What does tenure mean to me?


In my mind, I’ve drafted a lot of blog posts about how tenure - in short - stinks.

My complaints center on how too few faculty seem to take advantage of the amazing opportunity that tenure represents. I also have, on occasion, resented how tenure is taken advantage of by some in a different way – as a means to being complacent, in so doing allowing graduate students and younger faculty to take on a greater workload.

I have been wanting to say these things will pre-tenure, because post-tenure, I felt like they wouldn’t have as much “bite”: it’s easy to complain to or even about one’s peers when one has a substantial degree of job security! But, I never wrote the post, unless this one, now, counts.

My tenure case will be voted on by the Board of Trustees at my University in a few hours. I am excited, but not really nervous: at this point, my work is reduced to a paragraph board members may - or, maybe more likely! - will not read.

There are benefits to tenure—and many faculty appreciate them. Tenure can allow people to do work that takes awhile or is unpopular, but that is important. For faculty whose livelihoods or even lives could be at risk given the nature of what they do, tenure is indispensable. It lets people take on more service at the university and in the wider field. And faculty who represent groups that aren’t represented in the faculty at their university or discipline, tenure can provide a degree of protection and respect afforded “naturally” to others (including me). When I look at tenured faculty at my university, I often see people with lives outside of work, but also people whose work I admire. People who are smart, different or odd, who are making the university and world better by being in it (yes, as tenured faculty members).

I’m not really sure how to sum up. For me, a takeaway is to recognize the awesome opportunity that the potential of tenure is—not a chance to rest or even to celebrate, but a privilege to try to put to use to make the world a bit better.