Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

The Tenure Labyrinth

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

The Tenure Labyrinth

Article excerpt

THE LAST WORD: The Tenure Labyrinth

My first academic job interview resulted in a job offer. My doctorate is in American Studies, but the job offer was in Afro-American Studies. Because I am actually interested in Afro-American Studies, this was not a great hardship for me. However, a light did go on in my head. I remembered hearing -- more than once -- that for Black scholars, all roads tend to lead to Black Studies.

Because there are so few actual departments of Afro-American Studies, job appointments tend to be "joint" appointments -which means at least twice as many professional obligations as faculty members hired by one department. It also means that tenure, which is granted by a department and not a program, has just become exponentially more difficult to achieve.

Many junior faculty members have no idea what is involved in attaining tenure since mentors may gloss over the obstacles that most of us will face. Thus, we emerge from the challenges of graduate school triumphant and ready to embark upon our new careers as scholars. The tenure track is a surprise -- like a sudden splash of cold water.

Even so-called seasoned academics sometimes pursue what might seem to be rather bizarre strategies for obtaining tenure. Those strategies include: negotiating with, or even accepting an offer from, a competing institution in order to hasten the tenure process at one's own college or university; writing a "cross-over" book, because despite the disdain that academics profess for the masses of "lay" readers, a spot on the "Today" show (or even C-Span's "Booknotes") would be duly recognized and rewarded; or reincarnation as a "public" intellectual, because, as previously mentioned, a spot as a panelist on a show like the PBS Lehrer NewsHour gets recognition.

Exactly what are the requirements for tenure? First and foremost, of course, is the Ph.D.

The next most important requirement is publication. This may include, though not necessarily, publication of a revised doctoral dissertation. And publications should be restricted to one's narrowly prescribed niche, which is determined by the dissertation -- ruling out most work that is truly interdisciplinary (remember those joint appointments?) or original and iconoclastic. The current constriction of the university presses and their markets, however, has a negative impact on the possibility of doing this.

After a book, the most respected publications are articles for academic journals, most of which are cranked out specifically for tenure review reports and are so dense and dull as to be unreadable. …

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