Assistant Professor of Theology
Vanderbilt University School of Divinity
Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and Professor of Religious Studies
Associate Professor of Religion
Chair, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies
A. De La Torre
Associate Professor of Social Ethics at Iliff School of Theology
and Director of the Justice and Peace Institute
Executive Associate Director
Middle States Association Commission on Higher Education
Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan
faculty, tenure is often the Holy Grail of academic life; therefore, it can
easily become the summum bonum to which all else must be sacrificed. One
hardly needs to be a theologian to see that the danger of idolatry lingers
perilously close. There are many goods that ought to rank higher: one’s health
and sanity, the well-being of family and community, your own career plan (which
should amount to more than finding tenure), and not least of all maintaining
integrity. Ironically, to make a successful tenure bid at an institution that
is a good fit, you will need to remember that tenure should not become a
blinding obsession. If you find yourself losing perspective, overburdened, and
exhausted, you probably need to step back and ask yourself whether you are
making the right choices.
major choices must be made over the course of your pre-tenure years, and all
require honest introspection and courage. You will have to ask yourself the
- I have
my doctorate in hand, but do I really want to be in academia?
other careers might I pursue?
- If the
academic life feels right, then in what kind of institution and department
do I ideally want to be? A high-powered Tier One research institution? A
teaching college? A community college?
- Where am
I most likely to flourish, and what sort of institution will best enable
me to meet long term career goals and aspirations?
speaking, these choices are often made for you by external contingencies—the
job you manage to get right after graduate school, your significant other’s
career plan, a chance job opening that happens to materialize at your alma
mater, etc. Nevertheless, long-term success depends on your willingness to ask
hard questions and then make decisions that best honor your deepest
success in pursuit of tenure requires negotiating complex and competing
commitments. Surely the most important predictor of success will be your
ability to prioritize.
on Minorities and Institutional Commitments
three areas of performance evaluated for acquiring tenure – scholarship,
teaching, and service – are fairly universal, it is important to take into
account your institutional context, your professional goals, and the realities
of being a minority faculty member as you make determinations for completing
the tenure process. To begin, gather information about what is expected of you
by reviewing your faculty handbook. Don’t hesitate to ask questions about
policies that may be unclear. Portfolios of and conversations with faculty who
have recently successfully completed pre-tenure review and tenure processes are
another great source of information, especially for determining informal
policies of your institutional context. Once you have determined the
performance norms of your institution, take stock of extra demands that may
fall to you as a minority faculty member.
of identity and solidarity will often have expectations that racial/ethic faculty
will participate in various identity group activities. In addition to community
expectations, many racial/ethic scholars prefer to engage their own communities
above and beyond similar participation by majority faculty members. Your
awareness of this engagement as potential "extra" work will go a long
way toward helping appropriately manage time and commitments, especially when
there are conflicts. When making choices, seek participation opportunities that
both fulfill identity group expectations and have direct relevance and
usefulness for your tenure process and other professional goals. In some
instances this will be self-evident. In other cases it may be prudent to have a
conversation with a dean, tenure committee chair, mentor, or other appropriate
senior faculty members.
addition to expectations made upon racial/ethic communities, and preferences of
the racial/ethnic faculty themselves, the institution might have their own set
of expectations, such as requiring or assuming they will participate in any
number of "minority emphases" sponsored by the institution (e.g.,
globalization committees, multicultural celebrations and committees, immersion
experiences, etc.). Again, it is important to discern when this should be
identified as "extra" work. In the case of institutional expectations
that add to your workload, it is appropriate to consider negotiating a trade
off with regular committee work for these additional tasks. Remember to
consider whether the trade off seems more prudent than performing regular
committee work and decreasing or setting aside participation in "minority
emphases." In the case of such negotiations, it is important to determine
how such work is valued by your institution. Also, make sure that it is clear
with the appropriate institutional official or committee that this unusual
service counts toward tenure as much as does traditional committee or other
work. It never hurts to have unusual considerations clarified in writing.
"minority emphases," institutions and minority students also may
expect racial/ethic faculty to counsel, listen to, and generally be available
to racial/ethic students over and above regular advising responsibilities. In
the case of minority women faculty, this expectation may be higher based on historic
identification of women, in general, and women of color, in particular, with
nurturing roles. Negotiating these expectations may be delicate, but
negotiating is nonetheless necessary since wholesale taking-on of these
expectations can contribute significantly to lowering your productivity and
increasing the possibility of burnout.
on the atmosphere in your institution, you may be called upon and/or regularly
(and more frequently than other faculty) appointed to committees as the missing
or much-needed "minority voice." Conversely, your ability as a
minority and junior faculty member may be immediately and regularly undervalued
resulting in your appointment to committees that have less significant impact
on faculty and institutional governance. These may be problematic circumstances
or useful options. Read your institutional context. If you find yourself called
upon more regularly than other faculty, be savvy about negotiating your
workload. Assignment to less labor-intensive committees early on may be helpful
with getting settled into your career. In instances when you are concerned that
your potential contributions are undervalued, determine a course of action that
results in both realistic management of your time as well as opportunities for
you to participate meaningfully in faculty and institutional governance.
savvy service choices. Make informed choices about using time, managing
your workload, and performing responsibilities. As a general rule,
whenever possible, try to make community service choices that may also
meet professional service expectations.
savvy choices regarding activism. Many minority faculty members find
activism essential to maintaining relevancy to their communities and to
scholarship. If activism is important to you, keep time management in mind
as you make decisions about being an activist. Just as it is important to
relate service choices to your tenure processes, wherever possible, when
you make determinations about activism, try to connect activism to
professional service expectations and to your scholarship. Do not presume
activism will help you with tenure. In fact, it is often the opposite - it
might work against you. The implicit thinking behind many people on tenure
committees is "I did not have time to do activist work and do my
scholarship. If this person does have time to be an activist, they must
not be spending enough time on their scholarship." Or as one
professor was told by a review committee, "We assumed that you are
spending all your time protesting on the streets so you must not be taking
the time to think lofty thoughts." You might want to consider not
letting people in your university know about your organizing activities.
