On the Tenure Track… Again

Moving to a position at a different institution, while challenging, can be done successfully if you take a strategic approach that begins before you start the new job, write Lisa Perks and Rochelle Ruffer.

December 4, 2019
 
 
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Earning tenure can feel like a major career accomplishment, like a welcomed career-long commitment, like the start of myriad possibilities. Alternately, tenure can feel stifling or constraining if the fit isn't right. So what if you decide you want to give up tenure at one institution to begin a new tenure-track position at another one? That can be a daunting, uncertain road to walk.

We know, because we’ve both done it. And we’ve found that the journey, while challenging, can be completed successfully with a strategic approach that begins before you start the new job. In this article, we'll make suggestions for navigating the three major spheres of academic life -- teaching, research and service -- also weaving in the important (and often overlooked) networking piece. Ultimately, earning tenure is not just about how you look on paper. It is also about how other people perceive you as a professional.

Teaching

When you start teaching a different student population -- even if the two institutions seem similar at first glance -- you will confront some new and sometimes unexpected demands. Thus, while you should remain buoyed by your past successes in teaching, you should also be ready to adapt to current student needs. Remembering the excellent rapport you built up with past students, or the educational breakthroughs you had with them, can help you stay optimistic when you encounter rocky teaching moments in your new position. And strategically adapting to your new students -- without compromising your teaching philosophy -- is a great way to show them that you’re in this learning experience together.

To bridge that gap between old and new institutions and student populations, we offer these action items:

  • Request to see the new institution’s teaching evaluation instrument before you begin teaching.
  • Have your previous students give anonymous advice to your future students. Ask them questions such as “How would you describe my teaching style?” And “What advice would you give to future students about studying for my exams?” Sum up that advice on your syllabus.
  • Sit in on a few new peers’ classes and have a few peers observe your teaching throughout those first two years. Teaching observation reports can be a great addition to your next tenure packet.
  • Attend teaching workshops that align with your pedagogy and gently expand your skill set. Include workshop titles and dates in your tenure and promotion materials. Network at those events.
  • Conduct a midsemester course evaluation asking students for feedback. The evaluation could be a simple question of what aspect of the class is most helpful to them and what is least helpful. Alternately, the evaluation could dig into specific questions about the pacing of work, instructional techniques and assignment clarity. Based on the feedback, make adjustments to your course. Professors at any stage can benefit from doing it, but this step is crucial for a new faculty member.

Research

The physical and emotional labor of a move can make it difficult to concentrate on research projects. What’s more, you may have to follow a whole new set of human subjects rules and certifications at your new college or university. Given such conditions, it helps to come to a new institution with “stored fat.” In other words, you should push to gather data or conduct initial research before leaving your tenured position.

Then wait. If you have a great on-campus interview, don’t push yourself to get new publications out before you leave your old job. Your affiliation may soon be changing.

As we said about the teaching evaluation instrument, learn what you can about your new institution’s publication standards before you arrive -- and even before you accept the job. Consult fellow faculty members, as well as the faculty handbook, rank-and-tenure white papers, and fellow faculty CVs. Ask a vital question: How much of one's previous work will be counted toward tenure at the new institution? You might get many different, even contradictory, opinions about research standards for tenure. Weigh them all and look for trends and themes.

Do your best to get your research off the ground at least in your second semester at the new institution. If offered a course release, consider taking it in the spring instead of fall so you can more easily concentrate on your research. Polish up the stored fat and send out at least one manuscript for publication or conference consideration that academic year.

Once you have some accepted publications (or presentations, if they are the gold standard in your discipline), puff yourself up. Let the college’s marketing department know about your research and notify national associations of your accomplishments (especially if they have a marketing division).

Perception matters in the tenure process. Few of your colleagues will read your CV, but many will learn about your research expertise if they see an article about you on the college’s homepage.

Service

When you join a new institution with some previous experience, it will probably expect you to jump right into performing service tasks (especially if you have a shortened tenure clock). If collegewide committees are by election, we recommend the following:

  • Be ready to put your name up for a committee.
  • Make sure colleagues outside your department know who you are by introducing yourself to other people throughout the campus any time you are able -- at workshops, faculty meetings and the like.
  • Don’t feel shy leveraging previous experience or your expertise to find meaningful committee work. For example, during Rochelle’s first year at Nazareth College of Rochester, she used her expertise as an economist to be elected to serve on the faculty welfare committee, where salary benchmarking was a main issue. She began serving her second year and was the chair of the committee by the third year.
  • If you are unable to get yourself on elected committees, think about volunteering for committee work within the department.
  • Consider task forces or other less permanent committees that are important and the dean or chair appoints.
  • Let your chair know your interest in serving, specifying and emphasizing your previous experience.

Over all, we recommend finding meaningful departmental or collegewide service opportunities early on to: a) show that you’re a team player and b) remind colleagues that you may be new to them, but you’re not new to academe.

More important, make sure you are aware of the expectations for service and ask your chair for advice to help you meet or exceed those expectations.

We hope these suggestions provide anyone considering leaving a tenured home in search of a better fit some optimism-infused, practical advice. And if you decide to make a change, take confidence from past experience: you earned tenure once and can certainly do it again.

Bio

Lisa Perks was tenured at Nazareth College of Rochester before joining the faculty at Merrimack College. She is currently a tenured associate professor and chair of communication and media at Merrimack. Rochelle Ruffer was tenured at Youngstown State University before making her way to Nazareth College. Currently a tenured full professor, she serves as the chair of the undergraduate programs in the School of Business and Leadership at Nazareth, as well as co-director of its honors program.

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