on pride and tenure

This is an exceptionally busy time of year in academia, with the end of the semester approaching.  For this librarian it means “the end of classes” which means “the end of long open hours” which means “Project Time”.  One of my between-semester projects is to work on my application for continuing appointment — the elusive and demanding Tenure File.  If all goes as expected, by July 1 of 2009 I’ll be a tenured librarian at the Associate Librarian rank, and I’ll be proud of that accomplishment.  I realized when I was in my last position that if I stayed at that institution I could be tenured by 30.  My mind boggled.  Instead, I’ll be tenured at 33.  Still, I boggle.  Grandchild to academics, I know what Tenure meant in their lives.  Tenure meant stability.  Tenure meant accomplishment.  Tenure meant respect.

But what’s it mean for me, really?  On the one hand, it means I’ve met the criteria established by The Powers That Be at my institution for becoming a lifetime member of our faculty.  It means I’ve accomplished enough work and produced enough scholarship to warrant being kept on indefinitely.  It means I’m a valued member of our campus team who is being honored with a mark of rank and status commensurate to those accomplishments.  More bluntly, it means I can’t be fired. Easily.

For a librarian, I’m not sure what it means.  For our classroom faculty, there’s a culture of tenure and scholarship that defines their work in a particular way.  I often feel that librarians are shoehorned into that structure, but that it doesn’t ever fit quite comfortably.  My scholarship activities, while valuable to the profession and interesting to my colleagues, are not the same kind of research or style of writing done by my faculty peers in the Biology or History departments, but we will achieve the same rank as a result of our efforts.  My daily work bears no resemblance to the work done by my peers in the English department or Music school, yet we will be given the same rewards for our accomplishments.  I don’t know what to make of it, really.

But there’s something to be said for sitting down after six years of work and pulling together all the pieces of your accomplishments and really understanding what you’ve done in that time.  It’s an opportunity for reflection, for introspection, and self-evaluation, and as I begin the process, I’m proud of what I see.  I’m proud of myself.

And that’s worth more than tenure.


  1. I’ll disagree here, though respectfully. Tenure requirements function more as gate-keeping than any actual incentive to research and expand the basis of knowledge. In my experience, like students faculty will do the minimum needed to satisfy this requirement. Tenure is endured, not explored.

    And I’m not sure employment-invulnerability is a positive thing. In cases of teaching questionable subject material, and risking fundie-parent backlash (or somesuch), absolutely, I agree with protections for academics. In department politics, with contentious relationships, again agreed — you don’t get to get fired because you decide not to suck up. But tenure also withers academic and professional standards on occasion as well. “I’m tenured” is the Get Out of Jail Free card in the White Tower.

    Sorry to be a party pooper on this one, but any faint odor of celebrating tenure is problematic.


  2. I have only accepted my tenure grudgingly. I think it’s a sham and should be abolished. If you don’t prove value, you should be firable. Tenure breeds laziness and a sense of entitlement that generally revolts me. I made it clear years ago that when my superiors don’t want me around, they need only ask and I’ll go elsewhere, regardless of my “permanence”.

    No one [should be] entitled to employment, it’s a privilege.


  3. Oh, hey, I never said a) that tenure was “any actual incentive to research and expand the basis of knowledge”, or b) that employment invulnerability was a good thing. I think you’re reading into my words… All I said (or meant to say) is that tenure happens, that tenure means you can’t be fired easily, and that tenure is different for librarians than it is for teaching faculty. And that I’m proud of my accomplishments.

    So I’m not sure what you’re disagreeing with me ON. 🙂


  4. I’ll stand by those words, as far as they go. It does mean accomplishment, and respect — to certain people. Other people disagree… but they’re not the norm in this culture. That doesn’t make them right, just the majority.


  5. I like the idea of tenure – and, as a first-generation academic, it means a lot to me, though I’m leaving a tenure-track position for a contract position. It certainly *is* an accomplishment because it does require a lot of work, even if that work is different from scholars in other fields. And until we have a better way to create a system that better reflects our differences, I am all for academic librarians being on the tenure track. 🙂 Congratulations to you on getting to high so quickly!


  6. HI,
    Congratulations! I jumped from public libraries to academic and gave the tenure track a go for a couple of years. I soon grew frustrated, as a cataloger, in the lack of interesting topics on which to write that hadn’t already been written about. I also didn’t want to write “this is how we did it at my library” articles. Perhaps you could do a follow-up post about what catalogers in tenure track positions write on that aren’t necessarily peer-reviewed journal fodder?


  7. Hi Jenica! We met at SUNYLA this past summer when I was working for TC3/BroomeCC. But then I moved. Found you on twitter actually.

    Librarians do not have faculty status at my community college in New Jersey, and so we’re not up for tenure. On the one hand our membership in the Faculty Assembly is subject for debate, and on the other we are 12 month employees and are not required to ring our hands over Meaningful Research we should be contributing to the profession. I’m starting to wonder if Meaningful Research should be left to those with Ph.Ds anyways — I (at least) have plenty of other things to work on.


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