- Just say
no! To repeat, make smart choices about service and activism so that as
often as possible they can meet professional, community, and personal
expectations all at once. If this is not possible, and sometimes it is
not, it is important to be realistic about what you can do. Assess the
possibilities, liabilities, and assets of opportunities you encounter.
Prioritize responsibilities and goals. Recognize your limitations. You
can’t do it all (and there is always lots of good to try to do). Sometimes
you will have to say no. When necessary, be prepared to say no.
expectations for publishing differ based on the type of institution one is
affiliated with, it is safe to say that most institutions require some level of
participation in shaping one’s field through publications. It is always wise to
secure some sense of what is generally considered the standards for quantity
(and quality) of publications by:
your faculty handbook
the number of publications of those who have successfully completed the
third-year review and tenure process over the past five years
with trustworthy colleagues about publishing within your institution.
have a sense of the quantity and quality of publications required for
advancement at your institution, you will want to carefully select your
projects. Research projects should be grounded in your training and expressed
areas of interest. Because the dissertation serves as the "rough
draft" for articles or a book manuscript, seek first to publish a portion
of or the entire dissertation manuscript. An extremely useful guide for junior
scholars who are trying to publish some or all of their dissertation is William
Germano’s, From Dissertation to Book.
institutions will require scholars to show signs of "developed"
scholarship that goes beyond work done in the dissertation. The form your
scholarship takes will depend on your scholarly agenda and the expectations of
your institution. Much also depends on your tenure clock and whether your
institution grants course release opportunities or pre-tenure sabbaticals for
junior scholars. In general, you will want to select projects that build
incrementally but also substantially on your previous work. Junior scholars
will rarely have the luxury of time to move in dramatically new directions.
Consult widely with colleagues, your editor, and friends who have read your
work to get a sense of what seems to be a logical development and extension of
prior dissertation-related work. Junior scholars would do well to remember that
every substantial piece of writing, not just their dissertation, is ultimately
a collaborative enterprise. Developing a trusted network of scholarly
collaborators is critical both for sanity and productivity.
of researching your own community. Some might suggest that it is
politically problematic to research one’s community of origin. Those
taking this position argue that such work lacks critical distance and can
easily become "special pleading." However, there are too many
examples of sound and award winning scholarship by scholars within the
context of their own communities for this to be taken as a given. The
various forms of liberation theology in the United States suggest the merit
of work within one’s community of concern. Think in terms of Vine
Deloria’s God is Red (1973), Virgilio Elizondo’s Galilean
Journey, or James Cone’s A Black Theology of Liberation (1970).
Others will assume that minority scholars should conduct research on their
communities of origin. The minority scholar will be expected to produce a
brand of scholarship expected from persons who belong to the group in
question. This approach fails to recognize the legitimacy of working
outside one’s own "home" community and constricts the options
available to minority scholars.
scholarship requires negotiating such conflicting expectations and winning the
freedom to choose whatever trajectory you wish to follow. It is vital to
recognize the positive potential for work that engages one’s primary
communities. Such work allows the scholar to perhaps gain greater access
to research materials because of connections to the community of concern. In
addition, such work may allow the scholar to forge important links between
personal commitments and professional interests. Ultimately, however, it is
essential that one select research projects that can sustain one’s interest and
energy – that satisfy one’s intellectual curiosities.
When it is
time for review (third-year, tenure, promotion) there is an opportunity to
place one’s scholarship in perspective and provide a rationale for areas of
research selected. Furthermore, external reviewers familiar with the scholar’s
work can speak to its importance.
contact with country of origin: a special challenge for internationals.
International scholars committed to maintaining contact with their country
of origin face special challenges imposed by geography. International
scholars will have to negotiate the difficult challenge of securing
funding for travel. Inform deans and other administrators of your
commitment to research in your country of origin toward the end of your
hiring process or upon your arrival on campus; this should alert them to
the nature of your research agenda and may motivate them to find ways to
support you in your work. Often midsize to large universities will have an
office dedicated to serving the needs of international scholars. Getting
to know the international office and taking advantage of available
expertise can be a critical help as you continue your research work.
of research. It is vital to maintain an ethical posture when conducting
research. It is important to acknowledge sources and assistance received.
Avoiding questionable practices during the research phase will prevent
questions concerning how research was conducted and materials written up
that might negatively impact review processes. Be mindful also of your
institution’s policies on research with human subjects, confidentiality
policies, and the like. Most institutions have formal policies on such
matters, and it is your responsibility to know and implement them.
Meaning of Boundaries
is important to nurture and mentor students, it is also important to maintain
boundaries so as to avoid charges of improper comments and actions, or sexual
harassment. The power dynamic at work between faculty and students makes
relationships of mutuality extremely difficult, and the best posture is to
maintain relationships with students that are committed strictly and solely to
academic and intellectual ends. One can maintain this posture in part by making
certain that the office door is open when meeting with students, avoiding
physical contact with students, and limiting conversation to professional
issues. Nothing will derail prospects for tenure faster than charges of
impropriety. So take time to read your school’s policies on relationships and
Professor's Relationship to Students
minority faculty are both formally and informally expected to help minority
students develop community and address issues related to their status as
minority students. While this is often an expectation (from students, staff,
and faculty), you must determine the level of involvement with students that is
based simply on shared racial, ethnic, gender, or sexual orientation. These
interactions can be rewarding, but they also require time and energy, and
schools often have a difficult time assessing the importance of this work with
respect to tenure and promotion.
no obligation to give more time and energy to relationships with students than
white faculty. When these expectations arise it is important to develop a
strategy for dealing with them by:
to trusted members concerning the best approach to the issue
honestly with students (and student organizations) concerning how you plan
to manage your time.
any community, the academy has its share of gossip and political maneuvering.
