Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A work in progress

Ack! My life has been consumed by the prof-eating renewal dossier from hell! For two days now I’ve been working on this thing. I thought I’d be done with it in a day. What is wrong with me? Oh, I know. I’m one of those writerly types who sweats bullets over finding just the right bon mot to describe how far “in progress” my various projects are or figuring out how to describe the fun my students and I had in Chaucer this year without making my class sound like a flaky free-for-all.

First of all, for those who might not know, at many universities like mine, each year tenure-track assistant professors have to turn in a massive notebook narrating and documenting their work from the past academic year and their plans for the coming year. Then after that, there’s the tenure file. Then you do the renewal dossier every five years or when you want to go up for promotion to full professor. Oh, and there’s another, briefer form that everyone does every year for merit evaluation, though it’s limited precisely to the fiscal year. Anyway, Dr. Crazy was working on her notebook last week, so I know her university’s requirements are similar, and some of her commenters said they have to do the same thing. So it’s not uncommon. But it’s not universal, either. It should be, though, because however burdensome a task it is, it creates a paper trail. And if there’s any question about your progress toward tenure, ideally it will get caught and noted early on in your career so you can take steps to fix it (more research, better teaching, whatever). I’ve heard horror stories about places that only have a 3rd-year-review or no formal review process at all – usually fancy-schmancy snooty places – where people are suddenly told that their one book isn’t enough for tenure or that it wasn’t with a prestigious enough press or whatever. So having to be reviewed yearly by the department, the dean, the college committee, the university committee, and the provost is a good thing because these are the people who will decide your tenure, too.

By the way, I think graduate schools should have such a formal process for evaluating “progress to degree,” as well. I know I could’ve used a yearly face-the-music kick in the pants, anyway.

So the point of all this is I still haven’t had time to write the thoughtful post I was planning on pedagogy, which also means the post on “how to talk about the humanities” will also be delayed. All because I’m busy sweating over that thin stylistic line between a charming “woo-hoo! look at what I’ve done this year! yay me!” and an obnoxious “god, I am so f-ing great that you should bow down at my feet now and worship my productive pedagogical and scholarly brilliance.” After all, I don’t want to offend or turn off the people who will decide my tenure!

Just thought I’d keep y’all in the loop.


Anonymous said...

Number your pages. Little numbers, lower left-hand corner. Use pencil. You'll be happy you did.

Anonymous said...

Make that "right-hand corner"

Dr. Virago said...

Thanks -- but why? Just curious.

Ancrene Wiseass said...

Thanks for the insight into what looks, to grad students, like the hidden, mystic grove of Tenure Trackdom.

I think this is a great idea, even if it is a pain in the rear to put together. In fact, should I ever join the ranks of those on the tenure track and should my university not have similar protocols, I may be contacting you for guidelines so I can start compiling my own notebooks.

I have to admit, though, that I balk a bit at the idea of doing this for grad students. I kinda think grad students tend to get kicked in the pants enough by admin types who're constantly telling them they've been in the program "too long" because said admin types refuse to acknowledge that the degree is not, in fact, a five-year program (since maybe 5% of students finish within that time frame).

Dr. Virago said...

AW - Part of the reason why my university has this yearly documentation and others don't is unionization. Collective bargaining, negotiation, and the contract that results from it (and then, later, past practice) is what usually puts this kind of system in place. And it seems that public universities are more likely to have this system (and unions, as well) than private.

When I said I thought graduate students could use a similar annual audit, I was thinking more on the department level. And I was thinking of the fact that I *personally* could have used an advisor who made me give him progress reports. I piddled away a lot of time the two years I was on dissertation fellowship, and when I was a Research Assistant for the previous two year I let that work take more time that it should have and avoided my own work. Had my advisor made me report to him at least quarterly, and had he given me discrete, concrete goals with deadlines, I might have been out at least a year earlier. That kind of system can be put in place at the department level and doesn't involve false notions of a Ph.D. in English being a 5-year degree.

On that note, I agree that clueless admins chastise grad students uselessly and harmfully. But they're just giving lip service -- they don't actually see what each grad student is doing with his/her time. If they did, they might actually have to face the fact that the TA workload, especially in the humanities, is exploitatative and unmanageable. (*sarcasm* They wouldn't want that, would they? Much easier to issues clueless pronouncements about time to degree.) So such record keeping, if it went all with a contract and a workload agreement (as mine does), might actually force accountability from admins, too. (Emphasis on *might*, of course.)

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Yeah, we got an awful lot of general "you grad students are taking too long" but very little in the way of progress reports; our advisors had to write a paragraph each year. And I only found out that my own advisor was unhappy with my progress when s/he said something to that effect in my annual file, rather than telling me directly. So I can get behind some more specific feedback. I think it depends a lot on your program and relationship with your individual advisor. (TF, I totally piddled away fellowship time, too. As much as I love the idea of getting some more, I still tend to do that...)

Dr. Virago said...

And I only found out that my own advisor was unhappy with my progress when s/he said something to that effect in my annual file, rather than telling me directly.

Yes, that's exactly the kind of 'shadowed in mystery' practice that our renewal process is supposed to do away with. That's not to say that all is perfect and happy and sunshiny at my university, of course! But a systemetized renewal & promotion process is a start, and I think a less onerous version could be helpful on the graduate school level.

And btw, good to know that I'm not the only one who wasted some time here and there! :)

PS -- I know you're protecting your anonymity with the "s/he," but I have a warped sense of humor, so now I'm imagining that your advisor was a "shemale." ;)