By Kellen Bulger
Just last month it was announced that nine WU faculty members would be receiving tenure and/or promotions from the university. The decision to promote and give tenure to WU faculty members is one that is made every semester and approved by President Thorsett and the Board of Trustees.
When a professor that is a part of a university receives tenure or is promoted to being a full professor, it is a big achievement to say the least. Just like any other field, a significant promotion is a sign that one has been excelling in their job, and in the world of academia, and education broadly, this is something that is often seldom seen.
University faculty are far from the breadwinners in our society, and to go along with modest pay for a huge amount of work, professors are often at the end of wide criticisms because of the cost in which their students are having to front in order to take their classes and similarly the ever growing questioning of the efficacy of a college education. All of which makes a formal recognition of success, like being tenured and/or promoted, all the more satisfying.
When speaking with recently promoted Willamette Mathematics Professor Erin McNicholas, she spoke on the work that she personally put in to get promoted to a full professor. “306 pages of research articles, grant proposals and book chapters written; three summers spent mentoring undergraduate research, organizing trips to and from the airport, arranging for key cards, library access, and direct deposits; 12 conferences or workshops attended, presentations finished in coach and fueled by cups of terrible coffee, hikes and dinners with mathematicians from across the world; 3 research notebooks with colored graph paper made in Spain; too many hours spent in committee meetings to count, emails answered, agendas and minutes posted, task forces tasked, and applications read; 250 letters of recommendation written; IMs, texts, phone calls, and lunches with alums; and hours spent grading at Chuck E Cheese, on grass medians of parking lots, in airplanes and trains, in drive-through lines, on hospital gurneys with broken arm, under an umbrella in the rain, and on the edge of the tub while kids take forever getting ready for bed.”
Professor McNicholas went on to describe significant moments in the process to getting promoted.
“But what I remember most are the years spent with the most inspiring, creative, funny and talented group of people you could ever hope to be around: students who amaze me with their strength, resilience, and kindness, and who help me continue to become a better person; colleagues who I strive to be like, who let me cry behind their closed office doors as long as I need to, or who make me laugh so hard I fall off my chair.”
Professor McNicholas then touched on what being promoted to a full professor means to her personally.
“I’m still figuring that out. I love my career and devote a tremendous amount of time and energy to it. Being promoted to full is an acknowledgement of my hard work by my colleagues. Given how amazing my colleagues in the University are, I value their opinion greatly and it means a lot to me that they feel I have earned a full professorship. So on one hand it feels like a great honor. It also makes me realize my place in the university has changed. I am not the new faculty member I still feel like on the inside, and I have a responsibility to help the University community and my more junior colleagues. I was incredibly fortunate to have the friendship, mentor-ship, and encouragement of more senior colleagues. I hope I can now offer that to new members of our community.”
And lastly, she highlighted the unclear path that lies ahead for faculty members who have recently been promoted. “… part of me is wondering what’s next. Professors tend to be goal-oriented individuals. Receiving full is arguably the pinnacle of our chosen career path. Once attained, we have to figure out what our next goal will be. It’s not unlike graduating seniors who are simultaneously celebrating their successful completion of college and figuring out what path to pursue post graduation. The requirements for getting full are set by the academe and by my colleagues. I now have the opportunity to set my sights on goals which are completely defined by me. It’s a liberating, uncertain, exciting, and daunting position to be in. But mostly I am still basking in the joy of my promotion (as my sons who witnessed my happy dance upon opening the letter from faculty council can tell you).”