It’s Your Fault. Or, Who Gets Turned Down for Tenure?

(Thursday Post Category:  Here’s How You Get Tenure)

For this week’s “Tenure” post, I was planning to write a post called “Playing the Percentages,” about knowing your department’s  expectations for your time and effort breakdown as an assistant professor.  The typical percentage at a research institution is  60%  research, 30%teaching, and 10%service.  You are evaluated by those expectations at your third year review and tenure.  Fall short of these percentages, or–god forbid–have them flipped around in your work, and you are in real danger of losing your job.

I will write that post… next week.

For this week, I’m changing course, and introducing a truly fantastic column by David D. Perlmutter in the Chronicle of Higher Education, that just came out this past Monday.

It’s in the Managing Your Career Column, and it’s titled, “It’s Your Fault.”

This is academic truth-telling at it’s best.

He takes up the question of the disgruntled assistant professor (is there any other kind?), and the tendency of this species to feel persecuted, misunderstood, and oppressed.

He asks a simple question:  if your students and colleagues are complaining that you’re arrogant, or condescending, or difficult to deal with, is it because

a) they are too small-minded and ignorant to grasp your brilliance.

b) they are intimdated by your clear superiority.

c) you are arrogant, condescending, and difficult to deal with.

Very likely, friends, the answer is c.

Hard to take, but true.

There are few people on earth as simultaneously arrogant and insecure as a new assistant professor.  You’ve won the lottery of the tenure-track position, so clearly you’re a genius.  And, you’re under 24/7 scrutiny by students, colleagues, administrators, and secretarial staff for the next 6 years, so clearly you’re a neurotic wreck.  It can make for some….shall we say… interesting interpersonal challenges.

As Perlmutter writes, it’s entirely possible that you:

*have not paid your dues but act like you have

* are overly suspicious

*are acting selfishly

*complain too much

*are a jerk

If you’re an assistant professor, check yourself against Perlmutter’s list.  And then seek out the wise counsel of a GOOD and trustworthy mentor, one of those who, as he writes, “are not relentless cheerleaders but rather truth-tellers—even when their candor hurts.”  Ask:  “was I jerk at the faculty meeting?”  “Should I have handled that student differently?” “Am I paranoid?” And really listen to the answer.

Students and colleagues are not always as dumb as they look, even if they wouldn’t win in a Heidegger quote-off, or have a jaded familiarity with Agamben’s concept of bare life.

Your character matters in your tenure case.  People have to WANT to have you as a colleague.  Be a team player.  Work for the greater good.  Your department will like you better, and so will you.


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