In September 2010, I went up for tenure and promotion…and was denied by my department despite having stellar reviews each year for 5 years. The committee decision was split and caused some unending reverberations in the department among the faculty who were on the committee and those who were not. The decision was a complete surprise to me. As the year went on, all of the succeeding committees and administrators over-turned that department decision but decided to kick the promotion question back to the department (not wanting to get involved in department politics). I was awarded tenure, but not promotion (i.e., no raise) in May 2011. I called in our union. Many, many meetings ensued. Some lies were told by senior colleagues in the department as CYA. In a strategic move, two years later after the make-up of that department committee changed due to term limits, I went up for promotion to Associate Professor and was awarded that and a raise in May 2013.
Some wounds healed. But, snips and drabs of the conversation from the department decision in September 2010 dripped out. And there’s never a big university meeting where someone doesn’t come up to me to ask if my department has righted itself from the troubles of 2010 and 2011. (In 2011, that same department committee did the same thing to another department colleague who was unquestionably qualified for tenure and promotion.) I can’t be allowed to forget. Our department was broken. The then-chair was unhelpful. Some senior colleagues, mostly women, were vehement and cruel in their attempts to crush careers. The acrimony in the department was palpable. I hid and recused myself from some department committee assignments so I wouldn’t have to deal with being the one to mend fences with those who thought I was unworthy.
In May 2013, after overwhelmingly winning promotion with essentially the same dossier, I took a step back. I was told to get over the “troubles” of 2011. Move on. Work alongside these senior colleagues who wished so much ill will upon my career and me personally. (FYI, those fences have never been mended. I would respect them again if they had attempted coming together.) I spent 2013-2014 arguing for and protecting myself with everything. When the then-department chair coddled his pals but cancelled my classes and replaced my schedule with 4 writing classes spread over 4 days, I fought back. I had to. That schedule would erase any conference attendance, any committee meeting attendance, basically yanking me out of anything but teaching our first year students (which is not my area of expertise). I pulled in the union. I pulled in HR. I wasn’t going to go away and crumble under my desk anymore. After fighting so long with academia about the validity of digital pedagogy, digital humanities, history of the book, bibliography, and print culture studies, I had to turn around to continue elbowing my way into the room in my own department. Now, this is not to say that incredible, smart, generous colleagues didn’t exist in my department, my college, or the entire university. There were and are. My relationships outside the department are solid, engaging, and fruitful. But, this gang of senior colleagues in my department was loud and insistent. And with the then-chair, I had no recourse against anyone who behaved badly in the hallways. In a meeting, I was once told to stop blogging because by airing the department’s dirty laundry, I would never get another job. (This same person then proceeded to lecture me about the perils of the Internet in such a disrespectful fashion that I was rendered speechless considering my work and expertise in digital humanities and digital pedagogy.) Another senior woman colleague once told me that I don’t understand our students because I don’t have children of my own. Yet another told me to game the system of student evaluations by not holding the line on due dates. (For the record, I graduated with my BA from this university system; the best professor I had created high expectations for me that I worked hard to meet; I worked 3 jobs to put myself through school. I’m no stranger to our students’ woes.) Another said smile more so students like you. Yet another advised to “bring out my inner-nurturer.” None of this was/is constructive. A bag full of “don’ts” and snide, gendered innuendos.
