Feeling Autumnal at the Borderlands Lodge

Friday, October 30, 2015

Some people have written in, asking what's going on in the Borderlands. A lot, to tell you the truth, or at least it seems that way. I've been officially given tenure and promoted to the rank of Associate Professor, for one thing. This is a multi-step process at Montana State which began with my department submitting my research file for external review in May of 2014. 

Getting tenure isn't something that takes place overnight. After sending out my file to external reviewers, the next big step--in September of 2014--was to submit my tenure file, followed by my department's vote the next month. From my department my case went up the food chain to a college committee, then a university one, then the provost, and then the university president. 

There was even a big dinner held at one of the university ballrooms in the spring of 2015. We were each handed a "certificate of recognition" that nevertheless could not explicitly tell us that we were getting tenure or being promoted. But even after getting my letter from MSU's president in April of this year informing me that I'd made it through all of the votes (without a single vote against) at the university level, and even after the nice dinner, the decision wasn't official until the board of regents of MSU could confirm it at their meeting in the middle of September. This vote, which was apparently retroactive to the beginning of this 2015-2016 school year, is mainly a formality--the regents vote on all of the cases for tenure and promotion as a bloc, as far as I understand it. That's the vote that makes everything official here, and then only in November of this year do I actually see my raise (back-dated, I've been told, to August of this year), a year and a half after first sending out my file to the external reviewers.  

So, I guess you could say that it's been something of a drawn-out process.  

But getting tenure and a promotion is nice, no matter how it comes. There are so many hurdles to jump through in this profession. The first was getting into grad school--in my case, an MA program--in the first place. I was applying from Turkey, where I'd been living since 1992. In 1997, I'd visited the United States for a month, and had bought two "how to take the GRE" workbooks. 

I spent the summer of 1998 studying. Most of my teaching work came to an end in June, although there were a few stragglers who had continued to take private lessons from me through July. At the end of the month I traveled up to Amsterdam for my birthday, where I met up with--then had a tearful breakup with--a girl I had been dating long-distance at the time. Then I went back to Istanbul and studied for another ten days or so before taking the GRE at a little testing center just up the street from me, in Nişantaşı. Immediately after the test they told me my scores, with the people running the place informing me that my (English-language) verbal score had set a new record high for their testing center. Yeah! 


After getting into the MA program there were more hurdles, of course. Getting into a PhD program. Passing your preliminary examinations. Getting your dissertation proposal accepted. Getting adequate funding to do your research. Writing and defending the dissertation. Getting a job. Getting retained. Getting a book contract. Writing a book and publishing the book. Getting tenure. 

Sure, there's more--getting promoted to full professor, of course, is another hurdle that still lies ahead. But when I started my academic career, when I was first lying on the couch back at the original Borderlands Lodge wondering what an academic life might be like, tenure was something I thought of. Even at a time when I still had a very naive view of graduate studies, I thought about how rotten it would be to go through all of that work, jump through all of those hoops, but not manage to clear the final hurdle. 

The original Borderlands Lodge
But who knows? Yes, I really wanted to get tenure. No, I didn't want to effectively get fired by not getting tenure. But it wouldn't have been a personal annihilation. In fact, it could have even been an opportunity. So, I focused on doing the best job I could with whatever part of the process I could control, but try not to worry too much about things beyond that. Especially since the process takes so long.

In any case, it turns out that it's a pretty good feeling to be tenured. Maybe people who aren't in academia see this mainly in material terms--an entitled bum like myself now has the temerity to believe that he won't be fired without good reason--but it's actually much more than that. I began my academic career back in my apartment in Istanbul studying for the GRE more than seventeen years ago. I gave up a nice life in Istanbul to live in a dormitory at Princeton. Whereas in Istanbul there were a dozen good restaurants within a ten-minute walk of my apartment, as a 30 year-old in the United States I was living on a meal plan. It was humiliating, particularly as I'd gone into serious debt to pay for my MA degree. I went from having $10,000 in the bank in Istanbul to going $40,000 in debt, just to pay for my first year at Princeton. Moreover, I was willing to pay for a second year, too, until I was informed in June of 2000 that I'd received a fellowship from the graduate school to pay for things. Between the tuition break, insurance, and $12,000 stipend they gave me, it was about a $35,000 swing in my benefit from what I'd been expecting. And I had been perfectly fine with the idea of paying for all of that by myself.

There were also emotional sacrifices. From the woman I broke up with in Amsterdam just before I took the GRE to the one who broke up with me via facebook status update a few years ago, there was a series of relationships that ended or were damaged because my career was always at the center of my life. And once you've seen a few relationships end because you're too close to your work, it's hard not to choose the career in future instances of one-or-the-other decision making. Past sacrifices pave the way for future ones, in this respect.

So, I guess one thing that getting tenure has done is make me a bit more reflective of the past seventeen years of my life. Only once the last really important hurdle had been cleared, I think, did I start thinking of the many people and places that have been left behind en route. 

A final thought: after all of this, and especially after the past six years, I guess I do feel a new sense of belonging here. This is especially the case with respect to my workplace, aka "the Harvard of Gallatin County." I think that on a day-to-day basis, especially, I like being on campus more than I ever have before. I guess being on a six-year long probationary period--like any tenure-track professor--had been weighing on me a bit more than I'd realized. Maybe it just feels better now precisely because it's been such a long process.

Anyway, in addition to basking in the glory of tenure and associate professorhood, I've also been doing some other things lately. Here are some pix: 

Bought a car. This was before Labor Day, of course.

Campus in late August.


En route to Sacagawea Peak in September.

Playing around with bear spray.

From Sacagawea Peak.

At 9665 feet, this is the highest point in the Bridgers

Big Sky, September.

I gave a talk in this attractive building at Harvard in October.

Bozeman at night, October.

Driving north of Bozeman, October.
Friday, October 30. From campus.

The vinyl swap at MSU this past Friday.

At the vinyl swap, I found the album "Dreams" by Gabor Szabo for just $3.
Nighttime to the west of campus.

I guess that, more than anything, I could say that things are peaceful at the Borderlands Lodge. And that feels relatively lucky right now.
135 libraries can't be wrong! Get yours to order a copy of Turks Across Empires at the OUP website or from Amazon

More links, commentary and photographs available,
как всегда, at the Borderlands Lounge.  

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