"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Thursday, February 17, 2011

10 Reasons I Wouldn’t Accept a Tenure-Track Position If Offered One Today

Disclaimers: I still have not yet made up my mind about whether to go on the market again this coming fall. These reasons are today’s reasons and may change tomorrow. Also, they are MY reasons – and my reasons only – and are not intended as criticism of anyone already on the tenure track or headed that way.

Credit: This post was inspired by the fine bloggery over at 100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School.

In no particular order:

1) I like where I live.
I live in my own house in an urban, diverse, historic neighborhood in a large yet walkable metropolis. From where I live, I can walk to work (my current job, at least), walk to multiple grocery stores, restaurants, bars, theaters, museums, yoga studios, and parks. There’s also great public transportation, which is important for someone like me who doesn’t drive, even in a walkable city. The climate is temperate (spring is especially beautiful, and I’m looking forward to it!), the air reasonably breathable (for a city), and the people tolerable. Why would I give all of this up and move to Nowheresville USA to teach – most likely – unmotivated and underprepared students for hardly more than I was earning as an adjunct here? The title of “professor” and its affiliated prestige just aren’t worth the sacrifice.

2) There Aren’t Many Places I’d Be Willing to Move
Of the twenty or so jobs I applied to for AY 2011-2012, only 2 were in places I’d be willing to move (a third was here in Current City). The general wisdom is to apply first and decide whether you’d actually go there after you get an offer. Doesn’t apply in my case. Those other seventeen applications were a waste of time – the jobs were just in places I really never will be willing to move (at least not for those jobs). General wisdom should always be tempered by one's own idiosyncrasies.

3) There’s Nothing Wrong with Being an Independent Scholar
Besides all the other advantages to my current location, both my grad and undergrad universities are located here, and I have access to both – excellent – libraries. World Famous Library is also located here. Should I choose to pursue my research interests, I have no shortage of resources, and I have a job that – at least for now – provides more “down time” for reading and writing during the day than teaching 3/3 or 4/4 as an adjunct did (I’m typing this at work right now – whether I’ll use the time just for blogging or doing “serious” writing remains to be seen). And let’s not forget that I have evenings and weekends free, too. No grading to distract. No pressure to publish. No tenure and promotion committees to please. And yet I still have standing invitations to submit my work to more than one peer-reviewed journal and at least one scholarly press. What's to lose?

4) If I Had to Teach Graduate Students, I Wouldn’t Be Able to Sleep at Night
Not with the ways graduate students are exploited. Not with the job market as it currently is. Not with all the lies and bullshit that keep them believing that if they “do everything right,” they’ll have a chance.

5) If I Taught in a Department that Employed More Adjuncts than Tenure-Track Professors, I Wouldn’t e Able to Sleep at Night
Adjuncts are invisible. I had no idea what the ratio of adjuncts to professors was in my department at Grad University until I looked it up a few months ago. Made me sick. Maybe a few were happy being adjuncts. Maybe a few had outside careers and only taught a course or two a year. But most – at least the ones I knew – were barely scraping by and yet teaching the SAME courses for a fraction of the pay that tenure-track faculty were. I don’t want to be part of that system even passively.

6) Teaching Can Be Boring
I’m not talking about the excitement that comes with designing and teaching a new course – or even the fun of tweaking one you’ve taught a few times on a subject you love. That part of teaching keeps us coming back. I’m talking about the surveys and comp courses you do again and again and again, semester after semester. Maybe you have some flexibility with your syllabus, maybe you don’t, but a lot of people, for a lot of reasons, teach more or less the same syllabus when assigned the same course. It’s understandable, indeed, given all one’s other responsibilities, even necessary sometimes, but I’d get bored. Heck, I was really bored with teaching comp by the time I quit my adjunct gig. And while I loved teaching lit when I had the chance, I don’t know how my adviser taught the same survey again and again – hardly changed it at all in the seven years I worked with hir. It was a great class, and I don’t think the students were bored…but I would get bored with it myself.

7) Academia is a Small World
If you haven’t already, go read David Lodge’s Small World, although my “reason” here isn’t so much that you run into the same people over and over (that happens everywhere) or that you have the same conversations again and again (is it just me, or is there a theme of repetition emerging here?) but that academia is just one very small corner of a very grand buffet – or, not to mix up our food metaphors, as Katie DePalma, a guest poster over at Worst Professor Ever, says, The world is your very own big, delicious oyster.”

8) Academic Days, Weeks, and Semesters End, but the Work Never Does
If you’re both a perfectionist and an academic, your work NEVER ENDS. You never escape the feeling that there’s always something more to do, something you “should” be doing, be it writing the article, revising the chapter, grading the papers, or prepping for class. You are always encumbered by that modal pressure of obligation. Right now, I’m really enjoying some relief from it. I do what I’m paid to do when at work and what I choose to do otherwise. I’m not sure I’d be willing to sacrifice the autonomy I have right now for the uncertain promise of tenure.

9) You Never Get to Leave School
Once upon a time, I thought that an academic setting was the only place I could grow creatively and intellectually. I was wrong. Not only can that growth happen elsewhere but creative growth in academia is circumscribed by the pressures to publish, to "fit" within a field or department, and to balance the often competing responsibilities of research, writing, teaching, and service. School becomes a prison when it stifles and stunts rather than sustains your growth.

10) Much as I Enjoy Him as a Fictional Character, I Don’t Want to Turn into Professor Farnsworth When I Get Old:



  1. I think 1 & 2 pretty much say it all.

  2. I think #8 is what scares me the most still.

  3. Yes, #1 and 2 say it all. I think that comment #7 scares me the most. I read David Lodge while at grad school and I have to say that his books just made me think 'no way'!!!

  4. Interestingly, these are all things that kept me from going on from my MA to PhD programs in the first place. Well, most of them anyway. I have learned many things in grad school, one of them being this nugget: there are 2 kinds of people in the world--those who care where they live and those who don't. I have always been far more interested in where I live than in what I do to make money while I live there. We only get this one chance at life. Why waste that chance on Kansas? (Or, you know, wherever you don't want to be).

  5. For me, it really is a whole complex of factors, including location but not limited to it. I can't reduce my frustration with the job market to there being just two kinds of people in the world, those who care where they live and those who don't -- er, at least I don't think I'd fit well into either of thsoe categories. There ARE jobs for which I'd be willing to move to a less agreeable place, but those jobs were not the jobs open in my field for 2011-2012.

    Which brings back the whole issue of how people like me are getting f@#ked over by their own complicity with the exploitation of adjuncts. There is, in fact, a great need for university faculty RIGHT HERE where I live right now, as well as in many other places I'd be happy to move, but too many people are willing to work indefinitely as adjuncts, with the hope that one day, someday, they will be good enough to find the Holy Grail of a tenure-track position -- and it just doesn't matter where.

    It's time to start calling bull$hit on this. Otherwise, we're as guilty as the administrators so willing to exploit not only our talent but our hope. It's time to start walking away.

    But that is the subject of another post...

  6. I'd agree with you that the whole job/location thing is probably more complex but it's really since there's actually not many jobs that I can apply for at the moment..and hasn't been for a few years. I also know that the same time I know that there's zillions of adjuncts who are all overexploited with the hope that they will be good enough, as you say, to find "Holy Grail of a tenure track position". I'm reminded again why I walked away....and that there's an army of adjuncts waiting to be exploited by administrators.