Professors reflect on newly-tenured status following pandemic-affected academic years


Illustration by Gemma DeCetra

The number of tenured faculty decreased from 32 to 18 between 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to University spokesperson Hilary Hurd Anyaso.

Samantha Powers, Reporter

In March 2020, the University granted professors an automatic one-year extension to their “tenure clock,” leading many to delay the process to 2021 or later.

The extension, granted to any tenure-track faculty whose review process had not yet begun, allowed professors like Political Science Prof. Chloe Thurston to make tenure despite COVID-19 pandemic-related setbacks. 

“It’s been a really challenging and uncertain time,” Thurston said. “So, in some ways, I’m just very relieved that my research, at the time that I was going up for tenure, wasn’t tremendously set back by that. That’s a matter of luck, really, that the timing worked out.”

Tenure guarantees employment for professors who have progressed through a six-year track and demonstrate the “highest standards” of professional achievement in their respective fields, according to the Office of the Provost’s website. Northwestern professors must pass multiple rounds of evaluation to receive tenure.

The number of tenured faculty decreased from 32 to 18 between 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to University spokesperson Hilary Hurd Anyaso.

But, that number increased by 24 between 2021 and 2022. 

“We expect the numbers to return to the long-term average in the next two to three years,” Anyaso told the Daily.

Now, Thurston, a mother of a young child, said she can relax and not worry about moving since she has received tenure.

“It means you don’t need to look for another job,” Thurston said. “You don’t need to upend your life or your family’s life. I think the other aspect is that it gives you a greater stake in and sense of belonging in the community.”

She said receiving tenure also gives her a heightened sense of security — before, she felt stressed about trying to meet external standards. 

However, Thurston said she has learned that imposter syndrome can persist even with greater job stability.

“It turns out that everything that people say about it not necessarily being at all tied to actual measures of achievement or accomplishment is true,” she said. “It doesn’t seem to go away.”

Economics Prof. Piotr Dworczak, who was also tenured in 2021, received the promotion earlier than the usual six-year period because he received an offer to work at Stanford University.

Dworczak’s research focuses on economic inequality and the redistribution of resources to combat those disparities. As a professor, he said teaching allows him to gain fresh perspectives on his intellectual endeavors.

“It’s really, really helpful to kind of relate to the students’ difficulties in understanding the material, and also for me to understand which parts I need to explain better,” he said. “And it’s not just a matter of teaching, it’s also a matter of really understanding your own research.”

Dworczak added that he is now able to have a more significant behind-the-scenes viewpoint of his department, a difference between his pre-tenure and post-tenure experience.

Contrary to popular belief, he said, receiving tenure is not a sign to slow down — it’s a sign to proceed full steam ahead.

“I think the point is, if you survive until this moment … it’s not because of the sort of promised reward,” Dworczak said. “It’s because you must be passionate about what you’re doing.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the position Piotr Dworczak was offered at Stanford University. The Daily regrets the error.

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