Abandoning Tenure To Save My Soul
In May 2013, I received a letter from Provost Harry Hellenbrand, informing me that I had received tenure at California State University-Northridge. This was a joyous occasion. For most professors no watershed is as important as the moment one receives tenure.
On June 6, 2016, I stood in my office in Sierra Tower, surrounded by Northridge personnel who had been sent by various administrative offices to keep an eye on me as I cleared out my office. A Human Resources representative, smiling at me but obviously nervous and doing a dirty job assigned by some bigwig, gave me the “separation” papers to sign. They would indicate that I was resigning my position and abandoning tenure. How far one can fall in three years! I signed the papers, watched them haul away the work computer, and turned my key in.
I didn’t want leave without pay. I didn’t want leave with pay. I just wanted to leave. The liberal academy is a place full of secular activists channeling their own unhappiness into interminable hostilities against whichever conservative Christian they can find within a three-mile radius. I had served for eight years under a dean trained in Women’s Studies, surrounded in her executive suite by lesbians and feminists, who hated me for celebrating the beauty and glory of chastity and Biblical love. I could not have my relationship with Jesus Christ and this job simultaneously. The choice was not that difficult.
It is a rare thing for a relatively young scholar to walk away from tenure after three years. But salvation is also a rare thing. So is happiness. So few people quit tenure because the vast majority of tenured academics have nowhere else to go. This is not because there are no other places for them to work or other things for them to do, but because they allow themselves to be blocked by the intellectual guardrails of the academy. The vetting and rites of initiation harm people spiritually, depriving them of the courage and grit to get out of a prison disguised as a wonderful life. Most importantly, when you grow accustomed to leaning on tenure for your protection, you forget that you should rather be leaning on God.
On October 6, 2013, I published an essay entitled, “The Devil Comes Home to Cal State Northridge,” about the surreal extremism with which I was contending. At that point it seemed that the left wing’s erratic and frightening behavior could not have gotten worse. I closed the piece with what I thought was a decent solution going forward:
I trusted nobody, taught online classes as much as possible, never used university e-mail, did no business with the bookstore, made no applications for grants, and almost never publicized my affiliation with California State Northridge.
My policy of benevolent mutual neglect did not work. What seemed like rock bottom was actually a gentler, earlier phase of a harrowing descent into truer sickness.
I could no longer use any computer on campus because of constant hackings. My door had been vandalized. I’d been slandered and set up for an ever-escalating string of charges. Nobody wanted to be seen speaking to me. Many of my students were spying on me. On May 11, 2016, the provost had called me into his office and told me that if I planned to fight what was happening, he would pull out a dormant complaint regarding the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library (see here) and suddenly issue a disciplinary sanction—dismissal, demotion, or suspension—for things that happened in 2014.
The left’s long and complicated schemes to alienate me had worked; I was friendless on campus, under constant investigation, fearful for my safety, and verging on madness. I was that guy—the campus conservative, a Drudge punch line.
I am not quitting tenure because I lost the will to fight. I am quitting it because I found the will to live. The job security offered by tenure is not really security, because you are not safe when you are kept by tenure so far from God. I tried to honor God by doing all I could, within the academy, to get young people excited about literature, where they could see the beauty and virtue made possible by God’s love.
As for the liberal academy—do not waste any lifeboats on it, as student debt, rising tuition, academic freedom, and political bias become ever increasing crises in the media. The devil came home to a Cal State Northridge near you and that’s where he lives. I’ll be somewhere far happier. In fact, I’ll be in London holding a conference on Christian philosophies about children, November 12-13. I encourage you to propose a paper.