Archive for: August, 2013

Blather for today

Aug 29 2013 Published by under Careers, Life

People in the intertubes talk a lot about "contacting their PO", "catching up with their PO at meetings", "talking to their PO about reviews of recent proposal", etc.

There is a big problem with all that.

PO is singular.

Comments are off for this post

Rules for tenure?

Aug 15 2013 Published by under Careers, Life

*cough* *cough* Man it got dusty around here. Where's that feather duster?

Right, now things are cleaned up a little, what did I come back here to do? Oh yeah...

The other night there was a scintillating discussion covering that nebulous mythical thing called "work-life balance" over at Pub-Style Science. Go watch. I can wait.

Dum de dum de dum dum dum...

Watched it? Good.

As noted by ProfLikeSubstance and DrugMonkey, a particularly insightful comment was made by Michael Tomasson about each spouse having to shoulder 75% of the effort at home to make things work.

That's not what I want to talk about here.

I want to address something DrugMonkey commented on:

One commenter proposed hard and fast production rules for tenure--sounds good on the surface, not sure how to get theah from heah.

Yeah. No. Ain't gonna happen. Never. Ever. No way. No how.

At least not in my humble opinion.

The intertubes are replete with TT faculty and TT wannabes wanting to know what the rules are for tenure or why there typically aren't any hard and fast rules.* Ever stopped to wonder why that is? Why do many institutions keep junior faculty in the dark, providing only vague notions about number and quality of publications, amount of extramural funding, teaching quality and service?

The cynic would reply, "Obviously to cover their butts stupid."

'Tis true. That is a part of it. By keeping the "rules" unpublished institutions certainly can wield them in ways that benefit the institution.** We've all heard apocryphal apocalyptic tales of people being denied tenure despite having stellar packets. I'm sure it happens, but typically we only hear one side of each of those stories so there's little point in commenting on them. In each case though, the institution (and/or it's representatives involved in the T&P process) have decided that it's in their best interest not to award tenure.

I used to think that was pretty much it. Now I'm older, grayer and not quite so cynical about the inner working of academic institutions I can see there's a bit more to it.

It's all about flexibility. Yeah, I know that's not usually a word you see associated with academic institutions. But there it is. Not having hard and fast rules may be perplexing to those on the TT, and does give institutions the ability to screw over whoever they deem "not worthy", but it also protects...

...those on the TT.

This flexibility allows senior faculty, who strongly believe a marginal candidate is on the verge of hitting it big, to argue they should be given tenure. I've seen it happen. Or to argue someone who is highly disruptive and/or a truly lousy teacher should not, despite having the requisite number of publications and extramural funds. Hard and fast rules would screw over the former (imagine being just one publication short...) and potentially screw over the department in the latter case.

It also allows P&T committees the ability to take into account the current lousy funding situation. Granted, I'm not aware of any that have started to do that as yet, but that's not a result of there being hard and fast standards they MUST apply. It's more to do with uncertainty in how to deal with the situation.*** So this is something that is painfully slow to change. But at least the possibility is there given the rules are not formally codified.

But, you say, rules can be changed!


Ever paid much attention to the process of getting academic regulations changed? Your average dead garden snail is faster. And the contention that would result...

In fact that's another huge reason for not codifying tenure rules. Can you even begin to imagine the process? Remember, what it takes for you to get tenure in your field is very unlike what is require in art history. Or English. Or engineering. Or computer science. Want to get some idea of just how that process may go? Go sit in on a meeting of your faculty senate or whatever the faculty governing body at your institution is called.

Yeah. Ain't. Gonna. Happen.

Nor should it.

* My old posts on how many papers you need for tenure garner more hits than most my other posts combined.
** That's not necessarily a bad thing by the way.
*** Which Nostradamus can accurately predict that someone who came up for tenure without extramural funding will soon hit it big? I'm in a medical school so arguments that stellar teaching should outweigh lack of funding won't fly unless there's a very major shift in culture. Let's try to stay realistic.

12 responses so far