On Solving The Tenure Problem

jamieNote: This blog post was originally published on our Inside Higher Ed column. Jamie J. Hagen is a doctoral candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, researching gender and security. Her most recent article is “Queering Women, Peace and Security.” She is also an independent journalist and writes about queer politics and reproductive justice.

Why Most of Us Won’t Get Tenure

The academic job market is bleak, as most certainly all of you reading this are well aware. Over the summer, Gawker gathered some personal stories to highlight just how bad things are out there. One adjunct wrote about how they work at Starbucks to make ends meet, while another realized the janitor at their institution makes more than they do.

This conversation in popular media reveals how out of touch those with tenure often are regarding the future of their students in the academy.

I work in the field of international relations, and a couple of pieces published over at Foreign Policy made the rounds a few months ago about what those of us on the other side should do on our journey to the ever-elusive tenure-track job. First was the piece about how to get tenure. Then some women academics pointed out how gender also factors into the experience of seeking tenure in the academy.

Yet both of these pieces focus on individual actions rather than looking at the larger institution granting tenure. In her response, which Foreign Policy opted not to publish, Laura Sjoberg, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida, wrote in a blog pot for Relations International:

“One the one hand, this advice is solid — after all, to an extent, we all navigate the existing system individually. On the other hand, from a feminist perspective, I have two serious concerns about the advice provided. First, I am concerned that providing advice for navigating the gendered system of achieving tenure without strategizing to change the system as a whole puts the primary responsibility for overcoming bias on the victims of the bias. Second, I am concerned that a significant number of the strategies provided are only available to a small percentage of those who might seek professional success as political science faculty, narrowing the spectrum of those to whom tenure might be available.”

I, too, am concerned about the lack of a larger strategy for institutional change. But I am most troubled by how the conversation seems to keep missing the biggest question. This query was raised in a post for Ducks of Minerva by Annick T. R. Wibben: “Why do we keep focusing on getting tenure when most junior academics will never be on the tenure track?”

Indeed. And I would add: Why is it that those in the most precarious position — doctoral candidates and adjuncts — are seemingly left to make a living, and discuss and resolve this tenuous academic landscape on our own, barring a few vocal feminist tenured professors?

Rather, the prospect of a tenure-track future hinges on departments renegotiating institutional infrastructure, creating a new landscape of possibilities for adjuncts and students alike. With this in mind, I offer five ways to address the reality of the tenure track today. I offer these tips primarily for tenured and tenure-track faculty, although they may be useful to graduate students and other members of the faculty as well.

  1. Tenure-track faculty must recognize openly that as the system stands, tenure is not a possibility for most Ph.D.s, regardless of merit or method. Daniel Dreznor reflected on the academic job market in Foreign Policy back in 2013, noting, “The job market is brutal. The academic job market has been abysmal for as long as I can remember, but things have only gotten worse recently. Just click here and make sure that there are no children in the room, because the numbers are so horrific they should be rated NC-17. If you’re not going to a top-20 school in your field, well, those numbers are even worse.”
  2. Talk directly with doctoral students about adjuncts, acknowledging how the labor force has shifted at your institution as well as in the field as a whole. Even a cursory Google search reveals the extent to which the university system has steadily been corporatized, class sizes have increased and the adjunct labor force has exploded. The Adjunct Project of CUNY offers a number of ways to Bring It to Class, including blurbs to put in your syllabi, ideas for class lessons, a video to show and articles about adjuncting. Directly acknowledging adjunct labor creates a safer space for doctoral students to discuss the issue with faculty members as well as other students.
  3. Know that the route to the tenure track is not an equal playing field. As reported in Inside Higher Ed, the class, race and gender dynamics of tenure denial — to say nothing of getting a tenure-track job in the first place — have continued to make headlines this year. A great resource for understanding this is the book Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia, edited by Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. González and Angela P. Harris. One of the editors explains, “Existing academic structures facilitate different realities and rules of the game for members of historically underrepresented groups as compared to those of their white, heterosexual colleagues.” The book concludes with a chapter of recommendations and lessons, including a section on tenure and promotion.
  4. Departments should gather data about their work force and practices in the field to share with faculty members and students. They should make information about average class size readily available, as well as how this number has changed over the past five or 10 years. Departments should also make clear the number of tenure-track positions in the department versus part-time or adjunct positions. They also need to gather data about job placement of students in the department and field, especially for Ph.D. students. That information should be gathered and distributed as part of best practices for the department — not something that precarious faculty members, administrators or students are expected to investigate and report on their own.
  5. Senior faculty can use their bargaining power to address low pay, inadequate health care and a lack of job security for most of their department’s work force when negotiating contracts. Placing the impetus for change on the backs of the most vulnerable people within the system is unreasonable. As Jennifer Gaboury wrote in a Facebook status update about the recent contract negotiations at the City University of New York, “When pay was deprioritized as an issue in the last two contracts, what gets said is: that’s too big of a fight, and the support isn’t there among ladder-rank faculty — a minority of the faculty but a majority of voting members in the union. Yes, more adjuncts need to become members of the union and push for pay. So many adjunct activists that I know, having worked on these issues for years, feel alienated from this work and burned by the union.”

