Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A positive suggestion about tenure denial--not much, but better than nothing

Sorry, I had forgotten to post this. It came up in an email exchange....

There is not much that can be done to help the tenure system; it is what it is, but from my point of view, I would have appreciated some access to confidential, free, *independent* counseling.  I have toyed with sending something to my most recent school's HR officer and suggesting that.  The key is that it has to be set up so as to be clearly completely independent from the institution, free, and (very important) untraceable, so the candidates family etc. do not have to find out.  It's pretty hard to arrange such a service--I know of no institution which does--but it might have helped me if I had that opportunity to at least unload my troubles with a neutral observer. 

The biggest problem about it (being denied) ultimately, and this is why I started the blog, is that if you plan to get on with your life you learn that you have to stop talking about it, you have to do all you can to hide the whole event, or at least obscure it to the casual outside observer.  It could have helped me (a little) if I had had access to clearly independent counseling.   It's not much, I know, but better than nothing.

Again: the voices of tenure denial

Thanks for the input in the last few days.  I appreciate the comments and emails.

I am indebted to Glen McGhee for pointing out the 1952 essay by Erving Goffman, "On Cooling the Mark Out."  I intend to post more in depth about this essay (and the many related essays it spawned) at a later date

I don't intend to just be a firebrand or encourage people to storm the barricades.  I created this blog because I wanted a place for people to be able to TALK about tenure denial, theirs and others. I found it was very hard to find any avenue in my life to do this.  But I'm way past fighting the battle over again at this point.

It is the nature of the Internet that people vie for exposure in a developing story.  I certainly have seen this in the last few days with the UAH shooting story.  Without (I hope) being gratuitous about it I'll admit that I was moved to post my comments, and right away, because I hoped that this blog might get picked up in the overall noise surrounding that story.  That has to some extent happened, which is good as now I know that at least a few people have read some of the posts!

But I repeat my invitation---share your stories.  I want to hear them.  I will gladly post them here.  I'm all about keeping anonymity (to the extent that that is possible nowadays on the Web).  Send me more, either by email or comments.  I'd like to see some multiple perspectives.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The end of the Amy Bishop story?

Well, the Amy Bishop story is apparently winding down now.  Now all the stories are leading or featuring very prominently her previous killing of her brother, which now, at least in the press, is looking pretty bad.  The NY Times has a statement from the Braintree Mass. police department indicating that the release of Bishop "did not sit well" with the police department.

So, it appears that the tenure denial aspect of this event will become of lesser interest, and this whole episode will just merge into all the other crazy mass killings, which is a shame.  Of course, a bad event like a tenure denial doesn't lead a normal person to homicide.  In these pathological multiple murder cases that is never the point.  You need a confluence of multiple events to make them happen.  In this case it looks like it was the combination of the instability of Bishop AND the tenure denial which was the ultimate trigger of what happened.  OF COURSE a normal person would not go off killing people just because they were denied tenure.  That's not the point at all.

But look at Bishop's situation.  Sure, she was deranged, but not in a hugely major way (like say Fabrikant was).  She was able to get through Harvard grad. school, get married, have four kids, land a faculty job, and start up a biotech company.  She was unstable, but she was a high-functioning unstable person. 

But it can't be denied that a tenure denial is a huge stressor.  And I don't think this has been recognized enough.  The length of time involved in the process--usually at least six years--and the fact that it is presented to the candidate as a deep, careful, reasoned judgement from one's peers, this makes it not like other common stress events in one's life, like death of a loved one, or losing a job or having a business fail.  All those other events have elements of outside randomness to them.  You can rationalize that there was (at least partially) nothing that could have been done about the situation.  But I have been through two denials and I know that the committees always make their absolute best effort to present it to you as a careful, dispassionate, expert judgement of your entire career.  And you are found wanting.  The ENTIRE thing is all you, all your fault.  I don't mean that that IS true, but that is how the administrators and faculty members make it out to you.

In such a situation, it takes an incredibe force of will and personality to NOT have fleeting thoughts of (at least) suicide, if not homicide.  Of course--of course!--normal people do not act on such thoughts.  But in my entire life, given all the events which have come down on me, it was only during the denials that these kinds of thoughts came to the fore in a way sufficient enough that I clearly remembered it happening. 

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Following the UAH shooting story

Again, I am putting links on my delicious page as the story develops.  See
http://delicious.com/deadprofessor/UAH_shooting .

It has come out that apparently she shot her brother when she was younger,
though apparently that was clearly an accident.

The most depressing thing about this is that now the press is downplaying the tenure denial aspect of it as a possible main motive for the murders, presumably led by Fox News's odious story:

From Fox News, here is their lead-in at http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,585682,00.html
Motive in Question as Professor Faces Murder Charge in Alabama Campus Shooting
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — There "may never be a clear answer" as to why a biology professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville allegedlyvshot and killed three colleagues and wounded thre others, campus police said Saturday in a news conference.

If you read this article in detail, you see they have a few new interviews, but absolutely NO evidence of a motive other than the denial.

University of Alabama shooting

See the NY Times article today, Professor Is Charged After 3 Are Killed in Alabama.  This is an amazing and horrific case where a tenure denial has (apparently) led to violent retribution by the one who was denied.  We don't know all the facts yet but the Times says that she was denied tenure recently and she went to a faculty meeting with a gun and killed and injured several people, all other faculty members.

I want to post about this more later, but as someone who is trying to reach out to others who have been denied tenure, let me just make clear--while I am interested in the issues this will raise related to tenure denials, this was an absolutely bloody and uncalled for murder.  I have no sympathy for the perpetrator.  My guess is that since this is a clear cut case with several witnesses, it was clearly premeditated, and is in the south, she will be executed.

One of the frustrating things about the NY Times article is that it does NOT mention the denial first as the possible spark for the killings.  Instead it discusses the "pressure cooker" of biotech startups.

I am assembling links related to this story on my delicious site, see http://delicious.com/deadprofessor/UAH_shooting.  Now I notice that the LA Times is saying one of the victims was a staff member.

I will be very interested to see just how random her victims were.  Was she in there to get revenge on certain people?  Or was she also just randomly killing people?

As I said, this is clearly a crazy act by a crazy person, but in both of my denials I'd be lying if I didn't say that I did have thoughts like this.  In my case (and I suspect in most cases) they ran more to the just plain suicide bent.  But I hope this case does raise some discussion about this important issue.  A tenure denial was once described by someone on sci.research.careers as like having a nuclear bomb descend on your house.  It does feel like that.  It is like everything you worked for has been destroyed.  And not by something out of your control, like being layed off or having a business fail.  This is a long, reasoned judgement by your peers and they have decided you need to be out.