What Does Tenure Mean
Posted on February 18 2009
I recenly received the wonderful news that the college I work at had granted me tenure. For most academics like myself, earning tenure is the pinnacle of your career. It is what we dream of while toiling away as graduate students in a dank, windowless research lab (or in my case, a lab encrusted with lizard or possum poop). It is what we strive for as we begin our teaching careers, often spending long hours at night just to be ready to sound coherent in lecture the next day. It is what we worry incessantly about for those few months while our entire professional future is in the hands of a committee of our peers whose task is essentially to decide if we should be able to keep our jobs. Getting tenure is the culmination of a great deal of work, and it is a commitment that the institution that hired you would really like to keep you around.
For me, earning tenure was a lot like having a weight removed that I didn’t really know was there. It has allowed me to feel more comfortable just being myself, though I never realized at the time just how much influence not having tenure bears on your daily decision-making processes. There is often debate about the merits of tenure, and whether it makes college professors less likely to put forth maximum effort in their scholarly and academic pursuits, but I for one am convinced that it has made me a much better teacher. I have never been as comfortable in the classroom as I have been in the first few weeks of this semester, and I think a lot of it has to do with the job security I have earned. I love my job, and now I don’t have to worry as much about potentially losing it. The freedom that it provides is incredibly liberating.
Although earning tenure has provided a wonderful release of stress, in some ways it’s also caused me to undergo something of an academic mid-life crisis. I catch myself thinking every now and then that I am in all probability going to be doing exactly what I’m doing now for the next 30-40 years. Can I really fathom dissecting cats twice a year for that long? This has caused me to get creative, and to try to think of ways to keep the job fresh and exciting. Where does a college professor look when he wants to spice up his career? For me, I went back to the beginning and considered what is being done at my kids’ preschool. The teachers at their school follow a fairly unstructured teaching philosophy of allowing the children to pursue their interests at any given moment (with guidance of course), and I’ve decided to let this philosophy begin to guide me in my career as a college professor. I am at my best when I’m teaching my interests, and students are at their best when they’re interested in what they’re learning. Given this, I’ve now decided to try to mesh my professional area of expertise (anatomy) with my personal passion for running by proposing to teach a course in Exercise Physiology. Who knows where this will take me, but at least for now I can’t wait to embark on the rest of my academic life.