Thursday, January 16, 2014

"Why I Did Not Get Tenure." Oscar in Oklahoma Lays It Out.

cobbled by Cal
If I don't write this now, I never will.

My T&P meeting was a formality. I was told this for the past 2 years. My colleagues assured me I'd done enough, that my pubs and teaching were in line. Those "mattered."

Living my own way, 30 miles out of town on a ranch, is the most important part of my mental well being. I can't live in a city or a small town. My nature is that of a cowboy. Color me all sorts of odd if it helps.

So, the 10% of my T&P about "community involvement" didn't seem to faze those folks who advised and mentored me through 5 1/2 years. "Not to worry," they said. "You're aces," another said.

I had my two part interview late last week, and I had my Dean's meeting this morning.

The Dean is a nice fella, not someone I know very well, but someone who seems decent and kind.

He was wringing his hands when I sat down, and I knew there was trouble when he began to speak about my colleague Steady and Supportive Stan. Stan is a cipher. Bootlicking cipher. Can't leave that out.

The Dean told me that Stan was an object lesson in the T&P wars, someone who was "visible" on campus, who "gave everything" of himself to clubs and committees and organizations. It was he I was measured against, that was the point.

And I said, "What committees and organizations have I turned down? I do exactly what the chair asks me to do. I chaired a committee last year."

"Yes," the Dean said, "Of course." But that's the minimum, really. We like everything about you, but Stan and others like him really drive this institution. They are the heart of it."

It was decided. I knew it made no difference to talk about my work as it related to Stan's paltry production - though I had winning cards there of every color. I just nodded at his instructions, about how much time I had left, the process, the procedure.

Oh, how they would miss my teaching and research. Oh, what a loss, etc.

Stan? Well, he'll still be here, of course, after I'm gone. The ranch I'll have to sell. A new job I will have to find.

And it's bullshit.


  1. Everything I want to say includes profanity. If I'm sitting here, numb, with a churning stomach, not even knowing you, how must you feel?

    Is there any appeal process? If face time was worth only 10%, and you weren't at 0 there, how can it possibly be the dealbreaker? Do your colleagues know? DID they know? Is there anyone there you can trust now?

  2. Sickening. I have observed and experienced the results of incompetent department heads, deans and colleagues, telling new hires to read between the lines of the faculty handbook to find out how the system really works and what really matters, only to be blindsided by the same people at T&P time, saying that we only follow the official rules to the letter. I feel for you, Oscar. Good luck.

  3. Oh wow, I am so sorry to hear this. Our campus has an appeal process, you should check to see if yours does. Also, if your prior reviews were all positive, with no mention of the 10% BS, then you may have grounds for a lawsuit. Sometimes just threatening legal action can result in a change of heart.

    This sucks. I wish you the best.

  4. Definitely look in to the appeals process. My sister was denied tenure based on the opinion of someone who didn't understand what was required of her discipline. After a thorough appeals process - that definitely wasn't easy - the decision was overturned and tenure was granted.

    Don't go down without a fight. You know you deserve this and one dissenter shouldn't be able to sway everyone else.

  5. If you are up for the fight, look for what is written in regards to that expectation of community service. While Stan might be "great" and used to compare you against, Stan is not the academic policy for tenure. If possible, look at other teunured faculty portfolios for other examples/levels of service. Often you will find someone who did just what you did and earned tenure so there is likely a precedent that may save you if you want to stay (do it for the ranch!)

  6. Agree with the above, make it costly for them, or at least unpleasant. On the other hand, do you really want to spend the rest of your career at an institution that values "community service" over research and teaching? I wouldn't. In fact I didn't even know such places existed.

    In my experience (personal and observation of others) the way tenure cases go is entirely a function of (i) relationship between tenure candidate and dept head; (ii) relationship between dept head and dean. If (i) and (ii) are positive, even so-so cases fly. If either one of them is negative, strong cases easily sink. Usually the faculty member can do something about (i) (over time), but nothing about (ii). The usual research/teaching/service "merit indicators", if they're in an average range, play a comparatively small role.

