Saturday, June 28, 2014

Tepid about Tenure

I am back home, and with vacation behind me I guess it's time to get back to work.  I've got the day-job for which I've already created a list of tasks to undertake; the teaching of my newly renumbered course INSDSG 684 (formerly 619) and the updates I want to make to the course materials as well as gearing up for my #altcred experiment, version 2.0; and finally the Great Big MOOC Book which I need to kick into high gear (two big things on the docket: additional reviewers and a publisher).

While I was away in Greece I participated in an online Orientation session for my EdD program which starts in August.  The timing was a bit brutal since I needed to be up at 03:00 (Greek time) to participate in an online session that was 18:00 MT. Regardless I did enjoy hearing from my classmates and professors, people who I will get to know more over the next four years.  One of the questions we were prompted to answer as part of our introduction was where do we see ourselves in five years after graduation.  This is one of my favorite questions, and I generally have an answer for it, but this time around I was a little perplexed and didn't have a concrete answer (well, one that I would personally consider concrete and actionable). 

Up until recently my answer for "what next?" was a tenure track job, probably in a College of Education, teaching in a program that focused on adult learning, online learning, and educational technology.  I still want to do this, but I am more tepid about tenure.  Tenure has been described to me as "job security" for those who have it, but it seems more like a velvet jail that you fight really hard to get into.  Just prior to leaving for vacation one of my colleagues told me that their "writing schedule" for this summer would be really hectic.  I guess it's "publish or perish" time because that's the only reason someone's unpaid summer months (remember faculty work September to May) would be crazy with writing.

Don't get me wrong, I like research. I like to explore questions that are of interest to me and see if I can find answers to them.  What I don't like is this artificial aspect of "you must publish x-many whatevers in y-rated venues in order to get to keep your job."  Academia is the only place I've seen people who have passed their probationary work period (usually a year in most professions), who have demonstrated good teaching and good work ethic for a number of years and still come up for additional scrutiny during their tenure review. Here your previously evaluated work (evaluated annually through a faculty review process in each department) gets evaluated again. What might have been passing marks in previous annual reviews may not land you in non-tenure (especially when department politics and interpersonal conflict are involved). This seems like an unnecessarily stressful position to put employees in.

And, once people are tenured, they can feel free to hang their hat and be done with any serious amount of work. I've heard stories of people who have just refused to take part in department faculty meetings (part of the "service to the department" category of your job duties), and there was nothing that the department could do about it because these individuals did not care about merit pay (something that comes out of annual review processes). Thus if you are content with your pay, you can stop all research activity, and all service to the institution and profession, and only focus on teaching two courses per semester (this is the regular course load at my University, I don't know what other schools are like).

The reason I am tepid about tenure isn't that I don't think I can make it, if ever I am in that situation, it's just that I think that the system is very very flawed. I would love to have a position in the future where I get to teach, where my working year is September to May (with a decent pay), and get to spend the summer doing whatever pleases me (research would be part of it, but it would also include a lot of rest). But, I don't think I can do it within a tenured context. I would like to have colleagues who respect the privilege of being a teacher, and respect their fellow colleagues, enough to be productive at work. Fighting for a tenured track job (the few that exist), and going through the gauntlet of "publish or perish" in order to keep your job, only to be in potentially dysfunctional department is a bit too much :-) In other professions you can pack up and go elsewhere, however in Academia when you get tenure (or if you are tenure track), if you decide to leave your current post you might be viewed as damaged goods (unless of course another school/department is trying to poach your from your current department/school).  In a currently tight labor market, that's not a good position to be in.

Anyone else in academia have thoughts about this? :-) Would love to hear them!
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