Peter J. Paris
Elmer G. Homrighausen Professor
Princeton Theological Seminary
The Post-tenure Blues
Immediately after receiving tenure you will soon realize that you are no longer viewed as a young emerging scholar, but as one who is approaching mid-career. By granting you tenure your school declared, on the basis of your demonstrated work to date, that it is willing to give you a life-time contract on the promise that your work will continue to bring distinction to the school. Thus, your arrival at this mid-career milestone implies the need to plan for the next phase of your academic development. If you fail to design a plan, it is unlikely that there will be further developments in your professional career and you will be grounded in mid-stream.
Your academic productivity will be evaluated as you seek promotion to full-professor in your school, or if you apply for a position at another school. A certain kind of blues begins to develop in relation to each prospect. First, if you do not know what your next research project is to be, then you might feel the blues until you decide. Or second, after gaining tenure the number of schools that might be interested in offering you a position will decrease simply because you are now tenured. In other words, from now onwards others will know that you will only consider offers of tenured appointments in the future. To do otherwise would be viewed by all concerned as a backward move. Few tenured scholars will ever be willing to give up their tenure for another position. In brief, in order for another school to offer you a tenured position it will need to be assured that the academic promise discerned at the time you were tenured is being realized. This means you will need to provide evidence of your on-going scholarly productivity, such as research, publications, lectures, and various other avenues of academic leadership, as well as the wider reputation you develop as a result of it
Mid-career Challenges and Stresses
Using Your Power Responsibly
Faculty members are always being evaluated by everyone they encounter. Your reputation will be developed as students, staff, teaching colleagues, visiting lecturers, and professional associates everywhere share their impressions of you with others whom they meet. Being respectful of each and every person one encounters is a virtue one would do well to cultivate. The cultivation is done through habitual practice of treating everyone with respect at all times and everywhere. Admittedly, the most difficult situation in which to exercise this virtue is when a person is being obnoxious or disrespectful toward you. Under such circumstances it will be a challenge for you to remain calm, respectful, and non-defensive especially when your inner self prompts you to do otherwise. In brief, you would do well not to allow the other to bring you down to his/her level of inappropriate behavior because your reputation is at stake. Thus, I propose the following guideposts:
- Respect for students means that a faculty person should never be abusive by diminishing the studentís sense of self-worth but rather find ways to empower the student in helping him/her realize his/her potentiality.
- Respect for colleagues at home and elsewhere means always finding something in their work to respect by prefacing any disagreements with words of praise and gratitude.
- Respect for staff means that one should never treat them as inferiors or in a condescending manner.
Aspirations toward Academic Governance
Faculty members should pursue their interests. Some have aspirations toward academic administration. If so, those hopes should be pursued in a reasonable way, knowing that those who wish to proceed to the top of the ladder of academic administration should acquire the basic skills and discipline of scholarship as the first step. That is to say, they should be deliberate in gaining a measure of excellence in their academic disciplines. Under normal circumstances this means having been granted tenure. Only then will one be able to assume a position in academic administration with tenure in oneís discipline which offers additional value to oneís job security.
Since a person can proceed prematurely into academic administration, those interested in this venue should cultivate relationships with existing administrators and encourage them to tell you their stories concerning their career trajectory. There can be no better advice than that provided by experienced persons.
Responsibility to Over-all Profession
- Professional memberships. Membership in oneís primary academic association is so important that most schools will pay the membership fee as part of the expenses for its faculty to attend annual meetings. One should inquire about this benefit when negotiating a possible academic appointment. Some schools pay expenses for those who are on the associationís program as an incentive for its faculty to present papers, chair meetings, and sit on program planning committees. The AAR is the largest academic association in religion and, hence, an appropriate choice for most religion scholars. For the past four decades it has met annually in association with the Society for Biblical Literature. Beginning in 2008, however, those associations will hold separate meetings. The AAR holds its annual meetings throughout the United States and also hosts regional conferences where younger scholars often stand a better chance of presenting papers and receiving constructive feed-back.