  7. Tenure decisions are notorious for playing this arbitrary game of Calvinball, also known as moving the goalposts. Here at Middlin' State, we have detailed probationary plans for tenure-track faculty that spell out explicitly what the faculty need to do to get tenure. These probationary plans can make it easier for you to sue the bastards who play this game, like I hope you do anyway.

  8. It's a sad story, but it's been my experience that every denied professor has a completely different view of his/her value to the college than nearly everyone else.

    It's impossible that the person above truly had it in the bag if in the end he didn't get it. It sounds to me like the Dean was trying to show the most vital failing in the process, and likely could have gone on to other material as well.

    Iconoclasts are lovely to think of, like clouds, but they are not much use in getting an engine started, a student taught, or some money raised.

    This is not to say abuses do not happen. But I'm fairly certain once the writer looks in the mirror without his Romantic cowboy persona obscuring it, he'll realize it's all for the best.

    1. @Yuri: Sometimes a good proffie knows he's not a cowboy, but he maintains the facade for the sake of the horse's feelings. Nothing's worse than a broken-hearted horse.

  9. I'm so sorry, Oscar. Here's hoping you can find a way to take the bastards down.

  10. That motherfucker Cal goes out with one of the best, least blurry graphics ever. What are you doing to me???

    The RGM

  11. Another vote for appeal. Of course you have to decide where to spend your energy (and your money), but I know people who've fought and won, at more than one institution/kind of institution (one I can think of was, I suspect, simply considered too young to be tenured, though that wasn't the explicit basis of the appeal). Start with the free options -- official appeal processes, the university ombudsman (if applicable/useful), the local AAUP chapter. I'd also consider finding a good lawyer (asking around for one is a good way to put people on notice that you're prepared to fight), and paying at least for an initial consultation (if you pay the lawyer less than you'd pay a real estate agent in commission if you have to sell the ranch, you're ahead. Of course, you might end up paying both the lawyer and the real estate agent, so there are downsides to this strategy.)

    I also have the impression that, even if you're in a system where the Dean makes the final decision (and it sounds like you are), it's a good idea to get some sense of how supportive your departmental colleagues will be. After all, if the appeal succeeds, you're going to have to live with them.

    In any case, explore your options. A chance at tenure is not something to be lightly relinquished these days (assuming, that is, that you actually want to spend the rest of your career as a tenured professor, but it sounds like you do). Don't assume you can find a new job in academia (how easily you can find one elsewhere probably depends in part on your field).

  12. That's not fair and sounds like if you did all the right things, their case is weak to deny you tenure. Are you willing to appeal? If so, I would, if only to emphasize that you have done everything required of you and that doing so is what qualifies you for tenure.

  13. Excuse me while I go throw up a few times.

  14. The whole thing stinks of cheap politics based on someone's personal preference.

    After I started teaching in my former department, nobody got hired unless they were a personal acquaintance of the assistant head. The AH's good buddy in the department was used as a reference by which their performance would be judged. (This chap gave easy exams, didn't expect much from his students, and gave out high marks like candy. His lectures were like a session with Barney the purple dinosaur.)

    No newly hired instructor was granted permanent status if their performance didn't compare favourably with Barney's.

  15. I'm so sorry, Oscar. I hope you appeal, and are successful.

  16. I hope you decide to appeal. This smacks of the sort of arbitrary shite that makes for good legal basis for a lawsuit. If you have had good retention letters to this point, then you have a case that you have been unfairly treated.

    My experience was fraught, but I made it. My place of employment (campus) was subject to the determination of my department (i.e. if the department was unhappy but the campus was happy, the department's decision was the one that stood). I had had good experiences with my department until I was a little over halfway through, when the bottom fell out over my professional development (which had been exemplary until health problems forced me to conserve the bulk of my energy for teaching and service to my campus). I made it through, but it left a bad taste in my mouth for my department's politics (if you're not one of the cool kids--many of whom went to grad school together and are BFFs--your opinions are basically ignored or dismissed outright. I am not one of the cool kids.) I had questions from committee members in my retention letters that were clearly addressed (the answers were there) in my dossier--which told me that the members weren't really reading my dossier. Go figure.

    Again, I'd echo what others have said--it seems very clear that you have grounds for an appeal.


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