Common Grounds: Tenure & Promotion

“He did it! He got tenure!!” a graduate student exclaimed. I was 22 years old, serving as a volunteer research assistant to enter data in Dr. Jeremy Pettit’s lab at University of Houston’s psychology clinic. Certain that the student said “ten year”, I was told there was a card at the front desk to sign.

Ohhh… “Congrats on tenure!!” it said.

I acted like I knew what it meant (still wondering if it meant Dr. Pettit had worked at UH for “ten years”) but later found out that, based on his tenure-track performance, he had been granted a lifetime contract to be on faculty at University of Houston and promoted to associate professor. I also remember the PhD students echoing their awe over the fact he had received tenure by a young age and how impressed they were by his boundaries, leaving the office by 5pm, not working through the weekend, and remaining productive.

That memory has stuck with me over the last 12 years. It was the first time I had heard the word tenure in relation to academia and was coupled with the modeling of prioritizing family and boundaries through the process. Granted, boundaries have looked a bit different for me on my tenure track, but I have done my best to remember his message to balance academic productivity with being present to my family.

Fast forward six years. I’m 28, in my PhD program, and helping my beloved mentor and dissertation chair, Dr. Danielle Parrish, put together her tenure binder at University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work. I am learning more about what a tenure binder is, what goes in it, what to write, and how to prepare it. I’m also observing how her experiences while on the tenure-track as a woman and mother differed from others’ experiences, as I simultaneously navigate my first year into motherhood. By 2014, as I was finishing my PhD, she received tenure and was promoted. There was much to celebrate as I continued to learn from her, preparing to step into my own a tenure-track journey.

Fast forward from that moment to today, being 34 and sitting in the same seat of a local coffee shop as when I submitted my own tenure binder last November.

Today, I am sweetly and gently celebrating my own little moment on this journey with an almond chai and a quiet contentment within. I did it. Not alone – certainly recognizing so many loved ones, mentors, and colleagues who have supported and encouraged me along this path – but I did it. After years of the echoing phrase “if/when I get tenure” I can now say “I have tenure”.

What this means is I get to continue to engage in service, teaching, and research at the Garland School of Social Work. I get to continue working alongside some of the most wholehearted, integrated, brilliant, and kind colleagues. I get to continue empowering students who teach me, challenge me, stretch me, and help me grow. I get to continue supporting faculty in their research, designed to offer awareness, healing, and love. I get to continue working alongside a dean who has not only taught me the Enneagram (or how to have more grace for myself and others) but who is modeling what it is to be a true servant-leader. I get to continue studying topics that are deeply wired into my being and that I genuinely feel designed to research. I get to continue collaborating with Dr. Clay Polson – we started the tenure-track together and received tenure together. And I get to continue to be a student for the rest of my life, learning, asking questions, reading, writing papers, thinking, and growing.

These are all gifts to me, but they are pale in comparison to what brought tears when the idea of tenure sunk in on my drive home from hearing the news. My family gets to stay here, we get to continue to live and grow here together, tending to the roots we’ve planted and friendships we’ve found. My kids don’t have to change schools or friends, and my husband and I don’t have to leave this place and community we love. Our family is home. (…fully recognizing that change is the only constant, but I no longer have to worry if a tenure decision will be a catalyst for such change.)

I have also become increasingly aware that my value and identity are not tied to my accomplishments, but rather, that I am beloved as I am. Reading Henri Nouwen’s words almost daily over the last two years has taught me to remember this truth, and I am grateful to have realized it before the tenure decision, which was overwhelmingly based on my productivity.

Still, there is much to celebrate, even in this little coffee shop. I found out on Tuesday but the last few days have been a blur of being in shock, shifting, processing, exhaling, and celebrating. The last 5.5 years have been quite full between the tenure process and the number of projects and collaborations I’ve juggled alone, but also, we moved and welcomed Oliver in year 2 and I became our school’s first associate dean of research in year 4. I am grateful to be finishing year 6 with this exhale of knowing I have tenure while on research leave – a season of writing and healing from a decade of busyness that tempted burnout.

And so, I sip my almond chai latte…
I listen to music by Dave Matthews Band…
I feel the smooth computer keys…
I smell the mix of coffee and pizza in this space…
I see the people connecting or concentrating in this coffee shop…

I ground myself in contentment…

And I look up only to see a folded t-shirt with the coffee shop’s name: Common Grounds.

Dr. Pettit, Dr. Parrish, and so many others who I’ve celebrated receiving tenure along the way are in my heart today. They have each taught me more than they will ever know about this process, both professionally and personally. Alongside these guides, I hold within my heart Cory, Callie, Oliver, my parents and siblings, colleagues, teachers, helpers, and friends who have helped shape me into the person I am today by supporting, encouraging, teaching, and loving me so well.

These fellow travelers have each led me here, as I breathe in deep gratitude and receive the gift of this accomplishment as much as the gift of this very moment. Both are sacred, and as I’m reminded listening to the lyrics of You Never Know, neither are promised.

