Tag Archives: tenure

Turning Over the Table: Failing or Succeeding in the Tenure Process

Navel gazing at the tenure process continues and anxiety can be crippling. The same unfortunate lessons keep coming up, the University will outlive us all.  We can be discarded at any time or for just about any reason, regardless of tenure. The problem is that many tenure post-mortem cases do not seem to accept this reality, we need to go further and speak some honest truths about the process and the institutions we work for.  2015-10-06-1444167615-5163152-20140824fallingshort

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Women Shouldn’t Need Different Guidelines for Achieving Tenure (And Other Observations on Gendered Academe)

*while Foreign Policy editors expressed initial interest in this post, a long-delayed response time to its actual draft suggests to me that such interest has faded, though I cannot imagine why. I’ve decided to self-publish it here on RI. 

Recently, Foreign Policy contributor Stephen Walt published an article on how to get tenure in political science, and Erica Chenoweth, Page Fortna, Sara Mitchell, Burcu Savun, Jessica Weeks, and Kathleen Cunningham responded with an article on the different experiences women have when they go through the process of seeking tenure. Both pieces are, in some ways, spot-on. As Chenoweth et al note, Walt’s points are reasonable, but “the likely effect of his recommended strategies would be drastically different” for men and for women.

Chenoweth et al correctly identify the source of that difference – that “processes may be biased against women, often due to implicit bias rather than conscious discrimination.” They then make a very strong case that implicit bias affects almost every facet of the tenure process, from letters of recommendations to research expectations, from hiring committees to the probability of citation, from publication opportunities to syllabus assignments, from teaching evaluations to service expectations. They also correctly point out that there are different behavioral expectations of women in the field than there are for men.

The authors then go on to give women junior faculty a number of survival tips for the tenure process: get what you need at work, get what you need at home, create time, set boundaries with others, filter commentary and criticism, network, and get your work out there. All of these (if they are realistic) are excellent pieces of advice for navigating the gendered nature of the tenure process. And Chenoweth et al do not leave it entirely to women to navigate the process: the last two paragraphs of the piece talk about advice for allies to make sure that they are aware of, and not complicit in, the gendered dynamics of the discipline.

One the one hand, this advice is solid – after all, to an extent  we all navigate the existing system individually. On the other hand, from a feminist perspective, I have two serious concerns about the advice provided. First, I am concerned that providing advice for navigating the gendered system of achieving tenure without strategizing to change the system as a whole puts the primary responsibility for overcoming bias on the victims of the bias. Second, I am concerned that a significant number of the strategies provided are only available to a small percentage of those who might seek professional success as political science faculty, narrowing the spectrum of those to whom tenure might be available.

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Do You Ever Feel Afraid? And Other Questions about Failure

I was a guest in an undergraduate class this week, and the students got to ask me questions, both about my work and about how I do my job. I received a number of questions, but one student’s question made me think twice.  The student asked if I’m ever overwhelmed by the process of writing, and just do not want to do it anymore.

And I thought – almost everyday I’m writing. I mean, some days, the writing works and flows. Other days, its 1am and I’m still plugging away at the to-do list or writing quota. Some of those days, its because there’s too much to do or life just gets in the way. But other days, its because there’s some time that I spend in a sense of fear or paralysis about something that I’m probably perfectly capable of writing.

Many will make jokes that my productivity suggests that doesn’t really get in the way; fine, fair enough. And others will suggest that my professional behavior is overall pretty fearless. Also, fine, fair enough. But perhaps it is because it is not totally debilitating to me that I can talk a little bit about that fear.

When the student asked the question, my first thought was about the recent decision of a Princeton professor to post his CV of failures. I thought about my failures. There are the things like that Princeton professor discusses – schools you did not get in to (ironically, for me, that was Princeton), jobs you did not get (I’ve applied for, by my count, almost 1000 academic jobs in my career. I haven’t gotten 1000), articles that were rejected (one article I wrote was rejected at 7 different journals), grants you didn’t get (ever tried to convince NSF that poststructuralist feminism is science?), teaching fails (I once slipped on four-inch heels in a classroom of 400 students), poor professional decisions (remember when I mentioned the kegstand in the last post?), and the like. But, to me, those failures kind of feel like bumps in the road. I’m not afraid to apply for a job I won’t get, or submit an article that will get rejected or a grant that will not be funded. I know that’s itself a privilege – a lot of people are afraid of that stuff too, and feel a very serious sense of failure around it.

