They say that tenure is designed to protect academic freedom. That is mostly true, but it is also used for for other purposes by faculty and other parties. Let’s do a rundown of how tenure gets used.
When I created this site, I was feeling some Associate Professor doldrums. The intervening eight years have brought a lot of professional growth, and I’m very much a different person than I was back then. I had been tenured for a few years, after 10 years on the tenure track, and I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to go. I have always been appreciative of the great liberty that faculty have to choose their priorities and directions, but not as secure about whatever direction I was heading. (And at the time, NSF didn’t have a program specifically targeting Associate Professors hitting this stage in their career, eh?)
I was enjoying teaching (in most moments), and I had a lot of research in the hopper, and I didn’t want to do anything other than keep professoring. I had pretty much said so at the time. I didn’t want to be distracted from my classes or from the people and stuff in my lab, by doing admin work.
But then, 2.5 years ago, I changed my mind. I moved into a part-time admin(ish) role. And now, all of my teaching load is reassigned to directing my university’s Office Of Undergraduate Research. This is exactly the thing I said I didn’t want to do. Now that I’ve been doing mostly admin for some while, I thought I’d report on what I learned about myself, about academia, and about doing administrative work in general. Here are some unordered observations.
I’m convinced that 9-month positions are bad for pretty much everybody. Especially driftwood faculty.
This week I was having a conversation with folks at Charles Sturt University* in Australia, which has a bunch of wonderful ecologists. This is the middle of the summer break here in Oz**, and classes don’t start back up for at least another month or so. But there wasn’t any problem catching everybody for lunch at work. They were writing grants, or papers, or getting other stuff done. Do you know why they were on campus? Because they were working. They were getting paid to work. Over the summer break.
This might sound normal to you. But for readers outside the US, you might not realize that this is not the status quo in US universities. By default, faculty at US universities are employed for nine months. Or maybe ten months.