The cardinal principle of career advancement is: When in doubt, move. In order to move up fast in rank and salary you must either move out in space or threaten to do so. The person who is unable to leave his university because he fell in love with the locale, or because his wife wants to stay close to her parents, or because he does not get any outside offers, must inevitably fall behind his leap-frogging colleagues. The fewer your roots, the more unimpeded your race to the top. Each year, between late June and early September, tens of thousands of academics pack up and crisscross the North American continent in an apparently random migration.
The collective impression of meaninglessness given by these migrations can in fact be broken down into thousands of highly sensible individual decisions. For the academic world as a whole, for the various universities and colleges, and for the students, professional seminomadism not only serves no useful purpose: it is in fact positively wasteful and harmful. But for the professors it is enormously profitable.
Let us first try to understand the main features and determinants of this complex annual relocation. Sociologists refer to mobility in space as horizontal, and to mobility in status as vertical. The latter can be either up or down. In academia, vertical mobility takes place in reference to a double status system: academic rank and prestige of university.
The academic market place is a vast system in which the top universities have their pick of topnotch men in every field. (The well-known boast of Harvard is that when it tries to fill a post it always appoints the best man and usually finds that the person is already on its staff.) There is of course a certain amount of competition between Harvard and Berkeley, or between Columbia and Chicago, or between Yale and Princeton, but the top schools are definitely in a buyer’s market. They have fewer posts than there are candidates who would be delighted to jump at the opportunity to join their staffs. But below the very top, universities have to face a seller’s market and to compete fiercely with each other for the best possible staff-i.e., for people whose established individual prestige is likely to enhance the prestige of the hiring institution and department. Although appointments are officially confirmed by the board of trustees and the president, the bargaining parties in the transactions are in the first instance the candidate and the hiring department. The dean of the faculty in question in most cases has to approve the rank and salary offered, but at respectable universities he seldom chooses the candidates.
Since the overwhelming majority of universities and colleges are by definition not the top ones, the market as a whole may be described as a seller’s, with intense competition between buyers. Colleges and universities have expanded faster than they have produced Ph.D.’s, and, in addition, teaching loads have gone steadily down. Consequently, the demand for qualified teachers outstrips the supply by an ever-widening margin. So far, the universities and colleges have agreed on practically nothing to restrict their cut-throat competition for staff except on an April closing date for the hunting season, and even that is frequently violated.
The individual academic will try to maximize his status—that is, to get as high a rank (and salary) as he can at the best possible university. In practice, his decision may be contaminated by other factors such as climate, proximity to relatives, and so on, but rank and institutional prestige are the two most powerful determinants of horizontal moves. The relationship between vertical and horizontal moves is quite complex, but basically, horizontal moves can be determined by four types of vertical moves:
1) A move up in both academic rank and institutional prestige. These are undoubtedly the best ones, but they are not very common.
2) A move up in institutional prestige but without promotion in rank.
3) A promotion in rank to an equal-status institution.
4) A promotion in rank to a lower-status institution.
The third type of move is probably the most common, followed in descending order by types Four, Two, and One. Type Four moves are really downward in spite of the promotion in rank. This is what happens to assistant professors at prestigious institutions if they do not publish enough. After five or six years, they are denied tenure and forced to go because of the “up or out” rule. Either you get promoted to associate professor with tenure or you must leave, almost invariably to a lower-status institution. In anticipation of that fate, many assistant professors trade their institutional prestige for the best possible deal at a lower-status university and move before they are forced to do so. But whether forced or not, such moves are nearly always irreversible in terms of institutional prestige.
The fiercest competition for staff is between institutions of approximately equal status. Until recently, a university would only raid campuses of equal or slightly higher status than itself and would mostly get downwardly mobile staff from higher-status institutions. Even so, if the status difference between the two universities was too great, the lowerstatus campus would have wasted its time trying to raid its betters, and thus the competition for staff was confined to fairly narrow limits within the total status spectrum. Apache Valley Community College would never have the audacity of trying to raid Princeton or Michigan. Of late, however, as competition has become increasingly fierce, universities are beginning to raid institutions of somewhat lower rank than themselves and stealing their stars. Thus the raiding range has become wider than it used to be, and Type One moves are somewhat more frequent than before. The days when the Ivy League schools or the Big Ten would only steal each other’s staff are gone. Still, institutions of widely different status do not compete with each other.
