As we enter the new academic year, I thought it would be appropriate to re-visit a question regarding that sticky time of being untenured and worried about getting tenure. The following question was first published in Fall 2008. Hope everyone is settling in for a great academic year!
Got questions??? Please submit them to Lisa Growette Bostaph at
1) Is it okay to openly and passionately disagree with a tenured faculty member about something in a faculty meeting if you're planning to apply for tenure (or even early tenure) in the upcoming year? Or should you just be quiet, say nothing, and go along until you get tenure – no matter how wrong and bullheaded and stupid his or her opinion is?
A mean old attorney (my father) once told me: “Never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut.” Of course college professors are professionally disposed to ignore this advice.
An issue like this requires one to consider both one’s integrity and one’s survival. Here are some questions that you might ask yourself:
1. Why does it matter? Is it because you do not suffer fools gladly or because one of your pet projects is being disparaged? Is it your ego that is at stake or something more important and less likely to recover from a bad couple of hours at a meeting.
2. How important is the disagreement? In particular, does it directly affect your welfare or the welfare of your students?
3. What will your opposition accomplish? Can it have an impact on the outcome of a debate on policy? Will others oppose the stupid bullhead even if you do not? Choose your battles wisely.
4. How likely is it to affect your chances for tenure? Is the tenured faculty member going to be considering your application?
5. What is the culture of the department regarding untenured faculty members? Are they to be seen and not heard, or are they expected and encouraged to voice their opinions?
6. How relevant is voicing your disagreement to your tenure case? In theory, it should not matter much, but does it?
7. What is the culture of the department regarding debate in faculty meetings? Is lively debate the norm? Sullen acquiescence to the dictates of the chairperson?
The first three questions are most important, because they deal with your integrity. But the last four questions should not be ignored, because it is better to live to fight another day than to go to your certain doom. Once you have asked yourself those questions, you should talk them over with a tenured faculty member who you trust. If you are not yet sure who you can trust, then you haven’t been there long enough to do battle.
My own experience leads me to offer one last piece of advice. I have learned that, “Life is a long lesson in humility” (James Barrie).
Consider the possibility that the other person may not be as wrong and bullheaded and stupid as you think. I confess that I have stood up to denounce another’s obstinate refusal to see reality on more than one occasion only to discover that I was the one who needed glasses.