It should also be noted that there are many other academic societies in religion that hold annual meetings (see chapter 2 for a list). If at all possible, one should become an active participant in at least one such additional association.
- Reviewing book proposals and essays. When invited to review works for either a publisher or for a tenure and/or promotion committee, one should exercise the greatest possible care for no other reason than that the personís professional career is at stake. Your job will be an easy and delighteful one when the work is great. But, if the work has serious problems, your job is a difficult one. In the case of reviewing for a publisher, it is good both for the writer and your own reputation to suggest all the ways the work needs revision, whether they be minor or major changes. In the case of reviewing for tenure and promotion, you will be asked to evaluate the personís work by discussing its contribution to the field of scholarship. Again, you must render your honest evaluation in the most prudent way possible. If you have not been told in advance, you should inquire as to whether or not the candidate will know the identities of the external reviewers or see their evaluations. Rarely will your name be revealed to the candidate but it is always good to be sure of this in advance.
Sometimes junior scholars who know you well and respect you highly will ask for your assistance in critiquing their work. I always treasure these requests and, as with graduate students, do everything I possibly can to help them do their best. Thus, honest, candid, helpful advice is the best you can offer. You can be certain that they will take your advice very seriously and appreciate the time and energy you give in assessing their work.
- Initiating new projects. Most academic societies are open to new initiatives by its members, for it is how creativity enters the profession. Prompted by your interests and ideas, you should not shy away from seeking venues where you can take the initiative of launching new projects. The AAR has set forth certain procedures for advancing such initiatives. You should learn about those procedures through its web page and/or discussing the matter with other colleagues or the appropriate staff member at the headquarters. Similarly, if you wish to seek funding for a new project, you should discuss the matter with a possible funding source in order to discern their possible interest. Do not proceed too far in that direction, however, without discussing it with your academic dean since the institution will likely be an important partner in any outside funding.
- Networking. There is no end to the amount of networking one can do regionally, nationally, and internationally. The internet provides an excellent means for such activity. Every scholar should have a relatively small network of conversational partners with whom s/he can share ideas, read drafts of papers, etc. for critical reviews. Remember that in one way or another, scholarship is a relational activity. It is written for an audience. Having the support of a small group of conversation partners can be enormously helpful. For many, these relationships begin in graduate school and continue throughout oneís professional career.
- Writing letters of recommendation. Along with so many things we do as faculty members, letters of recommendation should be undertaken with the greatest of care because lives and careers are at stake. Remember that you are being asked to use your best judgment in recommending the person for the particular position or promotion. Keep in mind that your own reputation is also at stake, since what you say is likely to influence the final decision.
There is a difference between a strong recommendation and one that is offered with reservations. I find that the latter might take the form of emphasizing the candidateís strengths and saying nothing about his/her possible weaknesses for the position. Often the committee will notice what is not said as well as what is said. Thus, I often write the recommendation in such a way as to ask myself how the candidate would feel about this recommendation if he or she were to read it. This exercise helps the writer to be truthful, charitable, and fair. None will blame you if your recommendation exhibits these virtues.
There have been a few times when I have been asked to review a personís work for tenure when either the quality or quantity of the work was such that I had to decline the invitation usually on the grounds of being inundated with other duties. Even so, always express gratitude for the invitation.
Rightly or wrongly, I have sometimes sent a blind copy to the candidate of a superb recommendation I have written in order for that person to be empowered by my evaluation of their work. In all such cases, I felt confident that other reviewers would think similarly and that there was not likely to be any problem with the review process.
It is important to remember that sabbaticals are not times of rest and relaxation. Nor are they times to teach elsewhere unless that teaching is part of your research. For example, sometimes a person will go abroad to do research and in return for lodging, etc., might teach a course in that context. Clearly, that particular school should know that your primary purpose for being there is to do research, which should not be seriously hindered by other responsibilities. Especially in certain so-called "third world" contexts, such reciprocal arrangements can be helpful both to you and the institution.