It should also be noted that rates of mobility, both horizontal and vertical, are greatest in the early part of a person’s career, and decline thereafter. Assistant professors are highly mobile, associate professors less so, and professors least. There are three reasons for this. The first one is that the closer you are to the top, the less room you have to move up. The second reason is that the higher your rank and your price tag, the smaller the range of institutions that can afford you and also want you. By the time you are a full professor at a respectable university, you must be a well-known quantity, in fact a star, to be attractive to higher-status universities, and the offers you get tend to be from lower-status institutions trying to make up for their lack of prestige by offering you low teaching loads and high salaries. Finally, mobility declines after a few years because most academics tend to find their level in the hierarchy of universities and to stay there, unless they do something extraordinarily opprobrious or meritorious.
Since much of the academic migration takes place between institutions of approximately equal status, why could it not be reduced to a fraction of its present proportions? More specifically, why should every university have to lose year after year a substantial proportion of its best staff, only to be forced to snatch from its competitors no more qualified professors at higher prices than it was willing to pay the people who left?
There are two main ways in which a university could substantially reduce this migratory movement. One would be to enter into collective agreements restricting competition such as are effectively used by business firms. But it is obvious why universities do no such thing. Universities are run by and for professors, and since the present system is so advantageous to most academics, the incentive to change it is nil. The universities as institutions, the students, and the taxpayers suffer from academic nomadism but the nomads prosper and, in between treks, they run the campuses. In fact, it is quite common for professors at conferences to be recruiting for their own university while at the same time be soliciting offers from colleagues on similar recruiting jaunts. Academics create in effect the demand for their own services, restrict the supply by keeping their crops of Ph.D.’s small, and thus successfully raid the public and corporate purses that support the entire operation.
The second way of reducing migration is, of course, for the home university to make a counteroffer in order to keep a person. This is quite commonly done, and does, no doubt, reduce the migration to one half or less of what it would otherwise be. But there are intrinsic limitations to the effectiveness of this device. In the first place, a person always looks better from the outside than he does from the inside. It is one thing to create an impression of brilliance and agreeableness in the course of a few hours of convivial interviews over martinis, but quite another to sustain that impression over years of close contact with your home colleagues. Thus, a dean may, often rightly, decide that a man is not worth the rank and salary he is offered else where, and let him go by making a counteroffer which is deliberately low enough to be turned down. Alternatively, a man’s senior colleagues in a department may be glad to be rid of him because of his cantankerous disposition, theoretical orientation, embarrassing brightness, or some other reason. In short, there is often no attempt at keeping a man, or the attempt is so perfunctory that it fails, as it is intended to do.
In addition, there is an important factor of “status inertia” within each department. A person’s worth tends to be pegged at the level of his entry point into a department. He assumes a definite place in the pecking order, and, thereafter, any promotion or rapid salary raise which would drastically disturb that pecking order will be resisted by his colleagues. Once a man has entered a department at a given level, any progress at a rate faster than the departmental average will be seen as disturbing the established hierarchy. (Oddly, the reverse is also true. A colleague whose progress is much slower than average, e.g., an assistant professor in his fifties, is also a source of acute embarrassment.) It is much easier, on the other hand, to accept a young newcomer in a high position becaue this involves no change in the pecking order other than inserting the newcomer into it at a mutually agreed upon place.
The implications of status inertia for horizontal mobility are clear. It is very difficult to move upward fast by staying at the same place. And since the quickest avenue of success is publication, a high rate of productivity means a frequent encounter with the moving van.
Related to the previous factor is the fact that many young Ph.D.’s begin their careers at the wrong” level, and must change jobs to find a better fit. Only the most prestigious universities can afford to underpay productive scholars without losing them. Mediocre universities with a lot of dead wood in the senior ranks do not really try to keep bright young men even if they could afford to do so. If you are either too bright or too dull for the university at which you are located, life is made very unpleasant for you. In the former case, you will be the butt of envy and be accused of arrogance; and in the latter you will be constantly humiliated. Fortunately, outside offers will allow you to find your own level. Thus, individual mobility insures a certain constancy of quality at given universities.
In short, then, even with counteroffers, mobility is endemic in the system. The problem now is how to make the most of it. Let us begin with the young man who has just received his Ph.D. The choice of a first academic job is extremely crucial, and unfortunately this is the stage of one’s career where one is most completely dependent on the good grace of others, especially one’s major professors in graduate school.
