Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What a long, strange trip it's been

In tenure-file hell (thanks to Cath Gouge for the photo!)
A few days ago, Romantoes marked its four-year anniversary.  Our inaugural post focused on the end of our first semester here at West Virginia University, after Tom and I both ditched tenured jobs in Colorado to move back east.

Yesterday, I turned in my tenure crate.  Yes, crate.

Don't let appearances fool you--that's not just any plastic milk crate, but the College of Arts & Sciences "official container," as the e-mail from our Department admin described it.  And, indeed, it has stickers all over it identifying where it came from, and who it's to be returned to. 

Because I'd gotten tenure at my previous university, I figured it'd be no sweat to be untenured again.  To some degree, that was true: it was certainly less of a scramble to figure out how to juggle the teaching, research, and service parts of the job.  And I was largely unfazed by a lot of bureaucratic snafus that might otherwise have derailed me.

But in other ways, the experience of being untenured was much the same.  I've worried about making some huge mistake that would cost me my job.  I've been paranoid about whether people think that hiring me was a bad idea.  I've compared my own productivity unfavorably with pretty much everyone else on campus.

The tenure file itself, as you can see, is a monster.  We're required to include all of the materials that were in our past annual evaluation files, but they need to be disassembled, reorganized chronologically, and re-numbered and re-inventoried.  That part of the process nearly drove me mad, and I'm actually the kind of person who loves organizing stuff; I mean, one of the perks of this scheme was that it gave me an excuse to wander the aisles of Office Depot, debating the relative merits of reinforced hanging folders versus expandable ones.

At the end of last week, this is what my desk looked like.

Yes, I'd arranged everything into piles for each section that conveniently spelled out the word "PARTS":  "Preliminary" materials, "Administrative" materials, "Research," "Teaching," and "Service."  Clearly, I'd gone round the twist, as the Brits say.  I can't tell you how many people stopped in my doorway to laugh at me.  (This is one of the downsides of having an office located directly across from the first-floor women's restroom.)

But at any rate, I finally got everything printed out, numbered, inventoried, put in its correctly labeled folder, and transferred into the crate.  And then I hefted that bad boy down to the office and officially let it go. 

And you know what?  I knew I'd feel relieved, but I figured I'd just feel relieved in the same way you feel relieved when any big project is over.  After all, I'd gone through this before, right?  So it's not like it's a novel experience. 

But the thing is, turning that file in felt very different this time.  It felt not like an ending, but like a beginning.  In many ways, it felt like I was emerging from a four-year purgatory.  Seriously.  I don't think I comprehended just how tentative my position has felt for the past four years until I reviewed it, articulated it, packed it into that crate, and sent it off to someone else to evaluate.  All day today I've had a sense of placid liberation. 

I'm sure the anxiety will rear its ugly head again eventually, as I await the decision of the Chair and the faculty evaluation committee.  But anxiety is absolutely what I don't feel at the moment.  The word that springs to mind, oddly, is "sanctified," though for the life of me I don't think I could explain why. 

At Northern Colorado, after a couple of folks in our department got tenure, a colleague bought them a congratulatory cake that said "Greeley Forever."  Everyone laughed, and grimaced, and knew that inscription was half joke, half grim reality.  It was one of the many moments that led me to question the sacred cow that is tenure: why work so hard to get it if you assume it means you're stuck in a place and a job that you don't like?

Looking back on this blog's first entry from the vantage point of having just applied for tenure again, I'm happy to report that the sense of trepidation that comes through in that first post is gone, while the sense of wonder and pleasure about being here has only grown.  Here's to taking the leap.


Kristin said...

Congratulations on passing your crate to the tenure gods, Rosemary!
May your Christmas truly be merry and bright, since this won't be hanging over your head. Best of luck as you await the verdict!

Rosemary said...

Thanks so much, Kyer! Looking forward to seeing you for the January gala--lots talk about and celebrate this year. :^)

Christy said...

Your photos speak a thousand words. Submission alone looks like quite an achievement, and I'm glad you're taking the time to (deservedly) celebrate each phase of this process. Good on you, and best of luck!!

Beth said...

Is "passing the crate" like passing a gall stone? sounds just as painful but it also sounds like it was a good thing for you to look back and see all the great work you have accomplished.

Congrats on getting it done, and we all look forward to hearing the "whoopeeee" when you get that Seal of Approval.

Susan said...

Glad that's over with - your part anyway. You are very brave to go through that twice! I'm not sure I could bear even being just the spouse of someone going through it twice. Best of luck, though I don't think you'll need it.

Rosemary said...

Thanks, Susan. In some ways, it must be even more agonizing--or at least, agonizing in a different way--to have to stand on the sidelines and watch while your spouse goes through this process. But yes, twice is enough--none of that "third time's a charm" stuff for me!