Wednesday, September 09, 2015

The Role of Emotions in Tenure

Karen Kelsky at The Professor Is In rails against the use of emotion in tenure files.

I cannot fathom why the writers believe that their feelings play a role in the institution’s deliberation about their tenurability. Put another way, I cannot fathom why the writers believe that the institution gives a flying fuck what they find personally rewarding or pleasing or gratifying. 

Looking back at my personal statement for promotion to full professor (in 2011) I included the words enjoyable, fun, friends, fulfilling, enthusiasm, gratifying, energized, satisfying, and rewarding. I put them in because they were true--I've done stuff that represented tangible academic achievement while also being being really cool for me in some way.

I can't find my 2004 tenure statement at the moment but it would sound similar because that's how I did those memos. I even came up for tenure early. So according to her I should've been shot down or at least looked down upon. But now I'm chair, and I am fine with assistant professors doing the same if that accurately reflects how they see their own body of work. If they choose not to, then also fine.

And furthermore, the continual use of emotion-language sends an additional message of egotism and self-importance.  As if, the truly significant aspect of the candidate’s tenure is not what they provide for the institution, but what the institution provides for them: a stage for a private drama of pleasure and gratification.

At least in my opinion, you can be very clear about what you've accomplished while also admitting you liked it. I agree with her that vapid statements are useless, but emotions aren't necessarily vapid or egotistical.

As always, show your statement around and get feedback from more senior colleagues. If your particular review committee/chair/dean has particular preferences one way or the other, then follow that lead.


Chris Lawrence 8:34 PM  

I'd have thought people use language like that because they're not sociopaths or devoid of human emotion.

And, yes, at the margins "does person X really want to be here?" does make a difference in how people perceive person X. Will it sink/float a tenure case? No idea. But it certainly sways other employment-related actions.

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