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The professor's freedom

At first I was somewhat unhappy with the system—tenure, for all its faults, sounds awfully nice—but I've grown more fond of it over the past year. For someone like me, who publishes at a somewhat frenetic pace, but never (so far) in academic journals, it is conducive to the sort of life I lead. I teach writing, and will be teaching cultural criticism and intellectual history next year, and while there are certainly scholarly venues for those who work in these areas, I'm still a better practitioner than scholar. Not being tenured means I (and my colleagues) are encouraged to publish as much or more in the popular press as in scholarly, peer reviewed work. And as a bonus, magazines tend to pay: nothing to scoff at when you're living in New York City on an entry-level professor's salary.

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Topics: Education, Journalism, Vocation
The professor's freedom June 13, 2011  |  By Alissa Wilkinson
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I've just signed a two-year contract for my full-time position on the faculty at The King's College, where all of our professors are non-tenured. There is, of course, an implicit assumption that—barring professional misconduct, major academic offering changes, or underperformance—our contracts with King's will be renewed.

At first I was somewhat unhappy with the system—tenure, for all its faults, sounds awfully nice—but I've grown more fond of it over the past year. For someone like me, who publishes at a somewhat frenetic pace, but never (so far) in academic journals, it is conducive to the sort of life I lead. I teach writing, and will be teaching cultural criticism and intellectual history next year, and while there are certainly scholarly venues for those who work in these areas, I'm still a better practitioner than scholar. Not being tenured means I (and my colleagues) are encouraged to publish as much or more in the popular press as in scholarly, peer reviewed work. And as a bonus, magazines tend to pay: nothing to scoff at when you're living in New York City on an entry-level professor's salary.

Furthermore, the news lately has been that colleges increasingly prefer non-tenured faculty. So I read with interest this piece from the Chronicle: "Tired of Writing for No Money."

Whether or not growing numbers of non-tenure-track academics at U.S. universities are satisfied with their contracts, the benefit to those of us in the positions is the greater autonomy we enjoy over the kinds of writing and creative activity we undertake. Naturally, if a university decides not to extend the tenure option to an academic, the employer can't demand the same work obligations. And as some universities are demanding higher teaching loads in the absence of tenure guarantees, professors are gaining more freedom in determining their personal mix of scholarly production.

After all: my "non-scholarly" work benefits the college as well as me. And King's recognizes, thankfully, that whenever my byline runs in a national publication, it can potentially draw attention to our tiny school. And it makes me wonder, too: which other employers might benefit from allowing their employees to spend time completing work that isn't traditionally associated with their job?

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