Someone who is feeling quite grumpy writes:
I am hoping for some advice from you and your readers: I was denied tenure— what should I do?
Some background that might be useful: When I initially went on the job market, I had a fair bit of success and received several offers. I made a list of what I wanted in a job, asked the same set of questions during each campus visit, took notes, and made detailed charts comparing offers. I accepted a position at a SLAC that seemed great and (literally) checked all the boxes. My husband found a job in the same city, and we moved across the country.
I quickly began to suspect that I had made a mistake. Things were so different than promised that I actually dug out the notes I had taken on my campus visit to confirm that my memory wasn’t failing me. Both the department and institution are incredibly dysfunctional. The patriarchy is strong here.
I considered leaving many times. The economy and the academic job market were weak, but I did some (discreet) searches. Once, I was told I would receive an offer, but then the entire position was cancelled. My general plan, though, was to maintain professional connections, develop a long-term research agenda, and eventually leave the craziness behind. I wasn’t incredibly worried about tenure. However, tenure requirements rose dramatically fairly recently.* I scrambled to get more publications out, but turn around in my field can be slow, and I have several papers in the R&R stage.
1. What should I do now? I mean this almost literally. My institution does not offer a terminal year, so I need to figure something out! I can relocate. My husband has a job, so I can remain unemployed for the next year. I’d prefer not to adjunct, since I really should focus on getting ready for the job search. However, I’ve heard it can be difficult to search for academic jobs without an affiliation. I’d ideally like to stay in academia, but I’ve been told a tenure denial can be difficult on the job market. I’m not even sure how to explain it yet. I’m feeling a bit battered and bruised and am tempted to move to some Zika-free tropical island for a year.
2. Should I appeal? I wonder if anyone has any experience with this?
3. How do I deal with feelings of regret— regret that I didn’t take another job, regret that I didn’t leave earlier, regret that I’ve been working really hard at this job for years for no purpose, etc., etc., ?
Any advice really would be appreciated.
Congrats on the R&Rs! If everything lands soon that will put you in a good position to go on the market. Definitely revise and send those back out if you’re still holding on to them. (#2 says: Get those R&Rs out ASAP. That will help you in the future. Do this right away. A tenure denial per se may not hurt you on the job market that much, but a lack of publication certainly will. But R&Rs are a great step! Congrats on getting those decisions. Now revise until they say yes.)
1. That is bizarre about not offering a terminal year. We agree that you should try to get affiliation somewhere, but disagree about whether or not that affiliation should come with adjuncting. #2 thinks adjuncting a class or two to get the affiliation is fine. #1 thinks you should not adjunct if you can afford not to and to spend that additional time researching or job hunting. She suggests to see if you can keep your current affiliation for a year (no strings) or to find an affiliation elsewhere. Many places will be happy to give you an unpaid official position that allows them to put you on their website and allows you to use their letterhead, and possibly library, but not much else.
Additionally, if you are movable, the temporary (but non-adjunct) job market isn’t over yet. You may still be able to aim for a visiting professor position for a year… we sometimes hire for emergency temporary positions in the summer which come with full benefits and a reasonable salary. Or, depending on your field, you can also look for post-doc positions depending on your field. These types of jobs often target people right out of the market who didn’t land a TT job, but if you can find out about them and you’re able to move, you may be in a very strong position for such positions. If you are going to be teaching, aim for someplace more prestigious than your current institution if you can.
2. #1 and #2 are in complete agreement on this item. The job sounds like it sucks horribly. If you appeal and get the job, would you want to keep it? It doesn’t sound worth the hassle of an appeal. However, there are some things to think about, like your other job opportunities, your husband’s other job opportunities, etc. If you’re in a case where you’re kind of stuck where you are and there aren’t other job opportunities then an appeal might be worth it. If you have more flexibility, spending the year waiting for things to land and publishing new stuff sounds like a better idea. #2 notes: don’t appeal. This is a blessing in disguise. Read stories from people who were denied tenure and later became successful either at another school or in another career. There are many better places to work (both inside and outside of academia). Remember academia is just a job, and you can get another one. #1 notes that she does have a friend who did a successful appeal– zie had a bunch of R&R stuff that landed during her extra year and suddenly was a hot commodity on the market (we tried to lure hir away ourselves). But hir case was different– zie’d had some bad luck with publication timing (and lack of early mentoring) and pretty much all of the papers that should have been published while tenure track landed at the same time when it was too late. There wasn’t a problem with the department, just bad luck, and everyone was happy about the appeal which succeeded. (Query: Would appealing extend your affiliation without forcing you to teach?)
3. #1 says: Sunk cost. And, of course, you’ve learned a lot of things since taking this job, you’ve made a difference in people’s lives, etc. etc. etc. There is no optimal decision and in any case, you can’t change the past, you can only look at where you are now and go forward. It sucks, but now you’re going to end up in a better situation. This is an opportunity and somehow the universe has decided you’re not allowed to be miserable at this horrible school all your life. It made the choice for you so you didn’t have to. #2 says: Try a counselor. I bet you have lots of feels right now. At the very least, cultivate your friends and share what you can with them. Ask for whatever support you need from them. Non-academics might not know what a big deal this is, but if your support system sees that you are in distress, then hopefully they’ll mobilize around you.
Start saving up now and think about how not to get into debt. Read your money or your life.
Think hard about what you want in a career and what your other opportunities are. If your uni has a career counseling service, you can visit it– they don’t usually limit themselves to helping students. Even better is talking to career counseling at your own grad and undergrad schools, especially if they have more resources. Are there other parts of the country you’d like to live in? Are there non-academic positions that would be of interest?
TALK TO PEOPLE. Update your linked in profile, make sure all your work is on REPEC and you have a google scholar page, etc. Email your grad school professors. Talk to friends from grad school and who you’ve met at conferences or who like your work. Email your papers to scholars whose work you cite. Hook up with alumni groups virtually and in person. Network like crazy.
Also: Tenure denial does not have to be a negative signal on the job market. Tenure denial means that you’re not just playing for a salary increase and you’re not wasting anybody’s time. It means you are going to move. It means you’re willing to start as an assistant prof (unless you’re denied tenure at say, Harvard), so they don’t have to take as much of a risk on you.
When on the market, talk about how the department’s expectations changed, not in terms of more vs. less research but in terms of the emphasis placed on research vs. teaching/students/service (you weren’t not publishing, you were excelling in things that no longer counted) and as soon as you got the memo, you made the switch (while still being an excellent teacher/colleague) which is evidenced by your hefty pipeline, but you didn’t get the memo in time to help your case given some bad luck in timing (hopefully now resolved and resulting in publications). Also you talk about what draws you to the other schools, etc.
But yes, focus on the job market. Do you want to stay in academia? Breathe, reflect, refocus. Work your professional networks as much as you can. Would your husband like to move? It could be an opportunity for both of you to work towards long-term career plans or hopes or experiments.
And here are some links from other places on the internets: https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2014/04/02/essay-how-deal-tenure-rejection
Grumpy nation, do you have any suggestions for our Grumpy colleague? (Also, sorry we had to bump the how to take care of your glasses post, but this seemed timely and important.)