When I opened the envelope that contained my tenure decision this past February, I wish I could say many incredibly deep thoughts went through my mind. But no, the only thought was, “I wonder if Starbucks is hiring.” Thank goodness I received tenure, because my local coffee shop had no need for another over educated, out of work barista that week.
Many thoughts have gone through my head since receiving the good news. One that seems to be consistently a presence in my mind is what is my role on campus now? I am still relatively young to hold the rank of associate professor; however I learned quickly that title trumps age when it comes to being sought out for advice. The questions that have come through my in box have ranged from the appropriate “Does service really count toward tenure decisions and if so, what committee appointment should I seek out?” to the border line actionable “Are you going to have another baby now that you have tenure? If so, do you really think you should be chair this fall since you will have to go on leave next year anyway?”
The emails that have struck the strongest chord with me are from those who seek me out to be a leader on campus. Whether it is nominating me to be on search committees, asking me to review dossiers and personal statements, soliciting my opinions on policies and procedures, etc., my input is being asked for and respected. Did I hold my tongue when I was an assistant professor? No - I honestly have to say that I did not play the game of academia by the standard rules and was quite outspoken as a junior faculty member. But the difference now is that I am being approached by all levels on campus for those opinions and some of my words are being implemented, and that is a bit frightening.
Readers of this blog are probably rolling their eyes right now – poor her, she has tenure and is being asked her opinion; it must be rough. True, I suffer no illusions about how the power dynamic has swung my way through becoming tenured. What I am scared of is being a role model; being the woman who new female junior faculty members will come to asking advice. Do I encourage them to do what I did which totally goes against the grain (e.g. have a baby before tenure)? Do I tell them to maintain their silence in a male dominated profession until they are “safe”? And maybe most importantly, do I have to wave the flag for all who come after me? Tenure means that you have the protection to mentor, but in this ever-changing world of higher education, can you ethically mentor?
So, as the questions come pouring in, I have resolved to take each one of them on individually. To really think about the person to whom I am giving advice and hope that I am not the only person they are consulting. However, if I am that only person, they can rest assured that I am giving the best advice that I possibly can. Or maybe I should check to see if Starbucks is hiring again, just in case…
Leanne Doherty, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Political Science and International Relations, Simmons College. Leanne is the author of Level Playing Field For All? Female Political Leadership and Athletics (2011) and an occasional contributor at University of Venus.