It is wise to avoid participation in such negotiations as much as possible; the
result is often damaged relationships and misunderstandings. In particular,
it’s junior and non-tenure track faculty take on unnecessary risk with respect
to political tensions in the department or larger academic community. Be
careful when sharing information and be cautious when responding to
information. This is accomplished by being aware of the political landscape of
your department and institution, and figuring out where the "battle
lines" are drawn.
ideological, theoretical, and political engagement becomes unavoidable, try
insofar as possible not to "play politics." Maintain principled
commitment to your core convictions even if it means having to disagree with
senior faculty. Over the course of your pre-tenure career, you are bound to
differ with nearly every colleague on some issue. Some measure of conflict is
inevitable; hostility and rancor are not. You are far more likely to earn the
respect of your colleagues by operating out of well-considered convictions
rather than by constantly jockeying for safety and the allegiance of those whom
you think can best advance your cause. Such finagling can give the appearance
of insincerity and duplicity. Be shrewd and insofar as possible as
straightforward as possible.
issue involves use of email and voice mail. It is important that one approach
sending email with the same care given to person-to-person interactions.
Remember, once you send email it cannot be taken back, and you have no control
over its distribution. So, don’t write an email message you wouldn’t have as a
personal conversation. Important messages sent and received should be copied to
your file. You will want to keep copies of email that involve inappropriate
comments or harassing comments made to you. Also keep copies of other email
exchanges that impact beyond your immediate circumstances.
that you have no right to privacy with respect to email. Precedent suggests and
institutional policies often explicitly state that employers can read or
monitor email. Keep this in mind when you are about to fire off any electronic
respect to voicemail, the same care should be given. Avoid leaving messages
that can be misinterpreted. Once the voicemail is left, you no longer have
control over its impact and distribution. A good rule of thumb concerning email
and voicemail: don’t send messages that you wouldn’t want shared with
colleagues beyond the intended audience.
Relationships within Academic Culture
tenure and a general sense of well-being on your campus also involves the
development of relationships with mentors who are familiar with the workings of
your campus and who are willing to "run interference" for you when
necessary. Because of their familiarity with the campus culture, mentors can
help you avoid landmines. You must seek out mentors and not simply rely on an
assumption that potential mentors will approach you. Give the same care to
selecting mentors given to selecting your graduate program and advisor.
important to become involved in the life of your campus and profession, and to
participate in its development. Tenure and promotion is based in part on one’s
growing relationship to and importance within one’s profession. Attending and
presenting at, as well as pursuing opportunities for leadership, is a vital
component of career development. However, it is important to avoid
over-extending oneself. Read your faculty handbook, talk to the chair of your
department, and find out expectations concerning levels of service on campus:
are members of the faculty expected to serve on one major committee? Two
committees? Keep in mind, that while it is necessary to be active in the
profession, this does not mean you should accept every opportunity to
participate. Select carefully. Take into consideration your career objectives,
other commitments (e.g., family), and recognize that you are under no
obligation to say "yes" to every request. When you feel uncomfortable
doing so, mentors can help you think through the appropriate level of
involvement based on your rank, and develop appropriate strategies.
dimension of academic relationships involves collaboration with colleagues in
both teaching and publishing. Team-teach only with colleagues you trust, and
whose pedagogical style is compatible with yours. You want to avoid
"competing" in the classroom for the approval of students. Don’t get
caught up in the "who’s a better teacher struggle." Also find out
your school’s policies concerning team-teaching. For example, will both
instructors receive full credit for the course?
of collaborative publishing projects, make certain that you have similar work
habits with your potential co-author. You will want to avoid working with those
who do not have the same sense of appreciation for deadlines and workload that
you have. When you have decided to publish jointly with a colleague, work out
the responsibilities in writing. Make certain that everyone involved knows what
they are accountable for in terms of the project, and the consequences for not
fulfilling responsibilities. You will also want to know how your institution
evaluates co-authored materials. Ask the chair of your department about this as
well as your mentors. Keep in mind that some institutions will only grant
credit toward tenure and promotion for co-authored projects if it can be
clearly established who is responsible for writing which portions of the text.
You will want to know this in advance.
for teaching is often the primary motivation that drives scholars to enter
academic life. With each passing year, skilled teachers grow in their
appreciation for the infinite complexity and rigor of their craft. A fresh and
vital teaching life requires regular investment in thinking about teaching.
scholars, in particular, will almost certainly need remedial education on
teaching. A great many (dare we say most?) graduate programs rigorously prepare
students to be first-rate researchers and all but ignore the work of teaching
how to teach. Most of us learn how to teach by way of the sink or swim method -
a method sure to generate haphazard and inconsistent results.
one go about learning how to teach in a more deliberate and thoughtful way?
Invest some hard-won research skills to digging up the best books in your
field on the art and craft of teaching. There is in any field a short list
of classical books on teaching. Read them. Begin each teaching year by
reading a short article or chapter that gives you new perspective on the
- Find out
whether your institution has a Center for Teaching. A great many mid-size
to larger universities have on staff extremely gifted scholar-teachers whose
primary work consists in mastering learning theory, cognitive development,
and a great variety of other resources so that you won’t have to. It is
their job to help you learn more about your students and effective
teaching. Take advantage of this priceless resource.
collaboratively on improving your teaching. If your institution does not
formally mandate teaching evaluations from senior colleagues, invite
senior colleagues whom you trust and whose insights you value to visit
your classes, and let them advise you. Invite your trusted junior peers to
swap syllabi and writing assignments. Find out who the master teachers are
on your campus. Make arrangements to visit their classes. Talk to them
about teaching. Learn from their hard-won wisdom. Become a deliberate
rather than an accidental teacher. Finally, as you prepare for tenure,
document the steps you are taking - teaching workshops attended, syllabi
modification, changes in teaching philosophy, etc. - so that you can
demonstrate that you are thinking seriously about the teaching life.
your career, work out a pedagogical philosophy. What do you want your students
to learn? What goals do you have in mind for your students? Think as broadly
and deeply as you can about the fundamental pedagogical issues in your
discipline. Such thinking is a necessity rather than a luxury as many
institutions expect you to evaluate your own teaching regularly in light of
your philosophy of teaching and learning.
and teaching. Every teacher upon entering the classroom faces issues of
authority. How do you establish yourself as a legitimate authority in the
classroom? Beyond the credentials you bring to the classroom, what
authorizes you to teach the material you do and evaluate your students in
ways that will have significant bearing on their futures? Questions of
authority are delicate and complex matters for all teachers but especially
so for minority or international instructors. How does a minority scholar
for whom English is a second language respond to challenges by students
that they lack the expertise to correct a native speaker’s grammar or
diction? How do dress codes transmit messages about authority and
complex matters that allow for no ready algorithm or quick prescription.
