Tag Archives: women in academia

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

Latinas and Tenure in the Seventies: A Testimonial

February 11, 2013

Flower among the Spines by raelb. Flickr/Creative Commons License.

Flower among the Spines by raelb. Flickr/Creative Commons License.

by Eliana Rivero

Once upon a time there were no Latinas tenured in the Arizona university system, from Tucson to Tempe to Flagstaff. This lasted until 1973, when it was my good (mis?)fortune to confront the system and see how things worked.

I had prepared diligently, and then some. When I submitted my tenure file in the spring of that year, I had one monograph in print published in Spain, one coedited critical edition by Oxford University Press, eight articles in reputable journals, several conference papers delivered, very good teaching evaluations, and quite a bit of professional service. Since the year before, I had been meeting with a group of faculty women who formed a caucus to look into our status on campus at the University of Arizona; this group would go on to form the first Women’s Studies program in the state. I remember one male colleague in French stopping me in the hall to inquire: “Why Women Studies? Why not Men Studies?”  I laughed then, since I could not have known how my tenure case and the subsequent struggle would be seen first as waged by a woman, and second, by a Latina who was trying to obtain job permanence as a Latin-Americanist in the United States.

My case passed the scrutiny of a departmental committee (admittedly with some grumblings from traditional scholars, all men), and then went on to the Dean’s office for review. There my troubles began: I was called to the College of Arts and Sciences office and literally put on the carpet by the Dean, a Harvard alumnus whom (I would find out later) had been “informed” by some older colleagues at a Harvard alumni party that my work was dubious in nature and provenance. My publications were all right, but nobody knew if I had written them by myself or with help from some ghost writer, perhaps my dissertation director (!). Furthermore, my field (Latin American contemporary literature, mostly poetry) was not that important in the scheme of things.

Thus spoke the Dean: “Consider yourself lucky that we have to award you tenure, because a letter should have been sent to you a year ago indicating trouble with your CV, and it wasn’t. However, you will not be promoted to associate professor. Your title will be lecturer.”

I was speechless. I left the office, went home, got into bed, and pulled the covers over my head. How could that be?  Where was justice?  Two days later, I found out that the colleague who had asked me in the hall about the feasibility of Men Studies was promoted to associate professor with tenure, despite having fewer years in rank, not having a book in print, and having been hired in the position of lecturer as an ABD a year after me. The department head of Romance Languages explained to me that since the promoted colleague was in a less popular field—French Canadian literature—and I was in Spanish, they needed his services more than mine in Arizona (!!).

I consulted with my colleagues in the women’s studies group, received their moral support, hired a lawyer (who had just won a case of gender discrimination in the state), and filed a formal grievance with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Education in Washington DC.  Everyone on campus was amazed:  “She called in the Feds!”  I heard whispered behind my back.  A team of investigators came to campus, and after many interviews and much examining of files and almost a whole academic year, I was given a letter with what they called the “right to sue”: yes, they had found evidence that I had been discriminated against for reasons of gender and ethnicity. It helped that a young teaching assistant (also a Harvard alumnus) told me, and later testified, that he had overheard the conversation between one of my older colleagues and the Dean in which they trashed my work, and conjectured about the authorship of my publications. That colleague was opposed to granting me tenure because according to him, Latin American literature was not a departmental priority, nor a well-respected field of research (after all, he couldn’t read more than thirty pages in García Márquez´Cien años de soledad without getting utterly bored!). At the time, out of twenty-five faculty in my department, there were only two women besides me: one was semiretired at 78 years of age, and the other was tenured but in the more acceptable field of medieval studies and linguistics. Neither was interested in women’s issues: I heard the older one say at a faculty party that she preferred to speak to men because “ladies only talk about their babies.”

It was in the spring semester of 1974 that the Dean was removed from office and another head of department was named. I received a letter from the President of the University with a new contract as associate professor with tenure, and a substantial salary increase. Both the new dean and the acting department head called me in and offered verbal apologies. But the title of lecturer for the academic year 1973-74 is still on my record, as a testimonial to that annus horribilis in which they tried unsuccessfully to hold a Latina scholar back.

Oddly enough, the only other Latina who received tenure in the Arizona system around that time was another Cuban-born woman in Flagstaff. But it would be at least five more years until the first Chicana PhD would be hired by the English department here in Tucson. She was tenured six years later, and I—already a full professor with a very substantial CV—sat on the Dean’s committee that examined her case.

It all seems incredible now, but so were the early seventies. At present, at least in my field, the tenure process for Latinas is an easier road than the one I had to travel. In 2013, there are eight tenured women scholars in my department (one Chilena, one Chicana, one Puertorriqueña, one Mejicana, one Argentina, two Brasileñas, one Española, one AngloAmericana). Three more Chicanas are untenured lecturers. We still have some way to go!

Eliana Rivero is Professor Emerita of the Spanish and Portuguese Department of The University of Arizona. During her 45 year career at the U of A, she was also affiliate faculty in Latin American Studies, Mexican American Studies, and Women’s Studies. Her current research focuses on Cuban American women writers and her recent poems and short stories appear in the online Spanish literary magazine LABRAPALABRA.


Mari Castaneda    February 25, 2013 at 9:01 AM
querida Eliana, thank you so much for sharing your story! It’s amazing how stories like these still abound though… I know several Latinas that were recently denied tenure and also questioned about the quality/authenticity of their work. Indeed, there’s still more work to do! But you were a trailblazer, and we wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for mujeres like you – gracias!!