Stresses of tenure affect faculty members

Suzi Starheim

Tensions rise as profs work for job security

Faculty members don’t just work to teach — they also work to become excellent researchers and earn job security.

The research success and job security faculty members strive for is known as tenure.

Shawn Simmons, assistant professor in visual communication design, is one of 850 faculty members working to earn tenure at Kent State.

Simmons is in the third year of her tenure track and said the most stressful part of working toward tenure has been the amount of time each week she has to devote to teaching and researching.

Simmons said she feels overwhelmed with more than 60 hours of teaching and researching per week because unlike most tenure-track faculty members, her degree terminated with a master’s rather than a doctorate. Thus, she has to play catch up with the published research required to receive tenure.

“I think the thing that is the most stressful, and few people outside of the academic world realize, is that we (tenure-track faculty members) work so much,” Simmons said. “I think the big thing is really understanding the amount of time and effort we put into things.”

In worrying about the tenure decision, Simmons said she leaves some aspects up to fate.

“If my colleagues and the university find my work of value, then I’m lucky, and it’s not going to change my direction of research necessarily,” she added.

Already tenured

Non-tenure track faculty have to be excellent teachers, said music professor Tom Janson. Yet tenure-track faculty have to be excellent teachers — and excellent researchers.

“Teaching is number one. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have students to teach,” Janson said.

Janson, who has been tenured since 1982, said he still remembers the most stressful part of tenure for him.

“In the real world of business, you are out there doing your job, but you also have to prove yourself to everyone else, and that’s probably the most stressful part for me,” Janson said. “I don’t know if everyone feels that, but I know a lot of people do.”

Despite what many members of the university community may think, professors are not able to sit back and relax once tenure is achieved. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

“Tenure is a promise from the university that for the future, you will continue to do your job,” Janson said. “The continuation of your scholarship often takes another branch now that you’ve gotten your tenure, and you can be interdisciplinary or expand your research.”

Susan Roxburgh, associate professor of sociology, received tenure in 2000 and said if anything, the job becomes more complicated upon receiving tenure. This includes a juggling act between teaching and researching.

“I am doing my research when I’m not teaching,” Roxburgh said. “Faculty are not just teachers; they wear multiple hats.”

Another misconception Roxburgh said is common is that research and teaching are contradictory goals. This mindset results in the idea that faculty may put research before teaching responsibilities.

“They feed into each other,” she said. “I have very helpful discussions with my students on the research I do. I think they are very complementary roles.”

Roxburgh added the need to have these complementary roles for Kent State faculty members is a full-time job because, “we are the kind of university where people are expected to be good at everything they do.”

And while the two roles are complementary, Roxburgh said, “there is somewhat more emphasis on research.”

But this emphasis on research does not mean that faculty focuses less on students.

“People do not neglect their students,” she said. “Generally, people who do a lot of research are the good teachers, too.”

Effects on students

Unlike Roxburgh and Janson, Yoram Eckstein said he doesn’t recall stresses associated with receiving tenure.

Eckstein, a geology professor, received tenure in 1977 and said the job security has allowed him to spend the necessary time and attention to his students.

“Of course the faculty would like to have job security and not to worry; ‘Will I be re-hired in August again or not?’” Eckstein said. “It’s nice to have it.”

Eckstein added that tenure lets him focus on helping doctorate students through their dissertations.

“How can I do it if I’m not sure, if after the first year, I will not be here anymore? How is that fair to the student?” he said.

Eckstein said in his opinion, the positive effects of tenure is first and foremost felt by graduate students.

Like graduating from high school

Robert Frank, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, said overall, tenure is almost a “non-event.”

“Tenure is a lot like graduating from high school and graduating from college,” Frank said. “As you look at it, it seems like it’s such a big deal, and when you get there your life will change, and when you get there, you have a whole other set of goals.”

Frank said because of the nature of the jobs faculty do, tenure does not mean the work ends.

“A lot of times, what we see as major issues in our lives just are a part of life’s stress that get replaced by another life stress,” Frank said. “A little stress goes away, but it’s a grown-up job and they call it work because it’s work.”

Luckily for Simmons, she said she enjoys what she does and will never stop doing research.

“Fortunately, I love doing all the things that I do,” Simmons said. “I am fortunate that I love my job and can commit those hours to it.”

Contact academics reporter Suzi Starheim at [email protected].