Monthly Archives: April 2013

DICHOS: Tips on Seeking Tenure

April 29, 2013

Step Junction by Prof Shorthair. Flickr/Creative Commons License.
Step Junction by Prof Shorthair. Flickr/Creative Commons License.

By Catherine Ramírez and Karen Mary Davalos

Recently, the Mujeres Talk Collective asked successful women to share tips and advice on the tenure process. Below are two insightful contributions from Dras. Catherine Ramírez and Karen Mary Davalos:

Catherine S. Ramírez
Know your institution. Familiarize yourself with its policies, procedures, and expectations.  Ask colleagues who’ve recently been promoted to tenure for their CVs. (Increasingly, CVs are available online.) If you have the opportunity to write a statement for your file, quote your institution’s policy manual directly. For example, if the manual states that candidates must demonstrate “scholarly progress and productivity,” write, “I’ve demonstrated scholarly progress and productivity by…” In other words, show your colleagues that you’ve played by the rules of the game.

Build bridges. While it’s essential to have allies within your own department, it’s equally important and often more illuminating to forge ties with colleagues beyond it. Senior colleagues at other institutions will serve as your external reviewers when you’re up for tenure. Get to know them and make sure they know you (e.g., by attending conferences and serving on professional organization committees). Meanwhile, reach out to colleagues in other departments at your university. Find a mentor outside of your department. Forging ties with colleagues across campus can prevent you from becoming isolated. And if any irregularities arise in your tenure review, you’re more likely to be made aware of them if you have friends elsewhere.

Stay focused. If your institution requires a book for tenure, then write a book. Scholarly projects can be a bit like lovers: it’s easy to get bored with an old one and be tempted by a newer, less familiar one. As tempting as it is to drop the older project for the newer one, finish the former (or the bulk of it, at least) before moving on to the latter. Avoid over-conferencing. Attending conferences can be rewarding, but it can also be distracting, exhausting, and expensive.

Publish strategically. A publication in a refereed journal generally carries more weight than the very same publication in a special issue or anthology. Academic presses are almost always deemed more legitimate than others.

Hustle. While requirements and expectations vary, it’s safe to say that those of us at research institutions should publish and present our work publicly on a regular basis.

Karen Mary Davalos
Email is not your friend. Learn this lesson early in your academic career and you will avoid many of the common structural challenges of higher education. One minute you are checking email, and the next minute three hours slipped past. Email can alter the time-space continuum and take up precious time for scholarship.

More importantly, email does not help you create relationships, and as our society adds texting to its mode of communication, we come to assume that less is more. As a chair, email used to give me a sense that I am connected to my faculty, accessible and available. At one point on my campus, the model faculty member was imagined as the one who immediately answered email—and at all hours of the day. What about those poor fools who were routed through the slower servers and their email arrived or was sent hours later? Well, they just could not be trusted with departmental governance!  But don’t be fooled! Email is not anyone’s best tool to achieve leadership, communication, or relationships.

Try these ten simple tips to protect yourself from the vortex of email and from conflict and miscommunication in your department. The tips are not listed in any particular order, but if the institution’s legal counsel has been after you, then number three is at the top of your list. Email is a paper trail, even if it exists in virtual space. It is not private and nor does it belong to you if you are using the institution’s email address. If you find that you have been devoting several hours each day to email, then numbers 1 and 2 top your list. But stick to the plan, and don’t let one hour become three.

Finally, email is not your scapegoat. Don’t allow it to control how you use your day. You would not plan a meeting without an agenda, and you certainly would not meet with a faculty member “just to kill time.” If you need a break, take a walk. The effects will get so much more mileage than a hastily written email.

1) Turn off automatic email delivery.

2) Schedule time specifically for email retrieval and reply. Try one hour in the morning and one hour at the end of the day.

3) Never use email to discuss a personnel issue.

4) Proofread your email before you send. Email is letter writing. It counts.

5) Do not forward to another party without sender’s consent.

6) If you’re writing more than five sentences in reply, then walk over to the sender’s office and talk face-to-face.

7) If it’s a complicated reply, then call the sender for an appointment.

8) Use Reply-All with caution. Some communications should be shared with all department members, but if it really is something for everyone to know or discuss, then add it to the monthly agenda. Better yet: create an email culture in your department: Does everyone receive everything? Does every email require a confirmation of receipt? What is a reasonable time frame for reply? Talk about email communication expectations, since it’s still a relatively new genre and our cultural codes are being renegotiated.

9) Model professional communication. Don’t curse or gossip.

10) If email threads are the norm in your department, then use another application to manage electronic communication.

Catherine Ramírez is an Associate Professor in Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  She’s the author of The Woman in the Zoot Suit: Gender, Nationalism, and the Cultural Politics of Memory (Duke University Press, 2009) and is currently writing a history of assimilation in the United States.

Karen Mary Davalos is Chair and Professor of Chicana/o Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Her book, Yolanda M. López, (UCLA CSRC Press with distribution by University of Minnesota Press, 2008), brings together her research and teaching interests in Chicana feminist scholarship, spirituality, art, exhibition practices, and oral history.


Ella Diaz    April 29, 2013 at 1:24 PM

Thank you Catherine and Karen Mary for these sharp and distilled pieces of advice. Being on a tenure track and a new institution can be overwhelming and not easy to maneuver. Your direct suggestions cut through the fog. Much appreciated!
Ella Diaz

Latina/o Futures, Literatures, and Necessary Tensions

April 15, 2013

"2009-12-04 JJAY -27" by Aloucha from Flickr.

