October 05, 2009

Tenure, and touching lives

Last Tuesday, at 11am, the President of Knox College ("Roger") came to my office and notified me that he would not be recommending me for tenure. The reason given was, by design, vague, but he cited problems with my scholarship; the objections thereto might have been his own or they might have come from the Dean or from some or all of the Faculty Personnel Committee, but (again by design, and for basically good reasons) they will not say specifically who objected, nor would I ask. I have since pieced together that the key problem was that they felt my publications do not sufficiently demonstrate a scholarly agenda---this is based on interactions of my department chair with the dean, trying to find out more and maybe get someone to change their mind. My department chair also met with the President directly to argue my case, and he responded that he was listening and would think about it (which was more than I would have expected, frankly).

The next and final step in the tenure process is that Roger presents the case to the Board of Trustees and makes his recommendation, which they vote on. There is no reason to expect they will do anything but accept his recommendation, and the recommendation is his to make.

I made a decision right away that I was going to tell people about this result (which is not otherwise announced in the way that a "yes" recommendation would be), rather than simply quietly proceed along and then disappear at the end of the year. Partly because some students and groups need to be able to plan for the future, partly because I'm just not interested in keeping secrets like that. This, it happens, was a great decision.

Not that I think it's going to affect any outcomes, because that's just not how the system is set up, but the basically universal reaction among faculty and students both is not sympathy but shock and anger: people are telling me that Knox is making a mistake in letting me go, and that has really helped me battle the feelings of inadequacy that washed over in the immediate aftermath of the notification.

Actually, it goes even further than that. Among the students, there is an additional reaction of "but nobody asked us", and I discovered over the weekend (when an alum emailed me to inquire about it) that several of the students and alumni had put together a Facebook group to organise a letter-writing campaign to get the President to change his mind. I can't even begin to express how flattered and proud it makes me to know that I've had such an effect on so many students that they would reach out and do this for me, and speak so eloquently on my behalf. I certainly don't dare hope that this will have effect on my tenure, but I'd be lying if I didn't say I'm immensely gratified that they're doing it anyway. As my time at Knox comes unfortunately to an end, these letters to the President tell me quite clearly that my time here has not been wasted.

"[Software] shouldn't spend a lot of time and effort interrupting their work to tell them something has broken and there's nothing they can do about it but click OK. It's not OK." --Robert Hoekman, Jr.

Posted by blahedo at 11:55pm on 5 Oct 2009
Well, I am not surprised that so many are shocked. Posted by lee at 8:44am on 6 Oct 2009
As the wife of a Knox Alum, I can tell you with utmost certainty your time was not wasted. My husband mentions and uses the things he learned from you more frequently than I can count. The day Knox College loses you, will be sad day for them indeed. Posted by Jenn at 10:29am on 6 Oct 2009
I don't know about in your case; however, last night I found flyers lying around DePaul and lo and behold the same thing is happening to one of their faculty who has done tremendous things for the campus and university. There is a facebook group and they are even holding a protest, the faculty I have talked to seems to think this is a great way of going about it, and feel that it will make a difference. The only thing I can hope for is a positive outcome in your case as well. Posted by sis at 12:07pm on 6 Oct 2009
I still can't believe it. You are one of the best teachers I have ever worked with in my entire life, bar none. I left Knox to join the Circus, and now that I'm leaving the Circus to study Cognitive Science, I'm so grateful for the incredible foundation you gave me in logical thinking. I really feel that you changed my life, and I hope you find a school that appreciates your incredible talents. Posted by Molly Nicholas at 12:39pm on 30 Nov 2009
Note: I *do* notice the hilarity inherent in the fact that I thank you for teaching me "logical thinking" and then mention my decision to leave Knox to join the Circus. Clown school, specifically! Posted by Molly Nicholas at 8:57pm on 2 Dec 2009
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