Saturday, January 06, 2007

Hurting or Helping?

This is not a “walked 5 miles through the driving snow” story although it may seem that it is.

At the mid level schools at which I have taught, life for untenured faculty has changed. At my first teaching job, I taught the summer before my first fall -- a first preparation crammed into a 7 week course. Like others, the course load thereafter was the same as that for my senior colleagues. At tenure time, we had no input into who the referees were for our scholarship. They were all national figures and I was surprised they would take the time. When the class visitation issue came up, the visits were announced the same day or not announced at all. Why would they be?

These days at my school and others, I assume, it is quite different. Untenureds receive summer research grants starting with the summer before beginning teaching and extending through the tenure decision. Reduced teaching loads in the first year are the norm. The candidates are involved in selecting referees for their scholarship. The scheduling of class visits is done to make sure the candidates can be at their best. (Not that anyone actually writes a negative class visit letter even though their private comments may suggest there are problems.) Faculty, many of whom are not successful writers, are constantly providing advice, often conflicting, about whom to try to please, how to get a good placement, topics, etc. Or, they babble on about their own work, name drop or otherwise try to impress. There are scholarship mentors and “friend” mentors. Next there will be mentors for the mentors and an Associate Dean for Mentoring.

Sounds pretty good right?

I am not sure. I preferred the old way. The new “supportive,” “sensitive,” “caring” approach seems nerve racking. There is so much attention focused on the untenureds, I do not see how they survive without mega doses of Valium. The assistance has an unsettling ritualistic quality about it. It seems so much more intense than when I went through the “less sensitive” process (where I was told to work hard and everything would be fine) although the standards are exactly the same. Everything written will be published and favorable reviews are readily supplied. The production about class visitation suggests that somehow it is not just another day in front of the class.

The new “sensitive” process also strikes me as undermining. We, and every other law school, hire relatively confident and competent fully developed adults. Often they are married with children or have other support systems and come from successful careers. Immediately, like overly protective parents, we “tell” them that they are dependent, need our help, and face a huge challenge. By making life “easier” we communicate that the job is overwhelming when it is not and that we have little confidence in them. What the pretenure period reminds me of is a kind of velvet glove hazing like that which first year students seem to want to experience even though those days are long gone.

Finally, there is another dangerous lesson this may teach. It is only human for untenureds to develop expectations. If their every need(or non need) is anticipated and satisfied, what kind of faculty do they become? Will they accept it if a dean asks them to teach in an area where the School is short on coverage that year? Will they be willing to meet with students even when it is not convenient? Will they simply become part of the Matrix in which they deserve all they get and more regardless of what they do? So many have a sense of entitlement when they arrive and the "new sensitively" reinforces it.

I honestly feel sorry for today’s untenureds and would not trade places. My hope is that they can ignore the messages and laugh, forgive, and become productive (no matter how much we tell them it is unlikely).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog is interesting but has far too many graphics on the first page. You might want to cut down the number of posts that display on the front page, as my computer's struggling, and it's almost brand new.

1/06/2007 1:13 AM  
Blogger Alfred L. Brophy said...

I agree with anonymous.

1/07/2007 5:30 PM  
Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

Actually it all pops right up for me and my computer is three years old. Maybe the leader of Moneylaw -- somewhere on an interstate between Minnesota and Kentucky could make the suggested adjustment. Oh, I really like the post too.

1/07/2007 9:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hurting!! Everywhere there are reminders that I am untenured. I wonder if the over zealousness reflects that they find it difficult to get their work done. I do not.

1/08/2007 9:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeff Harrison is that the University of Florida but has described my school without ever being here.

1/08/2007 9:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find the post a little strange. Publication requirements have expanded signifcantly for untenureds. I have heard that specifically about U of F. There are countless professors that got tenure at a variety of law schools without any publications -- none, nada. I find his asservation that there have been no changes in expectations somewhat bizarre.

1/08/2007 6:12 PM  
Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

I can actually speak with some authority about the U of F having been here for 20 years. First, "Mr. Mouse," you are exactly right that there are some faculty here and elsewhere who recieved tenure in a era when writing was not valued. In the mid 1990s the Florida faculty revised their tenure requirements to formalize what had been the informal standard: one article for promotion to assoc. prof and 1 substantial or 2 less substantial articles for full prof. Your source is mistaken.

One more point of insignicant clarification. When I went through the tenure process it was not at UF. Thus my statement about no change in standard should have read that the standard where I received tenure was no different than the one at UF now.

1/11/2007 11:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What difference does it make if the standards at UF went up or down? I understood the point to be that so much assistance can be undermining whatever the standards.

I am close to UF several UF faculty and they were surprised to here a claim that the standards had gone up.

1/11/2007 3:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hear, I mean.

1/11/2007 5:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Today's tenure standards have unquestionably gone up significantly from the 1970s & 1980s. Two or three articles is more than zero. But my question is: are two or three articles really enough? Most junior folks these days feel like 1 article a year is closer to the standard, no?

And why do you assume a "Mr." Mouse?

1/11/2007 10:45 PM  
Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

Hmmm. I have aways assumed that A. Nonni Mouse was a man mouse with the A standing for Arthur. But you are right, it could be Ann. I wonder if there is a gender difference with respect to remaining anonymous.

No argument that, at least as far as I know, the standards are higher generally higher now than in the 70's and to some extent in the 80s. I think the shift occurred somewhere in the 80s. At least at my first job you wrote or you were gone and several were.

Perhaps my point could be better stated like this. Many of us who were tenured in the 80s wrote the same amount or more that untenureds write today and did it without all the rituals, constant mentoring, and slack. In my view today's untenureds have it worse because all of the slack comes with a boatload of pressure and intrusive faculty "help."

On the question of article numbers, the standard is tricky. At UF, although the standard is the same as when I went through the process (elsewhere), I think the untenureds these days do tend to write more than the minimum number. On the other hand, it is far more common for an article to be a relatively short symposium piece. So, again at the only school I know anything about, one article per year is becoming the norm but is not required unless the articles, as they increasingly tend to be, are relative short.

This just illustrates that the article number is an imperfect surrogate for a certain level of research effort.

1/11/2007 11:56 PM  

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