Friday, October 4, 2013

A Friday Thirsty about Exploitation, Pettiness, and The Big Picture

Lazy Lou, a former close family friend and current colleague, does as little work as he can get away with. He often lets students out early and shows films, telling students he doesn't feel like teaching that day. He leaves the board barely erased, plays on his smart phone throughout department meetings, and claims dyslexia when it's his turn to take minutes (but not at other times).

That's all for the dean to deal with, not me (since I am not his supervisor). But it provides insight into what I deal with.

As the only full-time faculty members in our little specialty, Lou and I get certain administrative hoop-jumping tasks on a regular basis. You will not be surprised to learn that he habitually whines about his busy-ness and family dramas (appealing to our long-time family ties) and begs me to do the tasks "because you're so good at that."

For a long time, I put up with this. It was easier to just do the work than to push back. Confronting him was hard because our kids were friends, our families were involved in the same organizations, etc. Also, I liked my reputation as someone reliable who gets things done. That was a mistake. In the past year, I've matter-of-factly said (cc: Chair) that I will handle only the tasks for my own classes since that's the department standard. (What makes Lou so different? Why can't he put on his Big Kid Pants and just do it?) He complained but finally did some.

Most recently, I returned from a difficult bereavement leave to two Urgent Tasks that Lou could have handled the week before. We were both copied on the emails, and the senders noted the reason for my absence, but Lou didn't respond to them. For a week.

I'm done with him. If I do the Urgent Tasks, I'll be saving Lou's self-centered butt yet again. And I'm still catching up after my leave.  So I responded to the senders with a collegial, "Thanks for this FYI. As you know, I was out of state. I trust that Lou, whose class this is, handled it." cc: Lou and Chair.

But the Dean of Urgent Tasks associates me with the the most burdensome Task (because I'm so good at that, and reliable). After my email response that the Task is in Lou's bailiwick, the dean phoned me and said (and this is nearly a direct quote), "We don't care who does it; it just has to get done well, ASAP, or administrators higher than me will use your discipline as an example." It could cost us lots of enrollment.

Q:Should I (A) choose to be used again, uphold my reputation of having an actual work ethic, and rescue my discipline, or (B) stand my ground with Lou, look petty and small-minded to the dean, and risk having my discipline thrown under the bus?  Is there a way to do A and ensure that no one will expect me to do Lou's work in the future?


  1. Proffie, I feel your pain. This happens to me all the time. I did get revenge when I served as department Chair, though: it was delicious.

    I'd rescue my discipline first. Doing this can make one feel like Boxer, the workhorse in "Animal Farm" who eventually collapses of overwork. The pigs say they're sending him to a vet, but they send him to a butcher. But then, having your discipline disciplined will likely be just as nasty.

    Ed Nather, in his essay, "Advice to the Young Astronomer," has a different perspective:

    "Committee assignments: the theory here is that everybody should share in the burden of administration, taking time away from their research work in the process. If you are very good and conscientious about this stuff you will be given more and more of it, since you get things done, to the lasting benefit of the department administrators. On the other hand if you thoroughly neglect it, fail to call or attend any committee meetings, and generally do a lousy job, you will get fewer and fewer committee assignments, and you can get on with your research. You should not be too blatant, though. When pressed, have a meeting by email - just send each committee member a copy of the topic to be considered (obscurity here is a virtue) and ask them to respond. Make a single file of all the individual responses and send it back to all of them, and a copy to the department chairman. This should create enough dissension and warring messages that you can tell the chairman you are uncomfortable making a decision without a consensus, and that he had better do it. You won't be assigned to that committee again."

    But later on, he also notes:

    "Tenure: Seek it. Job security is comforting, but the main point about tenure is that you get to do what you want in the way of research. You will probably have to pay for it yourself - you won't get departmental funds after that business with the committee assignments - but you can find grant funds if you know what you want to do and can describe it well. "

    1. Thanks, Frod. Fantastic advice about committees.

  2. Or in other words: No good deed goes unpunished,

  3. You should step up and complete the work. Having a reputation as a reliable colleague is good. Having a reputation as somebody who is not a pushover is also useful. You need to maintain both. This will require that you sometimes do a little more work than required by bailing out your loser colleague.

  4. First, condolences on the bereavement (even if you've time-shifted a bit). Second, I agree with Frod and Beaker: do it, mostly because it affects you and your department in the long run (and maybe also because now might not be the best time to be making big decisions about long-running problems). Depending on the Dean's personality, your institution's structure, how strongly you feel about this after a bit more thought, etc., etc., you might then schedule a meeting with your chair and/or Dean to talk about the situation, using this situation as an example, and expressing concern about what would happen if you were truly unavailable (on semester or year-long leave if such things are offered at your institution, seriously injured/ill, etc.) and such a task came due. It sounds like something does need to be done -- your discipline needs two truly functional faculty members -- but failing to step up this time might not be the best way to make the point.

    1. Thanks, Cassandra. No time shift. Great suggestions -- though when I did take a year-long sabbatical, a bunch of these tasks were waiting for me, past deadline, when I returned. The dean could use a reminder of that.

  5. The situation is not your fault but it is your problem, and your department's. First, solve the problem. Then try to keep it from happening again. Cassandra's approach is very good.

  6. Negotiation:
    -Dean: I need you to do this even if you are not the person who should do it.
    -You: I will do it, but what can you do for me? Bring ideas in advance. Include, as some options, forms of sweet retribution over your dastardly colleague.

  7. I think I'm with everyone else on this one: take care of the issue, then take care of the jackass. If it were me, the words "so help me jeebus, if you don't start pulling your weight, I will find a way to throw you under the bus, and I will laugh while doing it" might come up. But, then again, I'm a vengeful bastard who knows how to nurse a grudge.

  8. Some good advice here.

    An alternative version of FP's dialogue:

    Dean: I need you to do this even if you are not the person who should do it.
    You: I will do it, but that will mean that I can't do [another task that takes about the same amount of time] unless I have [resource] - e.g. I won't be able to mark my midterms by the university deadline, so can you either arrange a 24 hour extension or approve funds for a TA to help me?

    The dean may say no, but I feel like I made my points (that a) my job takes all my time, b) I plan my work, this isn't a knee-jerk 'not my job' but a realistic refusal, c) I'm willing to step up but I'm not a push-over). Wherever possible I pick some item-I-can't-do which I don't WANT to do (e.g. attend this week's pointless faculty meeting), so that if the Dean says "OK I will give you permission to be absent" I feel like I maybe won something...

  9. Find a ruffian whippersnapper to slash Lazy's tires.

  10. We have our own Lou in our department. And like you, I do the work because not doing it would screw up the department. But I do let the dean know that Lou has got to go!

  11. Thank you all for the support and advice. I knew I'd have to be the responsible one again, but soooo needed to vent. I thought y'all would slap me around for having done Lou's work for so long; instead you confirmed my instincts and offered great suggestions.

    Thanks also for the alternative monikers for Lou: Loser, Jackass, Lazy, He Who Has Got to Go. People around my department wonder aloud what keeps me smiling. It's not just meditation.