Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Mon 5/3/2004 12:00 AM
Random Thought: More on "I'd Like To, But I Don't Have Tenure."

Oh, did I open a lot more than a can of worms. Feels more like a bunch of cases. Flames have been spewing out from my computer. It's a wonder the smoke alarms weren't set off and firemen weren't axing their way into my newly repaired house. That wasn't the all of it. Not only was I being roasted alive, I had to duck schools of red herrings thrown at me. There were so many straw men erected, I almost thought Halloween was upon us.

Without caring to learn who I was and what I might have done before I had tenure or who I was and what I continue to do after I had received tenure, not that any of that is particularly relevant, I was assaulted with accusations of being cavalier, self-righteous, aloof, uncaring, unrealistic, misunderstanding, ignorant, unloving, insensitive, unsupportive, arrogant, and worse.

My fingers are going stiff from responding to individual messages. Tenure, which has been denigrated to little more than job guarantee in the name of academic freedom, is an emotional hot potato, isn't it. Well, I can't sleep. I'm already in deep, hot water. What does a few more feet maater. So, I'd like to put together some of my statements as clarification of what I was driving at.

I raised this issue of tenure because the untenured faculty too often are treated as or see themselves as, and act out, in the words of several untenured e-colleagues, "a frightened second class" or "a silent abused underclass." These attitudes, which are not in the minority, reflect a fundamental distrust that permeates academia. Few feel sufficiently safe and secure to speak out, to be honest, to follow their vision, to experiment, to risk mistake, to risk getting on someone's wrong side. So, I put myself on the line out of a concern for these classy colleagues who are anything but second class. I want everyone to take off the emperor's clothes and lay bare some truths.

Remember, that I was once there. I remember suddenly becoming visible when I transformed from A.B.D. to Ph.D. I remember how suddenly I was valued when I received tenure. I remember the pressures to stop leading the protest against the Vietnam war and leading to integrate the school beyond tokenism long before I had tenure. I remember how I was denied promotion, though I had tenure, because all that I did on campus with curriculum and programs was deemed by my friends and colleagues "unprofessional." I remember the costs I had to pay for not being a "yes man." I know that demands often are made on faculty for which there is insufficient financial support or release time. I am well aware that faculty and administration often speak out of one side of their mouths and act from the other. I understand we each have to decide how much we're willing to pay to maintain our integrity. I realize that the more mouths we each have to feed, the harder the decision, the easier the rationalization. I am sensitive to the fact that Washington, D.C., has nothing on campus power politics. I know that Ph.D. doesn't necessarily translate into cordiality, respectfulness, trustworthiness, and collegiality.

And, as I told a few people, I was being honest, respectfully honest. I was not judging. I know how honesty and compassion can clash, but my words were not meant to injure. Trust and respect often require candor, and healthy relationships have to invite, accept and withstand hard truths. If, however, my words are taken as tough, I hope they're seen in the spirit they were offered: in the spirit of tough love. I wasn't trying to dress up windows. I wasn't trying to keep the emperor dressed. I wasn't trying to coddle with go along to get along advise. If I was trying to do any of those things, that would make me what too many of us currently are: an enabler.

I know that candor is risky since it isn't always as comfortable and convenient and safe as disguise. One of the purposes of candor, respectful honesty, however, is to create and sustain both awareness and understanding. Another is to reduce inner conflict and stress. If we are going to make choices, if we are going to assume responsibility for our choices, we should be honest about the choices confronting us and the choices we are making, about what the choices we make say about us, about what the choices we make may be doing to us, about the choices we are asking others to make, about the consequences of those choices, and about the roles we're modeling to those around us by the choices we make.

You know, it's pretty hard to help others with their struggles if we've given in to ours; it's hard to ask others to look forward if you feel you have to look back over your shoulder in order to protect your back; it's hard to help others see challenge as an opportunity if you treat challenge as a barrier; it's hard to ask others to stand up and stand out if you're inclined to sit down and be quiet; it's hard to urge others to be fearless or come to terms with their fear if you're fearful; it's hard to ask for authenticity if you're in hiding; it's hard to ask others to maintain self-control when you've handed control over to others; it's hard to develop character, which I believe is critical in education, if you're willing to compromise yours.

