article equivalents

I went to a reception yesterday for outstanding women of color at the university. This was a lovely event except that we all had to stand for an hour of awards presentations and keynote. The award winners had all done jaw-dropping amounts of service. The keynoter was a Native American professor whose first career was in journalism. She used the occasion to criticize the academy for failing to give adequate credit for service. She said that diversity is not just a matter of getting darker skins in the place, it is a matter of getting people from different communities who have different priorities. She was arguing that diversifying the institution must include giving greater weight to service in the tenure process, making the “three legs” of the academic stool (teaching, research, service) more evenly balanced. For her and for most women of color, she said, what you do is not just about yourself but about what you contribute to your community. I was reminded of other things I’ve been reading/hearing that confirm the difference between the individualism of White professionals and the family and community focus of other groups. Few communities of color need another article in a peer reviewed journal, she said. Then she said something like: “Each board or committee or community project or group of students mentored is another article or book chapter you don’t have time to write.” There really is a finite amount of time and if you are doing a lot of service you have less time to do research and write. You cannot really diversity the institution unless you change the reward structure to acknowledge the importance of service.

(This in turn reminded me of a brief conversation I had years ago with a couple of very prominent woman sociologists. People had exchanged information on the order of “I’m dealing with children now, you know how that is,” and grunts of acknowledgment. Then one woman said, “I was talking about this to X [prominent male sociologist] and he said that each child he had cost him an article.” Eye rolling, exasperated sighs. One article, right. We wish. “Five or six articles at least,” muttered one woman.)

To clarify: I don’t think institutions can or should reward time spent in child-rearing, although they should accommodate it. But institutions can and probably should better reward time spent in community service. How to do this is a hard issue.

tenure and public sociology

There have been several posts lately about public sociology and the tenure process, including newsocprof and thepublicandtheprivate and, most recently RadioFreeNewport. All are written by young scholars. The general tone of these remarks is either to worry about the impact of public sociology on getting tenure, or to decry older sociologists who tell younger sociologists to focus on getting tenure before getting heavily involved in public sociology. So another view seems helpful. I say this as someone who did not do public sociology until later in my career, well after I had tenure. These younger writers are ignoring the central point that tenure protects you when you do public sociology. Continue reading “tenure and public sociology”

advice for new assistant professors

As I’m in an advice-giving mood, I thought I’d post here something I wrote quite a few years ago.  This began as a lunch conversation with a departing grad student (who is now a dean) who asked me if I had any advice for her as she took her first job as an assistant professor.  I wrote it down later and it evolved over a few years.   I’ve gotten feedback from quite a few people that this was helpful, and some of you will doubtless recognize it.

1) Don’t take anything personally, especially not at first. People will probably treat you as insignificant, not because they think ill of you, but because they are socially inept. Most of us are comfortable with the people we already know, and are not good at being friendly to new people. The old timers ought to go out of their way to be friendly and inclusive to someone new (you) but they probably will not, and you should just chalk it up to poor social skills and nothing else.

2) Help integrate yourself. Even if you are normally more productive writing at home, work in the office a lot during the first year. Make a point of loitering in the hall when it is near lunch time, so people will notice you and think of asking you along to lunch. Continue reading “advice for new assistant professors”

tenure letters

It’s that time of year. People are considering job changes and everyone who moves from one tenured job to another needs external letters. In this game, the request for letters comes only after the department has made a hiring decision: the letters are for the an extra-departmental review at the college level. I am being asked for letters on a few weeks notice, just as I had to ask other people for them when I did my bit as chair. I am looking at several requests as I write this. Some of these are from obscure branch campuses I’ve never heard of that are asking for detailed analytic evaluations of the contributions and national influence of the candidates, for God’s sake.  Others are for extremely senior people who hardly need me to buttress their claim to fame. I have three choices: spend significant time working up a good detailed letter being sure to explain why everybody is a star, write a superficial positive letter that is at risk of being coded as reserved (i.e. negative), especially for the non-stars, or decline to write and definitely be coded as negative, again, especially for the non-stars. This is idiocy. It is bad enough that we have to do this for promotion to tenure, but does anybody believe that the external letters provide one iota of information that could not be obtained from reading the cv and the person’s publications? The department wants to know whether the person is a lunatic, but that they find out from gossip or phone calls. I don’t mind altruism and doing things for the collective good and the welfare of other scholars, but I do resent wasting my time for the benefit of bureaucratic nonsense. Not only are they asking me to read their watch for them, they are asking me to write several pages of well-crafted prose about what it says and do it for free.