Reflections on 5 Days in the Life of a Tenured Professor

I have to admit I was shocked to total up my working hours last week and see that I only worked 42.5 hours. I’ve been thinking alot about why it seems like I worked much more than that. Here are some conclusions I’ve come to:

(1) I have read somewhere (I can’t remember where!) that the average employee works (actually works!) only 26 hours per week.

(2) The lack of control over my time makes many of those 42.5 hours seem alot worse than they are.

(3) Other responsibilities outside of my main job leave little room for rest.

(4) The knowledge that even 40 hours is not enough to get everything done is a stressor. Hence, I put in another 7 hours today (Sunday) sending faculty in the department information about their upcoming salary review, scheduling meetings with journal interns, and drafting a memo to the dean requesting permission to hire this year and next.

The life of a tenured professor is a great one, and I don’t at all want to come off as complaining. But it is not as though tenure has made us all into a bunch of slackers. To the contrary, most (but certainly not all) of us tenured professors continue to work as hard as ever — because we like what we do.


The follower of this sporadically updated blog will notice a change in its title and description. These changes reflect the fact that I earned TENURE in the spring of 2008 and was promoted to the rank of Associate Professor effective last July.

The landmark moments in the life of an academic are few, but all are quite significant. Completing the PhD, getting a tenure-track job, publishing your first book, and so on. But there is probably no moment more significant than earning tenure. (Tenure being the contractual right of faculty not to be terminated without cause, and particularly not to be terminated because of the particular ideas being taught or topics being researched, hence associating tenure very closely with academic freedom. I think the Wikipedia entries on both of these subjects are pretty sound.)

In my case, the victory was bittersweet because my decision was twice delayed. First, when I left Our Lady’s University prior to standing for tenure there. (See early postings for more on that.) Second, when my colleagues here insisted that I wait until 2007-2008 to stand for tenure, rather than considering me in 2006-2007 (which was my 8th year of continuous employment since earning my PhD in 1998).

Putting together my tenure portfolio was both CATHARTIC — allowing me to see that I actually had accomplished some things as a junior professor — and FRUSTRATING — because I knew my friends (and “aspirational peers”) had long since crossed over the tenure and promotion threshold. I had a hard time accepting that I had been consistently productive over a period of nine years and still had to worry about whether I would get tenure or not (more on that in a later post).

In any event, tenure was granted and I began the 2008-2009 academic year with all of the security it affords. I also found myself having to defend the rationale for the tenure system. Why should I as a faculty member have job security when others do not? And having tenure only compounded the beliefs of some of my friends that faculty don’t really do anything anyway. If we didn’t do anything before tenure, why would be do anything after tenure?

Of course, there is some “dead wood” in every forest. And there are certainly some faculty who use tenure as an excuse to slack off. As for me, I find myself busier than ever, in part because I became chair of my department on January 1st (more on that later). To give anyone interested a sense of what a week in the life of one faculty member looks like, beginning tomorrow (if all goes well), I will post a log of how I spent my time each day for the coming week. I only hope I have enough time to do that! Stay tuned.