Ruminations on Tenure

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By the brilliant Historiann, here. She writes in part:

… Although feminist intellectuals who have sophisticated understandings about how power works, we still feel shame about our own experiences. We still see them–to one degree or another–as personal failures, rather than the fault of the system and of the people who interpret and enforce the system’s rules. We don’t want to discourage our graduate students or new junior colleagues. After all, who among them wants to hear that”the evil claw of patriarchy will get you too, my pretty!” It’s easier for all of us to assume that the roughed-up or ultimately untenured must have done something to deserve it, because we don’t want to believe that it could happen to us. We’re good girls, we did everything right, we went to conferences and had publications on our CVs when we were graduate students. We’ve won national fellowships. We’re protected. We’re bulletproof.

Maybe we should all get T-shirts, like the”I had an abortion”T-shirts, that read,”I was denied tenure,”or”I had to go up for tenure twice,”or”I was told that I ‘intimidate’ senior faculty members,”or”I sued my department,”or,”I was told to shut up and take it.” That’s frequently the advice that junior faculty get, especially from senior faculty who took it, and”won”the glorious prize of tenure. …

This reminded me of a conversation I had with my friend L., who confided that she was feeling restless and unhappy, and considering leaving teaching. “But you have tenure!” I sputtered, to which she sardonically replied, “Yes, I have an unsatisfying job for life.”

As Brian Leiter has noted, tenure denials in law schools are rare, though scholarship requirements may be rising. I think even where success seems likely, most people find the tenure application process onerous and stressful, because so much is on the line, yet out of one’s immediate control. One good thing about being on the South Carolina faculty is that you receive an annual review, in writing, every year leading up to the tenure year, so you have a good idea about what your colleagues think are your strengths and weaknesses well before your tenure vote, and plenty of time and notice to either work on your problem areas, or find another job.

–Ann Bartow

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0 Responses to Ruminations on Tenure

  1. Historiann says:

    Ann–thanks for cross-posting this. I agree that annual reviews are helpful. We do them for all junior faculty, in addition to the annual review for salary purposes. However, in my experience, roadblocks and barriers to tenure aren’t only (or principally) imposed by departments, but rather further up the administrative ladder. I’ve seen (and heard of) cases where a Dean or a Provost at least questioned the recommendation of a department to tenure, if not rejecting it outright. Strangely, these things happen only when there’s a bolus of women moving through the tenure pipeline–if they don’t get denied by their departments, a dean turns them back, or the College committee does, or the Provost does. There are multiple ways for tenure cases to be turned back, reversed, or denied–and it seems like there’s frequently someone along the way who is willing to subject women’s cases in particular to more scrutiny/harrassement/outright abuse.

  2. Ann Bartow says:

    I agree with everything you say. I feel lucky to be at a school where I think what you describe happens less often, at least as far as I can tell. When I went up for tenure a number of women at law schools all around the country told me to call them if I needed help, and that meant a lot. That’s one of the surprisingly few reasons I wish I taught at a law school with better trademark value – so I could be more useful to junior women in the tenure pipeline.

  3. hmprescott says:

    Ann, your story illustrates why women need to keep the tenure they have — so they can make sure women (and minorities) get hired and receive tenure, and receive good mentoring along the way.