15.2.17

DON'T GET PUNISHED FOR BEING COOPERATIVE.

With this academic year's tenure decisions, to the extent that anybody is taking tenure decisions these days, proceeding past the college and university level and on to the trustees, there might be a few academicians getting the good news.  Inside Higher Ed's Kerry Ann Rockquemore outlines the three biggest mistakes newly tenured professors commonly make.
Mistake #1: You act as if nothing has changed when everything has changed. The primary mistake that newly tenured faculty make is that they continue working as if they are still racing against a ticking tenure clock. The fear of not winning tenure led them to work long hours and to neglect their health, relationships and leisure. And then when they win tenure, they keep working as if nothing has changed.
There's truth to that, particularly with academicians neglecting all else to pursue their research.  On the other hand, a tenure evaluation is also a way, particularly in departments with ambitions, to distinguish the careerists racking up minimally publishable units from the genuinely intellectually curious.  It's not so much that the latter are racing only the tenure clock, rather, the game is afoot, and they want to snare it.  And, dear reader, if you're only now asking the questions about work life that Ms Rockquemore suggests, perhaps you're being toasted with a poisoned chalice.  Figure out the fit with your department and your university starting from day one.
Mistake #2: You don’t know who you are or what you want. Before you earned tenure, you had to work hard to meet externally imposed expectations for your research, teaching and service. The greatest gift (and challenge) of winning tenure is that now you get to choose your posttenure pathway. What will your direction be for the next five to seven years? Do you want to be a public intellectual, a master teacher, an institutional change agent, a disciplinary superstar, an administrator or something else entirely?

Clearly, there are both differential consequences and rewards for whichever path you choose, but the key is that it’s your responsibility to identify what you want and then move in that direction. The mistake I see newly tenured people repeatedly make is that they have spent so long pleasing others that they no longer know who they are, much less what they want.
Here's where the cooperative get punished.  A department that is interested in developing its incoming faculty -- and this is true more often than not once you get away from the fifty institutions aspiring to the top ten, where failure to earn tenure is de rigueur -- is going to protect probationary faculty from most of the administrative scutwork and the fever swamps of the process worshippers.  But those committees have to be filled, and the next installation of dues-paying for the rising academic features a heavy dose of committee chores.  Choose wisely: that's one way in which a case of professor burnout can come on quickly.  In that earlier post, I urged a strategy of saying No, or Hell, no, to many of those requests.  Perhaps there's more.  The tenured faculty are stewards of their university.  Perhaps it ought be part of their calling to ask whether this committee, this initiative, that deanlet, that administrative office, is necessary.

That leads directly to the third error.
Mistake #3: Your ambivalence leaves you a player in other people’s games. When newly tenured faculty members show up in the fall with no agenda of their own, they have no filter for assessing incoming requests, and they’re left reacting to request upon request without any sense for when to say yes or no. They’re so used to pleasing others that they feel flattered to be asked to do invisible, labor-intensive and unrewarded work that doesn’t move them in any particular direction (but often advances other people’s agendas). They quickly find themselves spreading their energy in so many different directions that they end up working longer and harder than they did during their pretenure years. Then one day they wake up and several years have slipped by, and despite all of their hard work, they can’t point to any one area of notable individual accomplishment. Instead, they’ve helped a whole bunch of other people realize their goals. This is how and why many tenured professors become bitter, angry and resentful.

When you have a clear posttenure pathway, you are prepared to approach these requests very differently. You create opportunities instead of reactively accepting responsibilities. You pass every request through a simple filter, asking yourself: Will this move me in the direction of my five-year goals? If yes, the answer is yes, and if not, the answer is no. And instead of relying on your pretenure mentoring networks, you actively construct a new mentoring network that will support your five-year goals and help you to develop the specific skills and experience you need to get there.
There might now be enough experienced faculty members with experience only in the downsizing, business-faddish, special education-enabling, virtue-signalling institutions of higher learning for such mentors to emerge.  Judging by the comments to the essay, though, faculty morale is pretty low, and perhaps the most effective mentoring oughta be offered to aspiring Ph.Ds before they sit the GREs.  That is, Don't sit the GRE and take a nap until the urge goes away.

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