The Ticking Tenure Clock

An Academic Novel

By Blaire French

Subjects: Animal Rights
Paperback : 9780791439364, 256 pages, September 1999
Hardcover : 9780791439357, 256 pages, September 1998

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Lydia Martin begins her tenure year one book shy, and when a sensational project presents itself she finds herself romantically entangled and ethically challenged.


Lydia Martin begins her fifth year as an assistant professor of political science at Patrick Henry University with every reason to think she will be granted tenure. She has met her department's publication standards and has avoided offending any of her senior colleagues. She has also shunned much of a personal life, which only strengthens her suit, or so she thinks.

It is with disbelief, therefore, that Lydia learns that a colleague with a scholarly record almost identical to her own has been denied tenure. The standards have been raised; one book is no longer enough! Suddenly Lydia finds herself with less than a year to begin and complete a new research project.

In her scramble for ideas she discovers a local animal rights group and sets about dissecting the organization as a case study in political extremism. But when she meets Charlie, a former group member, her research methods lose their objectivity. Only after they are lovers does she realize how much a boon to her project the study of him in particular would be.

Lydia's temptation to use Charlie for her own gain sets into motion a sequence of events that places her in the same situation she has so often blithely put others. What will she do when she discovers that her new project's success demands she expose something essential of herself?

Blaire French is the author of The Presidential Press Conference: Its History and Role in the American Political System and recipient of the 1984 Virginia Women's Forum Short Story Award.


"Henry Kissinger once quipped that the battles in academia are so bitter because the stakes are so low. This certainly rings true in Blaire French's entertaining debut novel. The full and assistant professors . the fictional Patrick Henry University are equally nasty. The former wield their power over graduate students who rub them the wrong way, while the latter are busy eating their way to the top of this food chain. But none of this matters to Lydia Martin; she is a shoo-in for tenure. That is, until the ante is upped and suddenly candidates who want to qualify . .. must publish no fewer than two books. .. . Lydia, who has authored only one. ..finds herself in a last-minute dash. ... [She] finds a fledgling animal-rights group. ..that provides the perfect case study for a book. .. . Ms. French's portrayal of this not-so-merry band of animal lovers is as hilarious as it is convincing. " — The Wall Street Journal

"Lydia Martin is an Assistant Professor struggling for tenure at a distinguished state university. But politics is never so low as in academia, and pretensions never so great as intellectual ones. Blaire French tells her story of a young woman's personal growth amidst the corruption of Patrick Henry Univeristy with subtlety and humor. A great read. " — Mary P. Nichols, Fordham University

"I found this a fascinating novel. It is witty, readable, and generally acute and accurate in its depiction of academic life, and departments of political science in particular. " — Terence Ball, author of Rousseau's Ghost

"Ever wonder what happens when a professor runs amok at a Ph. D. oral exam? Or how dogs are treated in medical school research? Or, if you really have a strong stomach, what the gossip and backbiting are like at a faculty dinner party? In her witty and inventive book, Blaire French lifts the lid on contemporary academic life, and the results are alternately delightful and disturbing. And when I see what it takes to get tenure in the world of her novel, I'm just glad I don't teach at Patrick Henry University. "— Paul Cantor, University of Virginia

"The best novel of academic life since David Lodge's Small World. Indeed, the comedy in Blaire French's novel is truer and more bittersweet. " — Charles R. Kessler, Claremont McKenna College