Post-Tenure Stress and Status
Thank you (I think) to Dan for this guest stint on Concurring Opinions and the generous introduction. My ambivalence (which might seem somewhat snarky) actually stems from stress, induced by the ambiguity of the task of guest-blogger on this particular blog if one is not a privacy or criminal law guru. What topics will be of interest? How does one generate reams of clever comments, inspire a vibrant cyberconversation? Should you keep writing even if you can’t find your copy of Thorstein Veblen or de Tocqueville to bolster your own petty musings? In other words, what are the rules for achieving some degree of success on Concurring Opinion?
These questions are related, in my view, to the particular nature of stress experienced by many already-tenured legal academics. This topic was raised in brief by a slightly tongue-in-cheek post on PrawfsBlawg last week, phrased as the guilt that, despite having “the best job in the world,” many law professors still consider themselves stressed. A few follow-up posts suggested that the only real stress in our job is achieving tenure – or perhaps those few rare occasions on which one looks like an idiot in front of 90 law students. I disagree – and in fact think that in some respects, this job becomes more stressful post-tenure. It all depends on how we define stress.
The kind of stress I am interested in is not the “I have too much to do” kind of stress – which we all know really makes us feel important and valuable. As Michael Marmot writes in The Status Syndrome, it isn’t the busy times that cause us stress, it is status insecurity and the lack of control over that which garners us status. Marmot (for those who aren’t so inordinately insecure that they read multiple books on status insecurity), is an epidemiologist who focuses on the link between status and health. So why would we be more status-focused and thus perhaps more stressed after tenure?
Because when we seek tenure, the rules of success and the particular type of status we are striving for are generally clear. At most law schools, we know that if we write the requisite number of articles, have them read and admired by the powerful members of the faculty, receive reasonable teaching evaluations, and participate adequately in faculty governance, we will very likely receive tenure. Don’t get me wrong, I had many moments of extraordinary pre-tenure stress – each time I sent an article out for publication, during outside review of my scholarship, and whenever I opened the yellow envelope containing teaching evaluations, I experienced classic stress reactions. And some law schools have ambiguous tenure guidelines or are well-known for denying tenure. Obviously, pre-tenure stress at such institutions is likely to be very high.
Post-tenure, however, the rules for increasing status are more nebulous. Legal academics often self-identify as “over-achievers.” I think what we often mean by “over-achievers” are inveterate hoop jumpers and people pleasers (or perhaps the less attractive phrases for these phenomena). Pre-tenure, it is fairly clear who we need to please: powerful faculty and the Dean. Post-tenure, once the five minutes of euphoria have passed, the potential field of people to please or impress grows exponentially: stars in your own field, academics in related fields, lateral hiring committees at higher ranked schools, academic publishers, the media. The list is endless. Most irritatingly, technology constantly creates new modes of measuring our status: SSRN download counts, google searches, and now of course, blog response rates.
So – here’s hoping that I figure out the rules of the game for guest-blogging on Concurring Opinion so that this month isn’t wildly stressful.