Pre-Tenure Anxieties

The evaluation period for my tenure file has begun. The letters have been written and sent in; the documents have been uploaded and updated; the dates have been set. Every school has a different process -- but at Emory University if you are in the College of Arts and Science, tenure is basically a three step process.

First, the department votes on your file and constructs a letter summarizing how they feel about your candidacy. The complexities of your arguments are relayed to the next set of readers through their eyes and the eyes of the letter writers. Supposedly, that process happened yesterday afternoon for me. There are hints that it will be positive. That should ease my anxiety. Yet, here I am at 3:11am, trying to work out my anxiety through writing about the very thing that brings me anxiety -- getting tenure.

Second, the department's letter and vote are sent to the "T&P Committee" for the Emory College of Arts and Science. This is a big group of people -- 9 total voting individuals from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines. You are told early on in the process that you have to write your work in a generic way so that people who are not sociologists will be able to comprehend your work easily. This stage is why translating your work to a smart, lay audience is important. There is a sociologists on the committee, who must recuse themselves during any vote that involves their own department. So, in my case (and similar cases -- there are four [4] of us up for tenure this year!), there will only be 8 voting individuals, leaving open the possibility of a tie vote. This is not good. However, my fourth year review was unanimously positive from this same committee (slightly different composition of people, but same function "T[enure] and P[romotion]").

These individuals will deliberate on your package -- all of it. They will consider the letters, in particular and especially, as these are external validators of the contribution I have made to the field and my future trajectory in the discipline. They also attend to the department's letter and vote, as well as the mounds of paper I have uploaded and updated over the last 9 months (the first upload was mid-June). They will write a letter summarizing their take on my bid for tenure and send their letter and vote to the Dean of the College of Arts and Science. The Dean, supposedly, relies heavily on this letter to make their decision on whether tenure should be awarded. The Dean makes a final decision, based on their letter from the T&P committee and their own view of the case, and then sends that decision with another letter to Provost's committee -- the T-Pac Committee.

Third, the T-Pac committee votes. It is a smaller committee, and it agains has a sociologists on it who must recuse themselves. At this point, there should be some cohesion to the letters being written -- department, T&P, Dean. If not, this is a red flag. If so, the T-Pac has it relatively easy -- they are often simply affirming what has already been determined by the T&P Committee. However, they craft their own letter to guide the Provost in their final decision. The Provost, then, makes a decision on tenure that is the final decision. The Board of Trustees will review the file in May and make a final determination that generally coincides with the Provost's recommendation. At the stage of the Board of Trustees, we are often simply counting time.

This year I have counted a lot of time. I counted my sabbatical time winding down. I counted the time it took for one manuscript after the next to reach a decision after peer review from a journal. I counted the time it took for Luther to be rid of multiple bacterial infections (he's had a tough year). I counted the time I spent in intensive outpatient therapy. I counted the time it took me to adjust to a new set of medications. I counted the time it took me to get over the violence of my last relationship. I counted the time I spent in hospitals. I counted the time it took for me to get back on that horse called life and do it all over again.

I am happy to say that, for once in my life, I am actually pleasantly happy. I have my family back. I have found what love is. I have found friendship. I have found tribe. I have found peace. I have found creativity. I have found home. I have found place.

All of that being said, I am managing an extreme level of anxiety over this tenure thing. I do not know why exactly. My chair says it is just tenure anxiety, and it will lift once the decision comes to fruition -- one way or the other. I know that I will get tenure somewhere. In fact, I already have offers for promotion to tenure from two external institutions. I am in a blessed place. So, if something quirky happens and I do not get tenure at Emory, I have accepted the implications of that. And, if I get tenure, I will...well, see that's where the anxiety is coming from -- I do not have a clear sense of my tenured self at Emory. I am not a Director of something, or a Chair, or a Dean. I am a really good scientist; I am a pretty good writer; and I want to engage the community more along those terms. I will have to craft a place for myself doing those three thing, but it is hard to envision what that looks like. I guess though I should not worry too much about it -- because I have done everything I can do now to get tenure. It is no longer up to me.


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