A lot of what I'm saying is about self-control. Far too often, almost always, the pursuit of tenure and the other of regalia of academia result in a loss of self control. That is, we do what others expect and demand of us, or what we are convinced others expect and demand. Yet, we each need self control. It's the ultimate mark of leadership. We need it to protect ourselves from "followship;" we need it to protect ourselves against manipulation and intimidation of the cultural pressures exerted by others--it's called "the system"--who are around us; we need it to make our own decisions; we need it to set our own goals; we need it to determine our own value system; we need it to focus on who we are capable of becoming and focus out who we don't want to become; we need it so others don't stand in the way; we need it to be imaginative and creative; we need it to set and manage our own purpose; we need it to set our eyes on our own vision; we need it to overcome obstacles; we need it to use challenges as opportunities; we need it for inner peace. That is the one area where it all stops with you alone. If you don't have self-control, it's nobody's fault but your own. If you don't have it, someone else has control over you and you do their biding for their purposes to achieve their goals. When you can exercise control over yourself, you bite the sweet, lush fruit of your own spirit; you have the final decision that will define your life, your purpose, your vision. It's the only way to decide how you're going to live the only life you have to live.

My colleague, Pat Burns, sent me some bedtime reading that once again reminded me that our worries, frights, anxieties, and depressions over such things as getting tenure are not about tenure. Behind our understandable concern with keeping our job, behind our willingness to compromise ourselves is deep, inner fear. There's no getting away from it no matter how hard we try. In this reading, the author argues that it's not the system we should focus on. It's not someone else we should focus on. We should focus on ourselves. In this case, the truth is that so very few like the tenure debasing system, so many submit to it, so many want to change the submissive system, and so few in the system are willing to look at themselves and are willing to change--which is essential if the system is to change at all.

As I told a few people, I think I was extraordinarily helpful by being honest and asking my colleagues and others to stop rationalizing or offering excuses. If nothing else, we have to be honest with ourselves. We have to work on ourselves, not on the system. You may not have control over the system, you certainly can't control others, but you can control how you respond to it and to them. We have to acknowledge and recognize our fears, our faults, our weaknesses, our egos, our insecurities instead of the faults of someone else or something called "the system." That is not to validate the system. That is to recognize that we are the system, and as we change the system commensurately changes.

No, it's not tenure that's the issue. I'm not opposed to tenure. And, as someone accused me of doing, I am certainly not promoting submissiveness. Nor am I urging a manning of the barricades or storming of the Bastille. I am saddened by how so many allow so many others to use tenure as a bludgeon. The enemy is not the system. The enemy is, as Pogo said, us. It is we who misuse and abuse tenure; it is we who allow ourselves to be abused. Our fear is the reason we're giving others permission to push our fear button. All the time anyone of us plays the blame game by saying: "it's their fault" we're stuck to the tar baby. Only when we can responsibly ask ourselves: "Why am I scared when I think about tenure" do we begin or, at least, have the opportunity to unstick ourselves. Only then will their control weaken. Only then will our self-control strengthen. Only then will the power we have given to fear begin to wane. When we gather the strength to recognize our fears instead of some vague institutional fault, when we exercise the courage to admit to our fears instead of blaming others, when we have the perseverance to dig out the source of our fear, do we have a chance to come to terms with and overcome fear's strangle hold. No, it's not really tenure. It's us on both sides. But, it is easier and safer to blame than assume responsibility. I'm not sure, though, as another e-colleague told me, the deluding or lying to yourself is really more comforting.

There are two real tragedies in all this. One is how easily we forget, how easily we lose sympathy and understanding and sensitivity, how easily "we" the once controlled become like the controlling "them" once we get tenure, how the bludgeoned becomes the bludgeoner, abetting the system to perpetuate the system, doing unto those who come after us what those who went before us did to us.

If you look around, you'll see the second tragedy in all of this. You'll rarely see metamorphosing post-tenure breakouts happening inside or outside the classroom. We delude ourselves into thinking that once we get tenure, once we've learned and gotten accustomed to achieving by silently going along, we're so easily going to rock the boat in the face of pressures to achieve the other academic milestones of promotion, merit pay, appointments, sabbaticals, grants, awards, post-tenure review, etc. Most of us don't.

On so many campuses there is talk of a learning community and yet the pursuit of and the granting process of tenure is so "uncommunity;" it is so often seen as and used as a weapon. When we each decide to work to be in true community with each other, when achievement and character do not clash, when there is collegiality, when we replace the adversarily "us v. them" with a mutually supportive and encouraging "we," when we kick out divisive jealousy and haughty ego, when we get rid of the "they're out to get me" attitude, when there is a web of strong connections, when there is sensitivity and awareness and mindfulness of others and yourself, when there is mutual support and encouragement, when we can be trusting and trustful, when there is respect for others and yourself, when there is love for others and yourself, there is no fear. And, when there is no fear, the quest for tenure and all the subsequent of academic medals is no longer fearsome.

If you say that will never happen, you're right. You won't put in an ounce of effort or a second of time for it to come to pass. If you say, "we can do that," you right. And, you might do whatever it takes for it to alter the academic culture. As for me, I can assure you, that if ever the mistake is made to appoint me to my college's Tenure & Promotion Committee, I will put my money where by mouth is; I will not, as I have not in the past before and after getting tenure, stay quiet in the still night.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
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                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
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