Instructors, especially minority instructors, will be best equipped to meet
these challenges by being aware of them in advance rather than by being
blind-sided by such issues when they first present themselves in the classroom.
When direct challenges to your authority and decisions do materialize, face
them squarely and directly. Consult colleagues, but make your decisions in
one-on-one conversations with the students involved, and then adhere to them
firmly. Junior colleagues, in particular, must know that such challenges are
"part of the territory."
general, establishing an atmosphere of mutual respect instead of high-handed
authoritarianism is most likely to meet with success. How you treat the authors
and texts read in your classes also helps set the tone around issues of
authority. Do you treat the authors and texts you read with respectful
engagement even as you are being critical? Creating a community of warm,
rigorous, and sensitive engagement around central issues and vital texts is
likely to direct student’s attention where it belongs: on the materials you are
teaching and not on you the instructor.
teaching. Scholars will complain about having to address racism among
students in the classroom, without questioning how the nature of the
traditional classroom dynamic creates the conditions by which racism
flourishes. The reason is that professors often focus on the
"content" of what they would like to convey to students rather
than the process and praxis by which students could learn new information
and transform consciousness. In addition, when people of color teach, they
are not automatically granted the same authority as our white, male
professors. The typical response then, is for professors of color to insist
on their authority, and before they know, they can often become more
authoritarian. To get out of this trap, it is possible to reconstruct
authority in the classroom so that we do not unwittingly re-inscribe the
oppressive dynamics in the classroom that we seek to resist outside the
your own teaching. Learning how to evaluate your own teaching honestly,
clearly, and reflectively is vital to your teaching career. At many
institutions, teaching is evaluated not just by students or the occasional
visit from the department chair, but by year-end self-evaluations. Such
evaluations should demonstrate that you take your students’ feedback
seriously. Strong self-evaluations should also demonstrate that you know
best your own weaknesses and are working to address them. Above all, these
evaluations should show that you are constantly in the process of
considered change and growth. You can undo much of the harm of uneven
student evaluations with self-evaluations that demonstrate that you know the
critical issues at stake and are working to address them.
positively, strong self-evaluations will skillfully frame your successes as a
teacher and show that these successes were not accidental but are the results
of well-considered planning and reflection. Celebrating your own growth as a
teacher is wholly acceptable so long as that celebration is accompanied by a
clear-eyed sense of what remains to be done.
evaluation of your teaching. Essential to quelling dissent in academia is
the student evaluation. Evaluations are often the bane of many ethnic
studies professors’ existence. One Native American professor shared that
all the students who took her Native studies for a requirement were
disappointed she did not perform a sweat lodge, hence proceeded to rip her
to shreds in the evaluation. However, the problem is not so much the
students, but the evaluation process itself. That is, the student
evaluation is designed to quell dissent. Students are not supposed to
question the instructor during the class itself. They are given an outlet
at the very end of the class to complain when they have no chance of
actually impacting their classroom experience. Thus, this process is
designed to ensure student powerlessness during the class itself. So, it is
not a surprise that when students, given no opportunity to fundamentally
impact the classroom experience, completely erupt during the one
opportunity they are given to "talk back." As James Scott notes,
when dissent is not allowed during the public transcripts, it erupts in
the private transcripts by which students undermine the professors
authority by whatever means at their disposal. To change this dynamic, the
students must have a voice in shaping the classroom experience itself. Of
course such principles are well known within Freirean praxis method which
relies on a dialogical teaching method rather than one structured by
hierarchy. Yet, progressive professors tend to rely on hierarchical
methods of teaching. Because of the conviction with which one might hold
certain political views for instance, a professor may convey in overt and
subtle ways that there is no room to disagree with her or him. The lecture
method of teaching is particularly problematic when one is teaching a
class that is politically contentious because there is nothing more
frustrating for a student then to have to listen to political opinions
they disagree with for two hours with no opportunity to talk back. The
student inwardly fumes until such time as s/he has the opportunity to complain
to administrators or write scathing evaluations. In this respect, the
academy sets up ethnic studies professors to fail. Either we feel we must
suffer bad evaluations, or we must water down the content of our lectures
to avoid the bad evaluations.
radical ideas. A key reason why students often appear to be reluctant to
engage radical ideas is not so much a problem with the ideas themselves,
or necessarily the conservativeness of the students, but with the
structure of the student/instructor interaction. In opportunities where
students can talk back and can feel free to disagree, it is surprising the
extent to which even the most politically radical instructor can still
have a reasonable experience teaching very conservative students. When
students feel they do not have to agree with a professor’s views, they are
more likely to be open to listening to those views. When they can make
their voices public, it is possible for the professor and other students
to converse with these views. It is only through conversation that people
can change their minds, and that cannot happen if students do not feel
free to share what they really think. Once students feel free to disagree,
they do not have a problem listening to the most radical ideas articulate.
consciousness. The problem with the traditional method of pedagogy is that
it presumes that a change in consciousness happens overnight. When a
student says something racist, professors are tempted to argue with that
student until the student appears to comply. However, students do not
change 20-plus years of racist thinking in one argument. A transforming
pedagogy must instead provide a framework that allows the student to at
least be open to hearing new ideas, even if the student is not immediately
convinced by them. And in general, that is one of the key mistakes made -
professors emphasize what they feel students need to learn rather than
what would actually enable the student to learn the material.
freedom is the oxygen that sustains scholarship, but like oxygen it is largely
taken for granted and goes unnoticed except when missing. In a post 9/11 era,
academic freedom can no longer be taken for granted. Right-wing groups now
explicitly seek to intervene in colleges and universities. The recent (failed)
attempt by the House of Representatives to enforce
"balance" of invited speakers to college campuses by means of
legislation is only the most prominent of assaults on academic freedom. Yet
another is the Department of Homeland Security’s act of revoking the visa of
the prominent Muslim scholar Tariq
scholars who are committed to issues of social justice are especially likely to
face challenges. Muslim scholars also seem particularly at risk. In this
climate of increased vulnerability, minority scholars should cultivate strong
relationships with national professional organizations and campus
representatives of American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Such relationships should
ideally come before you have need of them. Scholars of color should consider
active participation in such organizations an essential part of good university
citizenship. Through networking and activism scholars can hope to create an
atmosphere on campuses that enhances academic freedom.
interdisciplinarity has become a commonplace on campus. Centers and institutes
of all sorts are springing up with the intent of generating research that
transgresses conventional disciplinary boundaries. For creative scholars,
especially minority scholars, who are asking new questions about hybridity,
globalization, postcoloniality, and postmodernity, this is welcome news.