During the time I have been part of a doctoral program, a number of colleges and universities have negotiated contracts for adjuncts. We no longer need advice for individual faculty. We are overdue for attending to real institutional change. Hope for most young professionals in the academy relies not on following tips for obtaining a tenure-track job but rather in the solidarity from those with job security when it comes to tackling the growing insecurity of the majority of the academic work force.

Advice On Soliciting Strong Recommendation Letters

shannon craigo-snellNote: This blog post was originally published on our Inside Higher Ed column. Shannon Craigo-Snell is professor of theology at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She is the author of The Empty Church: Theater, Theology and Bodily Hope (Oxford, 2014). Her forthcoming book, No Innocent Bystanders: Becoming an Ally in the Struggle for Justice, co-authored with Christopher Doucot, will be released in 2017. She is involved in activism as well as a variety of academic organizations.

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In the early years of academic life, scholars are asked to provide letters of recommendation for various opportunities, including jobs, grants, summer funding and fellowships.

For scholars who are “likable” — those who reflect the dominant culture and fit neatly into the mold of senior scholars eager to mentor them — I suspect this is rather easy. When I was a graduate student, my male classmates played squash with senior professors, took them out for a celebratory drink after completing comprehensive exams and invited them over for dinner. None of these avenues of getting to know professors seemed open to me. If I, as a woman, asked a senior professor (quite likely a man) out for a drink, the cultural subtext would be very different. That meant that when it was time to ask for letters of recommendation, the male professors knew Tom, Dick and Harry quite well, while they might not recall a paper I had written.

Marginalized scholars often face an uphill battle in finding mentors, and that can be reflected in letters of recommendation that have enormous importance in opening doors throughout their careers. Thus, in this essay, I provide concrete tips for soliciting strong letters of recommendation, specifically for my fellow marginalized scholars.

Selecting Recommenders

Often a scholar is asked to provide more than one letter of recommendation. As you consider whom to ask, keep in mind that you will want people who can speak to different parts of your experience or different strengths. You will also want to make sure that your recommenders are from diverse backgrounds and varied specializations or research areas.

Unfortunately, having only women or only people of color will be a drawback in many situations. For those operating out of explicit or implicit (racial and/or gender) bias, this can pigeonhole a scholar into a particular niche and lessen the sense that they will contribute broadly to the field. In certain fields, it might be the case that having all white men write letters on your behalf would also be a drawback. Balance is likely key in whom you ask to write for you.

Asking for a Letter

When I ask someone for a recommendation, I try to do three things. First, I make clear why I am asking them, in particular, to write this letter on my behalf. Something along the lines of “Because we worked together in this capacity or on this project, you are able to speak to this specific skill, ability, strength or experience I have.” Second, I put them on the hook for a really strong letter. I ask them, specifically, if they could write a strong letter of recommendation for me.

Third, I give them a way out if they feel like they cannot write a really strong letter. My wording is something like this: “I am applying for X. They have asked for recommendation letters to be sent by X date. You know my work well from our past experience X, so I was wondering if you would be able to write a strong letter of recommendation for me. I know that you have a lot going on right now, so I understand if the timing does not work.” At least once, I have had a recommender use the back-out option, and I was glad. I would much prefer to be told no than to have a weak letter that could sabotage my entire application.

Providing Information

What makes a letter of recommendation stand out from all of the rest is its level of specificity. Generic letters fade into the background, while detailed and particular letters shine. For example, every recommendation form asks the writer to say how long they have known the person they are recommending. A generic letter says, “Three years.” A specific letter says, “I first met X when we both spoke on a panel about X. Her presentation was a comparison between Y and Z that was so insightful, I began teaching her article on the subject in my classes.”

To help your recommenders write detailed letters, you can provide them with tailored information that is easy to access. I suggest giving your recommender a packet that contains materials such as:

  1. A personalized letter that: a) thanks them for agreeing to write for you, b) reminds them the particular reason you have asked them to write and c) reminds them of the various ways you have interacted professionally. For example: “We first met in 2007 when I took your course on X, you sat on my comprehensive exam in 2010, we were on a panel together in 2011,” and so forth. Or it might be: “We worked together on X research project in 2012 and served on X committee together for three semesters.”
  2. A copy of the official description of the opportunity for which you are applying.
  3. A copy of your up-to-date CV.
  4. A copy of your letter of application, personal statement or research proposal.
  5. If you are a student asking a professor or former professor for a letter, it is good to include a paper that you wrote for that professor with the professor’s comments and grade on it. I realize this might not be possible, and that it would have been helpful to have this advice earlier.
  6. If you are a graduate student writing a dissertation, you might send a chapter of your dissertation.
  7. A very clear statement of how and when to submit the requested recommendations.

