October 2, 2001

Breathing again

Almost a month after the last entry here, I have a life again. What intervened? The September 11 attacks, a tropical storm that shut down campus the 14th, and then finishing the tenure application process. I had intended most of my entries this semester to be about teaching (and thus a course portfolio, in effect), but that's gone by the wayside, now. C'est la vie. Weblogs are less important than the guts of the work.

Tenure application

I have, behind my office chair, two binders and a black plastic file box. The binders each have a complete copy of my tenure application: 50 pages in the original shell, over 100 pages when I was done, and then add another 83 pages for student comments and summaries of student survey statistics. The file box has the documentation. I'm waiting now for two items: the student survey statistics summaries and a letter confirming my being on one search committee (part of university service). Then it all goes in.

Tenure in most universities involves three aspects of faculty life—teaching, research, and service—and guidelines on those matters. So the University of South Florida has its formal tenure and promotion guidelines. So I have a sections on teaching, another on research, and another on service (though the service is less important than the others). I describe my goals in teaching, how I put things together, and refer to the documents (including the course syllabi). My research includes a few books, articles, etc., and in addition to what I wrote, several external reviewers (in my case, Maris Vinovskis, David Labaree, and William Graebner) are asked to comment on my work. The letters in my case were very supportive of tenure.

In addition to the formal parts of tenure, there is the informal guiding question senior faculty ask about tenure, which Florida State University Provost Lawrence Abele stated well online: "Would I be honored to have this person's teaching and scholarship represent me? Would I be honored to have this candidate be the only representative of me and my university that anyone ever sees?" Tenure used to be called the "million-dollar decision", and it's probably more now (see Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's T&P statement). But behind the "investment" in a tenured faculty member, there is the symbolic meaning attached which many faculty take very seriously. There is no way for me to really document that worth, apart from working day to day for several years in an institution.

Teaching

One colleague and I agreed this morning that neither of us has really gotten into any rhythm for the semester. Usually, I have an inherent sense of what I'm teaching this week and where each class is. I wish I had a better sense this semester. I'm catching up on reading student work, and I know roughly where each student is. (And the first group in my undergraduate class was fabulous last week, using the first chapter of Joseph Kett's Rites of Passage [1977] as a springboard.) But I'm functioning right now on intellect and previous preparation. That'll have to do. After the turmoil of September, I'm about half a week behind, which makes the reading assignments discombobulated. But we'll get over that, I'm sure. That intellectual assurance will just have to do.

Writing and research

Other things that went by the side included several research projects. Now they're off the back burner: looking at student transience (mobility), coordinating the work of the Consortium for Educational Research in Florida (I'm associate director), doing evaluation stuff for the USF GEAR UP program (see the federal GEAR UP office site for more information), and reading historiography as a change of pace.

When I came home Friday afternoon, having mostly finished the tenure stuff, I must have had 50 e-mail messages in my inbox. Now I have 8. I think of it as clearing off my mental desk. (The physical desk will have to wait a little longer.)

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