However, when scholarly work is assessed for promotion and tenure, what matters
is how your scholarly contributions advance the work of a familiar discipline.
You may do work that crosses over from religion and theology into sociology or
economic theory, but the people who evaluate your work will be religionists who
want to know how your work engages dominant questions within their field. Only
a few universities have interdisciplinary departments or institutes that have
tenure-track lines. Put simply, the institutional structures of most colleges
and universities have not caught up with the cutting edge research work now
most prized. New work is expected but assessment still follows older and more
therefore, incumbent upon untenured faculty to ask forthright questions about
how interdisciplinary work will be assessed. Who will assess your work when it
comes time to make promotion and tenure decisions? How will that work be
assessed? Junior scholars should be prepared to demonstrate that their work
also fits within disciplinary boundaries even as it spills over those same
overlooked factor, especially in the early stages in your teaching career, is
the relationship between your teaching and the curricular needs of your
department and institution. You will often be expected to teach courses in the
college’s core curriculum and required survey courses in your department. Being
forced out of disciplinary ruts and into teaching with a larger agenda can be
rewarding and energizing. However, such teaching also diminishes the likelihood
of creating deeper connections between research and teaching. Rather than
teaching courses that help you think through the questions you wish to advance
in your writing, you may find yourself having to catch up on the latest
research in order to effectively teach material, cultures, and time periods
that are new to you.
departmental and university citizenship will require that you pull your fair
share of the work in core and survey courses. But good citizenship should not
amount to exploitation. Talk to senior colleagues to see that your time is
protected and these courses are not foisted on you disproportionately. Don’t be
afraid even in these settings to tailor these courses in ways that enable you
to "kill two birds with one stone"- courses that meet the college’s
needs as well as your own.
general, whenever possible teach the courses that are most likely to help you
think through your research agenda. Teaching figures or topics about which you
are writing will enable you to put your best foot forward with your students
and keep you on pace with your own work.
unavoidable that in your early years of teaching, you will be investing a great
deal of time developing courses that are wholly new to you. But in two or three
years, you should begin to cut down on new course development and work instead
on revising and refining your courses rather than starting new ones from
overseas can offer rich rewards especially now when internationalization of the
curriculum and globalization have become academic watchwords. Such teaching
provides opportunities for scholarly development, new venues for research, and
an extended network of colleagues. Some institutions specify that promotion to
full professor requires that your scholarship is recognized internationally.
Clearly teaching abroad will help cultivate such recognition.
several factors must be taken into consideration before teaching overseas. Will
your service abroad be recognized and valued by your home institution? How will
it affect your tenure clock? Are there available sources of funding that will
support you in your venture, or will you have to expend precious time and
resources to secure such funding? Will teaching abroad enhance your research
agenda or retard it? If you are able to answer such questions to your satisfaction,
there is every reason to believe that teaching overseas can be a highly prized
look forward to student evaluations with the same "eagerness" that
students await their grades. Both are often regarded as necessary evils. But
student evaluations are serious matters and, if well-designed, a treasure trove
of specific information for measuring your teaching effectiveness. At teaching
colleges, student evaluations play a crucial and even determinative role in the
mean that teachers ought to teach to the evaluation forms, just as teaching is
often geared toward exams? Yes and no. First the no: undergraduate and graduate
instructors typically have in mind a broader set of pedagogical goals than can
be accounted for on teaching evaluation forms. These goals are discipline and
course specific, usually quite broad in scope, and tend toward the
philosophical. What, after all, does it mean to teach theology or Eastern
religions? Why should such materials be taught and to what end? Questions of
this sort and the answers they demand are impossible to measure in a 10-20
minute evaluation period at the end of the semester when students are thinking
about Christmas or summer vacation.
questions can be posed quite fruitfully in student evaluation forms. How clear
is the instructor about the goals of the course? Does the teacher clearly
articulate criteria for evaluating papers and exams? Course evaluation forms
attend to the nuts and bolts mechanics of teaching; gearing one’s teaching to
these elements seems wholly appropriate, even prudent. Teaching surely is more,
but it should not be less.
very gifted, even brilliant, teacher has her college’s teaching evaluation form
taped to her bookshelf where she can see it before she heads into the
classroom. She has highlighted areas of weakness so that she can keep these in
mind before she enters the classroom. Teaching to the evaluation forms in this
sense demonstrates a commitment to teaching excellence (if perhaps in a
slightly obsessive key).
institutional evaluation of your teaching usually includes more than teaching
evaluations. A great many institutions (especially liberal arts colleges)
encourage or even mandate visits to the classroom by the department chair or
other senior colleague. Almost always, these visits are worked out in advance.
These visits should be treated as collaborative opportunities rather than
invasive intrusions. The information senior colleagues gain and the feedback
they can give provides a qualitatively different kind of information than can
be found in evaluation forms.
as noted above, institutional evaluation of teaching customarily takes into
serious consideration your self-evaluation and the evidence you provide about
the concrete steps taken to reinvigorating your teaching life. In sum,
institutional evaluation of teaching goes well beyond student evaluation forms.
