To the Editor:
I do not believe it is a new phenomenon for faculty who have a harsh three-year review to decide not to check all the boxes required of them (“Younger Faculty Are Leaning Out. Is That a Bad Thing?” The Chronicle Review, January 4.) Even decades ago, faculty would switch to checking the boxes they missed by quitting the activities they did well before. I myself focused more on research by finally saying no to the excessive service requests. Others I know decided to ignore the review and continue as they were: challenging the tenure committee to accept their definition of scholarship, service, and teaching.
Some did not get tenure, some did. In my field, those who did not get tenure could easily land industry jobs so nobody was too worried. At my university, the faculty who were not granted tenure kept the job one more year while challenging the tenure decision, which also gave them time to find another job. Some even landed a new job with tenure at a university that appreciated their approach to serving as a faculty member. This last happened primarily for faculty whose research and funding was spectacular but were denied tenure over teaching, service, or politics.
Ultimately the decision to spend 40, 50, or 60 hours per week on a job is not only a decision to be made by faculty with children. Other faculty have personal concerns as well: aging parents, illnesses, divorces, partner seeking, loneliness, depression... to name a few. I myself was lucky to be physically and mentally healthy but had a small child and a baby.
I was allowed to extend my tenure clock. It was helpful to be able to postpone the decision to take that extra year or not to the last minute. It allowed me to relax and focus on research. I submitted to the top journals because I had time to resubmit elsewhere if necessary. In the end I was lucky, the top journals accepted my work and I had a grant. So I went up for tenure on time rather than taking the extra year.
I would like to add that I was able to take year long leaves of absence for each new child. It would be helpful to more faculty to have this option. It is common to have such paid leaves in Europe. I was able to do some research during those leaves and the break from teaching hurt nobody. If your university does not offer childcare leaves, request reduced teaching. You may even be able to replace the teaching with some easy service. You have enough time to establish a teaching record during the tenure process, but if you stop research completely it can be hard to restart it.
Professor of Mathematics
Lehman College and CUNY Graduate Center