The word has come down from on high. Tenured and promoted! Words that I have waited to hear for 12 years – six years at UT in the Ph.D. program and six years working as an academic, the majority of which has been at the fine Texas State University. I am honored and relieved to reach the end of this long process.
There are many people I should recognize in helping me reach this point. There have been countless colleagues and mentors. And none of this would be possible without the inspiration of the countless students I have had over the years, teaching at UT, Virginia Commonwealth and Texas State. It is such an honor to work with them, and I am so touched when any of them chooses to continue to interact with me after they graduate and throughout their careers. It gives me great pride to hear of their accomplishments. Plus, I have been blessed with great friends and a family who have provided humor and support along the way, as well.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one person who was most influential in my development as an academic. Dr. James Tankard, Jr. was my friend and mentor when I was a Ph.D. student at UT. Working with him over the years, he gave me the confidence and taught me the persistence I needed to succeed in the complex and difficult academic publishing environment. Without him, I’m sure I wouldn’t have gotten my first article published. He taught me how to approach the future of media and what it meant to be a well-rounded academic. Everything about my approach to pedagogy and teaching I can attribute to him. Even now, I often find myself thinking “What would Dr. Tankard do?”
Not only was he an accomplished researcher and teacher, but he was a generous and kind person, most concerned with the well being of others. He always cared about what was going on with me and the other students he mentored. We shared a love of music, and I cherish the long talks we had about favorite bands and the future of the music industry. I try, best I can, to emulate his approach in my student interactions. I know how important they were, and I can only hope that I have a small percentage of the impact on some of my students as he had on me.
Dr. Tankard passed away in 2005, just after I received the doctoral degree and moved on to my first academic job. It’s sad to know that other students won’t have him as a mentor, won’t experience the brilliance and compassion of this special person. And, I am honored to continue my connection with him through his wife and daughters, who are also amazing people who carry on his legacy every day.
I learned from many other fine people at UT: Dr. Charles Whitney, Dr. Max McCombs, Dr. Mary Kearney, Dr. Steve Salbu, Dr. Peg Syverson, Dr. John Slatin, Professor Rosental Alves, Professor Gary Chapman to name a few. I am greatly indebted to all the people who took part in my education. I have wonderful colleagues at Texas State, many who have provided guidance and support – great administrators in Dean Richard Cheatham, Dr. Lori Bergen (now dean at Marquette) and Dr. Bruce Smith and mentors on the faculty including Dr. Sue Weill, Dr. Sandy Rao and Dr. Tom Grimes. I so appreciate the breadth and flexibility I have been granted to do my work at this university.
And, I had peers who were instrumental in my development, people with whom I could commiserate and learn from in the process. People like Dr. Mike Conway of Indiana University, Dr. Rick Stevens of Univ. of Colorado, Dr. Amy Schmitz Weiss of San Diego State and Dr. Amy Zerba of Univ. of Florida. These are great friends without whom my education and early career would not have been as robust or as fun.
I know that tenure has come under fire over the years. It’s a traditional concept in academia meant to provide academic freedom to researchers after a trial period, to allow them to pursue unpopular or progressive lines of inquiry without fear of losing one’s job for doing so. There are examples of its abuse. But there are more ways in which tenure manifests as a critical element in the academic process. Academia isn’t perfect, and it’s slow to change. There are many things that can be done to improve it. But I am honored to have a job I love and have the opportunity to share my passion with those who are kind enough to listen.