Advice for the new assistant professor; thoughts on being a new professor

Just browsing Inside Higher Ed this morning, I read through this article “Surviving the first year” by Shari Dinkins, and by “first year,” she means the first year of a faculty person on the tenure-track. It’s all good advice, though if I had to pick two– okay, three– highlights from the piece, it would be “don’t fall into one camp right away” (meaning be careful how quickly you politically identify with one group or another), “STFU” (meaning that the new person needs to hold their tongues a bit), and “Prepare for a deeper level of commitment” (meaning that there is a big difference between being a full-time adjunct and a tenure-track faculty person– Dinkins describes it as the difference between “just dating” and being engaged).

I suppose that means I’m married to the institution at this point….

Anyway, I’m starting this school year as a newly promoted full professor. As I’ve mentioned here before, that is not as big of a deal as it is at many other schools– certainly tier 1 research schools– because everyone at EMU who manages to get tenure and who continues to have something resembling a pulse gets promoted to professor. That low standard and the general blues/bad budgets hitting EMU makes my promotion and current state a very mixed bag indeed. On the one hand, “it’s good to be the king,” it does mean something to have seniority, and the pay raise is nice. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean as much here since it’s a promotion everyone can be expected to receive, it’s the last pay raise I’m ever likely to receive, and it makes any more mobility to another institution all that more difficult. And given the metaphoric and literal shit that has hit the fan at EMU in the last year (an ugly faculty strike, a meddling board of regents, a murder cover-up followed by a weird media blitz by the ex EMU president, and, most recently, a series of very deep and troubling budget cuts), I’ve been thinking about mobility lately.

The truth is that leaving EMU would be difficult. Besides all kinds of complications being a full professor applying for a less than that level job, I’m part of an academic couple and a commuter marriage is not on the table. And complicating the matter even more is the fact that we live near the epicenter of the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage debacle means that our chances of selling our house and not losing way too much money seems unlikely. Oh, and besides all that: if I were to leave EMU at the end of this year while I am on sabbatical, I’d have to pay EMU half my salary back. That ain’t gonna happen.

So, like I said, it’s a mixed bag. It is nice to feel empowered and secure, but it’s not as nice to feel stuck.

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