Tenure Crusader - Higher Education
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Tenure Crusader

by William Ford

Ten years ago, Dr. Kerry Ann Rockquemore thought she had everything she needed to become a successful sociology professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. She had an adviser and colleagues to turn to for career advice and a husband to provide emotional support.

However, dubious students did not take her seriously because of her youthful looks and small stature. She was overwhelmed by the unofficial minority-student advising duties that come with being among the limited number of professors of color on a predominantly White campus. She struggled to manage her time, making it difficult for her to conduct research and get published.

“I learned about research in graduate school. I learned about how to publish (research work). I just didn’t know how to do the job,” Rockquemore says. “The pressure to do these other types of things [such as student advising] can hamper you. I figured it out, but in really painful ways by making mistakes, by being embarrassed.”

Rockquemore, an author whose scholarship has focused on biracial identity, won the tenure race — at the University of Illinois-Chicago. However, she left her sociology and African-American studies professor’s position in December 2009 to run the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity.

The Chicago-based professional development organization, which boasts 3,700 members at 200 colleges and universities, seeks to help people of color and women complete a smooth transition toward tenure. The center provides writing consultation, monthly telephone conferences and on-campus workshops. Its staff includes three professors from universities across the country who work as “certified coaches” on topics such as balancing work and family, writing and turning a dissertation into a book.

One of the center’s main staples is the Faculty Success Program, a 15-week course for faculty making the transition from graduate school student to professor. These weekly conference calls allow for college and university faculty from all disciplines to discuss issues such as the importance of writing daily, handling conflicts with colleagues, managing time and balancing work and family. Each participant also receives three one-on-one sessions with Rockquemore.

Rockquemore stresses that the center doesn’t focus on diversity training, nor the institutional politics of tenure. “This is not about seeing who is a racist or not. The point of the Faculty Success Program is to bring everyone together in a community-style format,” she says.

The program, which has been offered three times, has been a particular draw for female faculty members — to date, 47 women and one man have participated.

Dr. Monica White, an associate professor in the sociology department at Wayne State University in Detroit, says the Faculty program taught her how to increase her writing productivity by enhancing her work environment. White enjoys hearing the sound of water, so she has a small water fountain on her desk. “The water fountain represents the flow of ideas. It never stops,” she says. “It was helpful to allow me to create both the physical and social context, even the intellectual space, where my productivity is nurtured. Throughout the day, I am always thinking about what to write. I am definitely with the Kerry Ann Rockquemore fan club.”

Rockquemore, a native of Jackson, Mich., received her bachelor’s from Michigan State University in 1994. She received both her master’s in 1995 and doctorate in 1999 from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. All the degrees were in sociology.

Besides continuing to inspire new faculty to write every day, Rockquemore, co-author of The Black Academic’s Guide to Winning Tenure Without Losing Your Soul, is preparing for the fourth Faculty Success Program course Jan. 24 to May 6, 2011.

“I have been busier than I could have ever imagined. I’ve had more opportunities than I would have taken versus a full-time faculty member,” she says. “What I am completely dedicated to is to help those who are on the tenure track to lead a balanced and healthy life.”

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