Paths and Exit Strategies
scholars should bear in mind that working toward tenure at the institution you
first happen to land in after graduate school is not the same thing as
developing a career plan. Few scholars spend their entire career in a single
institution. Don’t let the immediate pressures of institutional life force you
to lose track of your long-term goals.
pressures of the market, finding any tenure-track job is likely to seem
miraculous. While divine intervention and pure luck may be operative factors,
it is also likely that your ability to land a job demonstrates that you have
highly prized skills and talents. Think carefully about how you would like to
develop them, and consider where you think your passions and skills are most
likely to flourish. Honest, clear-eyed, and realistic self-assessment is
essential to developing a focused career plan.
mind that the highly-prized positions at a Tier One research school may not be
where you feel most at home. Tendencies toward hyper-specialization along with
a singular and nearly absolute focus on research at the expense of teaching,
service, and activism are some of the risks that come with life in Tier One
Institutions. If what you care most about is teaching undergraduates,
publishing occasionally, and working actively in the college and the local
community, high-powered research institutions will not feel like home.
plus side, such institutions are far more likely to offer reduced teaching
loads (2-2 or less), release time for scholarship, and the constructive
pressure that will "stimulate" you to focus on your research goals.
Minority scholars must also consider another great reward of life in research
institutions: the opportunity to train the next generation of racial/ethnic
scholars. Teaching at undergraduate colleges will obviously not give you the
chance to participate in the graduate training of minority scholars. If this is
something you hope to do, then you would do well to develop a portfolio that
will increase your chances of being hired at a high-powered research institution.
considering moves, remember that in the short-run of moving up on the
institutional food-chain it is in some respects easier (albeit riskier -
there’s nothing quite like moving with tenure) to do this earlier in your
career. Less is at stake if you are being considered for a tenure-track
position than for a tenured position. Nonetheless, if moving is your goal, it
is mandatory that you carve out significant time for research at the very
beginning of your teaching life.
If you are
already securely tenured, a move to a more prestigious institution will require
that you have already managed to establish research credentials comparable to
tenured colleagues at your new would be institution. That is not easy to
accomplish if you are in a smaller institution and are drowning in a heavy
course load and exhaustive service obligations. Inordinate attention to the
mundane responsibilities of life at your current location will make it
impossible for you to develop the kind of profile you need to move. Of course,
you must avoid giving your colleagues the impression that you consider their
institution a way station on your way to somewhere else, but you must also
remember to shield yourself sufficiently so that you get your work done.
plan deliberately and independently. Don’t be lured by your graduate school
mentor’s notion of the ideal or normative career path, and look for
opportunities that will allow you to grow into the kind of scholar-teacher you
want to be.
two major options with respect to publishing books: academic and
"trade" presses. Which one to publish with will depend on a variety
of factors, including:
institution’s expectations regarding publishing houses and their ranking
nature of your project: is it written for a general audience? An academic
audience of experts in the area?
want to know what your tenure and promotion committee understands as
"legitimate" outlets for books. Keep in mind that this committee will
be composed of scholars outside your particular areas, who are less familiar
with some of the smaller trade presses related to your field, but quite aware
of university presses. The review process may include a preference for presses
that make use of an external review process before selecting manuscripts for
publication. Some will argue that this guarantees a more intellectually solid
product. You will want to know your institution’s position before selecting a
publisher. In addition, give consideration to the type of project you are
proposing. For example, it is unlikely that university presses will publish
liturgical projects. And, it is just as unlikely that a trade press will
publish a book related to a narrow academic question or concern. You can avoid
unnecessary delays with respect to your project if you give consideration to
this in advance.
consideration your time frame. University presses, because of the external
review process (as many as three or four readers), take much longer to accept
projects for publication. It can take as long as 12-16 months to receive final
word, plus an additional 12-16 months for the book to be produced. Trade
presses typically make their decisions "in house" and this takes less
time. Also, they can produce books in a shorter period of time (as little as
6-8 months is not unheard of).
mind that it is unnecessary to provide a completed manuscript before receiving
a book contract. University presses, for example, might offer "an advance
contract" based on a proposal and a few sample chapters. This contract
requires that the final manuscript be sent for review (to those who reviewed
the initial proposal and sample chapters). The press, while making a
commitment, is still free to decline the project even when "an advance
contract" is offered. A firm commitment to publish the volume is based on
positive evaluations during the second review. The "advance contract"
is the university press’ way of indicating a firm interest in publishing the
book, if it develops into a full manuscript that meets their criteria. Trade
presses will often generate a contract to publish based on a proposal and
sample chapters. It is wise, however, to ask an editor at the press for their
It is also
important to avoid sending your project to more than one press, unless you
notify the presses and they agree to multiple submissions. Processing a project
for potential publication is an expensive endeavor and most presses prefer to
have exclusive rights to review the project. You don’t want to develop a poor
reputation with publishers by disregarding this process. Still, if you want to
submit your proposal to various publishing houses you should first ask if the
press discourages multiple submissions.
you decide to exclusively submit to one press or send your proposal to multiple
presses, it should be indicated in your cover letter. If you do submit to just
one press, you may wish to conclude your cover letter with something like:
"Because I am not making this proposal available to any other publisher, a
timely response will be appreciated greatly." If you do not hear from the
publishing house within six week with an update on your proposal, you can
follow-up by asking for one. If after an additional two weeks you still haven’t
heard any information concerning your proposal, it would be appropriate to
inform the press that you will now be making this proposal available to other
publishing houses. Most publishing houses interested in your work will let you
know they have received your proposal and will provide some sort of timeline as
to when they will be able to respond with an answer. The whole process
shouldn’t take more than a few months. If the press states that the proposal
needs to be rewritten to clarify or include certain things, or if your sample
chapter is returned with editorial comments, this is a clear indication of high
interest. Make the necessary corrections as soon as possible.
writing a book proposal, you should know who you will be propositioning:
should never forget that the publishing firm, academic or
"trade" press, exists for the purpose of making money by selling
books. If the press doesn’t believe it can turn a profit, they will not
offer you a book contract, no matter how intriguing your subject matter
is, or how brilliant you may be. If the press feels it will be unable to
sell a certain number of books to recoup its investment plus make a
profit, it will not offer you a contract. You must therefore be willing
explain to them why your book will be successful.
should avoid publishing with any type of vanity press. These are
publishing firms that will publish anything you write as long as you pay
part, if not all of the publishing costs. True, you may have a published
book, but it will probably not be respected within the academy.
