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Tenure/Teaching: The Pendulum Swings

A member of the faculty writes in:

Faculty hired 5-7 years ago were told explicitly that a couple of peer-reviewed articles and a book contract with a well-respected academic press was sufficient for tenure. I often used the word “humane” to describe the requirements for tenure, in that they rewarded both scholarship of a high caliber and teaching prowess. Dartmouth had a reputation as a place where work-life balance was valued, and the inconveniences associated with its rural location were offset by the benefits of raising children within a close-knit community.

Professors hired at that time are now coming up for tenure, having been mentored by department members whose curriculum vitae were far less impressive when they initially made associate. Some of my peers were pressured into service commitments that would have no bearing on tenure, and encouraged to take on projects (writing for anthologies and organizing conferences, for example) that would be time-consuming yet not lead to professional advancement. Recent tenure decisions have many members of my cohort scrambling for the exits—going on the market and taking on visiting appointments elsewhere—now that they understand that they were given a false impression of how different aspects of their trajectories would be evaluated.

I hate to say this, but many younger colleagues express regret at having agonized over their lesson plans and expended so much effort on honing their skills as classroom instructors, when a talent for teaching simply does not factor into tenure decisions. Phil Hanlon’s recent remarks on education only confirm what we already know, that Dartmouth is moving toward a corporate state university model wherein professors are retained for their “productivity”—quantity of publication over quality—and ability to bring in large grants, while underpaid adjuncts teach undergraduates.

The standalone graduate school announced in October cements Dartmouth’s movement in this direction, since teaching experience is mandatory for professionalization, and what are graduate students but an easily exploitable workforce?

I hope readers appreciate this carefully thought through and well expressed opinion. That Phil has tightened up tenure standards is a good thing — we have noted in the past that Jim Wright and his gang often granted tenure for political loyalty and social ties (to people who will be in Hanover for 30+ years stuck at the associate professor level) — but Phil’s search for prestige has gone too far: the word is out there now among tenure-track faculty members that Phil and Carolyn are looking only for prestige and publications, and teaching and mentoring students count for little or nothing.

Beyond that point, when the call goes out for faculty members to become involved in the new house system and in advising students, how do you expect junior faculty to respond? Phil is sending mixed signals here: get involved in the houses, but at tenure time don’t expect any credit for the time that you spend.

What’s a young professor to do?

Addendum: A professor of some wit and no little achievement writes in:

“…a couple of peer-reviewed articles and a book contract with a well-respected academic press was sufficient for tenure.” Seriously? And what do they do in the second year?

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