It is important to give this information to your recommender in a format that is extremely easy to see and cross-reference. Ask your recommender if she would prefer digital or electronic copies of your materials.

Follow Up

A few days before the letter is due, send a friendly email reminder, which can be as simple as “This is a friendly reminder that the recommendation letter for X is due on X.” After the deadline has passed or you receive notification that the letter has been received, send a handwritten thank-you note. If someone writes multiple letters of reference for you, it is appropriate to send a small gift, such as a small package of good chocolates, in appreciation.

These steps — selecting recommenders, asking for a strong letter, providing information and following up — will improve a marginalized scholar’s chances of getting a selection of outstanding letters of recommendation.

7 Strategies For Success For Tenure-Track Faculty

Tanya Golash-BozaNote: This blog post was originally published on our Inside Higher Ed column. Tanya Golash-Boza is a professor of sociology at the University of California, Merced. Her most recent book is Deported: Immigrant Policing, Disposable Labor and Global Capitalism (NYU Press, 2015). She runs the blog Get a Life, PhD and tweets at @tanyaboza.

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Securing a tenure-track position in this academic market is difficult. Of course, once you have such a position, the trials are not over, as you now have to work to achieve tenure. And the very thought of working toward tenure can be overwhelming.

However, I encourage tenure-track faculty members not only to think about achieving tenure but to be strategic and focused to ensure you are on the right path. Even if tenure is a few years off, new tenure-track faculty can take a few important steps now (other than, of course, work on publishing their dissertations, improving their courses and developing new research projects). Here are a few examples.

Check out the tenure documentation. What forms are you going to have to fill out when you go up for tenure? If possible, secure a copy of those forms so that you can see what information you will be asked to provide when you make your tenure case. Many colleges and universities have a mid-career or third-year review process, which is identical to the tenure review. That can help familiarize you with the process.

Develop an aspirational tenure CV for yourself. You should include in it all of the things you would like to have accomplished by the time you are up for tenure. If you are in the humanities, that probably will include a book and perhaps multiple articles. (If you are unclear about the expectations, this post has some suggestions for how to figure those out.) Also include conference presentations, service obligations, teaching accolades, invited lectures and anything else that you think will help you make your case for tenure. This will help you to see the bigger picture more clearly. Once you have your aspirational CV, use it to develop your long-term plan for tenure.

Create a list of your external reviewers. One of the best pieces of advice that I received on the tenure- track was to make a list of 12 people in my field whom I admired, and then to make it a point to contact them while I was on the tenure track. If you write this list in your first year, you only have to contact two people per year over the next six years. You can reach out in a variety of ways. You can invite them to have coffee at a conference. You can send them a recently published article of yours that you think they might find interesting. You can send them feedback or questions about an article or book they recently published. I recommend contacting them in a way that feels natural or comfortable to you and that engages with your shared research interests. Most universities expect that external reviewers will be at similar or more highly ranked institutions than your own, so keep that in mind when you formulate your list.

Network to establish a national reputation. At many research universities, having a national reputation is a vital component of your tenure case. For that reason, it is important to make sure that other scholars are aware that you exist and know about your work. One example of a way to do this is to organize a panel at a national conference in your discipline. That will put you in touch with scholars in your field and increase your visibility. Another strategy is to invite prominent scholars to your campus. If your university has funds to do so, suggest people in your field to ask to deliver talks. (This also can permit you to check a name off your list from the previous suggestion.) In some universities, it is also expected that you will be invited to share your research at other campuses to demonstrate that you have a national reputation. Finally, if a blog in your field publishes guest posts, try to publish your own on it. (In my field, Border Criminologies is an example of this kind of blog, and they accept guest posts.)

Figure out what kind of service you like. What is the right kind of service for you? Do you like serving on review panels? Do you like curriculum development? Do you like organizing seminars? Do you want to be on the athletics committee in the hopes of scoring free basketball tickets? Once you determine what kind of service you like, you may want to be proactive and search out those kinds of opportunities. That way, when other opportunities arise, you can say that you are already occupied with service tasks. It is, of course, crucial to know that you can say no to service requests, especially when your no is accompanied by a good explanation. When thinking about what kind of service opportunities you will seek out, be mindful of the expectations at your institution. Some institutions expect some form of departmental, university, community and national service. Other institutions are less concerned about national service yet have higher expectations for local service. Be clear about these expectations.

