Managing Tenure

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Good Morning from my office,

It is early or late, depending on your perspective. I did get a nap a bit earlier and have been back at the office for about the last 5 hours. I am making progress and, at least for the moment, seem to be pretty lucid and focused. I did decide to take a quick break before getting back to this statement. I have had a productive day and I am down to the last section, which is my service to the university community and the profession. While there is a lot to write it is not difficult, or not as difficult, as some of the previous sections. Perhaps, difficult is not even the correct word: it is tedious and time consuming because of the need to lay out a pretty extensive overview of things like grades, evaluation percentages and everything else that might be included in such things.

I just finished working with a student named Ronie. He is the most wonderful person. He is kind and sincere. He works tremendously hard and he is dependable. He came by for help with his writing and an assignment he is currently working on for his writing class. We spoke about the assignment and what he wants to accomplish. We talked about how to begin to research and how to manage some of that initial thinking. We had an interesting chat about things like Wikipedia or other sources. While I am well aware that some faculty say do not use Wikipedia, I am not sure I agree. I think it is a great place for students to get some initial information and for them to get their proverbial feet a bit wet as they start to research or consider a topic. What happens too often is students have little or no background on a topic and they have an assignment and they merely write some “stream-of-consciousness” garbage as a way to get into their paper. Seldom is that strategy successful. Usually it is frustrating both the student because he or she does not know where to start, much more where he or she might be going. It is frustrating for  me as the professor because the product that needs up being turned in is abysmal. This is why I am not afraid to tell students to use Wikipedia as a first step. If he or she gets something reasonable into his or her head, at least they have something a bit more substantial than a page or so of some sound-bite-out-of- context-piece-of-crap that too often a student believes to be a strong beginning to their assignment. How wrong they are!! Ronie and I have talked about a plan for the last three weeks of the semester. At least I know he will take the advice and follow through. He also had another professor reach out an be willing to help him. What students need to learn is that most professors are willing to help and assist if a student will step up and be accountable or himself or herself. Students would do well to figure that out earlier rather than later. Some have to learn it the hard way. I guess I cannot say too much on that score because I was one of those persons who needed to fail before I realized the value of this educational opportunity. I think the difference now is there are so many ways students can receive help today. I am not sure we had those options.

For two weeks now I have been putting in a lot of hours managing and composing this tenure statement. I am blessed because I have a great department that genuinely wants me to succeed. That is a real gift. They are neither indifferent nor or they out to get me. This is significant because of a past experience I had. While I must admit I am pretty stressed out by this entire process, I know I am not unique in that. I remember watching two of my colleagues in the fall and I know they are glad this part is behind them. Having moving to “January-hire” status because of my medical leave the fall of 2012, I am trying to finish all of this as a semester is being completed. That adds to some of the stress. As I have noted before, it is in writing of this blog and I alleviate some of that. I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I am pretty sure it is NOT another train. At least, I sure the heck hope not.

While, again, I can rationally think about where I fit in all this tenure work, I am always amazed by the degree to which you need to focus on each and every nook and cranny of the past five years of existence. I also know that this is important because it is expected that you have done what you need to do to prove your value to both the individual community, but also to the larger profession. As I have noted in earlier posts, you know that there is life on the other side of the process because there are a number of colleagues post-tenure, but it is stressful nonetheless. I was reminded again this evening to be positive in my mindset. It is interesting to receive that admonishment when in so many ways the deliverer seems to trust so little. There is something oxymoronic about that, but perhaps it is because there is this rather pure self-assuredness. I still am trying to figure out the disconnect there seems to be. Perhaps it is like most of us. We can provide the advice to others that we cannot really take ourselves. I am sure that I fall into that trap too often.

I am reminded what Dr. John W. Nielsen, my humanities advisor, said to me when I returned to Dana the spring after I had graduated with my first full-blown bout of Crohn’s Disease. I had lost almost 30 pounds in less than 6 weeks and my body was literally tearing itself apart internally. He told me I looked really bad. About a week later I ended up in the hospital in Omaha, Nebraska. What he said to me was simple and profound. After telling me I looked badly, he said, “Michael, let me put this to you in a theological way, a Lutheran way. Your theology of grace works fine for everyone but yourself.” I remember as I stood looking in the mirror at my emaciated body, those words came back to ring loud and clear in my ears. The long-story-short of that moment was it was the first of many trips to the hospital to manage this IBD that fights me. It was the first time I began to understand just how serious my health issues were. I ended up in the hospital for almost three weeks and I ended up on a lot of medication, medication that would have to take for years.

In some ways, tonight I got the secular version of Dr. Nielsen’s admonishment from yet another one who knows me well, perhaps too well. I am rather amazed by the dichotomous nature that seems to permeate most every part of her. She is Luther’s systematic in human form. What is more interesting is how well is seems to be managed. Is paradox logical or is it merely a dialectic? Is it more post-modern? I am sure Luther would not want to be seen in a pomo way. Or would he? Those are musings for another time. At this point, my brain is a bit clearer and I am hoping a few hours of sleep might provide what I need to hit this again one more day. While it is after 2:30 in the morning, I feel much better than I did earlier this evening. I am feeling more positive and capable. See, I do listen? While I might be a bit stubborn about it, I do try to take sage advice and follow it. I will make it through this tenure process. I have worked hard and accomplished a lot of positive things since first arriving at Bloomsburg 5 years ago. I have found support at most every level here and I need to remember that. I can only put things out there demonstrating that I have value. I know I do.

Thanks for reading my trepidations and thanks for reminding me that I have value. I know it, but I struggle with trying to articulate it in a way that sounds appropriate. Time to go home for a nap. Perhaps a couple of hours will get me ready for the rest of the day. The picture is of a previous portion of my life. Amazing that my hair was that color or that I wore glasses full-time then

Dr. Martin

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