Open Access Tenure: A Climb Yes, But Not Impossible

It is always interesting to get feedback on my blogging, particularly when I’m writing about tenure. What surprises me is how frequently someone says “Oh, I could never do that-that’s just too hard.”

When I started this and throughout my blogging-about-tenure, my goal has not been to scare people off by shining the light on what I’m going through at my university. Yes, it consists of many hoops; yes the stakes are frighteningly high. And I won’t try to lie and say that it’s super-wonderful-Parmesan-goldfish everyday, because you are smarter than that.

And ultimately, I can’t tell you yet whether I think it’s worth it.  Will I, from some future other side, be able to look back and say that being hauled through it was right and as it should be?

Some say yes: it helps us learn the process that other faculty are going through; it usually mandates research requirements that we might otherwise put off; and it gives us seats at tables we might otherwise not be.

Generally I agree, though that first point I argue dumps us squarely back into the service category–thinking about our subject faculty or the all-revered researcher other–rather than on us and what we contribute.

Some say no: we’re in a service profession and we should be focused on that; “good researchers” will always find time/be passionate enough to write; respect doesn’t come from your title.

Generally, I agree with them too–though to the second point, I’ll note that many workplaces don’t allow for writing and research time unless/even if it’s a requirement. Expecting everyone’s priorities to be “and then in my free time I’ll do research and write” is unrealistic.

I have further thoughts about librarianship/service profession/where we align with tenure but I don’t want to get too far off track for this post.

Anyway, my goal isn’t to horrify future coworkers about the experience of tenure track positions or to make it sound like the most miserable experience ever (remind me that I said that about a year from now). I write about this because too often it is entirely opaque. We give candidates our norms: vague documents about achieving excellence–but from outside the academy it is nearly impossible to fully grasp the practical of what “getting tenure at MPOW” means. We say there is a process but don’t have a good way to actually step people through it-particularly during the interview-, so no matter what they end up blindsided a bit. We–the academy we–need to do better about that, but in the short term, you have me blogging.

Beyond that, I am only describing my tenure process at my institution. Every other librarian I’ve spoken to who is going through the tenure process at another institution is going through something different. And that includes within my own sibling university–UIUC has a different process/different weights than what I’m facing. One example: at MPOW, what year you are in is considered a very personal and private thing. This is, I’m told, to allow people privacy if they are granted an extra year on their clock due to health/family/etc issues. However, this can be kind of limiting in terms of offering peer support. Obviously I’m pretty open about where I am in the process both to other librarians and to other faculty.  But to contrast, at Warmaiden’s POW, they have “the 17” –the new tenure track faculty from across disciplines starting at the same time she did are cohorting together openly. (Also, if you’d really like to feel like a slacker, see her recent post on what she’s working on.)

Every university has it’s culture, process, and norms.  Everywhere is different and I would venture that everywhere will be difficult.

Ultimately though, I hope that you will take what I’ve written and see it as a challenge. If you’re applying for a tenure track position, I hope you’ll use what I write to probe into their process during the interview process. Please, know more than I did, and ask for more things than I knew to.  Try to get a junior faculty member or two alone to ask questions. Getting tenure is probably not going to be easy. It’s a long climb and I don’t know yet if the mountain peak view is amazing, but I sincerely hope so and hope you’ll consider climbing too.

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