Teach effectively and efficiently. Robert Boice found that successful new faculty members spend no more than two hours preparing for each hour of class. Seek out advice from more seasoned colleagues about how to be a more efficient grader and more effective teacher. Ask your colleagues how much time they spend preparing for class and grading papers to make sure that your efforts are near the norm in your department. (See this blog post for additional tips.)

Know your evaluation criteria and use them as a guide. Your university may have straightforward criteria. When I worked at the University of Kansas, the evaluation criteria were 40 percent research, 40 percent teaching and 20 percent service, and I tried to make sure to spend about that percentage of time every week in each of those areas. (I actually printed out a document that said I would spend 3.2 hours a day on research, 3.2 hours on teaching and 1.6 hours on service and stuck it on my wall.) Your university may not have such clear criteria, but you should be able to estimate how much value is given to each area and make an attempt to align your work hours with those expectations.

It can be overwhelming to start a new tenure-track position. But life on the tenure track does not have to be torturous. Develop clear goals for yourself for tenure and work toward those a little bit every day. Six years is a long time to be stressed out and worried, so figure out ways that you can minimize that stress and worry. Do what you can not only to survive but also to thrive on the tenure track.

Post-PhD Growth: This Is Where I Stop Apologizing For Who I Am

"Not Sorry" by Alex Guerrero

“Not Sorry” by Alex Guerrero

I am embarrassed to state this… again.

My graduate training traumatized me. Yes, let me give the obligatory qualifier: I mean “little t” trauma, not “big T” trauma like sexual violence, natural disasters, or war. I continue to work through that special kind of trauma that is not even listed in the DSMcomplex trauma. No one has accused me of being overly dramatic, or playing the victim, or being unfairly critical of my grad program — at least not to my face. But, I feel self-conscious about it — not enough to keep it between my therapist and me, obviously, but just enough to downplay something that has plagued my heart, spirit, mind, identity, and career for a few years now.

But, enough about that. I am tired of telling that story, even though I feel compelled to do so again as though I need to convince others how bad grad school was for me. I am tired of hearing myself tell that story. I am sure at least a few others who have heard me talk about it are tired of hearing it, too, though no one has ever said so. But, that’s trauma for you. I have gotten better about recognizing trauma’s impact on others’ lives; they tell the same story, less for informing others, and more for validating their own hurt (though it’s never enough to heal deep wounds).

Though I no longer have meaningful ties to my graduate program or any of my graduate school professors, their influence has lingered in my life. The little voice that tells me what I should be doing with my career was deeply implanted into my head. Even as I intentionally and actively pursue opportunities that defy the expectations of a normative career typical of professors at Research I universities, my efforts often involve negotiation with the should voice. I have found myself justifying why doing something other than should makes sense for me and/or my career. I sometimes compromise with should by doing what it demands to compensate for doing things it cautions against. (“Yes, I’m running this blog, but I’ve got two papers under review!”) On occasion, I have apologized for doing things that should says I shouldn’t be doing. Half-joking, yet half-serious, I have complained to my partner, “why couldn’t I just be a normative, elitist, apolitical and ‘objective’ status-obsessed researcher?”

I don’t know that I believe in destiny or fate, for I have never given it much thought. But, working through the trauma of grad school has helped me to see the inevitability of some events in my life. I gave grad school a good try. But, structurally and culturally, it was bound to traumatize me, even if I totally caved to the pressures to forgo research on my own communities and advocacy with those communities. I knew too little as an undergraduate student to be able to assess the extent to which a given graduate program would support me in developing a career as a scholar-activist. I can no longer blame myself for the choices and compromises that I made, the parts of my soul I sold for job prospects, or for the things I did or didn’t say. This Black queer non-binary feminist intellectual activist could never come out of a program like the one I attended with both a job and full sanity — I had to pick one or the other.

But, I graduated three years ago. I am now halfway to tenure at the University of Richmond, and many (all?) of the signs point to a smooth, favorable tenure decision. I have found in UR a place that supports my career as a scholar-activist. I no longer have contact with my grad school. I am long overdue for cutting grad school’s influence in my career and my life.

The primary reason for moving on — forgiving them and forgiving myself — is that I landed exactly where I said that I would. I intended to end up at a liberal arts college so that I could teach and do research, but leave myself ample time for advocacy and community service. Though with a regrettable detour (i.e., grad school’s push away from marginal research), I am doing research on my communities. Grad school was nothing more than the means to this desired end. That’s all getting the degree should be for anyone, no matter their background or career goals.

And, though I was naïve about what graduate training in mainstream sociology entailed, I was completely honest about who I was when I entered the program. In my personal statement, I noted my experience with activism as an undergrad, and that this work influenced my scholarship. And, I even stated a desire to make the academy more inclusive and hospitable for marginalized folks like myself. To quote the phenomenal Maya Angelou, “[w]hen someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.” I showed the program who I was and who I wanted to become — it was their opportunity to embrace or waste to support me in developing that self-defined career.