proposal should be addressed to a specific individual, not to some
"Dear Editor." Ask senior colleagues within your institution or
within your field for contact names and possible introductions. When it
comes to religious subjects from the perspective of racial/ethnic
minorities, there are a few presses that concentrate their efforts and
resources to these issues. Simply check your bookshelf to see which
publishing houses are dominant in your specific field of interest. These
are the publishing houses you should probably first contact. If you do not
know anyone who can formally introduce you, then make it a point to visit
their booth during the annual AAR conference. Be sure to ask for the
editor and request an appointment. Their main purpose for being at the AAR
conference is to meet emerging scholars like yourself. Briefly explain the
thesis of the book you wish to propose and ask if they would be
interested. If they are, follow-up with a book proposal. If they are not,
approach a different publishing house.
excellent book to consider is Beth Luey's Handbook for Academic Authors.
proposal should have a cover letter that explains:
- Why they
are the press to publish this book
- Why you
are the one to write this book
- How it
will be marketable
- Who is
- Why it
will be a money maker
audience. Who will buy it?
will be the book’s length. Keep in mind that published pages are roughly
75% of a double-spaced 12-font manuscript. Some publishing houses are more
concerned with word count than with total page numbers.
books presently published will be your book’s major competitor and why
your book will be superior to what presently is available.
the cover letter, the proposal should also include an outline of the book which
book’s tentative title. Remember, the publishing company usually chooses
the book’s title (and cover art). You may have input, but this is their
- A one to
two page abstract. The abstract should situate the book within the
academic cannon, elucidating who will be your principle conversation
partners. Additionally, the abstract should explain why this book is
different from all the rest, illustrating its unique contribution to the
- A table
of contents with a paragraph per chapter explaining each chapter’s major
thesis and its contribution to the book’s overall purpose.
disclosure of any part of this book that has already been published as an
article or book chapter.
timetable showing when the book will be completed. Be realistic here, and
give yourself more time than you think you might need. It is better to
hand in a manuscript ahead of schedule than behind schedule.
- A sample
chapter. Many publishing houses would like to see a sample of your
chapter. At times, a published article would suffice.
the proposal should include your updated CV.
contract is offered, READ it. Make certain you understand and agree to the
terms. You are free to ask that issues be clarified or omitted. Take your time
and make certain you are comfortable with the terms offered. Keep the following
contracts ask for a right of first refusal on your next book. Unless you
are totally thrilled with this particular publishing house, you would be
well advised to cross out this paragraph.
contracts state you cannot publish another work prior to this one’s
completion and publication. However, if you do have another manuscript you
are finishing, or if you are working on more than one project at a time,
you may also want to also cross out this paragraph.
it would be wise to first inform the press of your intent of crossing out any
paragraphs with which you are uncomfortable. They would provide you with
valuable verbal feedback, suggesting to go ahead and make the change, or suggesting
instead that an addendum will be added to the contract, or possibly warning you
that such a change might jeopardize the contract. On this last point, it should
be noted that one particular scholar of color who has signed over 12 book
contracts in 6 years, both with university and trade presses, has never had any
publishing house complain about crossing out these particular paragraphs.
Evaluation and Review
twice in the course of your pre-tenure career, you will be subject to major
institutional evaluation and review. As already noted, the three categories on
which you will be evaluated will be scholarship, teaching, and service. Most
colleges and universities have put in place some kind of mid-tenure review.
Mid-tenure reviews are becoming serious affairs and less and less pro forma
matters. It is absolutely vital for you to attend seriously and earnestly to
areas of concern identified by your senior colleagues. Most institutions are
committed to your success and want to tenure junior scholars (There are notable
alleged exceptions within Ivy League schools where rumors of promotion to
tenure are mythic and refer to persons now long since dead) if for no other
reason than to avoid another exhausting round of job interviews. Make it a
point to talk over matters in the written review that are unclear and cause
important thing you can do to prepare yourself for the review process is to
document, document, and document! At the beginning of each school year, create
a document on your computer in which you jot down your contributions to
scholarship (articles, conference presentations, books, invited lectures,
editing scholarly journals, etc.), teaching (teaching workshops attended, new
courses and syllabi developed, old syllabi redesigned, invitations to teach in
other classes and departments, etc.), and service obligations (committee
service, service to professional organizations and scholarly societies,
lectures to churches and community organizations, activism, etc.). You cannot
possibly reconstruct retrospectively all that you accomplish over a year. Don’t
try. Record as you go.
that no research driven institution is likely to tenure you because of
extraordinary service to the college or community or even for stellar teaching.
Research institutions will grant tenure only to superb researchers. Likewise,
teaching institutions will be wary of hiring strong scholars who are
nevertheless poor teachers. What matters most in such institutions are your
skills in the classroom and your passion for teaching. Plan and budget your
your final tenure review, you will be asked to develop a list of scholars who
will read nearly everything you have written and offer an assessment of your
promise as a scholar and your stature in the field. Your institution will also
seek external reviewers at their own initiative. The best way to prepare
yourself for this stage in the review process is through active involvement in
the relevant scholarly societies from very early on in your career. What are
the most distinguished scholarly organizations in your discipline? How often
have you presented papers or published in the organizations’ leading journals?
The more you are known and respected, the more likely you are to generate
strong and informed evaluations of your scholarship from external reviewers.
teaching institution, you might be asked to request student letters on your
behalf. Keeping track of your best students even after they have graduated may
prove necessary if you are to develop a strong cumulative case on behalf of
growing importance of annual and mid-tenure reviews, looking for warning signs
is less and less like reading tea leaves or peering into crystal balls. In most
cases, if your tenure case is weak, you will know because you will be told.