At that stage, unless he has already published, a candidate is evaluated on two things: the quality of his Ph.D., as judged by the prestige of the department which conferred it, and the quality of his letters of recommendations, depending on how glowing they are and how influential their writers are. Thus a Ph.D. from one of the “top ten” departments and an assessment as “one of the best three or four students I have ever had” by a national figure gives him a virtual assurance of a good first job at a prestige university. The same Ph.D. from the same university but with a lukewarm recommendation as a “sound, competent student” downgrades the candidate to a not-so-good university or college. The best jobs are often obtained informally through verbal recommendations at scholarly meetings. As to the employment columns of trade journals and the placement services at meetings, they are generally last resorts for the downwardly mobile and for Ph.D.’s from second-rate universities.
To the extent that a young Ph.D. has some choice of likely jobs and does not feel obligated to accept the one job that his major professor lined up for him, there are three main factors which should determine his decision:
1) The teaching load should be as low as possible, certainly not over nine hours, and preferably not over six. This is probably the key condition, because your entire career depends on how much time you have to do research and publish during your first five post-doctoral years.
2) Salary is a somewhat less important consideration and should not be computed on the basis of the gross annual figure but prorated on the basis of the length and amount of work expected of you. Thus a $9,000 [Editor’s Note: $55,000, in 2015] teaching job for eight months of work a year is better than an $11,000 [$67,000] year round research job. Or $8,500 [$52,000] for a six-hour teaching load is better than $10,000 [$61,000] for a nine-hour load.
3) The prestige of the institution is important but with several caveats and reservations. There is of course a limit below which you should not go if you can possibly help it, but the most prestigious institutions have their pitfalls. First, it is important not to confuse social prestige and academic prestige. For example, the elite liberal arts colleges tend to be undesirable because they are altogether outside big-league academia, are often geographically isolated, do not have graduate students, lack adequate library and laboratory facilities, and expect you to take undergraduate teaching seriously. Second, the temptation to hang on at the university that granted you a Ph.D. must be resisted at all costs, for the reason of status inertia mentioned earlier. At your alma mater you will always be a student, unless you let a decade elapse, by which time most of your former professors will have retired, died, or left the university. Try to come back later, in a tenure job, but, meanwhile, resolutely cut the umbilical cord. Otherwise, you will progress very slowly, and may have to leave anyway after a few years if you are not granted tenure.
Thirdly, the very-high-status universities are characterized by intense competition among assistant professors, powerful publication pressures, low probability of getting promoted to a tenure rank after five or six years of anxious expectation, slow promotion even if you make the grade, and mediocre salaries and fairly high teaching loads in the lower ranks. As a junior academic, the price you have to pay for institutional prestige is rather high. Prestige universities are best entered at the top level or at least at the associate professor level, if at all.
Finally, you have to be wary of accepting “service” jobs outside the department of your own discipline, no matter how alluring the university might be. Thus, for example, for a psychologist to take up a position in a school of education, or an economist in a business school, or a sociologist in a medical school can turn out to be a professional blind alley even though it is at Teacher’s College, Columbia, or at the Harvard Business School, or at the Johns Hopkins Medical School.
All things considered, the ideal school for the professionally ambitious young scholar is the large state or private university just below the top-ten level, with adequate research facilities and low teaching loads. The place has to be good enough to offer the opportunities and contacts for career advancement, yet not so notable that the assistant professor has little if any bargaining power. Most Big Ten universities, for example, satisfy these conditions, except perhaps Chicago and Michigan which are a little too prestigious. Most assistant professors who start off at the very top end will end up getting tenure appointments one rung below that anyway, and their brief sojourn in the lofty pinnacles of academe typically costs them a two or three years’ delay in promotion and quite a few thousand dollars compared to what they might have gotten in a place where they would have had some bargaining power. At the very top, assistant professors are interchangeable nonentities hired to teach undergraduate courses so that their worldfamous seniors can spend most of their time on leave in Washington, Oxford, or Karachi.
Assuming that your Ph.D. has landed you a good job with a low teaching load at a respectable university, you must now fight your way to the top of your profession in terms of rank, salary, and tenure. If you play your cards right and if you publish what is regarded as the appropriate quota in your discipline, you should be a full professor within seven to ten years of getting your doctorate. In other words, you should spend no more than four to five years in each of the two ranks of assistant and associate professor.