I am done apologizing for who I am and the career that I have designed for myself. I will never be a traditional academic, no matter how hard I try. It was never in the cards for me. I am sure I am not alone in being seduced into the highly-valued Research I career path, but it just doesn’t suit me. That is fine for those who are genuinely interested in such a career — no shade to those people.

There is more than one way to be a successful academic. I have finally found mine.

Faculty, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Academics

Note: this blog post was originally published on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed. Dr. Betsy Lucal is a professor of sociology and director of the First-Year Experience program at Indiana University South Bend, where she also teaches in the women’s and gender studies and master of liberal studies programs. She has won several local, state and national teaching awards, including the American Sociological Association’s Hans O. Mauksch Award for distinguished contributions to undergraduate teaching.

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Among the many tasks associated with my position as a professor, one is to talk to my students about their future plans. What kind of job would they like to find? What career have they decided to pursue?

Not so long ago, I was heartened by knowing that a few of my students liked the idea of becoming a professor, of doing the same job that I do. Something about their college experience had gotten them hooked on the idea of pursuing a future in the ivory tower. What could be more flattering than students coming to me for advice about how they could do what I do for a living?

But more recently, things have changed. Students still come to me seeking advice about pursuing a Ph.D. But I have found myself, without much conscious reflection, pointing out the pitfalls of a career in academe. So many more applicants than positions available, the track toward tenure ever more precarious …. Eventually, I began telling my students that I thought they needed to reconsider their plans, or at least to be very deliberate in making them.

How did it come to that?

In the last couple of years, I have been writing and speaking about neoliberalism. To characterize it as an earthquake is inexact, both literally and figuratively; it is an imprecise metaphor. But I have no doubt about the tsunami it has unleashed on academe — not to mention society as a whole. How soon will it drown us all in its insistence on small government and free markets, competitiveness, deregulation and privatization? Its celebration of ever-lower taxes, consumerism, individual empowerment and self-interest has had dire effects on education in general and on higher education in particular.

Tuition skyrockets, students bear staggering debt burdens, cost cutting must always be prioritized — even over learning. Institutions lean ever more heavily on poorly paid contingent faculty members (don’t even ask about fringe benefits), pit faculty against administrators and create a culture of accountability that takes time and energy away from the important and difficult work of teaching. Students focus on earning a credential and pray that all the debt they are taking on is worth it. (No wonder many of them only seem to care whether this information will be on the exam and if a course fulfills a particular requirement.)

Like most academics, there are aspects of my job that I enjoy, others that I tolerate grudgingly and, increasingly, some that I deplore. That said, I realize that I am luckier than many people, given that I love aspects of my job — that they still get me so excited after more than 20 years that I can barely contain myself. Seriously. There are times when the process of teaching feels like the farthest thing from work. As I sometimes tell my students, I get paid to read books and talk to people about them. How bad could that possibly be?

And I say this despite all the demands on our department, which already teaches more students than others in our college, to serve still more students and despite the uncertainties that I continue to feel about teaching online. Despite any number of other changes wrought by neoliberalism, I still have a dream job.

If my job only involved working with students, then I would extol its virtues to anyone. Even if it just included scholarship and service on top of teaching, I would still consider it a great option for anyone’s future.

I have gone places and had experiences that I could never have dreamed of as a child, all because of my job. I have made lifelong friends and had opportunities to meet scholars whose work I teach. I have co-authored a book and written articles that have brought me recognition. I have made a living reading books and talking to people about them.

But I also have to wonder whether I will actually be able to make a living at this work for the rest of my life. When I entered this profession in the 1990s, I had no idea that possibility would ever even enter my mind, let alone become something I had to push out of my thoughts.

I remember hearing sometime during my first decade as an academic that things were changing — that for every three retirements from tenured faculty positions the result was a single tenure-track job. One position became a contingent job. The other was eliminated entirely.

Then I started to hear that public colleges and universities, which had once been state funded, were now merely state supported — and would soon be merely state located. Indeed, the loss of state funding is key to the impact of neoliberal ideology on higher education. But it was only when my partner, herself a sociologist, turned me on to neoliberalism that I really started to understand the big picture.

Life as a faculty member is not what it was when I began my first full-time job. As the dean of my college said just a few weeks ago, we used to have fun. We used to deal with everyday, mundane concerns. We used to complain about grading and entertain each other with amusing stories about hapless students. We would cheer when we passed something by vote in a faculty meeting because it was so uncommon.

