Three years ago this week, I was given my 1-year’s notice that my tenure track Assistant Professor job would be non-renewed. Huh?! But we’ve been pulling together my promotion and tenure package for the past six months! Sorry, we’re not allowing you to go up for promotion and tenure. Huh?! How is that possible considering that I’m on the tenure track? Sorry, the Dean’s Office said you couldn’t be reviewed for P&T because your contract is not being renewed.

Don’t think it can’t happen to you. I had an active $1 million federal grant and it still happened to me.

I remember when my department said in early June, after all the paperwork had been pulled together for entering my year-6-on-tenure-track promotion and tenure package, that the Dean’s Office was addressing some issue. What issue? We’ll get back to you.

I told my husband I’d be ok as long as I wasn’t called into a meeting with my department chair in June. Sure enough, in the last week of June, the meeting was scheduled. I wore my best suit. I walked as tall as I could down that long hallway to the conference room. In attendance were the chair, the professor who represented the department on the P&T committee, and the department business manager. My immediate supervisor was absent and on vacation. They handed me a one-year notice, and verbally downplayed all my accomplishments. (To interject some objectivity, the head of the school’s P&T committee said I was one of the strongest candidates he’d ever seen for Associate.) I made my rebuttal case, but it didn’t matter.

Don’t think it can’t happen to you. When there is a change in your division chief, chair, dean, or university president, anything can happen.

I’ve timed this blog in case some readers are experiencing this now. I’ll share Chapter 2 in a future blog.

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Good grief!  I feel a bunch of ways about this, most of them bad.  Dr. Liz, I’m guessing all has ended up at least semi-okay for you, as you’re described at Associate Professor (congrats!!!).  However, I also know that it may have involved a move to another institution, uprooting your family and leaving the support system you’d built for at least your 6 years on the tenure track.  Or it may have involved a bunch of painful discussions with the Powers that Be at the institution that initially decided not to renew your contract.  However the story turns out, I’d make a fairly hefty bet that there was a period of feeling pretty low for you, perhaps coupled with a crapload of anxiety, self-doubt, and all sorts of other yuckiness.  And what pisses me off the most, I think, is that it’s totally unnecessary.  If I could wish away the tenure system (especially at R1’s) altogether, I’d do it in a heartbeat.  It sends a terrible message to the best and brightest in the world – “You were good enough to hire, and we love that you’ve worked yourself silly on our behalf, but we’re not sure you’re worth keeping past an arbitrary point in time.”  Seriously??!!  As an investment strategy, it’s completely goofy – invest money, resources, and time into someone who is clearly doing productive work, but then don’t nurture that investment and start completely over with someone brand-new who will have to learn the ins and outs of the institution all over again, and who will likely cost a boatload to recruit (added to the loss of the investment in the person who’s leaving), because of the calendar?!  And as business arrangements go, at least at an R1, it lacks a certain feeling of equity – “We won’t arbitrarily fire you, but you’ll definitely need to keep paying essentially all of your own salary.”  I know all of the arguments in favor of tenure, and I’ve noticed that they are often espoused by those who have been granted tenure (and yes, I’ve also noticed that the arguments against are often espoused by those who are pre-tenure, like myself).
I’ll stop ranting.  I very much look forward to hearing the next part of your story!  I just wish that our universities – workplaces of the brightest, most creative and innovative minds in the world – could figure out a system better than one developed 80-100 years ago.

I’m passing through the same thing right now, and they are pulling some other dirty games on me. 

Dr Liz, PhD says:

This (comment above from June 30th) is exactly why I timed this blog for June. DOCUMENT everything (all conversations, all emails, etc). Enlist your Faculty Senate Grievance Committee. That committee’s chair may be able to resolve some of the issue without having to file an official grievance/complaint. Anything you can get resolved quietly and quickly is good for you.
My department was ugly with me, too. Totally trashed my reputation, so anyone who hadn’t actually worked with me probably believed what was being said. Twisting the truth can be powerful, as we know from many political scenarios. (When the promotion/tenure committee was finally allowed to review my package, they almost unanimously voted for promotion. So I guess “the facts” actually do speak for themself. But most people in an organization don’t see the details of your cv.)
Spoiler alert from my Chapter 2 related blog: reach out to anyone who can help you (professionally and personally) as long as they are totally trustworthy. Repeat: as long as they are totally trustworthy.

Trustworthy?! You know better Dr. Liz that nobody is trustworthy in such institutions. And those who are trustworthy are often too weak to make a stand. My Head of Department and grevience committee are too afraid about losing their job. They are there only for decoration. They have stopped for me two approved grants totally $360k, acused me of plagirizing one of my proposals without a single evidence. All this becuase I didnt suck it in and shut my mouth when I asked why I was completely marginalized from a project that we won which they asked me to bid on!
In any case, I learned the hard way how to choose my battles right and not to play the game when the rules bind you nothing but to lose!

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