Thursday, I turned in my promotion file.
Here's the deal: at most universities, you have to go up for tenure. "Up and out," they say. Every school has its own standards: some require a book, or even a book plus progress on the next one. Some, more teaching-focused, want lots of good teaching, course development, plus more campus service than you might think is humanly possible. Some schools (primarily religion-affiliated ones, I think) want a heavy dose of community service in there -- making connections between campus and community. My school falls somewhere in the middle of all this, and people work the teaching-research-service balance in various ways across the campus. But in any case, you have about five and a half or six years to prove you're doing the kind of job they want to see. And you don't have a choice. You can't just say, "Oh, I'll take the lower salary or whatever and will go up when I'm ready." It's up or out.
Going up for full professor is a mite different, in that, at most schools, you never have to do it. And if/when you do it, you can do it on your schedule. And if you don't get it, you can try again the next year. And the next. But the file itself takes about a month and a half to put together, so you don't want to do it until you're reasonably confident that you'll pass. Most people at my school do it five years after tenure. So, last year when it was my first opportunity to go up... I declined.
I just wasn't sure. I mean, I had done some pretty good stuff with teaching. My service was okay -- nothing spectacular, but I wasn't shirking. But I still only had the one book to my name, and only one post-tenure article forthcoming and another in the pipeline. The second book was a stack of documents, some scribbles, a couple of conference papers, and a title (though a damn good title, I must say). How to count the first book was the toughest thing to gauge: I had sent off the manuscript literally two days before submitting my tenure file. As anyone who has published a book knows, there is a lot of work after that point -- even after you get the contract, there are months of revisions, then copy edits, then page proofs and an index... but still, it was just one book. And I just didn't think it was enough.
Here's the thing, though. I was judging my record based on the paths of the faculty at the university that I got my Ph.D. from. These were my models. And if you earned a Ph.D., you were at a research institution. But very few of our post-Ph.D. jobs are at such institutions. And sometimes we forget that our jobs are different. You can't crank out an article every year plus a well-reviewed university-press book every six or seven while teaching three or four courses a semester. You can't get to the archives every summer if you don't have research funds. And that's okay. You are doing different work. No less valuable.
So, the point of this story is that this year -- in fact, just two days ago -- I turned in my file for promotion to full professor. It has a couple more articles in it than it would have a year ago. It has a major service commitment. And it has a well thought-out book proposal. But my senior colleagues looked at my record and asked me why I didn't go up last year. The answer is that there will always be a significant part of me that doesn't feel like full professor material. But I'm trying to let that go.