Now we debate the meaning of DFW rates (drop-fail-withdrawal — funny how no one talks about grade inflation these days) and wonder not whether, but how much, the budget will be cut this time. We obsess over retention and graduation rates and wait on tenterhooks to find out if our summer courses have sufficient enrollment to be taught and allow us to support our families through those months. We feel pitted against our administration rather than valuable, and valued, partners with it.

For all of these reasons, I strongly urge any student who will listen to reconsider their plans to go on to earn a Ph.D. I tell them flat out that I think they should not do it. And that if they do, they need to be prepared for the high likelihood that they will not end up in a tenure-track faculty position.

How can I tell my students not to pursue the very career that I love? How can I urge them to reconsider the dream of getting paid to read books and talk to people about them, just like I do?

How can I not?

PhDs Of Color, Don’t Accept The Initial Job Offer!

sylvanna_0Note: this blog post was originally published on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed. Sylvanna Falcón (@profe_falcon) is an associate professor of Latin American and Latino studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and affiliated faculty of feminist studies and sociology. She is the author of Power Interrupted: Antiracist and Feminist Activism Inside the United Nations (U. Washington Press, 2016). She has recently discovered the wonders of yoga and meditation.

You Deserve Better

Over the past few years, I have started mentoring junior scholars, primarily women of color, about how to negotiate tenure-track job offers. This kind of mentoring came about rather organically, as I do not pitch myself as some kind of expert negotiator. But over time I became increasingly passionate about helping others secure better job offers as it started to align with my politics as a brown, Latina, middle-class, antiracist, feminist sociologist.

I became deeply troubled hearing time and time again that academics of color were advised against negotiating beyond the initial offer, to just be grateful about getting a job. Sometimes that advice is coming from other academics of color! Even though resources exist online about how to negotiate job offers, too many people, and recent Ph.D.s in particular, are getting the misguided advice to accept the initial offer, even in cases when they have competing offers from different institutions.

Increasingly, negotiating an offer is seen as a risk that could end in losing the job altogether or that we are being ungracious — or worse, ungrateful. This shift is particularly salient since the Great Recession of 2008, when the academic job market radically declined. Rather than having a plethora of tenure-track jobs to which to apply, such jobs have become scarce and intensely competitive, and many of us are simply unable or unwilling to live just anywhere in the country.

I remember a time in the early 2000s, when advanced graduate student cohorts in sociology would apply for 50 or more jobs; this job mecca was not my experience at all. I went on the academic job market four times, moving from positions as a lecturer to an assistant professor at a liberal arts college on the East Coast and then to a postdoc and an assistant professorship at a research-1 institution on the West Coast.

I would like to posit that our mind-set when negotiating academic job offers has to shift from being grateful that we have received an offer to knowing that we bring value to an academic institution — even in this new job climate. This shift in mind-set directly undermines the gratitude discourse prevalent at neoliberal universities. Why should we be grateful (and hence indebted) to labor for an institution? After all, we worked hard to earn that Ph.D. and receive that offer — facts we quickly forget when we are repeatedly told that we should be relieved to be offered an academic job at all these days. That is not to deny the very real and good fortune many of us have in landing a tenure-track job when too many Ph.D.s are unemployed, in severe debt and/or living the adjunct life. It is always sobering to hear the latest statistic about only 60 percent of Ph.D.s getting tenuretrack jobs in the social sciences and humanities, yet this new normal should not somehow circumvent our legitimate desire to enter a new job feeling happy and respected.

As academic job seekers enter into the negotiation phase for a tenure-track position, I encourage them to embrace three points.

Understand the value that you bring to the institution and your future department, even if you are a newly minted Ph.D. If you accept the job offer, you plan to work at this particular academic institution for the foreseeable future. The students and your future colleagues are going to benefit from your outlook, energy, research, recent graduate school training and knowledge. You will bring renewed enthusiasm to your teaching and research. They extended the offer to you so your future colleagues see your value. Now you should, too.

The offer is yours to accept … or not. I have yet to hear firsthand of a case where someone asked for an increase in salary and it resulted in the offer getting pulled, but there are stories. You are going to hear “no” a lot in academe (so, develop thick skin now), but in order to even get to that stage, you actually have to ask for something. If the offer is not to your liking, then you can walk away. Yes, you can actually walk away! Why should you accept an offer that has not met your standards and expectations? You have a bargaining position that you need to finesse to your advantage rather than be taken advantage of.

However, you have to be an effective and strategic negotiator, meaning that you request reasonable considerations typical of that particular institutional structure. Asking for things typical of a research-1 job offer at a liberal arts institution is not in your strategic interest. It is in your interest to consult widely — online and with multiple mentors — and to give serious thought to what you need in place to excel at that particular institution.

