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From the Tenure Side-Lines
September 2, 2010 - 9:15pm

I took the unthinkable step off the tenure track when my second son was born. I have no desire to return, but I do crave recognition of my role as a member of the scholarly community. I continue to produce scholarship, but as someone on the tenure side-lines, no one cares or accounts for the time and energy it entails. I think my talents are put to better use where I am than as the proverbial tenured professor, but I also think my scholarship positively influences my work in this setting as much or more than it did when I was 'in line' for tenure. People assume that leaving the tenure track means you lost interest in research and writing. For me, and I suspect for many others, nothing could be further from the truth.

I firmly believe that in order to teach a subject you must be actively engaged with it. The accepted paradox of the American academy is that those who research most teach least. I find the flip side of this equation a greater perturbation. Those who teach and advise undergraduates most intensively are not merely released from requirements to publish or perish (a blessing) but discouraged from maintaining their scholarly expertise. Because I am an administrator, I have nowhere to turn for financial support when my papers are accepted to conferences. Sometimes, I wander the halls of power with my tin cup and accumulate just enough to buy my airline ticket. Sometimes, I am too proud/ashamed to go begging. Regardless of how I pay my academic bills, none of my time is protected to allow me a few hours in a library or an archive. When I write, it is squeezed into my lunch hour or time taken away from my family on weekends and sleep in the wee hours.

I can and do teach in addition to my administrative (which are actually advising) responsibilities. I even get paid. The service I render the university as someone able to advise students about research proposals and presentation style, however, stems from my scholarly activity. I learned these skills from experience, and I maintain my skills by using them. While I consider my continued scholarship an essential part of my position, no one else does. Indeed, friends in the academy tell me that what I do is simply impossible, and I should stop for my own good. Fortunately, my editors and commentators have not yet been apprised of the futility of my efforts.

As we continue our discussion about who teaches whom what and why, I want to underscore the necessity of practicing what we preach. If we advise students on studying and research abroad, we should be active researchers with connections abroad. If we advise students on scholarly careers, we should be scholars. At most of the institutions I know, this is not the case. Advisers in these areas may have doctoral degrees, but the moment we are asked to advise students on their own paths, we are cut off from the very activities that qualified us to advise them. At the highest levels, presidents, provosts, and deans fight fundraising's encroachment upon every waking minute. For those of us in the tuition trenches without tenure, we struggle to present the virtues of scholarly inquiry while watching our own projects perish.

I pledge to continue my perhaps pathetic attempts to be an academic administrator in hope that someday my definition will make its way out of my dreams and into reality.

Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe is associate director of the office of fellowships and teaches history and American studies at Northwestern University, from which she earned her B.A. (1992). She earned M.Litt. (1994) and M.Phil. (1995) degrees in European History as a Marshall Scholar at Cambridge University before completing her Ph.D. at Princeton University (2000). In her so-called spare time, she fights household entropy, gardens, bakes boozy bundts, enjoys breakfast in Bollywood, and writes scholarly papers about funky monks. For more, visit or find Elizabeth on Twitter@ejlp and LinkedIn.


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