On and Off the Tenure Track: An Invitation to Participate #fight4edu

On and Off the Tenure Track: An Invitation to Participate #fight4edu

November Online Reading Group and Discussion

Please join this student-led reading group, On and Off the Tenure Track. This is the fourth of eight conversations in The University Worth Fighting For, a year-long project designed to tie student-centered, engaged practices in our classrooms to larger issues of institutional change, equality, race, gender, and all forms of social justice.  

This month's discussion will focus on career paths and academic hiring practices. The conversation will range from practical suggestions to higher-order questions, including thorny issues related to the casualization of academic labor, the size of PhD programs, and ways that expanding our expectations of career outcomes might affect the structure of graduate programs (as well as who has access to those programs and who sees them as worth the investment). Add a comment below to participate!

We hope undergraduate and graduate students anywhere will join this conversation, and we hope faculty members might challenge their students to contribute. We encourage lively debate, respectful of difference.

Each month, we host a livestreamed workshop that corresponds to the online forum. Here are the details for this month

Previous Conversations in the Series: 

Each month, we host a livestreamed workshop that corresponds to the online forum. Here are the details for this month:

On and Off the Tenure Track: Career Paths and Hiring Practices
November 18, 1-2PM EST; The Graduate Center, CUNY: Skylight Room (room 9100)
RSVP here.
Watch the livestream at bit.ly/fight4edu-careers-live.

On and Off the Tenure Track: Career Paths and Hiring Practices

How Do I Join the Conversation?

Add comments in the comments section below, and on Twitter using #fight4edu. HASTAC is an open, free network. Log in or register as a new user to leave a comment.

Discussion Group Leaders:

Sponsoring Organizations: 

HASTAC and The Futures Initiative

Related Readings and Media:

Share your thoughts, questions, and other resources. Join the discussion by adding your comment below! You can also participate by tweeting at #fight4edu


I'm looking forward to a productive conversation about academic careers and the career paths of graduate degree holders. In light of some of the related links above, I am interested in looking at some holistic approaches to understanding academic labor.

Some guiding questions to get us started (don't let me limit you -- feel free to add your own questions):

  • How will academic research and the university landscape be affected by an increasing number of postgraduates going into alt-ac or adjunct positions?
  • What actions can we take to work towards greater equity within and across the professoriate and contingent faculty?
  • Do you think it is necessary for graduating doctoral students to simultaneously apply for both university and alt-ac careers to ensure that they are able to land a professional position?
  • How does graduate student labor intersect with adjunctification and professorial jobs?
  • In what ways is public scholarship (including tweeting/writing on the web) an important aspect of academic work today, and how might this labor be compensated?

Thanks for getting us started, Lisa! Just wanted to link to this Chronicle of Higher Ed article on the "Invisible Labor of Minority Professors." Of particular interest are recent efforts at the California State University system to reward faculty, and particularly overworked faculty of color, who are repeatedly asked to serve on committees and who put extra effort into mentoring students, especially first generation students and students of color. It seems like a step in the right direction towards better ways of evaluating faculty labor, especially on the tenure track.




Thank you for sharing the article Danica.

Janice Hamlet's statement that she realized she "was naïve enough to think that I had been hired as an assistant professor [...] but I really was there to be a one-person minority-affairs office" was very impactful. This article strikes me in two ways: as a former undergraduate similar to those described in the article, and as a future faculty member. As a first generation student of color, I did and continue to benefit from the "invisible labor" of faculty who go out of their way to provide guidance, advising, and mentoring. However I do understand how difficult a position faculty of color often find themselves in when they are overloaded with service acts that are institutionally disregarded/undervalued.

This is particularly unsettling when one considers the fact that faculty of color make up such a small percentage of tenured professors nationwide, and these numbers only get smaller when focusing on rank and gender. The response of CSA to allow overburdened faculty to apply for a release from the regular duties does sound like a step in the right direction, although we don't know much about how that application process looks.

I also agree with suggestions that white faculty can be more active in seeking opportunities to share responsibility for maintaining diversity by mentoring students of color. In addition to Mr. Reddick's sentiment that "being someone who cares about a student is sufficient", I would also add that being a white ally can be an influential way to help identify and change the institutional biases against faculty of color.  





I'm very excited to join this conversation. I am interested in learning more about ways professors of various ethnic backgrounds and class positions negotiate the process of obtaining full-time faculty positions. For instance, as a professor who is a Muslim and who wears a hijab, I feel attuned and sensitive to difference in the classroom. I believe one of my strengths as a teacher develops from building a community and discourse that is open to and respectful/mindful of difference in the classroom. Yes, statistics prove that faculty who are female minorities are at a disadvantage, but how can we productively and successfully demonstrate the fact that minority voices are essential and necessary in higher education? 