Tenure used to be important when professors were not in as good a bargaining position as now, but now it is rapidly losing its significance, except as a protection for political radicals. Since it is clearly in your interest to change jobs, and since your university is chronically short of staff, tenure becomes an irrelevance. Nevertheless many universities still take it seriously. In the vast majority of cases, tenure comes with appointment or promotion to an associate professorship. Assistant professors are almost always appointed for a term of three to five years, usually renewable once. Thereafter, they are either promoted and given tenure, or asked to find themselves another job. A few universities do not grant tenure with any first appointment even of full professors, but they are the exception.
Whatever significance tenure still has, it no longer lies in the privilege of hanging on to a job until you are senile. Rather, the meaning of tenure is the evaluation procedure which it entails after no more than six years in an assistant professorship. (The six-year limit for the “up or out” decision is a convention agitated for by the American Association of University Professors, and generally adhered to by universities for fear of censure.) In short, if a man cares to stay where he is, he must within a few years convince his senior colleagues that he is worth promoting and keeping permanently. Being linked with promotion to an associate professorship, this decision is in fact the most decisive jump in a man’s career, even though tenure as such is of little practical significance.
A few institutions, mostly pretentious little liberal arts colleges, still hold to a quaintly anachronistic conception of tenure, namely that tenure is granted to the man who has proven his “loyalty” (whatever that means) to the institution. At most schools, however, tenure has no such sentimental undertones; it is simply the most inconsequential part of a package deal which also involves promotion and a salary raise.
University policies in respect to salary vary widely. Some schools have overlapping salary scales between ranks so that an assistant professor may earn more than an associate professor or an associate more than a full professor. Other institutions do not. On some campuses salaries are supposed to be strictly confidential while at others, notably at many state universities, they are published yearly. Confidential salaries always put the staff at a considerable disadvantage, and one might think that academics would have the sense to exchange that information for their mutual benefit in haggling for raises, but at most snob schools, this conduct is regarded as ungentlemanly, much as going on strike and other forms of unseemly behavior characteristic of the laboring classes. In some cases, salary scales provide for automatic annual increments, while in others every raise has to be justified on the basis of “merit.”
Almost invariably, however, the biggest raises are obtained either by changing jobs or by threatening to do so. Once established, this system becomes self-reenforcing. Most deans dispose of a fixed sum for yearly salary increments. They first have to dig into it to make counteroffers to members of their staff who are in a good bargaining position. The remainder goes to automatic or “merit” increments. But in most cases, “merit” increases tend to go to the least meritorious. After the productive members of the department have received their negotiated raises, the rest of the pie is distributed to the unproductive members who do not get outside offers. Thus, “merit” increases are used mostly for purposes of salary equalization within ranks, according to a rationale of “equity” and seniority. The least productive members tend to get “merit” increases; the productive ones get negotiated counteroffers.
Unless a productive scholar is willing to pay the price of chronic underpayment, he cannot escape from an aggressive and “ungentlemanly” tactic of haggling on the basis of outside offers. If he does not play the game, his salary becomes aligned with that of his most undistinguished colleagues and quickly falls behind that of his more aggressive juniors. Outside offers create a gap between the productive staff and the dead wood; and the principle of “equity” makes use of “merit” increases to bridge that gap. Aggressiveness is the only option for those who are in a good bargaining position.
The same applies to promotions. The person who modestly waits until his senior colleagues recognize his merits will essentially be promoted in order of seniority if at all. With outside offers, the process can be accelerated by at least one hundred percent.
This leads us to the academic game par excellence, the outside offer. The game is extremely profitable, but it requires considerable finesse; any dean worth his salt has become at least as adept a player as an inexperienced assistant professor. Let us look at the game first from the dean’s perspective. His problem is to satiate unlimited demands with limited funds. Or, more precisely, he must try to retain as many of his best staff as he can, and hire quite a few new ones besides, without going broke. Thus, a dean must first ask the person’s department head and senior colleagues whether they are very keen to retain the person, and, upon receiving an affirmative answer, he must make an accurate assessment of the minimum rank and salary for which the scholar will stay put. This involves solving a complex equation with many unknowns, but the basic calculation takes the outside offer as the starting point and subtracts from or adds to it.
If the offer involves a double upward jump in terms of both institutional prestige, and rank and salary, the dean has little hope of retaining the person. He will rarely offer more money than the outside school because this would be an admission that the dean’s own university has lower status, and most deans have a slightly inflated notion of their own university’s prestige. Thus, he will be content with matching the rank and salary of the offer and wish the person all the best if he decides to leave, as indeed he should.