Even if you are in an institution that does not have a strong or explicit
culture of evaluation, you will almost certainly know when you are trouble. If
your institution has a two-book threshold for tenure and your first book is
nowhere to be seen come mid-tenure review, you may be renewed but you will be
given strong and overt signals that you are in a precarious situation. If you
are increasingly playing a marginal role in the decision making processes of
your institution, if you are not sought out by colleagues for advice and
participation in community life, you can well guess that your career at your
current institution will not be a long one.
explicit and more indirect signals should be treated as valuable information
rather than signs of personal failure. These warning signs should motivate
fresh thinking about the basic question, "What is it that you really want
to be doing with your life?" If you are not meeting the formal
requirements of your current position, this might be a sign of poor fit. Be
prepared to explore alternative options BEFORE you are forced to do so in the
terminal year of your contract. You are on strongest footing when you leave of
your own volition and have managed to line up another position.
So you did
not get tenure. So what? Suck it up and roll with the punches. Life is not over
and neither is your academic career. On the contrary, this might be an
opportunity in disguise for you to dare to dream beyond the droll rut of tenure
track positions. Because you no longer have to worry about the immediate
pressure to publish or perish - and since by now you have probably discovered
that you can publish and still perish - you should take a break from the
grueling grind of academic expectations and do something fun. Treat yourself to
something you enjoy and don’t feel guilty about it. Instead of getting anxious,
angry, or depressed, you need to take care of yourself and get re-energized for
the road ahead.
have taken some time to collect your wits and regroup, take an honest look at
your situation. If the only thing you ever published was your name and address
in the local telephone directory or if you forgot what classes you were
supposed to be teaching on a given week, then you probably need to consider a
different career path. On the other hand, if you jumped through all the
required hoops like a poodle in the circus only to find yourself dangling from
the last hoop by your toes, then maybe it wasn’t about you. Maybe it was about
them. So stop feeling sorry for yourself and find out what happened.
academia, many people tend to think of tenure as the golden fleece of academic
security and success. In reality, think of it more like an immigration check
point along the border. Yes, you might have received an exit visa from your
doctoral program, but when you were hired, you were only given a temporary
entry permit work visa into the land of academe. Now that you applied for a
more permanent status, politics, economics, and other factors play a role in
whether you get to stay. Remember that regardless of what you are told, tenure
decisions are never objective. There are always subjective factors, opinions,
agendas, and power plays influencing how the committee interprets your
portfolio, and their subsequent decisions. Race and gender also color the
decision (particularly if your research and teaching focused on those areas)
since colleagues might interpret this focus as less "academically
rigorous," subjective, limited to special interests, and parochial -
unlike their so-called solid, objective, and detached work in the
take stock of the situation, you may want to assess whether you were a good fit
for the institution or whether the institutional politics changed since you
were hired. If your strengths are in teaching instead of publishing, you might
not be a good fit for a research institution. If your views are substantially
different from the rest of your department, or if you were constantly at odds
with the powers that be, you might not have been politically viable. Even
economic considerations and budget constrains might have influenced the
decision, regardless of what you were told. Trying to get a sense of what
happened will help you make more informed decisions as you apply to other
also want to appeal the decision all the way up to God, as well as you should.
Now, don’t deceive yourself into thinking that you will actually change
someone’s mind, because this probably will not happen. But you can get some
satisfaction out of knowing that they will have to read all your voluminous
appeals and sweat out any possible repercussions from their decision. Don’t
waste time in preparing pointless appeals when you could be cleaning up your
vita and writing cover letters for other positions. A simple one or two page
appeal letter will do - then attach copies of your portfolio, and every single
piece of correspondence you ever received or wrote to the dean, department
chair, students, faculty members, etc. that you can find in your files. These
should be sent to everyone in your institution’s hierarchy, all the way up to
the board members.
getting tenure can actually be quite liberating. For instance, you can actually
speak up now and tell everyone what you really think. After all, what are they
going to do, fire you? Of course, this temptation needs to be tempered, because
you don’t want to burn too many bridges. Hopefully you might have some allies
in the department who will support you and be willing to serve as references.
So it might not be wise to bad mouth the institution or the department. After
all, in the words of the godfather: "it’s not personal, it’s
business." Enjoy the time left at the institution to do research and
experiment with your classes, instead of attending all of the countless
committee meetings your colleagues must still attend.
might feel like a pariah and want to hide, you should keep your head high and
spend time with your supporters and friends. Start networking right away. Apply
for jobs and be willing to consider different types of positions that you might
have not considered before, including administrative positions and alternate
career paths. After all, you now have years of teaching experience and a higher
not getting tenure is not the end. Just like in dating or marriage, rejection
by one institution does not mean everyone else has rejected you. Some scholars
who were denied tenure at one place were offered tenured positions at other
institutions within a year or less. Some have gone on to become deans,
vice-presidents, and senior administrators. We even know of one scholar who was
denied tenure at one place and went on to become president of another leading
institution. Instead of pouting, think of it as an opportunity to re-invent
yourself and your career. Keep on publishing, and show everyone how wrong your
school was for letting you go. Be willing to dream and to take action, and you
never know where you will end up.
strategic error for many scholars is failing to engage in the life of your
institution. As noted earlier, giving the impression that you are just passing
through is sure to make you a suspect commodity. Also alienating are colleagues
who are constant complainers; the squeaky wheel will most certainly not get the
grease in such cases. Do find ways to care about the place where you are, even
if it is not ideal. Engage yourself, albeit wisely and judiciously. You don’t
have to sink into exhaustion to make yourself a valued and trusted colleague.
Many scholars have done themselves in by fighting too many battles. Be
prudent. The life of any institution will be disrupted by systematic
injustices and inequities of various kinds. Sort out what you are willing
to risk, and fight accordingly. Being constantly in battle is not likely
to help you win friends and influence people.
to prioritize. As many of our earlier remarks suggest, the most serious
and yet common mistake is failing to be deliberate about prioritizing the
many commitments that make up our lives as scholar-teachers. Investing a
great deal of time and effort in developing your teaching but forgetting
to make time for regular writing at a research institution will make
receiving tenure unlikely. Drowning in a thousand immediate commitments
and forgetting the one serious long-term obligation of developing and
advancing a research agenda is a sure recipe for failure. Likewise,
investing a great deal of time on service and activism when teaching
excellence is the primary criterion for tenure at a teaching college is
sure to lead to disappointment. Know your institution, know your strengths
and weaknesses, and plan deliberately.