5 Oct 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 | Comments (5)