I arrive in my office Tuesday morning with full arms and a sore neck from dragging a stack of 600 pages across campus in cold drizzly weather. Why do I assign papers to a large undergrad class of 100 students in my “Sociology of the Family” class? Oh, yeah, because that is good teaching and I strive to be a good teacher… forgot for a moment.
I sit down at my desk, pull out my laptop and check my email. Among the usual book promotions, conference announcements, student emails, other “invitations” and requests, there’s one ominous email from my department chair. She wants to know when I’m on campus this week. She wants to meet.
I am paralyzed. This can’t be good. What could she want to meet about? Our collaborative article is stalled. Could I be in trouble for arguing with her decisions in the faculty meetings? Oh, god, could it be about my tenure case? It’s too soon to know, right? Right? Right?
I reply with my schedule and ask, “Can you tell me what this is about?” She replies, “it’s about the tenure decision.” We meet a few hours later. My fears are confirmed.
My work life, my professional life, my life as I knew it, my life as a professor, my dreams of finally having the time and space to do what I care about because the tenure decision wasn’t looming over my head, the financial security of having a job forever, the sense of having a choice about my own future, all of that, was over. The department decided to deny me tenure.
She told me not to be embarrassed to be around my colleagues. Everyone thinks I’m a great colleague. My teaching is excellent. My service is excellent. My research was good… but not excellent.
I cried. I let her hug me. I called my husband. I cried some more. I packed my bag and ran off campus. I compulsively told everyone I knew. I didn’t want them to find out from someone else. I didn’t want them to think I’m a fraud. I didn’t want them to think I’m still a professor because I’m not. Sure I’m employed by the University a while longer, but when the sr. faculty decided to deny me tenure they closed the door in my face. I have joined the ranks of contingent faculty.
Wait, my chair said, “don’t be embarrassed?” I am not embarrassed. I’m angry! “Everyone thinks I’m a great colleague. My teaching is excellent. My service is excellent. My research is good.” But I’m fired?
Right, I’m fired from a job I wasn’t sure I wanted. A job that stressed me out and made me anxious. A job that often made me cry. A job where good is never good enough. A job where being kind is a disadvantage. A job where the only way to succeed is to be focused on oneself all the time.
I’m free. I may not be a professor any longer, but I am free to find a new path. One that values my skills. One that values creativity and imagination. One that values morality, kindness and generosity.
I’m not sure what that path will be but this blog is where I will describe the journey.