Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Promotion - Tenure in Private Universities

Fabrice got his tenure, after exactly 5 years working in the same institution that I am in. So I sent him a congratulation letter:

"Congratulations, Fabrice, I noticed that your name is associated with associate professor now. Not that I am being pushy, my boss got his full professorship after being hired for only 8 years, could you top that?!

Okay, I find a place to hide now…"
You guessed it, I am sure. I am not an associate professor yet, although I was hired as an assistant professor 2 whole months earlier than Fabrice. 

On the first day that I got my job, I imagined that I would have myself promoted within 5 years. I did not at all doubt that based on my productivity on the past. However, 7 years passed, I am still having the same job title and I have not even been told to get ready to collect my promotion package yet. 

Well, I can say that things are not the same now. NIH cuts research funding every year ever since I got my job. Getting federal money to do research is just harder and harder. Inside of me, though, I know this is just an excuse. The real deal is that I have gradually lost incentive to thrive for this promotion because I know it will not help me to get over my depression. It even does not provide me food. Look: 

Tenure - gets recognition
Tenure - gets a job and an office, even though it may mean you work in the basement
Tenure - gets no salary
Tenure - gets no lab space (you still can hang out in the library or Gym)

Does recognition and a job with an office feed me and my kids? Can you imagine one day I'll call my parents to ask them to take me back in the house because I just lost yet another research grant?

Fabrice is happy to get his promotion so that he now can move on to help his subordinates, such as I, to get their promotions accordingly. Which means that I should be happy too since I will be finally getting my attentions from him. However, I am not as thrilled as you think I should be. I feel that I am beyond this - the bottom line is if one gets promoted still needs to come up with 95-100% salary on his own, what the promotion helps him? I am THAT practical.

Yes, you guessed again. I did not keep this opinion to myself. 

Are you with me? I pointed this out in a faculty meeting. And right away, I was educated by almost everyone in that meeting: Tenure helps you more than you think outside the institution. The recognition is not only from inside, it is also a way to show outside that your institution values you. Second, the standards used by the institution to promote you are in sync with the standards that NIH or other funding agencies use to decide whether you should get the grant money. So, trying hard to get yourself promoted is the same as trying hard to get yourself few research grants to keep your job.

Are you still with me now?

Have I explained clearly to you why universities are not as attractive as before? Have I just revealed why Universities don't make Einstein anymore? Now you know why Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and just about everyone else who can "make big differences" are all college dropouts?

Now after having been an assistant professor for 7 years, I begin to wonder whether we were wise to turned down jobs in both U.K. and Canada where 100% salary for life was promised.

Something needs to be done here. Tenure needs to mean certain amount of security to preserve creativity of the intellectuals. Private schools often use endowments to attract people, unfortunately, endowments only go to already accomplished professors who are often self-sustainable and secure. Plus, they are already at the top and if they continue their journey, there is only one direction to go. I do not mean that we should not give endowment to them, we should, if they are having administrative roles.

Are you with me, still?

Fortunately, I believe my current new chair understands how to run this business quite well. So, I am not quitting my job yet. Let's hope that my chair will come up with a good solution to this dilemma. 

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