Dear Feeling Hopeless

Dear Ms. Scholar, I was hoping to go up for promotion soon, but since discovering that only one person was promoted across all ranks this year, I’m reconsidering my options. What do you think? — Feeling Hopeless

Ms. Scholar at work.

Ms. Scholar at work.

Dear Feeling Hopeless, We have heard a variety of different responses from people who have gone up for promotion or planned on doing so. Some feel that being promoted under our current administration is impossible and have given up. Others are still thinking about promotion—it’s part of the job, right?—but have heard the message, “You’re not good enough. No one’s good enough. No one will ever be good enough.” For some, that message may make the acts of writing and sending articles off for publication more difficult. Still others are looking for jobs elsewhere. Whether or not management was attempting to demoralize our faculty, that seems to be the result.

We should care about this for a variety of reasons, but I can think of at least two important reasons. First, a university or other community is strongest when the morale of its members is strong and positive. Drastically cutting the number of faculty promoted and stepping away from past practice and precedent has been demoralizing for the people applying for promotion, those who expect to apply for promotion, and those who mentored young faculty or served on departmental- or university-wide promotion committees. Second, an organization is only as healthy as its base; therefore, good leaders work to foster and further develop the next generation. When they fail to do so, the organization is likely to develop root rot and fall over.

Our faculty are getting mixed or negative messages. First, faculty being evaluated have not heard that they are doing well. They may be told (or hear) that their service and teaching are “okay” (despite doing very strong teaching and service), but have also been told that their research is insufficient — even though in the past Clarion faculty have been promoted for as much or less. Some would have been competitive at more research-oriented schools. Second, at institutions where research is truly valued, faculty are often given both money and release time to support their research efforts. When the teaching and service load is heavy, yet research expectations match those of schools with more resources and fewer teaching demands, is that fair? Where is the support for our labs? Our research? For travel? Where are the sabbaticals? Third, clearly some of this year’s faculty would have been promoted under the “old” guidelines (old being last year’s). Those guidelines have not been changed and new expectations have not been clearly communicated. If the administration were truly trying to create and foster a new culture of scholarship, they would tell us when we do well, set reasonable expectations, provide financial support and release time, and communicate their expectations clearly. No wonder you feel that this is a no-win situation.

Ms. Scholar may sound doom and gloom here, but I don’t want to leave you feeling hopeless about your professional future. I assume that you entered your field because the skills and tasks associated with completing a doctorate are important to you; perhaps it provides you with a sense of meaning and purpose. Research, publish, sit on committees, teach well because these activities are important to you. Be strategic in your choices, making sure that you choose to do those things that you can engage in and contribute to well. I believe that when you do your job well, the reinforcers will follow (although perhaps not until this set of administrators moves on to greener pastures).

In addition, consider paying attention to the types of activities that the administration says it rewards. Faculty going for promotion should focus on doing research and publishing to a greater degree. Note that I say “to a greater degree,” as the message faculty have previously heard is that they should focus on research AND maintain a significant focus on teaching and commitment to university service. Teach well, serve your department and university, but make your research a greater priority.

Finally, surround yourself with a community of colleagues who support your professional development. If there are research brown bags in your discipline, attend them and contribute. If there are not, get them going. Go to professional meetings and get involved. Develop a group of colleagues in your department, within the university, or across the country with whom you can refine your research ideas and paper drafts. Read regularly in your field. These types of support will get you through harder times, but also help you meet your professional goals. Hang in there! Ms. Scholar

If you have questions regarding teaching, student/faculty issues, or other comments/suggestions, please write to: Ms. Scholar c/o

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