally, although my husband worries about them constantly. There are no grants to speak of in my area of the Humanities.

    Odd that the elite ivy would want to begrudge you a teaching-free first year. The people I know that got them off migrated to state universities, and didn't have grants. Just names in the field.

    I did have a baby and a sabbatical within the past 13 years, so I had a year "off" paid within that time.

  18. Actually, I wouldn't say that they begrudged it, exactly. Rather I would say that their somewhat rational position was that if you turned their super-prestigious faculty loose to take time off every time they got outside funding (they were arrogant enough to assume that we would win anything we applied for), the department would run the risk of finding itself with sudden staffing problems in any given semester. So forcing everyone to teach their full load on a regimented schedule (that included, I should point out, a semester off at full pay every sixth semester for tenured faculty) ensured that the department would never get caught with its pants down on when it came time to schedule classes for the coming year.

    By contrast, my current institution is much more liberal about this issue, and our department, despite its large size, finds itself, from time to time, scrambling to mount enough courses because so many of us went out and got money that year or that semester.

    So in that sense, the Ivy cared a lot more about teaching than my current employer does, even though neither institution gives it any weight in tenure decisions.

  19. And Stella,

    I'm flat out baffled by your comment about grants. Unless you are in an ed school or a comp-only specialist, or teaching in an MFA program, in which case I withdraw the following.

    There are tons of grants that anybody in any area of the humanities is eligible for. NEH, ACLS, NHC, Guggenheim, AAAS, the NYPL's Center for Scholars and Writers, and that's off the top of my head. You could get a senior Fulbright to go teach in some cool foreign locale for a year. Then there are residential fellowships at lots of libraries and collections, depending on your specific research area: Huntington, Newberry, AAS etc. I could go on. Every one of those is a sabbatical, or at least a semester's leave, and there are lots more. I just listed nine. Win one of those every four or five years, and you've basically arranged your leaves for your whole career. So when I say I've had grants, that's what I'm talking about.

    Now I'm not so naive as to think that folks who are teaching heavy loads can keep up the research output necessary to win one of these all the time. I'm also well aware that in the rigged game of academia prestige is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and that folks from smaller places are sometimes discriminated against in the competitions I've mentioned. But I've been a reader for some of the above, and I've given high scores to proposals from people from outside of the top tiers who have gone on to win. It can happen, and it isn't even that unusual. Senior Fulbrights are particularly "gettable" but some of the others on the brief list above try to spread the money around outside of the usual suspects from the usual schools.

  20. Oh, I've gotten NEH grants several times--but I guess what I was thinking about is grants that actually financially benefit the school. I got the money, and the school got nothing. That's what ran through my head when you described the grant you brought in "cushioning the blow" of giving you your first year off teaching in a new school.

    Friends have gotten fulbrights--and here what that amounts to is unpaid leave. Or perhaps the schoool makes up the difference between fullbright pay and regular pay.

  21. It's a very interesting post. I've bounced around a bit, and each time I thought I was going to a better situation. Each time I found the same level of students, the same misery with the administration. People looking at YOUR situation are envious. It's part and parcel of our business, I think.

  22. To answer the misery...I've taught Snooty Almost Ivy East Coast Private, Big State U., Second String State U., Random-Ass Women's College, and Small State U. I've also taught in Starvistan.

    Leaving aside Starvistan, which had issues like student strikes with teargas, the worst students I had were at Almost Ivy in terms of their whinging. The second worst were at Big State U., although Big State also had the best students I've ever had. (Big State is well-respected academically because it manages to siphon off huge amounts of state funding AND charge a galling amount of tuition.)

    In short--the places where I've had the best students were also the places where I've had the worst students. I'm not sure that, in your case, changing locales would improve your IIC.

  23. Random-Ass Women's College ... what was their mascot?

  24. I have my PhD from a snooty uni and currently teach at a snooty uni, and I have always been surrounded by a blizzard of snowflakes. Entitled, entitled, entitled.

    While 2/2 is standard, there are disciplines and worlds where people 1/2 (I do).

  25. This comment has been removed by the author.

  26. I know this is a bit late to the conversation, but I think Strelnikov is suffering from grass is always greener syndrome. Believe me, snowflakes ABOUND in the UK.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.