On Tenure

This afternoon, the faculty of New York Law School voted to recommend me to the Board of Trustees for promotion to full professor with tenure. I have been floored by the outpouring of warmth from my colleagues and my friends. But one comment in particular, from Randy Picker on Twitter, has stuck with me:

@grimmelm Big congrats! And at this point I go all Saving Private Ryan on you: Earn it. Tenure is about the work to come year in, year out.

That, I think, is exactly right. There’s a joke, trite and tired but no less true for it: Making partner is like winning a pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie. So too for tenure; it is bestowed not as a reward for one’s past work, but in expectation of the work to come. Security of position is conferred so that the scholar may undertake the uncertain, may speak truth to power, may follow the facts wherever they lead, may heed the greater good and the longer term. My field is law, with an unofficial minor in computer science, but it is really the same everywhere. Increase knowledge, teach those would learn, serve humanity.

This is hard work, a lifetime’s worth and more. But it is not lonely work. I have been inspired by the encouragement of my senior colleagues; sustained by the kindness of my peers; uplifted by the enthusiasm of my students. Thanks to you, I open my office door each day with curiosity, rather than with dread. Thank you, all, more than I can say.

It’s been a lot of pie, and there’s far more to come. I count myself lucky to have been born with an academic sweet tooth, and to have been invited to this feast.

Randy is right, of course. Tenure is the gift of time and freedom. It blows my mind when some folks don’t take full advantage of that gift. Eric.

Congratulations, though tenure will be partly wasted on you. Tenure gives you the freedom to work on things that are either fun or hard, and what could be more fun than Sealand and harder than Google Books?

Very well said. Congratulations, James!