I have been focused on getting tenure for so long that, now once I have it, I’m unsure of how much power I have. What are my real freedoms once I get tenure? Can I really say no to anything? Can I really publish whatever I want?
Associate Professor Tenured and Confused
My Exalted Dr. Confused,
Aphra expresses deep congratulations on this illustrious Achievement! Tenure is an important marker in your Professional Life and a key part of our Profession.
How much freedom do you really have after tenure? Well, it is a relative answer and it depends in large part on context. First of all, you have more freedom than you did as an Assistant Professor because you have job security. Tenure means you will continue on in your position and be able to put down roots. Just knowing that relieves you of the pressure of potentially losing your job next year. Breathe easy on that head. Plus, you have the freedom granted by however much more earning power you gained with your promotion. These are no small things.
The main reason academics believe in and fight hard for tenure, however, is because it ensures academic freedom. This is an entirely different realm of agency. It means, theoretically, you have the right to pursue intellectual truth free from professional censure. This could be in terms of research or classroom behaviors, and in some cases, working for a professional union, in terms of service. In the U.S., academic freedom is generally defined by the 1940 statement from AAUP (see http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/issues/AF/). This statement allows certain institutions to stipulate limits to academic freedom on religious or other grounds if these are clearly stated at the beginning of employment. I advise you to consider what limitations, if any, your institution may have defined. A quick look at Wikipedia demonstrates how the concept differs in academic contexts around the world.
So the context of the university is crucial for understanding how a tenured professor’s behaviors may be limited. Many places, for example, insist that you make no reference to your university or college if you are making public statements unaffiliated with your professional duties. In other words, if you are quoted in the paper regarding your son or daughter’s school, you should not identify yourself as a professor of X University.
Your question might also suggest that you are concerned about further expectations for your behavior beyond tenure. For example, are you eventually planning to apply for full professor? It is important to learn exactly what your institution requires for you to achieve in these next stages as well as to consider your own desires. You have the freedom now, should you choose it, to publish in different ways. New venues or new topics, for instance. However, you should be aware of how these will be evaluated in annual reviews and later promotions. You now have the freedom—if you didn’t before—to consider what will make you happy as a scholar, teacher, person.
No college or university will likely fire a tenured professor for lack of publication or for publication outside of particular selective parameters (a top 30 vs. top 5 press, a novel rather than a scholarly monograph, etc.). Publishing fiction or popular intellectual work will probably not hurt you but won’t help you at a research institution if these genres are not those for which you were hired.
That said, publication expectations after tenure differ radically depending on your institutional affiliation. At a research one institution the answer is no, you cannot publish whatever you like if you want to move up the hierarchical and economic ladder. You are subject to stringent requirements (an additional monograph from certain presses, essays from selected journals) to continue to be promoted and to receive raises. At some universities, even smaller raises are contingent on significant and selective publications.
At the other end of the spectrum, at some schools no more publication is required for promotion at all—conference papers and excellent teaching are enough to move you through the ranks.
At many liberal arts colleges, you will be expected to continue to publish in your field, but an edited collection and a couple of essays in juried scholarly journals (not just the top 5) will be considered. In addition, smaller schools are often more open to publications that are a bit afield of your primary research focus.
So you must do a bit a research—the first on your goals and desires, and the second on what your institution may require for internal advancement. You have freedom of flexibility in your schedule now that you have tenure. Use the first few chunks of time to ponder your future, then map out a plan accordingly.
And do keep Aphra informed of your continued success!