If the offer comes from a school of distinctly lower status, the dean will not as a rule consider it serious and will not make a counteroffer. He banks on the probability that the higher rank and salary are not sufficient compensation for the loss in institutional prestige, and he regards it as below his university’s dignity to compete downward. At best, he may offer the person a small salary raise if he feels that he otherwise deserves it, but if he is of a nasty disposition he will smile and say, “Sorry, no dice.”
The really difficult calculations involve cases where the two schools are of approximately equal status. There the dean’s mind will work somewhat as follows: University of X offers, say, $15,000 [Editor’s Note: $92,000, in 2015] without moving expenses. It will cost Y some $800 [$5,000] to get down there with his three children and impedimenta; Y will probably lose $1,000 [$6,000] on the sale of his house (assuming that he was foolish enough to buy one before getting tenure); the cost of living in X is about three percent higher than here; X offers five percent less in retirement benefits; I know that Y, an avid skier, likes his present location and that is worth at least $300 [$1,800] a year to him; on the other hand the climate is better in X so that cancels out the previous item. Answer: $12,000 [$73,000] is the break-even point. Y now makes $11,500 [$70,000]. If I only offer him $12,000, he will feel offended and might leave out of spite. I shall play it safe and offer him $12,500 [$76,000]—about a ten percent increment—and, if he still squawks, I will go up to $13,000 [$79,000] and make him feel like going out with his wife to celebrate.
Should the offer also involve a promotion, as it frequently does, the calculation becomes more complex yet. The dean must see if he can offer the salary raise without the promotion, he must assess how much value Y puts on the rank as such, and how much Y’s colleagues would resent his promotion and the resulting change in the pecking order. Finally he must try to anticipate how many of Y’s colleagues are in a position actively to push for promotion in order to reestablish a situation close to the status quo ante in the said pecking order.
The game is equally complex from the professor’s point of view, and miscalculations can be so costly to his selfesteem that he has no graceful option but to make an unwanted move. That is the greatest hazard in the game. Happily, this outcome can be avoided by observing a few simple rules:
1) Try to assess correctly your value to your department. The common mistake is, of course, to overrate yourself, and nothing is more embarrassing than having your department chairman congratulate you warmly when you break the good news to him, and make no hint of any other response. Your best option then is to try to hide your blush as you file past the secretaries in the front office, swallow your pride, and play it more carefully next time.
2) Assess correctly the relative status of your university and the one that makes the offer. A common failing here is that a person, especially a beginner at the game, feels so flattered by the offer that he will inflate the prestige of the school concerned so as to increase further the value of the offer. Remember that the dean will have a bias in the other direction, and that the gap between the two assessments may be so wide as to make negotiations impossible.
3) Never state your terms for staying. This commits you to a position from which you cannot gracefully withdraw, and it antagonizes deans who regard this behavior as impertinence unless it emanates from a very senior man. Furthermore, it does not get you anywhere. A common reaction to this is to say: Let the arrogant bloke go.
4) Do not bluff, because the chances are that your bluff will be called. Effective bargaining presupposes that the offer is attractive enough to you that you might leave. But you gain nothing by stating that you want to leave. On the contrary, express a preference for staying. It is already implied in the negotiation process itself that you might leave, and stating it merely antagonizes your chairman and your dean who do not like to feel forced into a course of action.
5) Do not jeopardize your chances of getting substantial gains for the sake of a momentary satisfaction of your vanity or spite. Make no deprecating remarks about your present department as this will turn your colleagues against you; and do not brag about your offers, especially not before they become “firm”—i.e., before you get a letter stating the precise terms thereof.
6) Let your department chairman do the talking to the dean unless you have good reasons to suspect that he might not represent your interests well. One of the main conditions for successful bargaining is to be on good terms with your chairman. If your chairman is hostile to you, he can easily steer the negotiations in such a way as to maneuver you out of the department.
7) Only make use of strong offers, and remember that the game cannot be played too often. In fact, it should be used no more often than every two years. A more frequent use of outside offers reduces the effectiveness of the game and taxes the patience of the chairman and the dean.
