Saturday, February 03, 2007

Tick Tick Tick

I came in for some blog-criticism last week for not telling my junior colleague that the Distinguished Scientist he'd hosted as a visitor to our department was rude and disrepectful, to put it kindly. Fair enough. Part of my motivation in keeping quiet was not to stress out a young colleague already stressed about getting tenure. I agree that whether this was a good reason or not is debatable.

In thinking about this, I realized that the kindness senior faculty in my department show to the Assistant Professors is one of the things I like about my department. There were a number of senior faculty who were very supportive and kind when I was an Assistant Professor, and I appreciated that immensely. I have a tenure-track colleague in another department at my university who has senior colleagues who will, upon encountering her in the hall, say things like "Tick tick tick! Is that your tenure clock I hear?", then they will quiz her on her productivity, and not in a kind and interested way.

In that department, tenure-track faculty are voted on every year starting in the 3rd year as to whether their appointment should continue. Our department is about to adopt this policy as well for the first time. I have mixed feelings about it. At my previous university, I had a major evaluation in the 3rd year, and that was fine with me. We don't even do that in my current department, just a yearly review that everyone goes through by a department committee.

In this other department that has the yearly votes, there are some faculty who automatically vote no for all tenure-track faculty. The ostensible reason is that they don't think anyone should take tenure for granted, and having a few no votes keeps the youngsters on their toes. My colleague says she and her fellow Assistant Professors try to keep this in mind, but it is still depressing to know that some of their colleagues think they should be booted out even before the tenure review. I think that I rather prefer our current system in which all faculty, tenured and untenured, are reviewed every year by a department committee, and each faculty meets annually with the chair to discuss any issues that need discussing. If there are problems, these are recorded and a plan is constructed to help achieve whatever goal needs achieving (e.g. improvement in teaching, submission of more grant proposals). I like that it is constructive rather than unecessarily stressful. I am in the minority on this one, though, and starting next year we will do the pre-tenure voting method of evaluation.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

"... hey don't think anyone should take tenure for granted, and having a few no votes keeps the youngsters on their toes."

Do they have post-tenure review in that department? With TEETH? Because I think, some tenured professors should be treatened with dismissal to keep them on their toes.

Mr. B. said...

Tick, tick, tick, indeed.

It is pretty disgusting what goes on in some universities. Having worked in industry, SLACs, and a research university, I have to say that the Unis breed a sort of FatHead that thinks (s)he can say or do whatever they like without having to worry about retribution let alone decency, respect, or good manners.

Of course you do know that things were even worse in the bad old days. I was told, in my youth, by many chemistry faculty members that women couldn't be chemistry professors. When a few somehow infiltrated BigU (through court order), things like dog shit appearing on a female faculty member's desk happened..

Hopefully this is all a bad dream and things have improved (slowly), but there is still much work to be done in the decency department.

All the best,

Bonzo

gs said...

FSP, your rationale for sparing your junior colleague a reprimand speaks well of you. I hope you don't come to regret this kind of decency, and I hope, and gather, that you can be ruthless when you ought to be.

The kindest thing I can say about the male faculty in the 'other' department is that they are stunted adolescents who think hazing is fun. (If the potential double entendre about a biological clock is deliberate, that is even more beyond the pale.) Worse, the tenured behavior could be a deliberate sadistic abuse of power: the embittered moribund old using every last opportunity to slash at the advancing young. (Might I have ended up like that if I'd stayed in academia? A lifetime job is damned hard to give up even if it's begun to fester and fester and fester... shiver)

...I like that it is constructive rather than unecessarily stressful. I am in the minority on this one, though, and starting next year we will do the pre-tenure voting method of evaluation.

Perhaps more than your gender and personal style is keeping you locked out of a leadership role in your department. A power play could be underway whereby a group aggrandizes itself regardless of the organization's overall welfare and mission.