We just finished a proseminar with the MLA Connected Academics, which emphasized the importance of certain skills, such as the ability to grow and maintain a professional network, and ways to relate to one's field, faculty, administrators, and other important folks. Read more about the MLA initiative here. I storified the conversation here. Some of the high points of the conversation, for me, was when the panelists towards the end of their conversation gave one suggestion of what they should have done, or alternatively what was pivotal for the panelists to get to their current positions or jobs. Here's a quick round-up of the tweets on this specific topic:

  • When in stratified system, serendipity plays a lot more of a role than you think! Enjoy the ride more!
  • Stay open! Opportunities will open up. Because you have a PhD, you have certain experience and skills.
  • Some of the non-profits are painful to work for!
  • Be nice. Be warm. Be someone who other people want to work with. Also: Make sure you have release valves!
  • Try to feel part of a community of folks who work for a common purpose.
  • Thank the people who help you out! Write thank you-notes. (=being part of community.)
  • The networks that will help you out are already around you, need to be activated.
  • Listen, be a good listener, to everyone around you, and yourself.
  • Show up. Say yes or no confidently. Once you can do so, it changes everything and makes decisions easier.
  • Be person who helps "moving the chairs." Having that energy helps counter: "oh, they have a PhD, they're too fancy for that."
  • Serendipity is good but stack the cards in your order! Say yes to things, meet people who might be important later.
  • Check out the "Luck is no accident" book.

I was lucky enough to also attend the MLA Proseminar, and Kalle successfully captured an extraordinary amount of valuable wisdom in the room.

Here are two perspectives that stuck with me:

  • Elizabeth Rosen Mayer has a side adjuncting gig in prisons (she is "by day" Senior Advisor to the Chancellor for Communications), which she described as the most rewarding teaching experience she ever had, showing that an alt-ac career can still have meaningful classroom moments if you choose to continue teaching in some capacity.
  • Jade Davis (Assoc. Director of Digital Learning Projects) observed that there is a shelf-life to PhDs -- that is, if you take an alt-ac career as soon as you finish the degree, you only has so many years to get into a tenure-track job after that if that is what you eventually want (and you may have to do a postdoc first).

The climate has changed radically since I first set foot on my campus as a graduate student seven years ago. Ethnic Studies departments across the country are being cut from state budgets. Tenure track jobs are disappearing. Post-docs are covetted luxuries that may or may not materialize once you go on the job market. the year I earned my MA in the College of Liberal Arts at my university, 6 junior professors out of 14 were denied tenure that year. All were members of underrepresented groups; 4 were women and 5 were professors of color. "They keep moving the target!" I heard this over and over again from ethnic studies professors who were denied tenure or knew of close friends who chose to leave or move on from the tier 1 tenure track model because the stress wasn't worth it anymore. 

I entered my program at a moment when strides of the "multicultural" 90s began to crumble as racial, gender, and class fissures widened. I spent the first half of graduate school unsure what my future would look like, and if academia would even be a part of it. I became the voice at the table who shouted from the rooftops, "Always have a plan B!" And to some extent, I still think it's pretty good advice: 1) Know how your skills are viable outside the academy. 2) Develop networks on and off campus. 3) Find ways to develop your whole person outside the walls of the ivory tower, so you don't lose your identity if the powers-that-be decide you're not cut out to be one of them.

But the reality is, all of us came to this place with very specific goals; for most of us, tenure track is probably at the top our lists. We're passionate about what we do. We enjoy watching our students grow and learn about who they are as people and intellectuals. I love teaching and am passionate about my research. I'm also much more at ease with my identity as a scholar since I accepted following my own path alongside the tenure track and looking for opportunities where I never considered they might be before.

I really appreciate Danica's post from the Chronicle of Higher Ed illuminating the invisible labor undertaken by faculty of color and the important take-aways Kalle posted from the MLA Connected Academics proseminar. I'd like to expand a bit further with some tips I've found useful on my eventual way out the nest and onto the market:

-Strategize for achieving your goals as a scholar and intellectual, both on and off the tenure track. This doesn't diminish your value as an academic. I would argue with the direction higher ed is headed, it will only serve to increase it.

-Find community and support networks on campus, but also find those support systems that will sustain you and your whole person off campus so that you don't burn out! This is a major factor for junior faculty, particularly women and faculty of color who must bare the burden of that invisible labor.

-Never forget where you come from and why you're here. Mentor, support, and pay it forward to the baby academics who will eventually follow in your footsteps, but never at the expense of your health, value system, or your person. You can't make your mark on the academy if you lose yourself in the process.

-Know your worth! For those of us who are not the traditional graduate student--you know, the one who doesn't have to worry about family obligations, hustling from paycheck-to-paycheck, or living with a chronic illness--be open about the incredible diversity of experinces you bring to the table. Your voice matters, and it might encourage others like you to speak up about their experiences, and their value/importance within the academy, as well.

-Find allies, but be sure to tell them how they can best support you, and don't just assume they know. If they're a true ally, they'll hear you and internalize what you say in an effort to be the best ally they can be. They may not, though, and then you know they weren't a true ally in the first place.