My hope and prayer for us is to continue to breathe into and celebrate the accomplishments as much as the ordinary moments… the common grounds threaded throughout our journey.


ps. Because of how nerdy I am over this research, to mark and celebrate this moment, I want to share the articles I’ve written over the last five and a half years. I deeply believe in this work and am grateful that I get to continue to do this research alongside so many wonderful colleagues and collaborators. With that, a nod to each of the 24 research articles published – the 24 stepping stones along this tenure journey – telling the story of this body of research:

  • Oxhandler, H. K. & Pargament, K. I. (2014). Social work practitioners’ integration of clients’ religion and spirituality in practice: A literature review. Social Work, 59(3), 271-279. doi:10.1093/sw/swu018
  • Parrish, D. E. & Oxhandler, H. K. (2015). Social work field instructors’ views and implementation of evidence-based practice. Journal of Social Work Education, 51(2), 270-286. doi: 10.1080/10437797.2015.1012943
  • Oxhandler, H. K., Parrish, D. E., Torres, L. R., & Achenbaum, W. A. (2015). The integration of clients’ religion/spirituality in social work practice: A national survey. Social Work, 60(3), 228-237. doi: 10.1093/sw/swv018
  • Parrish, D. E., Oxhandler, H. K., Duron, J., Swank, P. R., & Bordnick, P. (2015). Feasibility of virtual reality environments for adolescent social anxiety disorder. Research on Social Work Practice, 51, 270–286. doi: 10.1177/1049731514568897
  • Oxhandler, H. K. & Parrish, D. E. (2016). The development and validation of the Religious/Spiritually Integrated Practice Assessment Scale. Research on Social Work Practice, 26(3), 295-307. doi: 10.1177/1049731514550207
  • Oxhandler, H. K. (2017). Social work field instructors’ integration of clients’ religion and spirituality in practice. Journal of Social Work Education, 53(3), 449-465. doi: 10.1080/10437797.2016.1269706
  • Oxhandler, H. K. & Ellor, J. (2017). Christian social workers’ orientation toward integrating clients’ religion and spirituality in practice. Social Work and Christianity, 44(3), 3-24. [Link]
  • Oxhandler, H. K. (2017). Namaste theory: A quantitative grounded theory on religion and spirituality in mental health treatment. Religions, 8(9), 168. doi:10.3390/rel8090168
  • Oxhandler, H. K. & Giardina, T. D. (2017). Social workers’ perceived barriers to and sources of support with integrating clients’ religion/spirituality in practice. Social Work, 62, 323-332. doi: 10.1093/sw/swx036
  • Parrish, D. E., Duron, J., & Oxhandler, H. K. (2017). Adolescent recruitment strategies: Lessons learned from a university-based study of social anxiety. Social Work Research. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1093/swr/svx016
  • Oxhandler, H. K., Polson, C., Moffatt, K., & Achenbaum, W. A. (2017). The religious and spiritual beliefs and practices among practitioners across five helping professions. Religions, 8(11), 237. doi:10.3390/rel8110237
  • Oxhandler, H. K. & Pargament, K. I. (2018). Measuring religious and spiritual competence across helping professions: Previous efforts and future directions. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 5(2), 120-132.doi: 10.1037/scp0000149
  • Oxhandler, H. K. & Parrish, D. E. (2018). Integrating clients’ religion/spirituality in clinical practice: A comparison among social workers, psychologists, counselors, marriage and family therapists, and nurses. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 74, 680-694. doi: 10.1002/jclp.22539
  • Oxhandler, H. K., Polson, C., & Achenbaum, W. A. (2018). The religiosity and spiritual beliefs and practices of clinical social workers: A national survey. Social Work 63(1), 47-56. doi:10.1093/sw/swx055
  • Oxhandler, H. K., Narendorf, S. C., & Moffatt, K. (2018). Religion and spirituality among young adults with severe mental illness. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 5(3), 188-200 doi: 10.1037/scp0000164
  • Oxhandler, H. K., Ellor, J. W., & Stanford, M. S. (2018). Client attitudes toward integrating religion/spirituality in mental health treatment: Scale development and client responses. Social Work, 63, 337-346. doi: 10.1093/sw/swy041
  • Moffatt, K. & Oxhandler, H. K. (2018). Religion and spirituality in master of social work education: Past, present, and future considerations. Journal of Social Work Education, 54, 543-553. doi: 10.1080/10437797.2018.1434443
  • Oxhandler, H. K., Moffatt, K., & Giardina, T. D. (2019). Clinical helping professionals’ perceived support, barriers, and training to integrate clients’ religion/spirituality in practice. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 6(4), 279-291. doi: 10.1037/scp0000189
  • Oxhandler, H. K. (2019). Revalidating the Religious/Spiritually Integrated Practice Assessment Scale with five helping professions. Research on Social Work Practice, 29(2), 223-233. doi: 10.1177/1049731516669592
  • Pearce, M. J., Pargament, K. I., Oxhandler, H. K., Vieten, C., & Wong, S. (2019). A novel training program for mental health providers in religious and spiritual competencies. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 6(2), 73-82. doi: 10.1037/scp0000195
  • Oxhandler, H. K., Chamiec-Case, R., & Wolfer, T. (2019). The development and validation of the Social Workers’ Integration of their Faith – Christian (SWIF-C) Scale. Social Work and Christianity, 46(2), 57-78. [Link]
  • Moffatt, K. M., Oxhandler, H. K., & Ellor, J. (2019). Religion and spirituality in graduate social work education: A national survey. Journal of Social Work Education. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/10437797.2019.1670307
  • Stanford, M., Oxhandler, H. K., & Ellor, J. (2019). Assessing the usefulness of the God Questionnaire. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/rel0000292
  • Pearce, M.J., Pargament, K.I., Oxhandler, H. K., Vieten, C., & Wong, S. (2019). Novel online training program improves providers’ spiritual competencies in mental health care. Spirituality in Clinical Practice. Advance online publication.doi: 10.1037/scp0000208

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