The academic world is one of the few environments where sabbaticals are given on a regular basis. But since that regularity varies from school to school, you should inquire about the schoolís sabbatical leave policy at the time you are considering joining its faculty. At any rate, you should feel privileged to be a part of an institution that is willing to pay you a salary to spend several months periodically thinking and writing.
You should make careful plans concerning the goals you wish to accomplish during your sabbatical. Keep in mind that this is the only time for sustained research and writing. Very little research can be accomplished during the academic year. Some can be done during summer breaks but the time is too short for sustained work coupled with vacation and family responsibilities. If planned well, sabbaticals can be refreshing, stimulating, and productive not only for yourself and your work but for your family. If you can receive outside funding, your school may agree to allow you to extend your sabbatical but all of that will need to be carefully negotiated. Few things are more gratifying in academe than accomplishing the goals you set for your sabbatical.
Responsibility for Mentoring
The process of mentoring takes place whenever you are engaged with students whether formally or informally. You are always their mentor and they will never cease evaluating you in that role. Thus, you should always conduct yourself with this awareness and never try to step out of the role because you will do so at your peril. You should never violate the code of professional ethics which you should know and appreciate. Most academic societies and schools will have policies governing professional conduct. It is part of your professional responsibility to know those codes and faithfully adhere to them at all times.
There are different understandings of mentoring. The one I disagree with is the model where the teacher strives to mold the student in his/her own image. That model invariably allows the student very little freedom. It is not only controlling but it stultifies the studentís creativity. I prefer to help the student identify his/her academic interest at every point in the process of learning, and help them understand what is required academically to realize their interests. Part of that advising process, however, is to inform the student if he or she does not have the capacity to pursue a particular type of inquiry successfully and what is needed to acquire that capacity. This method of mentoring maximizes the studentís freedom and the teacher become a coach in the process. The responsibility is placed on the student to manage his/her program of studies with as much consultation as needed. Respecting the student and his/her interests is one of the highest values in this model. By doing so, the student will respect the teacherís work and be influenced but not unduly controlled by it.
How you deal with a troublesome situation in the classroom may become one of the primary mentoring moments. Never be defensive or abusive to the student who is causing the problem. Rather, deal with the situation in a positive and constructive way. Whenever I have had a student who persists in challenging some aspect of the course with his/her opposing position, I have suggested that that student prepare his case for a ten or fifteen minute presentation to the class. That usually has a calming effect on the student and puts him or her in position to be heard and to defend his position before his/her peers. In my experience, this method always succeeds.
Careers have both beginnings and endings. When exactly, the ending occurs could be questionable, but one phase of it certainly ends at the time of retirement from a particular institution. Depending on oneís health and other factors, the academic enterprise can endure well beyond formal retirements. Happily, mandatory retirement at a certain age is no longer the rule in the United States and each person is left to make that decision in a responsible way. Certainly, by the time you reach the mid-career point, you should gain clarity about the adequacy of your prospective retirement income and whether or not it will need to be augmented in some way. Also, you should begin at that point making at least some tentative plans about your post-retirement life. As with your career, setting goals is equally important for your retirement.
In my judgment, the more plans you have for your retirement the better. In that way, your retirement can have considerable continuity with the pre-retirement life, although it is good that it not be the same in all respects. It is liberating to be free from the constraints of academic calendars and their demands. Further, the more creative you can be in planning your retirement years, the better.
Mistakes to Avoid
- Avoid taking yourself too seriously. The institution has survived before you came and it will survive after you leave. You are not indispensable.
- Avoid missing appointments, deadlines, and being late.
- Avoid being anti-social with your colleagues and always respond gracefully to their invitations for social activities with them.
- Avoid saying disrespectful things to students about your colleagues.
- Avoid passivity in the face of injustice since advocacy for justice reveals your own moral integrity and enhances the quality of the institution.
- Avoid all unprofessional behavior.