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The Tenure-Track Position: No Longer the Brass Ring?
October 24, 2010 - 9:00pm

As I write this, my husband and I are currently spending quality time together; I am writing this blog post while he works away on a report mandated by the university, his third this week. We are stealing this time “together” after he had to run back to work for a four hour meeting at 4:30 in the afternoon. Meanwhile, I went for a walk with my kids, read them stories, and then went through my Twitter feed.

My next-door neighbor has been neck-deep in State education policy discussions, on top of her own teaching, research, and university service duties. When she asked me how many meetings I had to attend during our fall break, I answered none – it’s not in my job description. Instead, I graded papers, spent time with my kids, blogged, and worked on completely modifying the second half of one of my courses.

I am in an incredibly privileged position: I have a relatively stable full-time teaching position at the same institution as my spouse. I get benefits, a pension, access to all of the same internal funding and professional development opportunities as tenure-track faculty, and only have to teach one more class a year than most other tenure-track faculty.

And I don’t have any administrative responsibilities. No meetings, no sub-committees, no ad-hoc groups, nothing. I am not barred from attending meetings, and I make sure to attend departmental meetings in order to understand the culture of the department and university and get to know my colleagues. I also I think it’s important that those off the tenure-track are seen and heard. But my colleagues whose afternoons are dominated by a variety of meetings? Not me, no thanks.

I don’t have yearly tenure progress reviews, trying to jump over an ever-raising bar. I’m not worried about how my colleagues are judging the work that I do, whether or not it “advances the field” in a meaningful way. I’m free to blog, research and write on authors who write in French, even though I teach English, as well as not feel guilty about spending time with my young kids. If I publish something, great. If not, well, that’s OK, too. I like the idea of being able to go to conferences that might otherwise be considered a waste of time, like on social media (not that I have yet).

The tenure-track job has become an almost-unattainable goal and, seemingly as a result, those who are on it are increasingly run into the ground. I watch my husband and my friends put in very long hours (where were the authors of Higher Education? looking, anyway?), often working on tasks unrelated (or tenuously related) to their teaching and research. I’ve asked before, but what does academic freedom really mean anymore when others (administrators) are increasingly deciding for you what “counts”?

I trail behind and I watch. I don’t like what I see unfold in front and around me. I like my blogging, I adore my research and teaching, and I love that I get to spend a lot of time with my family focused on them and not thinking about a million other things I should be doing to help my tenure case. I teach classes (developmental writing) in areas that I don’t have a degree in. I research and write about literature (French) that is in a different language than I teach. I’ve pretty much assured, through my actions and attitude (not to mention this post), that I will be trailing and off the tenure track permanently.

As things stand right now, I’m OK with that.

Kentucky, USA

Lee Elaine Skallerup has a PhD from the University of Alberta in Comparative Literature. She has taught in two Canadian provinces and three States, and is now branching out as an Edupreneur. You can visit her blog at collegereadywriting.blogspot.com and follow her on Twitter (@readywriting). Lee is also a regular contributor at University of Venus.

 

 

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