Friday, May 22, 2009

First day of the rest of my career

Well what a ride it's been. Just yesterday, I spent the whole morning making my case for tenure. You see, I am a university professor, and getting tenure is like finally getting past the probationary period for your job. Except our probation lasts about 5 years! And by the time you reach it, you are probably pushing 40 and have a wife and kids. Losing your job at this stage of life can be quite traumatic.

So, you spruce up your CV (curriculum vitae) and hand it into your department. That's accompanied by a process to choose outside people who could act as references and offer their opinions on how good you are. The department solicits letters from some of those external referees, then looks at those letters in combination with your teaching and research record, then finally comes to a decision: yes or no. In my case, it was "no".

Luckily, it's a multi-level process, and the next level up (the faculty-level committee), overturned the decision, and I was back on track. However, in these mixed-opinion cases, the president makes his decision in line with the department's decision. Hence, as of Jan. 26, I had officially been denied tenure.

What does that mean? It's pretty much all-or-nothing. Either one GETS tenure and is guaranteed job security for the rest of their career, or one is DENIED tenure and has to leave their job within a year. So, as it stood, I was facing changing jobs within the next year (and in THIS economic climate).

As one would hope, there is an appeal process for tenure. Naturally, I appealed my negative tenure decision. Then it becomes a miniature court case with a 3-person jury (a tribunal) consisting of other professors. Choosing the tribunal members is very much like jury selection; I suggest a list of names, as does my opposition (the university, represented by the top-top-top brass... the president himself or the VP Academic and Provost). We each get a chance to "OK" people on each others' lists, and the tribunal is chosen from those names.

My hearing was yesterday morning. I gave my opening statement. Then we called a handful of witnesses. For each witness, we each got a chance to ask questions (me, my opposition, and the tribunal). Then I gave a brief closing statement, and it was all over. After that, the tribunal deliberated.

At 4pm, I received a phone call telling me that they had come to a decision... to GRANT TENURE.

I'm not a religious man (to say the least), but "Thank you Lord Jesus!" came to mind.

For the last 5 years, I had been playing it safe, dabbling in the low-risk research projects. It's like splashing in the wading pool while your friends body-surf. But now that's all behind me. I have tenure. I am free to pursue my interests no matter how risky or abhorrent. I have many ideas that have laid dormant since my undergrad days.

Today is the first day of the rest of my career.

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