Tenure and choices.

March 30, 2015

My husband was officially granted tenure, approved unanimously by the Board. It happened during Spring Break. The decision wasn’t a surprise, having breezed through the other stages of the process, but this final, official stamp represented the last (however symbolic) hurdle. It really does feel anticlimactic – an emailed press release with a list of names. All of the work and the stress and the sacrifices.

The sacrifices.

Now that my husband has tenure at the institution that treated me like a disposable piece, I am reminded again of what I gave up professionally for him to achieve this increasingly rare feat. I am happy for my husband, happy for our family. But the circumstances that lead to this moment come crashing back: I gave up my chance at tenure for his. A chance I’ll most likely never have again.

Most days, I don’t regret my decision. It was a hard road, but I’ve found a role within the institution that I really enjoy and that I’m good at. It’s professionally fulfilling. I am supported and appreciated in a way I have never been.

It may, in fact, be better suited to me than a tenure-track position would be.

It is hard for me admit that out loud. Five years of blogging about being contingent and all of people in the comments dismissing me because clearly I wasn’t “suited” for a tenure-track position, that I wasn’t good enough, that I just needed to suck it up, give up, and move on. Does admitting that I love my new job mean that they were right? Will they read this admission and sit back smugly, saying: “I told you so.”

Really, my path isn’t worth the trouble, especially now that I am a success, albeit off the tenure-track. But it still fits into the comfortable narrative that too many people within higher education still subscribe to that those who deserve tenure-track jobs get tenure-track jobs, while the rest of us just have to make due and accept our “lesser” status.

Many conversations around alt-ac career paths focus on the fact that, for many, alt-ac isn’t a “Plan B” but a conscious and purposeful turn away from the tenure-track. For me, I was never not going to be a tenure-track professor – I was a tenure-track professor. I was exactly where I thought I was supposed to be, until I wasn’t.

It’s a coincidence that my husband’s tenure decision came within days of the five-year anniversary of the start of my blog, but the symmetry is not lost on me. Five years of going through this entire process out loud and in public. Five years of fighting. Five years of trying to let go.

But clearly I haven’t completely let go. That tenure was supposed to be mine. That tenure will never be mine.


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