Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Tenure for the "Creative" Academic

One thing with which I'm really struggling and could use some input: as a filmmaker hired on the tenure track, my tenure goals aren't the typical book and article publication. My goals are to make films (that get screened at festivals or distributed to theaters) and write screenplays (that sell or win/place in screenwriting competitions). Fortunately, my department is very supportive. They have a tenure document that vaguely reflects an understanding of this concept.

I say "vaguely" because there's no real consensus on what precisely I need to do to make tenure here. And they have a great new faculty program, with dinners and mini-seminars that run all academic year long. Recently we attended one on making tenure here. I attended, and while I found it interesting, it was neevertheless frustrating because they have no one addressing my situation. They have individuals addressing tenure in the humanities and others addressing tenure in the hard sciences. Okay, great. What about in my field? What about someone who isn't expected to write and publish but rather to make movies?

I'm not complaining about my position -- don't get me wrong. I am just frustrated that I don't have clear goals in mind because no one really knows. My department chair, as I have mentioned, is supportive and sincerely seems to want me to succeed. How I do that is anybody's guess.

My thinking so far has been something like this:

  • A feature film is analogous to a book.
  • A short film is analogous to an article.
  • Screenplays that win competitions are analogous to... what?

So with this thinking in mind, I am focusing my energy on making a feature film next summer. That sounds like a huge task.. and it is. I know it can be done, but at the moment I have no idea how I am going to do it. I need to find a producer who knows what he or she is doing on the business end of things.

I'm meandering here -- my point is to ask the question: are there any others like me out there, and can you talk about your tenure experience and what it took for you to get tenure?


At 9:10 PM, Blogger ~profgrrrrl~ said...

I know not a damn thing about tenure in your field, but wanted to share that in my college we've discussed issues of tenure at the university level. Does the tenure committee member from the biology department understand whether or not your work is tenure worthy? That's something you need to worry about and something the representative from your college will need to be advocating for. I'd advise finding out who has been a rep on the university-level tenure committtee in recent years and talking to that person.

At 3:33 PM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...

Thanks for the advice, profgrrl. I'll discuss it with my dept. chair. I think this is a subject on which she's already working.

At 11:40 AM, Blogger AiE said...

I've been wanting to comment on this post for awhile now. I keep thinking, "I'll write something once I've finished this task and am not feeling so anxious." But I have an endless array of tasks ahead of me, and I think anxiety will just be par for the course until I start my new job next Monday.

Here are some thoughts I have, based at least somewhat on my being at a film festival this past weekend.

A feature film may be analagous to writing a book, but actually it is much different, right? I mean, it seems like writing a book, but it also is like editing a book in terms of you having to coordinate preproduction, production, and postproduction, not to mention the numerous folks involved in these various phases.

Secondly, is making a feature analogous to simply writing a book? For tenure, most departments want a published book, or at least a book contract. They don't care if you've simply written a book. This is, to me, an important point, because getting your filmed watched and/or distributed is a much more convoluted and risky process than working to get an academic contract (no offense to those of you have done the latter, which is quite impressive). For example, I have a good friend who has a contract for a book she never intends to write--she just needs the contract to get tenure. As a filmmaker, it would be very unusual to find yourself in that position. In addition, getting your film shown at Sundance, Tribeca, or South by Southwest is much different from it being shown at Ye Olde Local Film Festival. Ideally, having a distributor would look good on the ol' CV (might that be analagous to a book contract, at least in some ways?) and it would hopefully help get your work shown in tenure-worthy locations.

I can tell that you are frustrated by how little of the academic "rules" and "norms" apply to your situation. But I think that, therefore, you need to be as proactive as possible about what the standards for tenure are, given that your "output" is different than many of those around you and that you probably know that most about what venues and awards are most prestigious. Use this to your advantage to help your department draw up tenure guidelines that are fair and flexible, but also specific.

At 7:58 PM, Blogger chutry said...

I'd agree with the advice given by both commenters. These "liminal" cases can be frustrating, but to some extent, that allows you to make your own rules and to define what should qualify as tenure for a "creative gig."

I'd imagine that a lot might also depend on "networking" and "buzz" both within your department and in other departments where your work might be measured. Having some positive visibilty on campus (participating in campus events, such as lectures and film series) would add to that positive vibe.

At 8:47 PM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...

Networking? Check.

Participating with on-campus film events? Check.

Working with department chair to help define tenure for someone like me with the dean of arts and sciences? Check.

I'm trying to do all the right things, and Exile, I agree with you. Making a film and getting it seen is NOT like publishing a book. I am trying to position it as analagous to the #1 thing academics are supposed to do for tenure (publish, first books, then articles). But I definitely think it is more strenuous to make a film, see it through to completion, and then get someone halfway-reputable to show it. In fact, I think if I get one film in Sundance or a major fest like that, it oughtta be good enough. Not saying it WILL be, but it ought to, since it's such a significant thing in the film world. But who knows how it will be viewed...

At 4:29 PM, Blogger New Kid on the Hallway said...

If you get a film in Sundance or the like, MANY MANY more people will see it than will ever read anything I write! :-)

At 8:30 PM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...

LOL. A good point. I would love to get in Sundance, but I'm realistic, too. It's a long shot without connections. It does happen, but the percentages make the chances very unlikely.

I'd be happy to score in some semi-major fests. A Sundance screening, well, that should get me tenure by itself ;-)

At 11:46 AM, Blogger matt said...

Screenplays that win competitions may also be analogous to an article, while work that does not or has not yet received recognition is analogous to a conference presentation.


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