Tuesday, August 20, 2013

An Early Thirsty From the Grumpy Academic.

It's been an interesting summer in my department, in the proverbial sense.

The norm in  my uni is that a candidate for head of department is chosen by a mixture of democracy and persuasion (the person the demos wants often is a reluctant recruit).  They then go through a few hoops, meeting with the Dean and the Higher Ups to present their analysis of the department and Vision which must Align With The University Mission etc. etc.  and they get the job.  The Dean has the power to say 'no' but as long as the department chose a fairly sane person who can attend meetings without causing mayhem from among their senior colleagues who've been at the university for a couple of years so they know the rules, it's all fine.

When things are going really wrong in a department - e.g. warfare to the point where they can't agree a candidate, missing three or four of the key areas badly (broadly defined as recruiting a reasonable number of students - we recruit directly to programmes, unlike the US system), having over 2/3rds of staff potentially REF submittable i.e. with peer reviewed journal articles/chapters or equivalent in a 5 year period, no really major teaching cock-ups (i.e. get all marks to exam boards in time for graduation, small number of formal complaints) and Demonstrating Due Process By Doing Monitoring Paperwork) - there will be an external search and a new person brought in to lead, usually someone with proven leadership skills and already a professor (highest rank in our system, equivalent of Full).

This year, it being That Time, my department chose our candidate - a Professor who's active in both research and teaching, liked by students, done a good job of other administrative roles, good at committee work.  We are frequently held up to the rest of the faculty as an example of what a department SHOULD be like, because we are good to excellent in all four of the areas - at present they particularly care about the REF, and we're at something like 95% submittable even with the university's quality cutoff (government imposes pointless hoops?  University can do better and adds it's own EXTRA hoops).  However, the snior mucketymucks insisted on a search, and after a long process the president decided - against the wishes of dean and department - to appoint someone who's currently a reader (kind of senior associate prof) from another university who has no experience with higher leadership roles directly into a Professorship and Head of Department, starting the day he arrives.  To add insult to injury, hios (not exactly small) salary has been added to the department's budget, but the appointment takes no account of teaching/research needs in the department - the new person almost exactly duplicates what I do, in both areas, and we have desperate need to cove a completely different area after a couple of short-notice resignations (and will have to employ the equivalent of three adjuncts to cove next year, something we've prided ourselves on not doing).

Clearly, we feel like we're being punished, and I also feel invisible (a senior person right in my area... you just KNOW who's going to get the first pick of honours seminars and who's going to get the giant first year intro classes, right?  never mind the issues of 'he can just share your lab/equipment/undergrad project students).  So:

Q: Are we wasting energy (i.e. this is just good management and we've been modernised) or is this really insulting?

Bonus Q: Any suggestions on what an effectively-tenured, very annoyed middling sort of scientist (female, which sadly does matter) can do in this situation to register their concerns without sounding like a hysterical harpy?


  1. Yes, you're being insulted.

    As for "registering your concerns," they already know your concerns. It's no news to them. Registering your concerns is not going to change anything. So, don't register them. Figure out a game plan to work with this new framework that has been imposed upon you.

    That means developing a cordial, even friendly relationship with the new head of the department. It's not hir "fault" s/he was hired, or that the position comes from your budget. S/he's coming from outside the system, so don't take your frustration with your current administration out on this new person. If this new person is in your area, all the more reason to develop a connection.

    Then, when the time comes to assign classes and approve schedules, you can approach the chair from a position of strength. And what you say in that situation is: "I've looked over the past couple of years with regard to my schedule and I usually teach this and this on these days. I'd like to keep that schedule since it seems to work well." Or, conversely, "I'd like to change things up a bit. Do you think I might teach this honors course?" Then, if they snatch the course themselves, it seems like a betrayal and they know it.

    Do your chair's work for them and make it seem as if s/he's just okaying an existing arrangement, or being generous by okaying a new one. That makes it harder for them to say "You are going to teach that huge lecture class and I am going to take the senior seminar".

    If the newcomer has zero experience managing people, you have a lot of opportunity to make sure that they don't step on your toes, by establishing the environment they are walking into, and making it seem as if if they do anything that goes against what you want, they are upsetting the apple cart.

    Most of all, don't "expect" the new person to fuck you over, act and behave as if you are office friends and that of course they are interested in keeping you happy.

    And most of the time that's exactly what will happen.

  2. Grumpy, that all really sucks. I'm so sorry you are in that situation.

    I have nothing to add to Stella's clear headed, wonderful advice. I just wanted to voice my sympathy and support.


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