Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Off the Tenure Track: Freedom vs Security?

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In the last #moocmooc Critical Pedagogy hangout, when Jesse Stommel introduced himself, he mentioned how he might never get tenure coz he’d been told to wait until he became tenured to start doing risky things; he being a non-traditional scholar, and a critical pedagogue, I don’t think he’d have been able to stay within whatever “norms” his university or department set anyway… But that’s another story.

So when I came to introduce myself, I said that I was not tenure-track so no one really cared what my scholarship looked like, except it kept being called “research-like” because it was not done in the traditional ways of either large-scale research studies, or published in traditional closed access double-blind peer-reviewed journals (though some of it is, actually, and regretably so).

Kris Shaffer gave a talk y/day on public scholarship (love his slides and the tweeting that happened around them). It is the kind of talk I would love to share with people at my institution and probably will, because it highlight the benefits of public scholarship for anyone, even people who want to do traditional research.

I found myself thinking of something almost obvious… That in order to get tenure, people need to conform to some degree. Those of us who do not conform, or do not HAVE to conform, don’t have the same job security as someone who could eventually get tenure. They don’t have to renew my contract. And therefore I have been threatened by people who have power on campus for some of my dissenting practices that relate to social justice, outside of actual scholarship. They also don’t have to take me, or my scholarship, too seriously; I’m not tenure-track or tenured, so who cares? Most non-tenure faculty don’t even have full-time jobs with medical and social insurance – they are adjuncts. Some people on campus don’t teach or do research and are labeled “staff” and they’re not treated in the same way as faculty. So much hierarchy, so much power play going on.

And this seems like more freedom, not to be tenure track, since those people can focus on their teaching or research they’re interested in, rather than conform. Right? Or they can focus on their families and give less time to academia. But what about financial stability and the hope that one day they will get a tenure-track job? Or the possibility that an adjunct might not have an income next year, or a non-tenured person might not get renewal? I took a non-tenure track job because it made more sense for me at the time, family-wise, not to have to kill myself doing research and compete to get tenure, and I would have had to find a job split between two departments which would have been really difficult to juggle. I almost don’t think of a tenure-track job as something to aspire to in my future… To keep some of my freedom. But it’s not that simple, is it?

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