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Want the Tenure Track? Don’t Keep Quiet

Last week, I was offered a tenure-track position. Come August, I will officially be an assistant professor of English at Richard Bland College, a two-year campus in Virginia that is associated with the College of William and Mary.

I’m still reeling.

It’s been a strange path to the tenure track, in my opinion. If you’ve been following my posts, you probably agree. I know there are many, many people still searching for tenure-track work. I can’t offer tons of advice, but I can offer a few hints, which I will try to do in the coming weeks.

In The Chronicle’s Forums and article comments, one piece of advice comes up again and again. Apparently, there’s an unwritten rule that, in academe, you’re not supposed to voice your opinions if you see something wrong with higher education. Administrators don’t seem to like it when you do that as a job candidate. Other faculty members don’t seem to like it. Everybody just wants to do their job, get paid, go home, and eventually retire fat and happy.

Of course, that’s only true for some people in academe. But it has been the “advice” I’ve received the most, in some form or another, since I started posting in this blog (“STFU,” “stop whining,” “if you don’t like it, then leave,” etc.).

But I don’t like to keep quiet. I believe that pointing out inadequacies can lead to changes for the better. There’s a line between being a jerk and offering constructive criticism, of course. In writing about adjuncts for this blog and in other places, I can’t say for sure if I’ve crossed that line; I don’t think I have.

I can say that, when I visited Richard Bland College for my interview, the faculty members I met seemed pleased with what I had written about adjunct issues. Maybe not because of what I said, or even how I said it, but pleased that I had said it. Some even shared stories with me of their own previous adjunct experiences.

So my first word of advice about finding a tenure-track job is this: Be brave, especially if you’re a writer or in some other area where you can have a voice. Speak out constructively. It’s true that it may not always work out for you and it’s true that you will meet some naysayers along the way. But it’s also true that you may be just what someone is looking for. Whatever you do, don’t keep silent.

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