I’ve been editing a lot of tenure documents lately. Now that The Professor Is In has been around for over four years, many readers have made it all the way to the point of going up for tenure. My next book, The Professor Is You: Life After the Ph.D., will have a section devoted to the tenure track and another to tenure documents. So I’m giving a lot of thought to their proper form and approach.
In that light, I’ve been struck by the tidal wave of emotionalism that I’ve encountered in my client tenure docs this Fall. Lines like (edited for anonymity):
- What I have found most rewarding in my time at UCSD…
- It was a particular privilege to be able to teach…
- I am pleased and delighted at my productivity since arriving on campus
- It has been gratifying to see these publications emerge
- I am pleased that my scholarly expertise has led to two invitations to write…
I am genuinely perplexed by this language. I cannot fathom why the writers believe that their feelings play a role in the institution’s deliberation about their tenurability. Put another way, I cannot fathom why the writers believe that the institution gives a flying fuck what they find personally rewarding or pleasing or gratifying. Either the record meets the standards for tenure at that institution, or it doesn’t. You can be as gratified and delighted as you want, but if your publication numbers are low at an R1, or your course evals are weak at a SLAC, it will make no difference. Emotion language has no place in tenure statements, which are meant to simply describe the accomplishments of research and teaching and service, and contextualize them within the department, institution, and field as a whole.
Regular readers of the blog and my new book know the degree to which I rail against emotionalism in academic job documents. This is not because I personally dislike emotions, but because in any academic context, cases built on emotions have little value and carry little weight. The Academic Skepticism Principle requires that claims made in the academy must be based on facts or evidence, and defended with arguments and logic. Expressing thrill, delight, or gratification about some academic claim or another will do nothing to make others accept that claim. It didn’t work in your grad seminars, it doesn’t work at conferences, and it doesn’t work in your job documents. So why would it suddenly start working at tenure?
And furthermore, the continual use of emotion-language sends an additional message of egotism and self-importance. As if, the truly significant aspect of the candidate’s tenure is not what they provide for the institution, but what the institution provides for them: a stage for a private drama of pleasure and gratification.
I’ll be writing more about tenure documents over the coming year, but for now, I’ll just reiterate the same old point that has applied at every prior stage in job applications, interviewing, and grant-writing—in academia, your feelings don’t count. Your output does.