The appeal process here involves a written document and the option of an appearance with the P&T committee. I think the appearance is much more likely to help than hurt, so I schedule it and hope for the best. It helps that I’ve “engaged in some scholarly activity” over the past semester, so I’ve got new things to talk about. My senior colleagues have reiterated and strengthened their support. I’ve got some outside letters commenting on some recent presentations. I also think my responses to the committee’s claims are pretty convincing, so I feel like I’ve got a little room to breathe.
(In short: as my chair put it, the committee’s reasons seem to rely on the least charitable reading of everything in the dossier. My hope is that the combination of new evidence and an emphasis on what’s positive in the original material will sway a vote or two.)
I’ve heard rumors that the original decision was contentious– it had to be, given the evidence– and I’ve been advised informally that this is a chance to hand ammunition to my allies in the room. So my goal is to present my arguments in brief, then move on to my recent work and future trajectory, all the while making points that can be used by whoever is on my side.
My big hope is to alleviate fears that I’ll be dead weight after tenure. It’s easier because I believe my own case. (The irony here is that I’ve always felt more impeded than encouraged by the looming tenure decision, but this isn’t something I can say.)
On the other hand, I have no idea who thinks what, and I’m aware that the conversation in the room will be informed by previous discussion, so there will be subtexts I can’t understand.
I do my song and dance. The committee argued that p. I argue in my document that not-p. Let me remind you of my arguments. Furthermore, here is additional evidence. We get into questions. Some are broad and treacherous: “why does research matter to you?” Gah. Some details about departmental politics, about mentoring, and so on. I suggest a story about why Unsupportive Guy is that way. For reasons I won’t ever know this seems to prompt some knowing looks, so I expand on that a bit, trying to put the negative letter into context while remaining levelheaded and professional. Some of the members are asking what really sound like softball questions– “it seems like it really matters to you that this manuscript make it into print”– and they give the look of support. I’m suspicious, because I’d picked one of them to be anti-me, but I’ll take what I can get. I sum up some themes of my work and talk about ways of extending my projects into the future. I manage to be clear, for once.
Then we’re done. I spend a long time rehashing, kicking myself for small mistakes. My immediate assessment is that I’ve done myself some good, but I could have done more. Too hard to read the tea leaves. I try not to think about it, with limited success.
Going to graduation is more humiliating than usual. It’s hard being the warning to others. I leave town. Time passes.
More time passes. It’s pretty agonizing.
Because I’m in a different time zone, the provost wakes me up. “Neddy! I’m calling with good news!” There is tenure. Alhumdulillah. I become extraordinarily relaxed. People in several states get loaded in my honor.
Gratitude to the committee members, who could have easily dug in their heels. Reversals look embarrassing for them, and I was happily surprised at their willingness to re-examine the question. The appeals process is much less formal than the original run-through; it feels like things are a little improvised. Plus, they don’t owe me anything other than a decision, so it would be easy for them to be stubborn. Also thanks to my senior colleagues for coming through when they didn’t have to. Knowing who your friends are: priceless. Almost as good as knowing who they aren’t.
The down side: if we re-ran this scenario a hundred times, I’m not sure how many times we’d get this outcome. Feels a little…unreliable. Like this. Not sure how right this is.
Some lessons, besides the obvious injunction to publish more. Presenting your case to people outside the discipline is tricky, and it requires spelling out how research in your field works in ways that might feel awkward. Grit the teeth and self-promote. Even your ephemera changes the course of scholarship. Say it.
You never know just how good will comes in handy. My departmental colleagues said nice things about me, of course, but I also got a lot of help from people across campus– people who didn’t have to help. Friends in the know passed on rumors: your case was hard. There was fighting. Press on. It might have had something to do with understanding disciplinary expectations; you should clarify…and so on.
The other thing that helped, oddly, was keeping in mind (to the extent it’s possible) that this doesn’t matter all that much. I told myself and others that this was far from the worst thing to happen to me (true!) and that I’d be fine (true, harder to believe). I got excited about other careers; I started looking for headhunters and talking to administrators about other kinds of work in higher ed. But here’s what’s weird about this: when other people have been denied tenure, I liked to remind myself that they’ll be fine, that losing a job isn’t losing a loved one. But in this scene it’s really hard to stick to that outlook, because so many people see tenure as a life-or-death thing. Being treated as though I’d just been diagnosed with a terminal illness encouraged me to see myself that way, and knowing I’d go on the market as damaged goods didn’t make it easier. The lesson, I suppose, is that the academy…what’s a polite word for mindfuck?…is hard to escape. Realizing and expecting this makes the task somewhat easier, I hope.