In the meantime, a new dean came on board who was and continues to be generous, collaborative, open, and accessible. Luckily, she recognized the dysfunction of our department and instituted a search committee to hire an outside chair…and we got a glorious representation of collegiality and administration in our new hire. Someone who doesn’t need to know about old fights. Someone who became an example of great administration. The difference between the final meeting I had with the old department administration (in which they defended the bad behavior of their pals instead of working towards a resolution with me) stands in stark contrast to the many meetings I’ve had with the current chair who has listened and delivered frank responses about colleagues’ bad behavior — for I appreciate frank discussions, even those that don’t deliver my desired outcome. When one senior colleague disparaged me via email (that was erroneously sent to me), old administrator proceeded to blame me for it as an attack and then dumped 11 years of disliking me into an email along with accusing me of blackmail…oh, and belatedly apologizing for sending that email with senior colleague’s comments, I suspect only after new chair said to apologize. New chair had already stepped in to tell senior colleague to quit the bad behavior before this email from old administrator arrived. Confusing, but it got resolved because I refused to engage further and because new chair stepped in. (There were some previous emails where I expressed concern about working with senior colleague, but those concerns were dismissed and I was told that it’s about time I step up to contribute to the department….as if I hadn’t been doing that…for years.) But, emails are documents, remember.
I copied some of new chair’s strategies when I was hired to chair the California Open Educational Resources Council in 2014. With this position, I managed a statewide, legislatively-funded project that engaged 9 faculty to work towards a massive and utterly worthy set of goals for the next 3 years. We even contributed to some further statewide funding legislation that was then passed! I learned a tremendous amount about managing people from my two bosses on the project. At one point, we were in contact with and changing educational practices of over 1000 faculty in all 3 California public higher education systems. This intense work, this practice at getting faculty with competing agendas to collaborate, was gratifying to the utmost. Consequently, the position took me out of the department’s dysfunctional atmosphere while the new chair got her bearings. My teaching load reduced drastically due to a buyout for the Council’s work. I worked year round for 3 years. No attention to research other than finishing up my Forget Me Not book and continuing collaborative editorial duties on Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities. I was happy. Fulfilled. More importantly, ignored the department’s shenanigans in favor of a higher calling.
So for four years, my department has been relatively glorious. Some bump ups against those who lectured me about the Internet continued, along with interrupting me at meetings. I adopted a reserved and listening position at every department committee meeting — primarily because I wanted to hear everyone’s thoughts on new, sometimes contentious, initiatives so I could see all sides and make a collaborative decision based on what’s best for our students. I began to trust my colleagues again and enjoyed our department meetings where we could hash out ideas collegially (even jovially sometimes!). I helped craft new department tenure and promotion guidelines for research and scholarship in anticipation of going up for full professor sometime in the future — and for the new tenure-line hires that the department routinely got (yippee!). I tried new things in the few classes in my field that were assigned. (I often taught first year writing as a fallback, so I’ve not been teaching my direct literary field in probably 4 years; nor have I taught any graduate courses.) While my teaching assignment wasn’t ideal, this is the collegiality and collaboration that I had always wanted and had thought I was getting when I walked into this job 12 years ago. I felt like a “we.”
There’s always a twist. And, in academia, it’s never enough.
I’m going up for promotion to full professor in the Fall. Great dean is moving to a provost position at another university. Great new chair has been tapped (wisely) as interim dean which leaves an old administrator with old ties and old grudges as interim chair. Just as I’m going up for full professor. Shades of my former fights with the department plague my waking dreams. I’m already preparing for the scuffle.
However, this is what I have to remember:
I got tenure.
I got promotion.
I am not the wounded and limping person who had to be vigilant 6 years ago.
I am smarter about the process.
I have done an excellent job as an academic, scholar, teacher at this institution.
I am unceasingly devoted to and believe in my students (though I don’t tell them that they are pretty or give them hugs).
I am really good at innovative pedagogy, especially with courses in my fields.
I am proud of my record over the last 4 years since being promoted.
I will clearly demonstrate that record in my dossier.
I will employ those project management strategies learned while chairing the Council: listen, take note, synthesize.
I will use my resources, including our union, to ensure that the process towards promotion is fair and equitable.
I will be pre-emptive in anticipation of ill will and shenanigans.
I will not let them take me to that place of doubt and insecurity that almost destroyed my entire life for two years.
I will document, document, document.
It’s never over. It’s never enough. But, my job, my role in these students’ lives is worth it because I get emails and notes like this: