Seriously, don’t look beyond the jump unless you’re in a very happy place, surrounded by loved ones, and with a demijohn of pisco sours on hand.
A friend of mine just found out zie was denied tenure. I’m not going to go into why, mostly because it’s not my story, but partly because I think the knee-jerk reaction to such a decision is to try to figure out why it happened, which too easily turns into trying to figure out what the person in question did “wrong.” Which, to me, is kind of like trying to figure out why a given person doesn’t succeed on the academic job market – it turns too easily into a kind of “blame the victim” game, which mostly serves to help other people feel like they have control over the process — that if they do everything “right,” unlike those poor unsuccessful folk, they will suceed/get the job/get tenure. That in fact, the system is rational.
I think New Kid’s analysis is very accurate. Tenure-track and tenured people desperately need to believe that there is a good reason other people are denied tenure. If they admitted that the system was frequently unfair, and that it’s better to be lucky than good, they couldn’t get out of bed most mornings and do what they need to do to get tenure.
I believed this once. I took a tenure-track job that had recently been vacated by someone who was denied tenure. I needed to believe what the hiring department told me: that it was her fault. Ze didn’t publish enough. Hir teaching wasn’t very good. Ze was a peculiar and volatile person. When I asked about the circumstances of her firing, I was told, “but that won’t happen to you, Historiann! You’ve already published more than ze did. You’re not going to make hir mistakes. This won’t happen to you, because you’re a good, friendly, deserving person, unlike the other bad, unfriendly, undeserving person who preceded you.”
I don’t hold this against them. I think my former colleagues needed desperately to believe this, too. It sure sounds better than, “well, you can read the tenure standards as well as anyone else, so do your best, and we’ll see what happens, because it’s really a crapshoot!”
I regret my credulousness, and my need to believe.