Friday, November 4, 2016

TubaPlayingProf Is Searching For the ... Uh ... What is It? The Word.

"Stuck In The Middle"

"Well I don't know why I came here tonight,
I got the feeling that something ain't right,
Well I'm so scared in case I fall off my chair,
And I'm wondering how I'll get down the stairs,
Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you"

Sometime ago I proposed turtle for the CM vocabulary—for not all older men are silverbacks. It didn’t catch on. I wonder if too few quiet old men prodding along exist. So let me turn to you: May I ask the considerable, creative wisdom of the CM community to come up with a new word?
The recent posting about burnout made me take a look here at Ambitious State. Perhaps what I see is not common. And in an earlier entry about “work” and “job,” I detailed how outrageously unfair we are to adjuncts whom we call contingency faculty. But I’d like a word for the newest type of “permanent” faculty that I see: Somewhere between silverbacks (and turtles) and unicorns, it is the recently tenured and promoted associate professor.

Because the provost and his minions threaten departments with the “loss of lines,” many senior folk have become increasingly protective of the colleagues working toward tenure. Here, that means: “Junior colleagues” have no service obligations. They enjoy favorable teaching assignments-- two-days-a-week work schedules, no early morning classes, no evening classes, no introductory courses, no survey courses, upper-level seminars that they are encouraged to develop in concert with current research projects. They hold their classes in the smaller classrooms that limit the size of classes (by twenty percent) because of strict fire codes that set maximum class sizes. They are assured of a 3/3 teaching load—never having to apply for it, justify projects, or offer “deliverables.”

And I support all of those measures. Our students love our “junior” faculty, we respect them, and I sincerely want them tenured: First, for the all the noble reasons. And of course, to be honest, the selfish ones, as I don’t want to redo job searches, start over, etc.

Yet, once they are tenured and promoted, they become. . . . what? They are NOT senior faculty members. While tenure is increasingly difficult here, earning the rank of Professor seems next to impossible.

And they have more work than ever. Now, they are required to do service. Their tenure applications and tenure bring attention. Committee chairs looking to fill up committees turn to them—often by suggesting that service is the key to promotion to Professor. (It is not.) Deans “call in favors.” Department heads trying “to fill out the grid” (as the provost requires) schedule them in larger classrooms, three or four days a weeks; they now MUST teach the required courses. They must apply for the 3/3 load—and deliver.

I will admit that I considered them "senior" faculty. Yet I was wrong.

We tenure them for a job, obligations, demands, and expectations for which they have not prepared. And yet we expect them to be able to start what is in real ways a new position—more challenging, more exhausting, more stressful than the one we asked them to do to prove themselves.

They are not Professors—with higher salaries, license (to say no to deans and committee chairs), and time to deliver on research projects. Yet we expect them to “do their part” as “senior members of the department,” that is, support the junior faculty, pay back the department, etc.

Congratulations on tenure: “STFU and get to work.”

So, what’s between the silverback and the unicorn? Between "senior" and "junior?"


  1. I'm thinking some kind of working animal. Perhaps a mule? Or is an ass more appropriate? On a good week, perhaps a clydesdale? At least the latter is more likely to bring beer!

    1. Mule sounds pretty good to me, not only because mules are animals that carry heavy loads, but also because they don't reproduce. I fear that most of this generation of associate professors will have few if any academic offspring who make it to associate professor themselves, because tenure and the privileges associated with it are pretty much dead (though we may not be able to tell it for a while, because professors, like box turtles -- another long-lived animal that's probably declining more than we realize -- live a long time).

  2. Great question! One thing I'm often asked about is why I won't add terms to the glossary. Well, generally a new word needs to be in use in the academic world or (primarily) on this page.

    You know, Merriam-Webster let "on fleek" hang out there in pop culture a while before they added it. Did they? Or did I just hear my kid say it and so I assumed?

