2015 Archives

Professor Climbs Tenure Ladder Twice in 3 Decades, in Same Department


The following is from the Sept. 28, 2015, edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

October 2, 2015

By Audrey Williams June

The first time David Rosenfield went up for tenure, in the late 1970s, an academic career lay before him. The second time, 30 years later, he was trying to reclaim it.

Mr. Rosenfield’s first bid succeeded. In 1980 he became an associate professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University. But when a leave of absence grew unexpectedly longer, he had to resign his position. In 2008 he put himself in the tenure process again.

In between, Mr. Rosenfield stepped in to run the family business, in steel distribution, and little by little became an entrepreneur, drifting away from the academic life he knew.

When academics switch jobs, they usually move from one college to another, seeking a more desirable locale, a more esteemed reputation, or a bigger paycheck. Given the grueling process of earning tenure, most professors who’ve got it negotiate a way to keep it, and others at least get credit for having started on that track.

Mr. Rosenfield returned with a CV notable for its conspicuous gaps in the sort of publishing and research that had helped earn him early tenure the first time.

"The hard part about coming back is not the teaching but the research," says Mr. Rosenfield, now 65. "You’re starting out from zero."

His willingness to go through the process again stemmed from a desire to resume the academic career that he’d planned since high school. It also meant proving that he had — or still had — what it takes to contribute to a department striving to increase its research output.

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