This is a personal note for a friend.  Read it when you get turned down for tenure.

I was an Assistant Professor at Northwestern, came up for tenure according to schedule and was denied.  Fired.  Canned.  Sent packing.  It sucked.

But actually it wasn’t so bad.  First of all even if you never get tenure anywhere you have like the greatest job ever.  I live in a neighborhood full of people who earn 10 times what I do and they are all 10 times less happy than me.  I once asked an investment banker whose daughter is in my daughter’s class how much of his salary he would sacrifice for the non-pecuniary benefits of an academic (doing whatever interests you, freedom to set your own schedule, university culture) and the best estimate we could come up with is that being an investment banker sucks big time.

But you will get tenure somewhere.  Some places will want to put you on a fresh, probably shortened clock, you could go for that.  But the other option is to ride out your lame-duck year.  Universities are civilized enough to give you over one year notice before you are out on your ass.  All the papers that have been in journal review purgatory will finally get published in that year and in the next year you will probably have a tenured offer.

It does kinda suck though to be dead man walking for a whole year surrounded by your executioners.

But the joke is going to be on them once you get tenured because here’s a little secret that only you, I, and our chairmen know:  when you are finally tenured you will be making more money than most of them.  Here’s a simple model.  Professor A is employed by Department B and Departments C and D are considering making A an offer.  Whatever they offer, Department B is going to match it, and you with your lexicographic preference of money first, avoid-the-hassle-of-moving second, will stay at department B.  Since it’s costly to recruit you and make you an offer and that won’t be accepted in equilibrium anyway, Departments C and D don’t bother, B has no offer to match, and A, despite his new higher rank continues to live in Assistant Professor poverty.  On the other hand when A is exogenously separated from B, he has a credible commitment to take the highest offer from C or D.

Failure rules.

(I must caution you however.  As with any rejection, at first you will not be able to shake the hope that your current department will eventually see the error of its ways and hire you back after one year with tenure, Full Professor even.  Don’t get your hopes up.  That never happens.)

Drawing:  Part of Your World from