Doctoring the tenure track

October 11, 2012

Earlier this year I got involved in quite detailed conversations with my head of department about a tenured post at the university where I currently teach one day a week as an assistant lecturer. However, I then found myself barred from applying for the job by specifications that required the successful candidate to have a PhD and a track record of publishing in peer-reviewed journals and appearing at academic conferences. Having been warned that this was likely, I wrote an application that stressed the importance - especially in my field - of good teachers with wide experience, not simply career researchers. However, because I don't have a doctorate and am not yet on the conference/journal circuit, my application was automatically rejected.

I challenged the university's capriciousness. I argued that I was in my late fifties before I became interested in teaching, that when I graduated in the 1970s people in my field didn't usually take doctorates but could still gain tenure, and that my department had already shown by employing me and discussing tenure with me that it thought highly of my career and work. The university has replied, saying that PhDs are now the minimum entry requirement, even if they weren't in the past; that if I really wanted to teach I should have got a doctorate (after all, I'd had enough time to do so); that research now trumps teaching; and that people half my age looked better on paper than I did, irrespective of my accumulated experience and the original and well-received writings I have produced in non-academic publications.

What I would like to know from readers is whether I have to accept the university's defence or whether there is any legal way of overturning it. I am now in my third year of teaching and enjoy it greatly. My students' feedback is highly appreciative, and I inject a refreshing dose of reality that they need and yearn for. Must I bow to the research priorities created by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, or can I persuade the policy mandarins that good teaching also matters and must not be sacrificed?


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