For me, my CV of failures would be more of a narrative. It would tell of all the times that I sat around watching reality TV paralyzed and afraid to write something that if I just applied myself I could have. It would tell of all the emails that I leave in my inbox for like six hours for no reason except an inexplicable fear of typing whatever words I would type in response. It would talk about how I actually hide from the “send” button as I hit it sometimes when I send important or risky things. Not metaphorically hide. Actually hide. It would tell about the six weeks one summer I spent doing nothing productive except assembling jigsaw puzzles upside down while I felt insecure about my work. It would talk about how deeply personally I take personal attacks on me by people who don’t know me except professionally – how all of their accusations literally repeat in my head over and over when I am trying to write something that carries with it any professional risk.

I’m pretty sure I zoned out for ten minutes while this entire thought process went through my head, completely forgetting to answer the student’s question. When I snapped back, though, I tried to answer it honestly – yes, I’m terrified – sometimes more than others, but a lot. And I don’t think I admit that very much. I usually just humbly demure to questions about productivity, and provide professional socialization advice when asked how I accomplish this or that. I don’t know whether it is that scholars as a profession are trained not to show vulnerability or if it is just something I am not used to doing – but I do know that this is a very solitary profession with a lot of vulnerability, yet vulnerability is rarely discussed. So I admitted (and emphasized) that its not about whether you are vulnerable or not – its about how you cope with the vulnerability.

Either the student asked or I imputed a second question – so then what do you do to overcome it? Like no two people’s fears are the same, no two people’s coping strategies are the same. Mine are a set of elaborate incentives. Each day, there is a writing quota – how many words depends on the difficulty of the subject matter. It can always be accomplished, with due diligence and when nothing goes wrong, by 5pm. When that happens, those are the sane days- the ones that are functional. But most of the time it doesn’t happen directly – it gets delayed a bit, or it gets delayed a lot. That’s fear and paralysis as much as it is anything else. So, to force myself over the fear of putting the words on the (figurative) paper, I don’t let myself go to bed until the quota is done. Some days, I am done at 5 and go out for a nice dinner. Some days, its 3am. Those days, I learn – both how to keep my psychological composure in a field that lends itself to constant self-questioning and how to manage my time and overcome my fears more efficiently.

I have a lot of other tricks – small writing-windows (15 minutes at my most scared), a less desirable task set up if I don’t keep writing, accountability schemes, and, of course, the Facebook hive-mind. Some or all of my tactics might work for you; others might not. But I do think it is important to recognize that time management isn’t the only barrier to professional productivity: fear matters too,

And, for those of you who this irony is not lost on, it is 1:24am, this is the second-to-last-thing on my list, and there’s a good chance I’ll need to wait until tomorrow to wake up and send the email I’ve been afraid to send today. Or this week.

Tone Deaf Academics: Post-Tenure Denial Interactions

Many people love APSA (at least until they are sleeping on the lawn because someone decides to find their inner fire bug), but IR folks have a less than cozy relationship with the conference.  Often, our attendance depends on the location.  Many people just don’t like how big the event is, how difficult it is to find colleagues among the masses, how few panels are allocated to IR thus making it tough to get on the program.  For me, the danger with APSA comes from running into people from the past.  Since everyone enjoys a tenure denial train wreck, I will describe an interaction I had that symbolizes the greater field’s inability to be civil, decent, and take responsibility extreme actions like tenure denial votes.  I have always been told don’t burn your bridges, but this advice goes both ways.  Nothing is likely more awkward than asking someone you tried to vote down if they had any positions for you are their new school, a situation I was confronted with and just walked away from – like I did that past job.

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