Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about sustainability. How do I sustain my lifestyle? How do I sustain my community? How do I sustain my career?
Today I got “The Letter”. I am a tenure track professor in the final year of my tenure review, and “The Letter” is the first in a series of documents that, with luck, will validate what I have been doing for the past several years. “The Letter” is probably the most important one, because it comes from my department. It is written by the people who I care the most about, by the people who work with me every day. It is the most important letter because, while an entire process exists to override the content of the letter if the need arises, who would want to? If my department isn’t behind me, then what difference does it make?
Tenure is a fascinating concept that is, I think, rooted in sustainability. Here is the way it works: you show, through thought and deed, that you can sustain a certain level of performance in your career. For several years, you do your good work. You work hard to help your students, you serve your academic community, and you push important projects forward. You do this because…well, at the time, you’re not quite sure. It just seems like the right thing to do. You get a strong feeling that this is just the way things are. You should sacrifice for your students, you should do more than is asked of you. You also get to work on some amazing projects with brilliant people. And, if you are very, very lucky, you wake every morning remembering that this is what you get to do today.
And after a few years, you realize you are the person who thinks this a good idea. After a few more, you recognize that you are the person who doesn’t know any other way of doing things. And after another year, you convince your colleagues this is the case. After that? Well, you have to keep it up. You can’t let them down now!