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Jean Madsen

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Tenure’s Dirty Little Secrets

There are so many secrets that occur during the tenure process. Even if you have a stellar record, the key here is not to “piss” any one off. The idea is to stay in the middle where no one has had any negative experiences and you weren’t too brilliant. Overachievers are the first to get the “red” pen and their colleagues plot to find tiny cracks in their intellectual armor. Being humble and “gee shucks I was lucky” are key statements when you have a journal article accepted in a tier 1 journal such as AERJ. Additionally, you must not shout from the rooftops about your glorious accomplishments. The most important thing to remember is not put in your colleagues’ face the amount you were awarded on your latest grant. As your tenured faculty are scrambling to find funds for conferences or you use funds to buy new technology toys which show up in faculty meetings, this is not a good display of downplaying your “stellar” record.

Unfortunately, people are human, so the vote for tenure is not just about your teaching, research, and service. The vote is not only a reflection of the amount of support given to you (extra time, buy outs, etc.), but is a vote on how faculty feel about themselves as well. So they take into account: 1) did you perform better than them when it came to their tenure vote and 2) it is a judgment for accountability and their willingness to help you. On so many levels getting tenured results in all kinds of mind games which your faculty play out daily in their heads. Thus one should continually see tenure as a chess game where you need to be strategic and keep your head down.

About the author

Jean Madsen is Professor of Public School Administration in the Department of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development at Texas A&M University.

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One Response to “Tenure’s Dirty Little Secrets”

  1. The Truth #

    Give me a break, sister. Your comments may indeed reflect the kind of people attracted to “public school administration”: under-educated, under-achieving, envious, back-biting, and conspiratorial.

    I’ve been writing tenure recommendations, chairing departments, and both serving on and leading university-wide tenure review committees for 20 years now at so-called “very selective” institutions, after getting tenure myself. I have heard heated discussions of teaching evaluations. I have heard picky squabbling over the quality of X or Y journal or unreasonable expectations in terms of number of publications. I have seen candidates faulted for shirking student advising or being unwilling to help with talking to prospective students.

    But for, uh, “overachieving”–as in bringing in too much money or publishing too much in good journals or being too good of a teacher? Bull. We barely spend any time on those tenure cases and reserve the bulk of discussion time for the marginal ones.

    02/16/2013 at 11:21 am