Some additional resources I encourage you to check out if you're interested in addressing issues that speak to the whole academic self: https://tenureshewrote.wordpress.com/ and https://phdisabled.wordpress.com/


This discussion has me thinking a lot about my role as a scholar and woman of color in the academy. The invisible labor article really hit home as someone who has been that lost student, but also has been a support for students. The academy needs a major paradigm shift to account for this invisible labor for both faculty of color and for adjuncts. How do we compensate people and value the kind of work that goes beyond the hours in a classroom or published articles and books? I also wonder what it means that we're discussing the place of non-academic jobs for people with PhDs. If the number of faculty jobs is shrinking and we already have a severe shortage of faculty members from underrepresented groups, what happens to those students seeking guidance? I think being open to alt-ac positions is important, and schools need to do more to prepare graduate students for that professional lane. However, we also need to consider how and why the professional landscape is changing and what that means for faculty and students of color.


Hi to Regina--and Everyone on this Thread--- Our initiative is motivated by the idea of equity and social equality and justice, with race and gender issues central.  Yesterday, Katina Rogers (she's one of the Futures Initiative leaders too) and I had a long conversation about exactly how the adjunct and alt ac issues and the issues of race and gender coincide in complex ways.  When I was in administration at Duke, I once asked for a gender breakdown of all jobs at the university.  It turned out nearly 75% of the staff at the university was female.  But the number of tenured women faculty was nothing like equal to the demographic representation of women.  For people of color there was no accurate data across units, but it was clear that racial segregation by job type exists at least as much in academe as in the rest of society (a recent study showed 87% of university faculty are white, for example).  The issues are all continuous.  And beyond the academy:  the regime of standardized testing in schools, what Lani Guinier calls the "tyranny of meritocracy," plays into who goes to college, who earns scholarships, and that determins a future professorate too.  How we think about social and educational questions together is the challenge and the opportunity.   Thanks so much for participating in this discussion.  It is so urgently necessary for all of us to be involved, all of us to think about all the aspects of these issues.


These are such terrific reflections—thank you all for chiming in. One thing I'm struck by, and that I hear time and again both in my research and in conversations, is the degree to which the academic enterprise is a vocational one. Graduate school requires an intense investment of time, energy, and commitment, and as a result we tend to think of our studies—and our role as scholars—as a crucial part of our identity. This is a complicated thing when the systems in which we work may or may not provide the support that we need. In fact, sometimes the systems exploit this deep sense of identification, paying extremely low wages knowing that the vocational nature of an educational pathway means the supply of adjuncts will not dry up. And as Cathy notes, this intersects with race, ethnicity, and gender, with women and underrepresented minorities bearing the brunt of unequal processes and extremely limited resources.

One question I think about a lot is, what do we do with the notion of "loving your work" that is deeply felt but also subject to exploitation? How do we work within the tension of a vocational commitment to teaching and learning, and an insistence that systemic inequality and injustice must be addressed? How do we do the hard work that is not always visible or compensated, while also insisting that the underlying labor structures and reward systems must change? I think this can be a productive tension, but I would love to hear the community's thoughts.


I just wanted to add another article that came out a few days ago. I think the essay The Complicated Role of Black Faculty Members on Campus by Brittney Cooper fits into our conversation in many important ways. Cooper talks about being stretched thin trying to maintain a research, teaching, and service schedule while also being committed to help students of color navigate academic spaces. She says, "We, black faculty members, care deeply about the learning environment our students encounter, and consider it our responsibility to show up for them. Still, whether you are a student or a faculty member, being #BlackOnCampus, as a recent Twitter hashtag exploring the experiences of black students on campus indicates, is a position laden with high expectations, limited resources, and a whole lot to lose." Black faculty are struggling to serve students struggling under the weight of racism on campus, while also needing to work to make sure they achieve tenure and ensure they are present for these students. The student protests taking place across the country are asking us to consider social justice and inequality in our academic spaces. For me this intersects directly with the increased use of adjunct labor and the move to more alt-ac jobs.


Over on twitter, Prof Daniel Munro is talking about the Canadian situation.  Here are tweets from his talk:

Daniel Munro ‏@dk_munro

1/ Delayed retirement not a big factor limiting academic careers for younger PhDs. http://www.conferenceboard.ca/e-library/abstract.aspx?did=7564 … #cdnpse


.@dk_munro @gerrycanavan Similar work in US? I've wondered about this. Thank you for excellent research #fight4edu #FuturesEd #HASTAC


3/ FT/TT university professor positions are not, nor have they been for 40+ years, the primary occupation of PhDs in Canada.



4/ However, this remains the explicit career goal of more than 60% of incoming PhD students. Expectations/hopes don't match reality.



5/ We need to make students aware of that reality and prepare them for the careers they will actually have.



6/ And, critically, we need more employers to realize that PhDs can benefit their organizations and do their part to ease PhD transitions.



2/ If all FT profs over 65 retired & positions went to PhDs aged 25-54, FT prof rate among 25-54 would only climb from 17.5 to 19.5%.

6 retweets 0 likes


Thank you all for participating in this On and Off the Tenure Track Reading Group and Discussion as part of the University Worth Fighting For series. 

Here is a recap of our event, with links to the video and Twitter discussion. 

I would like to invite you to participate in the Engaged Scholar group, with the conversation on Twitter using the #fight4edu and #engagedscholar hashtags.