“2009-12-04 JJAY -27” by Aloucha from Flickr.

by Susan C. Méndez

Recently, I attended John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s 1st Biennial Latina/o Literary Theory & Criticism Conference entitled, “Haciendo Caminos: Mapping the Futures of U.S. Latina/o Literatures.” The conference organizers Richard Perez and Belinda Linn Rincón did a phenomenal job of arranging provocative keynote addresses by Ramón Saldívar, José Esteban Muñoz, Mary Pat Brady, and Silvio Torres-Saillant. They also assembled two days of panels on Latina/o literatures. For a conference-goer such as myself, who always has a hard time finding the one-to perhaps-three panels that actually pertain to what she researches and/or teaches at every literature conference she attends, this event was a veritable cornucopia of literary insights. As a former co-chair conference organizer for MELUS 2010, I could especially appreciate all the hard work and dedication that it took, on the parts of Perez and Rincón and their support staff, to pull off such an endeavor.

Now to turn to the ideas presented at the conference; first, let me state a disclaimer that these summaries derive from my personal and admittedly incomplete notes as a single conference participant. Please forgive any unintentional inaccuracies. Ramón Saldívar set the tone of the conference with his key note address which examined the role of speculative realism in the future of Latina/o literatures. He offered a framework for understanding how the past and the future are more intimately connected than we may think. Saldívar asserted that for Latinas/os, our relationship to the future should be to realize the history not made. Speculative realist texts can act as a set of alternative thought experiments in order to create a new imaginary for the Latina/o community.

The next day, José Esteban Muñoz and Mary Pat Brady delivered powerful meditations linking politics and art. In their presentations, there was an uneasiness stated about hyphenated identities and other identity labels such as “Hispanic” and “Latina/o”; subsequently, Muñoz suggested returning to the label “Brown.” According to my notes, Muñoz explains that in “Brownness,” there is no ranking of “Brown” individuals or conditions; there is just the grounded experience of being “Brown” based on a shared sense of harm and yet flourishing as well. I particularly liked this idea about identity because it seemed to fit so well with feminist organizations like MALCS, where we have always stressed an non-hierarchical, heterogeneous inclusion of all women who share in the grounded experience of being from or connected to the Latina/o or Latin American community or world regions, and this experience is often rooted in a history of political and social oppression but is also marked by cultural flourishing and expression as women. Aesthetic practices and places can serve in the rehearsal of this identity, allowing Latinas/os to be who we want to be in the world. For Brady and Muñoz, this led to a consideration of recent reflections on “failure” by Halberstam and others, as well as recent discussions of “negative aesthetics in art” for understanding queer Latina/o literature and performance.

Lastly, there was the closing keynote address and conversation where Silvio Torres-Saillant posed the following questions to authors Helena María Viramontes and Ernesto Quiñonez: How does one study Latina/o literature without relying on literalization? Do critics do enough to emphasize the art of literature? How do we get students to do the artistic work? These questions caused quite a stir for the panelists and the audience. Several scholars contested the implied sentiment that current scholar-teachers are not getting their students to appreciate Latina/o literature as art. The writers, including author Angie Cruz from the audience, expressed interest in the feminist and other readings of their work by literary scholars. Sadly, I missed how the chaotic stir of discussion at this last session concluded; I had my own stirring chaos to contend with in visiting my dad and brother that last night in New York before I had to return home early the next day.

Putting the rich ideas of this conference aside for a moment, this last session emphasized the types of heated yet productive discussions that happened throughout the conference. These moments seemed to happen for two reasons: generational and gender gaps. In one roundtable conversation, a senior Latina/o literature scholar took offense with the assertion that critical studies of Latina/o literature did not flourish until the late 1980s, a perspective that overlooks earlier critical work. In another instance, following a reading of Pedro Monge’s “Lagrimas del alma” (a short play about the aftermath of the flight of Pedro Pan for one Cuban-American family), another debate occurred over what language the play should be performed in: English, Spanish, or a mix of both. Many audience members expressed the view that use of both languages seemed to be realistic and audience-friendly. However, one participant, an older gentleman, favored a seemingly purist view of language: a play by a Cuban man about Cuban history should be in Spanish. At still another panel, a scholar took issue with the frequent teaching of Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) as a feminist text. The rich discussion on all sides of this issue among the audience included more than one participant explaining how Oscar Wao is about much more than Yunior trying to score “pussy.” It escaped these audience members’ attention that by using words such as “pussy” in their discussion, they were not doing much to advance their assertion of feminism in this text. In this way, my feminist training, which is reinforced daily through my work with MALCS, reminds me of the importance of not only what I am talking about but also of how I am talking about the subject-matter at hand. “Pussy” only invokes a colonial and patriarchal legacy of violence that reduces targeted women and their communities to be mere objects and not the true subjects that they are. “Pussy” does little to flesh out a study of feminist agency, collaboration, and societal transformation in almost any work.

The take-away from all these passionate discussions is the need to keep having these important conversations about the history of Latina/o Literary Studies, language, and gender. We need to have these arguments, to be reminded of the importance of this history and these concepts, amongst our own community members engaged in Latina/o Literary and cultural production. Asking these questions of each other in our continued work and study should be a first and foremost concern for everyone involved. We need to keep each other honest and knowledgeable about our work always and most significantly before we present our work in more general venues and conferences. In this way, the new ideas, arguments, and theories presented at conferences such as this one are not the only benefit to be had; these other meaningful discussions maintain the field in a healthy state of self-awareness. Hence, conferences devoted to any facet of Latina/o Studies are crucial, should be strongly supported, and the organizers of such events deserve to be recognized for their substantial service to the professional community.

Susan C. Méndez is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English & Theatre and the Department of Latin American & Women’s Studies at the University of Scranton. She teaches courses on Multi-Ethnic American Literature and Women’s Studies. Primarily, she conducts research on novels written by Latino/a authors. Méndez is a 2011-2013 At Large Representative of MALCS.