Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Being Under Something

I am "under review" this year at my job. According to ancient departmental documents, this means going through all the same motions one does when one is "up for tenure." The only differences as far as I can tell, are that there are no external reviewers and I'm not expected to have a book contract and a glut of publications. I do have to assemble two dossiers, one of written work (published, polished, and in progress; book proposal), and one of teaching materials including syllabi, assignments, handouts, course descriptions and exams. I also need to compile a list of all my departmental and university-wide activities and committees, which is actually quite short because my department has a "no service" policy for the first year. And finally, I have to be observed teaching.

Anyway, all this is a large introduction to my "whew" news which is that I've finally turned in my dossiers. Yay! Knowing that they are in and out of my hands is a source of huge relief, whenever I pause to remember it (which is not that often during the week, what with teaching and manuscript surgery). Yes, I fretted and rushed to revise everything but putting it all together was in the end a nice reminder that even though it seemed like I got very little writing and research done last year, I was wrong. This time, I was able to revise my book proposal to match my manuscript, and not the other way around. Revising my chapter on Lucrece for the review committee was intricate and painful, not unlike how I might imagine arthroscopic surgery might feel. But it was also necessary and useful- I now have a new, better, stronger argument that doesn't force itself upon the text yet moves in new directions. I'm not exactly "happier" with the piece, but I am less unhappy, and ready to send it out to a journal again. I am, though, tremendously happy about my argument. I just hope it shows!

So I have finally crawled on top of this review process, if only for the time being. Why is it always "under" review and "up" for tenure? The preposition "under" does seem fitting: it feels a bit like being buried under a pile of folders, or maybe held under the proverbial "thumb" of the department while it decides whether to smoosh me like a bug or lift me up like an equal. I exaggerate of course- I'm not going to lose my job over this. But I am going to be critiqued by my colleagues, some of whom relish the opportunity beyond its purpose. Being "up" for tenure is scarier- more precarious -because the fall seems that much further. Given the choice, I'll side with Hamlet's worthy pioneer: I'd rather be "under" than "up."

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