What I’m Worried About

January 24, 2009 | Blog

Post #2 in an ongoing series…

This month I had several friends granted tenure. Which led me to think, what if I don’t get it?

This is the kind of torture exercise I seem to enjoy wallowing in, so I looked up some statistics. Did you know:

Among 1997-1998 tenure-track entrants at 10 of the top research universities (specifically: Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and my own UW-Madison)….

Only 53% were awarded tenure by 2004-2005?

That tenure rates were 8 percentage points higher for men, compared to women, and 2 percentage points higher for non-minorities, compared to minorities?

Sure, some will raise the reasonable excuse that folks fall off the tenure track long before their year to go up for tenure. This is especially true for women who “opt out” (again, gag me), to go home.

It’s next to impossible to find hard data on the percent of people who, having given 6+ years of their life to family/exercise/pleasure-sacrificing efforts all in the name of job security suddenly find themselves turned down– and without a job? I know, in this economic climate those of employed should simply be grateful- heck, we could be tenured and laid off, too.

But it’s simply nauseating to think about where the bar is now set, how many reams of pubs one is supposed to have, and yet how insanely political, personal, and downright random the process remains. It’s enough to make one stay up far too late blogging, instead of caving into sleep.


  1. Reply

    Sherman Dorn

    January 24, 2009

    Sociologist, critique thyself: didn't you just criticize the ACT study of first-year retention by pointing out that it failed to account for swirling?

    My guess is that a good portion of the 47% who weren't receiving tenure *at the same institution* had gotten jobs elsewhere before they came up. Of the eight (!) assistant professors who came into my department in 1996 or 1997, 5 had tenure by 2003-04, but there was only one denial of tenure. One moved to U of Iowa, and another resigned.

  2. Reply

    Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab

    January 24, 2009

    Sherman, Thanks for writing. Sure, I understand that some may leave for other opportunities. But how many of those departures are the result of seeking a better fit, and how many are the result of unhappiness at the 1st institution? People often end up at another school because they didn't think they'd get tenure at school 1, because they weren't well-treated at school 1, etc. I have often heard "everyone who makes it past their 3rd year here gets tenure." Sure, great-- so what's happening is that people are getting shoved out early on, not that they are necessarily "finding themselves" and freely deciding they want to go elsewhere. Moreover, the need to seek outside offers to up one's salary can result in an unintended departure (e.g. if home institution doesn't play ball). So yeah, someone left-- but it is at least partly attributable to bad practices on the part of institution 1. No?

Would you like to share your thoughts?

Would you like to share your thoughts?

Leave a Reply

© 2013 The EduOptimists. All Rights Reserved.