8) Do not hesitate to leave if the counteroffer is distinctly inferior to the offer, especially if the promotion is not matched, but do not move too often. Again, every other year is about the maximum. More frequent moves look bad on a vita and give one a reputation for shiftlessness, especially if the moves are not clearly upward ones in terms of rank, university prestige, or both. Try to avoid moves without promotions unless the new university is of clearly superior status to the one you leave.
The beginner might well ask how one gets offers. Offers can be either solicited or unsolicited. Early in one’s career they have to be solicited by canvassing one’s old professors and classmates in graduate school. Another source of offers are hand-me-downs from better established colleagues who, in declining offers, drop your name as a likely “movable.” Later, when you get well established, offers are mostly unsolicited and a nuisance. Every time you get a “feeler” you must write a polite “thanks but no thanks” letter.
The process of getting a “firm” offer is itself protracted and requires some skill. Offers begin as “feelers,” all the way from a casual question at a convention to a formal letter stating that Department X is expanding and planning great things, and would you be interested in hearing more about it? Many feelers get no further, and you should always refrain from bragging about them. The next step is usually a long-distance telephone call suggesting a visit to the campus, all expenses paid and no obligation of course. Then comes the visit with its round of formal and informal interviews, its ritualistic seminars and cocktail parties, its exchanges of pleasantries, and its awkward private sessions with deans and department heads.
Occasionally, if you have created a bad impression, nothing comes of the visit, but in most cases the next step is a formal offer in writing often preceded by a telephone call to announce it and followed by another one asking you to make up your mind. You usually have to write a letter stalling for time in order to have time to negotiate at home. “I have to talk it over with my wife” is always a good gambit in American society. “It is a difficult decision and I find your offer very attractive” is another possibility. Or else you might suggest that you would like to come but that the salary is not high enough.
From start to finish, the process usually takes a mini mum of three weeks and a maximum of six weeks. The cost to the “offering” university is your round-trip plus many man-hours of professorial time. The cost to your home university is whatever it has to give you to keep you. The cost to you is two or three days for travel and interviews and a little mental unsettlement, but assuming that you only make $1,000 [Editor’s Note: $6,000, in 2015] salary increment out of it, that still means $300 [$1,800] to $500 [$3,000] per day invested in the interview routine.
The height of the hunting season is from January through March, but as competition gets keener, the season is extended further and further back, sometimes as far back as the fall conventions. In fact, the system is now so wide open that raiding is practically continuous, but intensified in the winter months.
Salary and rank are the bread and butter of an academic appointment. The “fringe benefits” are the marmalade. Retirement plan is one of the most important of them. Depending on whether it is contributory or not, or transferable to another university or not, the retirement system can make a difference of up to fifteen percent either way in the monetary value of an offer. Medical plan, life insurance, sabbatical policy, educational benefits for your children, and moving expense compensation are also appreciable parts of the package. Sabbaticals are actually not as valuable as they appear, because since they are almost invariably on reduced pay, they are scarcely sufficient to travel on. If you stay in residence at your university, you might as well not be on leave at all because you will find it difficult to get away from your normal routine. The thing to do is to find foundation or government support for a leave of absence. This will normally cover all of your regular salary plus travel and research expenses.
Most of these fringe benefits are part of a standard deal which is the same for all members of the teaching staff. Others are more variable. Office space is perhaps the main one of these. Especially at urban universities, the scarcity of office space is acute, and the doubling up of assistant professors is a common practice. An assistant professor should then be wary of accepting an office large enough to be doubled-up, because even if he has it to himself now, he might have to share it later. The safest kind of office to have is 80 to 100 square feet, large enough to turn around in but too small to accommodate more than a single desk and bookcase.
A word remains to be said about personality factors which often have a direct bearing on career progress. Although a great many departments try to maintain a fiction of consensus, nearly all are characterized by competition; conflict, and factionalism. The decision to promote an assistant professor is, at least in the first instance, made by the more senior members of the department, or by the chairman in consultation with them. The case then often goes to a faculty-wide committee of elected members of the tenured staff, who make recommendations to the dean of the faculty. In theory, a man often has a right to appeal against a negative decision of his chairman and senior colleagues, but, in fact, if he bucks his department, the cards are stacked heavily against him, unless he has an exceptionally strong case.
There are two necessary and sufficient conditions under which your colleagues will recommend you for tenure and promotion. The first is that you have published enough to make a case to the College Council, Promotions Committee, or whatever the higher body is called. The second is that you pass the test of “fitting into the department.” This is, of course, primarily a personality test. You must appear “constructive”—i.e., you must not stir up the students, criticize past practices, suggest drastic reforms, raise painful questions, or stand on universalistic principles when your colleagues give vent to blatant favoritism.
