Monday, July 11, 2005
Thank you, "Ivan Tribble," whoever you are, for reminding me why choosing not to pursue an academic career was one of the best decisions I ever made. Thank you, "Ivan Tribble," for personifying the petty tyranny that I am newly grateful to have avoided. Thank you, "Ivan Tribble," for confirming that I was right to spend the past seven years working, traveling, and writing rather than leaping through hoops to please fickle and cowardly hiring committees. Thank you, "Ivan Tribble," for showing that there are few rewards, spiritual or otherwise, in scholarship and pseudo-collegiality predicated on the fearful question, Gosh, what if some fool expresses his personal opinion?The Chronicle piece is a classic "precautionary principle" example: Someone who blogs some day might say something bad, so you don't want to hire them. Dan Drezner shows how slippery that slope is.
That said, I am a little, well, apprehensive about Douglas Bass, a frequent reader and commenter here, chronicling his denial of tenure on his blog. It is a remarkably honest assessment of his activities and what probably got him into trouble with the tenure committee. If someone Googles his blog later when he applies for another job, at least he got the story out there on his terms, but it doesn't read with the same force and direction that it would had he written it in his application letter for another post ... and I would appreciate the honesty of someone sending me an app letter saying "yes, I got turned down for tenure, here's why" rather than having to find that out for myself. "Ivan Tribble" might not like it so much.
Timothy Burke leaves a comment I agree with, that if Douglas' family is adamant about moving from the Twin Cities -- a feeling I can certainly understand, given his family size -- it's going to be hard to stay in academia. Erin O'Connor has an open discussion of the situation as well, but the discussion there seems to be more about what lead to his denial of tenure rather than where to go from here. A few comments:
- I for one do not put great stock in student evaluations. The majority of students may be pleased but say little, while the kid getting the B- is verbously pissy. Douglas is at a graduate program too, where evals tend to be lower anyway because all grad students are legends in their own minds. I would have wanted to see peer evaluations and some assessment tools. If you don't have those yet, get them this term.
- Get a recommendation from the dean. S/he can put tenure denial in context, and again it's a matter of being upfront. Departments like mine, in a state university, sometimes need a story to take a chance on someone denied tenure at a different school. We've had success hiring from that situation, but it came from knowing the story and accepting that the denial was due to special factors not applicable to our case.
- It's not likely that Douglas can move up to an institution better than St. Thomas. He needs to move laterally or down if he's to stay in academia. (Douglas, I have a list in mind if you haven't got one yet. Send email.)