Do not pre-emptively sabotage yourself by not asking for anything. Ignore the advice and reaction from your mentors or other supporters to just sign the initial offer. I have helped women of color negotiate increases in salaries, research funds and course releases after people they trust told them not to ask for anything. I have literally lost count of how many people of color I have helped to negotiate better packages against the advice of their academic mentors. This help has translated to larger salaries for senior positions (by $20,000), substantial increases in research funds (by $15,000) and modest increases in salaries for assistant professors (ranging from $2,000 to $5,000).

Now, you will not get everything for which you ask; negotiations means compromises. But even I have been stunned at some of the aforementioned successes when people of color get serious about negotiations. That is not because I have some inside secret or deft negotiation skills to pass on, but because, with some close mentoring, people of color began to think concretely about what they needed to thrive. The key, I believe, is that they offered an effective explanation as to why they merited these items. Your salary has a chance to increase if you can provide a clear and compelling rationale for the increase based on the value you bring, not because you have a lot of debt. This same logic applies to your research funds, summer salaries and course releases. If you ask for it, you must be able to explain why you deserve it.

With a tight and scarce job market and the trend toward neoliberalizing universities, people of color — especially women — seem scared, literally, to ask for anything beyond the initial offer. You do not want to start a new job from a place of fear or misplaced gratitude. The content of the job offer sets you on a career trajectory. Change your mind-set about the purpose of job negotiations away from indebtedness to an institution and academe. Nurture an understanding of what you need for your well-being and to thrive professionally.

My University Failed Yet Another Rape Survivor And Protected Yet Another Rapist

"Don't Rape" by Richard Potts

“Don’t Rape” by Richard Potts

I want to start this essay by thanking CC Carreras for taking the time to share her story with Huffington Post and the world.  CC graduated from my university — University of Richmond (UR) — in May with a degree in Criminal Justice.  She was in my Sociological Research Methods course a couple of years ago.  I was initially shocked when I realized that she was the author of the HuffPo piece, that she would be so public about such horrific events and her critique of the university.  And, then, I was heartbroken.  CC isn’t a stranger; she is a student I saw twice a week for 15 weeks.  I can put a face to a story.  And, it makes me feel as though I somehow failed her as a professor.

I also want to express a deep sense of respect and admiration for CC’s bravery for speaking up.  We live in a society — UR not exempt — that does not believe women in general, especially about their experiences of sexual violence; that would rather blame survivors for their own victimization than the perpetrators or the society and institutions that enable them; that would rather protect rapists than rape victims; that would rather discredit, undermine, and attack survivors who speak up than to support them.  CC’s bravery has fueled others to speak up, either publicly or privately revealing their own experiences or fears of sexual violence at UR.  CC is a role model in my eyes; she has spoken up about injustice at an institution she called home, only after failing to see justice by going through the “proper” channels.  I hope that every UR alum feels called to speak up against sexual violence at UR and beyond.

Unfortunately, I also want to apologize to CC — as a faculty member, fellow spider, and concerned human being — for such an ugly end to her time at UR, topped only by being further failed by the university.  CC, I am sorry that UR chose to imply that you lied about the mishandling of your reported case.  I am sorry that the university chose not to support you as you bravely spoke up, or to apologize to you for failing you.  I am sorry that it chose to distance itself from you rather than from the predator-student-athlete who raped you.  I’m sorry that the university has not lived up to its desire to be a model institution, instead being one of over 200 that repeatedly fail rape victims.

Already, my words feel hallow.  But, it took working up the nerve to sit down to write this.  For, professors who take to anti-sexual violence activism do not fair well in the academy; some are censured, some are fired, some are merely tolerated.  I already have three strikes against me as a Black queer non-binary person on faculty.  And, I am pre-tenure, though basking in a much needed year-long leave from teaching to focus on my research.  I have already developed a reputation for being outspoken on campus about racism, heterosexism, and transphobia.  And, here I go again.

The fear I feel in speaking up as a faculty member is just another manifestation of a larger problem at UR: rape-culture.  Despite having a feminist, sociological understanding of sexual violence, and sexuality and power more generally, despite having worked with a rape crisis shelter in the past, and despite a desire to work with students to improve our society, there is some chance that I will pay the price for speaking up.  Rape-culture silences victims and their supporters, and it censures those who dare to work against sexual violence.  Yes, rape-culture can exist even in where a campus office has been created for Title IX compliance, where “compliance” sounds an obligatory adherence to the bare minimum standard to ban harassment and discrimination.

Unfortunately, we have further proof: the University of Richmond sent emails to students, staff, faculty, and alumni that effectively implies that CC lied about the mishandling of her case:

While we cannot address specifically the contentions in the recent Huffington Post commentary, given our commitment to student privacy, and we respect the right of all students to express their opinion and discuss their perspective, we think it is important for us to share that many of the assertions of fact are inaccurate and do not reflect the manner in which reports of sexual misconduct have been investigated and adjudicated at the University.

