Suggestions on How to Improve the Tenure Game

Throughout this semester I have thought about the advantages and disadvantages of the current tenure-track system.  I made a concerted effort to learn more about the process. I spoke with professors who were up for tenure–the shift from assistant professor to associate professor. I tuned in each time I heard the topic being discussed by others.  I plundered around the Web to get a sense of what others think about the process.  I have come to the conclusion that many think that the current tenure structure is counter-productive, and its a system that maintains a hierarchical status-quo.  However, many of these same people did not offer of ways to dismantle the system.  This could be partly due to the fact that most of them are a part of the rat race, or have benefited in some way from the system.  Both junior and senior faculty members expressed the more negative points of the tenure process, and the only positive points that I came across were expressed online and in very subtle ways.  Everyone sees the pink Elephant, and they keep offering it food and comforts; no one is challenging the absurd.

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One professor talked about how the tenure-track pressures junior faculty to crank out journal articles, and often times these articles lack in quality.  This then puts additional burden on journal editors to sift through an abundance of poorly constructed manuscripts.  A  major fallout from manuscript grind is that a professor’s teaching might suffer and students’ learning might suffer.  I think there are ways we can change the system, but it will require incremental change. Here are a few steps we can take now:

What Educators Can Do:

  • Talk to their colleagues about the topic; plant seeds.
  • Work with the graduate school to launch a pilot program.
  • Create a body of program and department heads who have a desire to change the system. Let’s call them the Society of Progressive Administrators & Professors (SPAP).
  • The SPAP will have the charge of designing a replacement structure, designing a roll-out strategy for the new structure, and establishing a shared commitment to recruit and retain talent using the new structure.

What Students Can Do:

  • Write op-eds that will provide decision-makers with new ways of thinking.
  • Encourage your chair and the graduate school administrators to consider implementing change.
    • Schedule one-on-one time with your chair and express your concerns.
    • Schedule one-on-one time with the dean of your graduate school and express your concerns.
  • Conduct research on the topic and broadly share the results.
  • Use your professional network to gain support.
    • Ask for support from the professional society for your discipline.
    • Create networks with other students who share your concern.

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