I began this Ph.D. journey, so that I could never be told I lacked credentials. In this fourth year of my journey, I can’t recall how often professors cajoled, encouraged, and demanded that I choose the faculty. Initially, I turned a deaf ear, because as director of university relations, my salary before graduate school was higher than all of my current professors, save two!
However, by the second year, I was mostly convinced. My faculty had become the kind of mentors that give you enough insight into their lives to make the challenges and perks clear enough to both scare and excite you. It’s scary because you realize that this faculty life is all-consuming. You understand that to do it well it will take all you have—there is never enough time. It’s exciting because you know it will be the challenge of your life! There is always another publication to write (or re-write) and five students that need your attention. Papers must be graded; Jason & Irma need recommendation letters. You have comprehensive exams, proposal hearings, and a third read of your advisee’s dissertation. You have A-2’s to submit, T&P packets to review, and search committee meetings to attend. The deadlines for ASHE, AERA, and ICQI proposals come faster each year all while teaching two classes each semester.
Still, something inside of me says, “I can do this! I just know it!” It hardly makes sense to me. Especially because many people have the ridiculous impression that faculty don’t work much. We are bombarded with messages that faculty are lazy, that they don’t care about their students, and that they are tenured, elitist, entitled, liberal fat cats. Then adding insult to injury, Forbes tells the world that a college professor is the least stressful job—less stressful than a tailor or hairstylist. This lack of trust and understanding regarding the professoriate only intensifies my drive to become a highly productive, tenured professor. At 2011 ASHE conference, three African American women who are tenured full professors, shared their challenges and triumphs in the academy. They revealed that 3% of full professors are African American women. Again, I felt fear, but mostly I felt motivated: “How can I not do whatever it takes to become a full professor?”
The academy, especially the public research university, with which I am most interested and concerned, is in a precarious position. There are forces at work (both market and political) that threaten its mission and very existence. This uncertainty will make tenure even more important. Tenure means that faculty are fully vested and empowered. Junior and adjunct faculty have an important role, but they lack power and have no real voice. I am willing to brave the culture to discover the formal and informal networks, learn the written and unwritten rules, and juggle teaching, research, and service to achieve success on the tenure track. For me, tenure represents a kind of belonging, an arrival that an outsider-within, like me, needs to make this choice worthwhile. I have learned that nobody becomes a professor for the salary. We become professors to have influence, to make a difference, to join a community where we can demonstrate our scholarship, and become respected as important citizens within our disciplines and institutions. Keeping my eye on the prize that is tenure is critical, so that I can sit on that panel to demonstrate to other Black women that they can do it too! It is not enough to say that there should be more of us.
About the author
Tyra M. Metoyer is a Ph.D. candidate at Texas A&M University and is in the process of writing her dissertation. Her goal is to enter academia as a faculty member.