The moment at which I began to question this guy's credibility was when he described his own personal Doom and Gloom during the tenure process. He writes, in the third paragraph, that while he had very pleasant circumstances surrounding his bid for tenure, that it was (boohoo) "without joy." He then goes on to describe those "pleasant circumstances," and concludes with the following:
"Thanks to the efforts of the office staff, my graduate assistant, and my wife, I had to do very little work in assembling my tenure file."Ok, my first response to this sentence was utterly without value [insert expletives here]. See, he was dejected because, with all of that support and smooth-sailing he "felt no exhilaration" upon being awarded tenure. (One might ask whether he should since he didn't really put his application together, but I'm not going to be that petty.)
Now, I don't know when this guy got tenure, but who does he think he's kidding? Does he really think that his experience above is the norm? Apparently, yes, for he writes toward the end of the column,
"Consider a relatively minor bump on the tenure path: the task of putting together your tenure application. Sure, that can be time-consuming. But an obvious solution is to assemble your materials each year. A little upfront work can spare you lots of last-minute paper shuffling as you try to track down six years' worth of teaching evaluations. Ask for secretarial help from your department." (Italics mine)On the one hand, he is right. Assembling one's materials once a year does mean that you won't freak out at the end. But on the other, why do I know this? Because my institution requires that we submit them for review each and every fall. Every single tenure-track person must do this, regardless of whether they're going up. And every year the binder goes all the way up the chain of command, and every year you get feedback about how to make your binder (not your application, but your fucking BINDER) more spiffy. Because apparently one needs a Ph.D. in scrap-booking as well as in one's field of specialty in order to get tenure where I work. Since I've been in this job, there have been no fewer than seven people on the tenure-track each year in my department alone. If somebody can explain to me how our two department administrative assistants (who do a fuck of a lot more than secretarial work, incidentally) would be able to "help" with all of those materials, I'd be interested to hear about it. I'd also love to see the looks on their faces if anybody were to be such an entitled, privileged asshole as to burden them with the request. And did I mention that I do not have graduate assistants? And that even if I did, I think it would be wrong to ask them to put together my tenure application? And did I mention that I also don't have a fucking wife, and that if I did (or have a spouse at any rate), I certainly wouldn't expect them to put my tenure shit together for me because GOD ALMIGHTY IT IS THE 21ST CENTURY AND IDEALLY ANY SPOUSE WOULD HAVE THEIR OWN LIFE AND INTERESTS THAT EXTENDED BEYOND MY BID FOR TENURE?
Look, I don't know this dude, nor do I think that he had any sort of a clue how these comments would be perceived by a person at a regional university with little administrative support, a 4/4 teaching load, and ever-increasing demands for service and publication. Nor do I think he possibly could have anticipated that I read his column during a "break" from the final tweaking of the book manuscript, at the end of a grueling semester where, yes, I've got a course release, which means I'm teaching "only" three classes (and three different preps, one of them a new prep, and again, with no teaching assistants or graders), a book that I've managed to see through the revision and publication process with no sabbatical (or possibility for one before tenure). So yes, I'm bringing my own shit to this.
But let's put my own shit aside for a moment. I suspect that the table of "unhappy assistant professors" with which he sat at a faculty reception and which inspired his column probably have their own shit with which they're dealing, shit that does not resemble David D. Perlmutter's own idyllic tenure bid. You know, sometimes people have good reasons for being unhappy, and it's not just that we need to "celebrate" the achievement of tenure with more pomp and circumstance or that people need to adjust their attitudes.
I mean, sure, it would be nice if achieving tenure did feel like more of a, well, achievement. And yes, it would also be nice if the process itself were more transparent, and if the work that we do on the tenure track received more acknowledgment. But come on. Sometimes when people are unhappy with their lot, they've got really legitimate reasons for being unhappy. And putting on a happy face doesn't necessarily constitute a reasonable or good response to a system that is at best difficult and at worst oppressive and exploitative.
So what do I wish? Well, two things. First, I wish that people who received tenure more than 10 years ago would actually talk to their junior colleagues about how their junior colleagues perceive their situations and the process rather than assuming that their junior colleagues' experiences are identical to their own. Second, I wish that the Chronicle of Higher Education would pay attention to the fact that their First Person Columns rarely, if ever, speak to the experience of anybody I know and respect in this profession.
*I should note that many of the things that Perlmutter writes do not entirely enrage me and I even agreed with him at points, but those points of agreement were overshadowed by the things that did enrage me. And so, I really do recommend that you read the whole column, as it's not without value.