The rhetoric and process of tenure

I am processing many feelings as I reflect on the journey that has taken me from a fresh PhD graduate status to my recent achievement of a milestone known as “tenure” in academia. It’s only appropriate for me to begin with a sense of gratitude. Thank you a great lot to all the well-wishers on Facebook and Twitter who reacted to my announcement today. I am overwhelmed. I am overjoyed. Most of all, I am thankful for a network of support and care. (Yes, you, I am looking at all of you.)

I must admit that I’m still learning about the quirks and hidden knowledge about being an academic. While in grad school I’ve learned the concepts and theories that would make me a sufficient knowledge profess-er; but ever since my actual employment as a member of an institution of higher learning, I have gained nuances about the rhetoric (the narratives, the emotions, the politics) and the process it takes to accomplish various statuses in an academic workplace.

Academia works in mysterious and eccentric ways. Understandably, a lot of my friends and people in my life circles have little insights about what it means to receive tenure. I was just telling some of my CrossFit people about the news this evening and a friend responded with something to the effect of, “Well, that (tenure) is just normal because they need teachers here.” Well, yes, but no.

Within the North American academic tradition, tenure is, by definition (from the AAUP), “an indefinite appointment that can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances such as financial exigency and program discontinuation.” That description is a pragmatic one. It highlights the “extraordinary” conditions in which termination of employment is possible. Elsewhere, regulation has it that tenure protects academic freedom and gives tenured individuals the rights to due process should conflicts occur (AFT).

This is all to say that I could enjoy job security as long as I abide by institutional and federal regulations.

But there is more. Tenure grants me access to processes that are typically only available to the “higher ups.” It also requires me to make decisions about and with my peers. When it comes to annual faculty appraisals or reviews, tenured folks are responsible for writing recommendations for pre-tenure colleagues.

Additionally, depending on institutional structures, tenure tends to lead to administrative leadership. Since universities and departments aim to reduce service requirements for pre-tenure faculty, these responsibilities usually land on tenured people. So, naturally, with tenure comes more duty. It can also mean taking time away from teaching.

Now, having sketched some rhetorical components of tenure, I would––for the purpose of showing grad students in the field some transparency––what it took to apply for tenure. Below is a timeline I followed. And for clarity, here are the acronyms and personnel roles:

— T&P: Tenure and promotion
— Chair: Department chairperson (my boss/supervisor)
— External reviewers: People with expertise in the field who aren’t associated with my university
— Dossier: A complete package of my research, teaching, and service artifacts
— Assoc. Dean: The college associate dean who is responsible for faculty affairs
— Dean: My immediate boss
— Provost: My ultimate boss
— President: My institution boss
— Regents: People who decide the fates of the university (and its system)

Due DateActionsStatus
2022 MayConfirm external reviewers (5-6 people); form T&P committee at dept. level.Done. 4/26 – Chair and dept. T&P committee formed. 
2022 JuneT&P dossier due to external reviewers (6).Sent OneDrive link to T&P committee chair on 5/17; got 6 reviewers confirmed 5/26.
2022 August / SeptemberExternal reviewers provide letters; dossier due to Chair and T&P committee Aug 26; Dossier made available to tenured faculty Sept 19. T&P committee adds report.Sent OneDrive link to Chair 8/26. 6 letters received by 8/30.  Received dept. T&P committee report 9/19. Received chair’s ranking of publications 9/21.
2022 October (Dept)Tenured faculty meet to discuss candidates Oct 3; faculty adds ballots & comments by Oct 10; Chair adds letter. Received email from chair regarding unanimous vote by TCR faculty in support of T&P 10/10. Receive chair’s letter and unsigned ballot comments 10/20.
2022 October / November (Dean)Complete dossier due to Assoc. Dean the 3rd Friday of Oct (10/21); College T&P committee + Dean adds letter.Dossier submitted to dean’s office via form 10/21. Assoc. Dean sent a brief message that things are good 11/16. Received supportive letter from Dean 11/18. 
2022 November (Provost & President)Dossier goes to the Provost’s office by Thanksgiving.Dossier sent by Dean to the Provost’s office 11/18. Assoc. Dean said the provost’s committee should review the dossier in January. 
2023 February (Regents)Regents meeting and approval.Agenda posted to TTU Regents website 2/19. Regents met on 2/23 and approved agenda.

I don’t really know what I want to make of this post, but clarity is what I had hoped for. I know that every institution and its administration is different from mine, and I do not mean to use my experience as a blanket narrative for all.

What I hope to show here, however, is the complexity and hopefully some clarity, as to what we mean and get when we say “tenure.”

I am grateful for all the congratulations and comments I received on the social. And I look forward to sharing more about my experience in the tenured life.

What do you think? Share your thoughts here!

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