Rape-culture, to me, is writing a two-page-long email to the student body and never once even mentioning the name of the alum — CC Carreras. It is speaking of her in the abstract — an “opinion” to be tolerated — only to say that she is making it all up (because who can trust rape victims, right?).  Rape-culture is never saying a word about the rapist who may or may not still be walking around campus.  It is using the cloak of confidentiality to protect certain details (the rapist’s name, whether he is still a student at UR, etc.) but not others (publicly stating that CC is lying about how her case was handled); it is using the law as a tool to revictimize a survivor and protect a rapist.

I am relieved that CC refused to let the university have the last word.  She took the time to write an extensive response, in which she shares many official correspondences regarding the case and the many times the rapist violated a (rather flimsy) no-contact order.  If you take the time to read the entire thing, your head may begin to hurt as mine did.  The legalese used to protect a rape victim from further contact from the rapist is quite off-putting and cold; it reads more like divorce papers for a couple that is splitting up property than an effort to protect someone from violence.  I have to wonder — why has the university asked CC to stay away from the rapist, just as it asks the rapist to stay away from her?

More importantly, I am inclined to agree with CC’s sentiment that the rapist received a slap on the wrist from the university, even as he repeatedly violated the no-contact order and admitted to raping her.  He admitted to committing a violent crime and, as far as I can tell, was never arrested nor spent any time in prison.  He was instructed to avoid certain parts of campus, but his time on the field and gym was not to be interrupted; that proved to be more important than CC’s safety and well-being.  Further, the university has effectively allowed the rapist to attack other people.  Indeed, there is research that is now 15 years old that highlights the reality that rapists tend to be repeat offenders.

As I dug through the many documents in CC’s second HuffPo piece, feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, I was reminded of the ways in which the university is perhaps complicit in facilitating sexual violence.  There is sociological research that highlights the ways in which institutions and organizations either fail to genuinely prevent sexual violence and punish perpetrators or actually enable rapists to attack people.  The Hunting Ground, a recently released documentary, highlights the ways in which the promotion and protection of Greek Life and athletics provide free reign for college men to make a sport of sexually assaulting college women.  It is naive to assume that campus rape is the “good guy” who slips up or goes to far or got a little too drunk, or that an obligatory three-hour-long workshop on drinking is enough to prevent rape, or that the university is a neutral party in this crisis.

As a professor at UR, I am quite troubled by the position the university has put me in.  I vehemently disagree with the official statement that the university sent out to dismiss CC’s story as lies, and, instead, pat itself on the back for how well it handles sexual assault cases (despite being under federal investigation for mishandling sexual assault cases).  This is blog post serves as my statement — I speak for myself.  Believing CC was never a question; my only question was how do I support her and ensure that students are able to do their work on campus free of harassment and violence.

The university’s email to faculty and staff, unlike its letter to students, gave no indication of responsibility or how I might get involved to prevent sexual violence and support survivors.  It seemed as though the sole purpose of the communication was to let me know I could sleep easily at night because CC made it all up.  It gave no reminder of my obligation to report to the Title IX office any instance in which a student has disclosed that they have been sexually assaulted.  It made no mention of how I might navigate contact with the rapist, or even who he is.  (Just last year, a student and advisee of mine mysteriously withdrew from the university — something about “for Title IX” reasons I learned.  Was he a rapist?  Since there is little punishment for perpetrators, how many of my students have been rapists?  These questions are unsettling.)

Rather than keeping faculty in the dark, instead relying on staff tasked with “Title IX compliance,” the university has right at its finger tips a wealth of expertise about sexual violence, sexualities, gender, oppression, law, the criminal justice system, and so on.  Rather than relying exclusively on peer-to-peer sexual violence education, the university could be employing professors to give talks, host workshops, teach courses, consult Title IX affairs, etc. Even outside of those of us with research-based expertise, it should be giving faculty more opportunities to work on sexual violence prevention.  I know from private conversations that many of us are concerned, and now outraged in light of the university’s statements about CC’s original post; we are ripe with passion, concern, and conviction to see that UR reverses its reputation as being one of the must unsafe campuses for women.  Can you imagine a university that has a reputation for a near-perfect record of punishing perpetrators, for supporting and affirming survivors, and for truly practicing a bystander intervention approach to sexual violence prevention?  That could be us, UR!

We have to do better.

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GrollmanDr. Eric Anthony Grollman (they/them/theirs) is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Affiliate Faculty of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Richmond in Richmond, VA.  They teach courses on gender and sexuality, sociology of health and illness, social inequality, and sociological research methods.  Their research examines the impact of prejudice and discrimination on the health, well-being, and worldviews of oppressed communities.  They are also an intellectual activist and maintain the blog Conditionally Accepted — a weekly career advice column on Inside Higher Ed for marginalized faculty.