  3. What's between "senior" and "junior?"

    It's being told:


  4. huh, at my school the committees are made up of Assistant and Associate Profs. Hell, I'm CHAIR of my technology committee this year and I am up for tenure next school year. The full profs either get the really heavy-duty committees (dealing with upper level admin directly) or none at all.

    And we all have 3/3s. And by God we're protecting THAT!

  5. I realize that I speak from a very privileged position and that many would trade places with me in a second, but here goes anyway: Tenured faculty who entered around the same time I did got hit on both ends. We were NOT protected from service as junior faculty because there had been a hiring freeze for years before we came and there just weren't enough tenured faculty to get things done. Most of us managed to squeak by and get tenure. Then, as our reputation and faculty ranks grew, we DID start protecting junior folks from service. And with relatively few Full Professors, guess who still does most of the service and has little time for research? Meanwhile, the expectations for tenure and promotion have risen dramatically. Yes, that final promotion does seem pretty unreachable right now...

    1. I think this is true at many places, including, to some extent, mine (though we were expanding, so we have a pretty healthy associate corps, and are still doing some hiring, though not, I think, as much as a decade ago). Our assistant profs are also not as completely protected as TPP describes, though they definitely enjoy some of the protections described (but earning tenure is definitely getting harder, for a bunch of reasons, including both higher research expectations and, I gather, a tendency for science/social science faculty on the university tenure committee to apply their disciplinary standards to humanities applicants).

      Of course, if you want to find the lost generation of associate profs who would otherwise be sharing the service burden, all you have to do is look to the adjunct/contingent corps (and to those in alt-ac and non-academic positions).

      The other factor at my institution is that tenure-line professors went from a standard 3/3 with lower research expectations to a standard 2/2 with higher research expectations(which does involve some "deliverables" to maintain, but so far people seem to be holding on to it). The excess teaching load got passed on to contingent faculty; the service load increased (because one has to hire, review, etc. contingent faculty, and we're not allowed to do it ourselves, nor is there room in our position descriptions to do so), and landed on the associate profs.

  6. I wonder whether the non-silverback oldsters (a status from which I'm probably not far myself, though there's the added wrinkle that I'm contingent) should be called "tortoises"? There's an obvious classical allusion there, and non-silverback senior faculty often do a lot of quiet, steady work -- mostly teaching, but also some non-flashy but useful service and research.

  7. My chair protects first year assistants from college and university committee work (there is no ducking department and building related service) and tells the rest of us untenured folk to try to have one good university committee and leave it at that. And despite the way keeping up with that thing screws with my planning, poise and equilibrium I'm glad I'm learning how to manage it in small doses. The tenured folks mostly have two or three to deal with.

    And I've landed a place on the student research grants committee after a couple of years doing donkey work on paper-pushing committee, so I am starting to make connections outside my building to others with a common interest in throwing our undergrads into the fray.

    1. That sounds good. I'd serve on that committee (though I'm probably not the best qualified, since I don't get to lead undergrads to original research opportunities, though I'd love to).

      In part because our Dean has been making news about service for contingent faculty (on top of a 4/4 all-writing-intensive teaching load), and in part because I'm interested, I've recently joined the honor council. My experience both dealing with the council from the outside and sitting in hearings suggests that ours is well-run, and fair to both students and faculty. It's been a good experience, and I've learned something about how cheating/plagiarism in other disciplines (especially CS) works. My new vocabulary word for the semester is pseudocode.

  8. At our uni, it works as follows: Assistant Prof - 'light' service, at departmental level (assignment to the handful of committees where the workload is small); Associate Prof - service is expected to include being chair of dept-level committees, and moving into Faculty/School-level committees; Full Prof - Faculty/School or University (ie. Senate) level service. Mind you, to get promotion to Full Prof requires either top-notch-international research fame or "a role as university leader" if research is not top-notch, which would involve being Chair of heavy-duty upper level committees while at Assoc Prof rank.

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