This academic year is going to be pretty interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which is that I am up for tenure this year. For the second time. That’s because I received tenure at my previous job back in 2007, then left that school to come to my current place in 2011, and now – right on schedule – I am eligible this year.

Tenure is so much the golden snitch in academia that you tend not to find people like me who went through the process once, got tenure, left tenure behind for another tenure-track job, and then got it a second time. Usually once a person gets tenure, they become smart and stay put in the job where they were tenure. Not me, of course. So as I come up for tenure again, it’s giving me some perspectives on higher education and my work in it that seem worth sharing.

Before I do that, what is tenure, anyway? The American Association of University Professors says:

Society does not benefit when teachers and researchers are controlled by corporations, religious groups, special interest groups, or the government. Free inquiry, free expression, and open dissent are critical for student learning and the advancement of knowledge. Therefore, it is important to have systems in place to protect academic freedom. Tenure, understood as an indefinite appointment that can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances such as financial exigency and program discontinuation, serves that purpose.

So tenure is a kind of “enhanced employment” that is earned through completing a process of proving to the university that you should remain employed there indefinitely, the purpose of which is being freed from the possibility of having your speech and your research dictated to you by outside forces (and from the possible threat of being fired for your views or your subject). Tenure allows faculty to be independent thinkers, which then allows students to be taught how to be independent thinkers too. Once I am tenured, the university cannot fire me without a darned good reason that will survive a lengthy internal proceedings and probably an external court battle as well – extreme financial duress, program termination, detonating nuclear weapons in the faculty break room, and so on.

Like I said, this is my second time through the tenure process, and with that second time comes perspective.

I love my job and I would be perfectly content to spend the rest of my career here. I wouldn’t have left a tenured position if I didn’t feel even back then like that was going to be the case. So this second time through is very much like the marriage proposal that I hope gets accepted. Also, I’m way too old for there to be a third time.