Before Holy Grail, Fix Cars, Ferry Children. After Holy Grail, Fix Cars, Ferry Children
This week we finally got to a point that we’ve been working towards for the last twenty years: my husband got tenure. I think that this is an occasion that should include a ceremony involving funny hats, because lacking such ceremony, we’ve had trouble raising the energy that such an accomplishment merits.
Tenure is a widely misunderstood thing. It is a mark point in an academic career at which a university declares your work (finally) “good enough”. All that other stuff you did up until now – it is all weighed and measured, and stamped with a grade, and if your grades are good enough, then you get to stay. It is a big deal. Frankly, it is a really big deal, because a denial of tenure is tantamount to dismissal from the institution, and in the modern academic world, that frequently amounts to a dismissal from the entire academic community. So. Phew. Tenure. Protection of academic freedom. More ability to be controversial (which means something significantly more to a radical queer theorist than it does to a physicist, but, nonetheless. Yay! Academic freedom!) It is not a license to be sloppy or bad at your job, or to start doing bad research in other fields, although those are the stories that usually make the national press. It is confirmation. The last twenty years of work have paid off. You are “good enough.”
You would think that this would make us jubilant, that we would have a big celebration, that we would feel something resembling happiness. But in the end, the path was so long, and the final step so insignificant that there was no energy left for celebration. Relief, yes. Excitement, no.
In fact, he didn’t even announce it. It simply came up in conversation, “Well, I’ve got tenure now…” Me: “Your tenure came through? When did that happen?” Him: “Oh, my tenure letter came from the president a couple of days ago.” Me: “That’s nice. We should go for dinner or something.” Conversation continued along original lines. Then we couldn’t get the flat tire off the van, a necessary step in getting the whole family to dinner. We did manage to get the kids to their swimming lessons in the smaller car, and open a bottle of our homemade wine.
After tenure, fix cars, ferry children.