Most important of all, you must show the degree of humility commensurate with your still modest status, and you must ruthlessly suppress any temptation to prove yourself intellectually superior to your seniors. That is the one thing for which they will never forgive you. (In any case, this is a facile and unworthy exercise, because the processes of senescence and obsolescence insure that assistant professors are on the whole considerably brighter and more up to date than full professors.) Try also to be noncommittal about important issues that sharply divide the senior staff; you cannot yet afford to antagonize any important faction.
At departmental meetings, do not talk too much, but do not remain completely silent either, otherwise you will be eclipsed by your more aggressive rivals and passed over in promotions because of your colorlessness. The best course consists in letting your seniors talk and commit themselves first, especially on controversial issues. Listen carefully to what they say and learn to predict individual positions on key matters. If the issue bitterly splits the department down the middle, do not say anything and abstain on any nonsecret ballots. If the split is between old guard and young Turks, side with the old guard, but do so discreetly. Avoid any blatant sycophancy. Flattery has to be subtle if it is to be effective in academia.
The issues on which you should talk and demonstrate your good sense and constructiveness are the ones that are not too controversial—for example, minor procedural reforms in admission of graduate students, or small changes in curriculum or doctoral examinations. Speak in support of suggestions made by an influential senior, and make a few embellishments of your own to show that you have devoted thought to the subject, but do not advocate any drastic departures from existing procedures because this might appear to cast aspersions against the wisdom of your elders. Thus you will appear to be an eminently sensible young man, mature beyond his years, and very suitable tenure material. All you will have to do is produce your minimum quota of printed matter, and your promotion is assured.
If you are a woman, these considerations hold even more, for then you will not only have to demonstrate your humility as a junior but also stay in your place as a member of the inferior sex. It is bad enough that you should aspire to be an academic instead of getting domesticated and pregnant like most of your kind, so you cannot afford to be aggressive, nor even to seem too bright. If you must appear bright, then let it be in support of an even brighter male colleague. Otherwise, just play the role of the sweet female; smile and be vivacious, but never ironical.
In any case, you will probably have to wait longer for your promotion than your male colleagues, but then you will not mind, because, as everybody knows, a woman is not as ambitious as a man, and besides you do not need the money so badly because your husband also earns. In addition, you do not deserve as much as a man because you will probably drop out of academic life after a few years. Women also have the annoying habit of going on maternity leave and falling sick more often than men while at the same time having the audacity to live longer. These facts clearly argue against equal opportunity.
If, on the other hand, you belong to a “minority group”—if you are a Jew, a Puerto Rican, an Afro-American, or a foreigner—you are at a distinct advantage, and you should make the most of it. Academics are well-known to be liberals and free of vulgar prejudices. (Antifeminism does not count, and if you accuse any colleague of it, he will retort that his most intimate friend is a woman.) Academics are so extraordinarily sensitive to any imputation of racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, or what have you, that a minority-group person can easily blackmail himself into a promotion. In fact, in most cases, he will not even need to do so, because his WASP colleagues will gladly apply a double standard without any prompting on his part. Everybody wants a black face on the staff, and there are not enough to go around. Jews are, of course, not in short supply in academia, so the advantage of being one is not as great as being an Afro-American, but on the other hand, anti-Semitism is so heinous a crime that a little discreet blackmail can go a long way. Such are the blessings of living in a racist society.
Foreigners are the darlings of academe. Every department wants to have a reputation for urbanity and cosmopolitanism. Exoticism is a prized commodity, at least at better schools. (Mediocre schools may still exhibit a kind of corn-belt or Bible-belt provincialism, but that, of course, is one of the reasons why they remain mediocre.) It is no accident that most foreign academics in America remain conspicuously, indeed sometimes belligerently, unassimilated. They are simply capitalizing on their exoticism. Until recently, this role was reserved to Europeans, who represented a cultural role model for the upwardly mobile academic snob. Now that the brain drain has extended to the “developing” countries, a variety of Indians, Pakistanis, Nigerians, and others have widened the range of not-so-local color represented on American campuses. Provided such persons have degrees from recognized institutions, they are in great demand, and if they happen to be dark-skinned, they have really got it made.