01 September 2008

Now part of the problem

I got tenure.

As of 1 September 2008, I am a tenured associate professor, not a lowly assistant professor.

I haven't been blogging about my tenure process because it was, to put it charitably, not smooth. Normally, people here get tenure after six years. I've been here seven.

So, what happened? In some senses, I'm still not sure. The facts are these.

Every fall from 2002 onward, I submitted my tenure folders. The responses gave no hint of any problem. There were occasional notes about being encouraged to seek external funding, which I'd been doing anyway.

In fall 2006, I went up for tenure... and things went odd. My evaluations gave me excellent rating in teaching, very good in service, and good in research. Now, if you were told your ratings in your three major job areas were excellent, very good, and good, would you think that there was a problem? If any of those had been ranked "poor," I could see the point. Heck, even if any of those had been ranked "fair," I could see the point.

From one level of review, I got a recommendation to stay on tenure track for one more year.

Another level of the review process initially recommended I get fired outright. That was a bit of a surprise.

Worse than the recommendation itself was the actual justification for the recommendation. It basically said, "He's done a lot. But it's not enough." That's not a direct quote, but that's closer to it than you might think.

Imagine if you, as a student, were in a class, and you were told, "Okay, if you get a score of 50% or less, you will definitely fail."

You ask, "What if I get a score of 60%? Will I pass?" And you get told, "Maybe."

"How about 70%? 80%? 98.6%? Will I pass the class with those scores?"

"We want you to get as high a score as you can."

"But will I pass the class?"

"You might do."

Do you think a student would stand for that kind of evaluation scheme? Never. Any instructor who tried that would be in hot water real fast. But that's the evaluation scheme I was placed under for tenure. A situation where someone can just say, "Not enough." To mix metaphors, this isn't moving the goalposts, it's making the goalposts invisible.

At the time, I was serving in the faculty senate, and apparently there were other recommendations like this in the university. Which surprised me more, but in some sense, made me feel better because I wasn't the only one getting this kind of treatment.

Fortunately, that review came in around the time I got my first external grant. With new information that I was bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars to the university, I was able to successfully appeal that recommendation.

I met with a lot of people and had a lot of discussions with people, and those outside the situation looking in had a similar reaction to me, which might be characterized as, "Wha...?" I was seriously thinking I might have to lawyer up.

Anyway, the end result is that I stay on tenure track one more year. In fall 2007, I go up again. This time, things go without a problem. I get various recommendations in my favour, but after last year, I counted on nothing until it was a done deal.

Now it finally is a done deal. While many people have been congratulating me, I feel no sense of accomplishment. The evaluation process drained me of any sense of achievement.

I'm never going to stop being mad about this.

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