Monday, October 10, 2016

Senior ACS members talk tenure

A couple of interesting letters to the editor in this week's C&EN about tenure, one telling their story of finding it unfair:
...After two years, I was reviewed by three tenured faculty members who had been doing the same mundane research for more than 20 years, whereas I was trying to do novel research in an area that was related to, but somewhat differed from, my Ph.D. thesis work. Although I had the second-highest publication rate in the entire department, I was told that I was publishing in the “wrong journals,” which meant that instead of the Journal of the Chemical Society and the Journal of Organometallic Chemistry, I should have been publishing in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. I therefore decided that, rather than playing the “games” that the system clearly required, I did not want to be a part of the tenure system and decided to look for a job in the industrial sector. 
Since this was a time when the economy was quite bad and I was not yet a U.S. citizen, it took me two years to find a suitable industrial position. During this period, a faculty member who was considered by students to be one of the worst teachers in the entire department but had the contacts to bring money into the department was awarded tenure. I stayed in the industrial sector for 30 years. 
Leaving the academic sector was the best decision that I have ever made, and I never looked back. I liked the idea that although I could get fired, so could my boss, and that actually happened on a few occasions. Of course, the industrial sector changed radically during my time in it, and eventually I was “retired” by the last company that I worked for. Not being ready to retire, I found a full-time teaching position at a two-year technical/community college where teaching is the only criteria that is used to keep your position. There is no tenure as everyone is given a nine-month contract, and as I am now in my 12th year, this is approaching the longest time that I have worked for any company during my industrial career. 
Stuart C. Cohen
Myrtle Beach, S.C.
I found this one pretty amusing, for some bizarre reason. You should click through to read the "jury duty" aspect of his time serving on a tenure committee:
The interesting articles on tenure were noteworthy for their comments by “victims” but contained nothing from individuals who served on tenure committees.... 
...One final note: All of the people I knew who were denied tenure went on to other appropriate professional positions. In one case, an individual was put in charge of a laboratory and began calling his old colleagues and asking if they knew any recent chemistry graduates he could hire. 
G. David Mendenhall
Pomona, N.Y.
Please allow me to express my mild skepticism about Professor Mendenhall's comments that all the people he knew were able to find appropriate positions. But then again, perhaps there weren't very many, and so it's probably more believable than not. 

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