The silence surrounding tenure discussions

Because I work in academia and have been a part of it for nearly 16 years in one way or another, I care deeply about the discussions happening about the future of higher education. I saw the title of a post, Tenure Is on Life Support, and was curious. I have had discussions about tenure at various times, both the pros and cons, and so I wanted to see why the description stated, “And it’s worth saving because letting it die would be disastrous for higher education.”

Reading the article, I realized that I was completely silenced by it. I have no place at this table, no voice in this discussion. I am irrelevant. Oh, wait, I’m someone who could be saved by faculty because I would count as “instructional support” (if they want to speak up, if they find my services of value, if they even know I exist). Or I could be critiqued and shut down if a faculty member decides that our online program has “no academic rigor whatsoever.”

I am currently working as an Instructional Designer and Assistant Instructional Designer (yes, I am my own assistant some days). Despite my former intention to become a tenured professor, I am now in what I consider to be an “alternative academic” (alt-ac for short) job. Not all my colleagues would necessarily qualify and I don’t have my PhD so by some definitions, I don’t qualify either. What I do, however, does require academic rigor, research, critical thinking, analytical skills. It is also a support position. I am here to help instructors (faculty and sessionals) teach well, primarily in an online environment. What do I do? I do some technical things with our learning management system, helping get content placed into the system correctly, ensuring settings for assignments and discussion forums are chosen properly, helping set up quizzes. Most of that work, however, is all with the aim of facilitating student learning. I keep up with current research. I am currently working on my Master of Education to further my study (and increase my credentials). I talk with instructors about the choices they make and the impact on their teaching. We talk about assignments, ways to delivery content, facilitating discussion, connecting with students, the importance of visual design on online courses.

Some instructional designers at some institutions have tenure, rather like librarians. Not in my province. They did, at one point, but that was removed. I am staff. I am one of the people who supports teaching and learning, who does her best to be a subject matter expert when it comes to teaching and learning in higher education. I am not, however, covered by academic freedom. I am not protected by tenure. Actually, I am currently in a term position. I can only cross my fingers, do my absolute best, and hope that my job continues to exist (unlike my first job at the university).

I have mixed feelings about tenure as I do see the value of job security, of freedom to speak out about knowledge you have because you are an expert in your field. I sometimes question whether it is always used well and I do see some who abuse it. (Any student who has been told “I don’t care what you say on your evaluations, I have tenure!” by a gleeful instructor who used it as an excuse for sub-par teaching has experienced that.) I feel for the friends I have who are struggling with the job market, seeking a tenure-track position that has become more and more rare. I value the faculty I deal with who use their position to make the world a better place.

And I wonder why I am silenced. Why do I feel like a void in the conversation?

This article in particular, focusing on job security or the expertise to speak up about institutional decisions, made me feel invisible. I would love job security as I cross my fingers each year, hoping my term will be made permanent or at least renewed or extended, hoping the budget cuts won’t make that impossible. I look at things happening on my campus and wonder, with my colleagues, why we are not brought to the discussion. I struggle with the frustration of caring about my university and choosing to serve but not having it recognized as a choice.

I want to be your partner. I want to work with you, support you, help you and your students enjoy a fantastic experience. I want to be part of the conversation. I recognize that I am not going to be protected with academic freedom, I just want to know that you see that I have something to offer. I want to be valued, tenure or not, academic freedom or not.

I no longer want to be a silence.

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