Some faculty members are like race horses out of the gate. They’re focused Assistant Professors, they’re publishing immediately in ‘top tier’ journals, they’re presenting at conferences, they’re connecting strategically with grant funders and research colleagues, and they slide right into the tenure track slipstream and travel quickly through the Assistant Professor / Associate Professor With Tenure / Full Professor pathway.
Other faculty members start ABD (all but dissertation) in 1999, get off to a really slow start at University 1 because they need to complete their dissertation and are overwhelmed by department-level service commitments, switch universities in 2001 because of a gracious offer to start over, get ‘distracted’ at University 2 with exciting new opportunities that aren’t valued that much by the institution, extend their slow start even further because their focus is in non-rewarded areas, switch universities in 2007 because of a miraculous tenure offer, finally start to find their way a little bit at University 3, switch universities in 2011 because of a miraculous offer to do some really interesting work elsewhere with some amazing colleagues, find out that University 4 is an extremely poor fit and leave in 2012 after one year, drop out of higher education completely for four years, switch universities in 2016 because of a miraculous offer to return to higher education, successfully receive tenure again at University 5 despite the long absence from academe, and finally find a place that feels like the right balance between research, teaching, and service to the field. These faculty members also may struggle to juggle the demands of the professorship with family commitments, raising children, service to practitioners, a growing social media presence, and innovation in realms that most postsecondary institutions fail to value.
This second path would be me, of course. Which is why it was so gratifying to receive notice yesterday from the University of Colorado system that I was promoted to Full Professor (aka ‘Professor’). The (large p) Professor rank is ostensibly the highest level that a faculty member can achieve short of an endowed professorship or going into university administration. The label is intended to recognize a career’s worth of good work and to validate excellence across all areas of the professorship. I don’t know about all of that, but I am deeply grateful for the recognition.
In addition to my P-12 experiences, I now have been a (small p) professor at five major research universities. They’ve all taught me something, good or bad, and I’ve honed my institutional survival instincts over the years. So much of the tenure and promotion process is a hoop-jumping game (How many peer-reviewed articles do I need? We won’t tell you… In which journals should I publish? The very best, most selective ones, of course…) and/or a political arena (Keep your head down… Don’t make any waves… Watch out for that person if they’re on your review committee…). My journey is not the only long, twisty, bumpy one in higher education (and, unfortunately, we lose too many faculty along the way). And, as longtime readers know, I’ve struggled mightily with the lack of engagement, interaction, and visibility of writing for academic audiences versus what I can accomplish in practitioner outlets, on my blog, with multimedia, on other social media platforms, etc. Every time I publish in a walled-garden, paywalled, inaccessible-but-peer-reviewed academic journal, it feels like I’m burying my thinking and writing in a deep hole. I’d much rather be working with educators, creating new resources, or sharing and interacting with others.
But somehow I made it through and checked all of the boxes necessary for the final hoop jump. I’m incredibly grateful for my colleagues at CU Denver and for the opportunity to do good work here. The School of Education and Human Development is a very special place and I’ve experienced nothing but good will and deep, caring support. I’m also grateful for all of you. I started to blog back in 2006 because I was desperate to find ‘my people’: folks who cared about the same things that I did and who were trying to dramatically change things for P-12 students and educators. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being my people. I learn more from you monthly than I’ve learned from an entire academic career’s worth of journal articles and research conferences. Most of all, I’m thankful for my family and some key supportive colleagues (you know who you are) who have had my back the entire way. Everyone should be lucky enough to have the support networks that I’ve had. I’m beyond blessed.
As the gentleman says in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “I’m not dead yet!” This latest professional milestone is achieved and I’m looking forward to whatever lies ahead. I know you’ll be plotting and scheming right alongside me. I can’t wait.