~ Academic Monkey
I am in my second year of a three-year post-doc in the Northeast. It's great fortune for me to get a long post-doc, and I feel confident that this is going to lead to new opportunities in the future. I have been able to publish portions of my research and I just sewed up a book deal for my dissertation. Things are going well, but I have to make sure that I continue working out or things could quickly fall apart.
My problem is my supervisor. She is the Chair of the department and she is married to a Dean. She's fairly powerful at this university. And for whatever reason, she thinks I am a complete waste of space. She makes back-handed comments about how I must have gotten this job (she inherited my direction from the previous chair, who hired me and then retired for health reasons). She has filed formal complaints against my "lack of boundaries" and my "unprofessionalism" but these cases have gone to HR where they were dismissed for making no sense. Her accusations and hostility never come back to a specific source that cannot be explained. One time I missed a meeting because a student fainted outside my office and I sought medical attention for him. Another time, I gave a lecture on my research but it did not conform to the lecture's title as well as she had hoped. These minor infractions have led to violent confrontations in her office where she has threatened to take away my position and file charges against me.
Frankly, she seems unstable. But how does one go about getting a person who is unstable removed from a position of power?
One doesn't. One imagines, one daydreams, but one is never successful. Everyone reading this sentence has someone they wish they could remove from power, but every one of us will fail.
People in power like this -- not just Chair in their own right, but married to a Dean -- are too hyper-connected to suddenly receive a serving of just desserts. This is how the world works; sometimes you get in the fast lane, and sometimes terrible people get in the fast lane. There's no accounting for talent.
But this is what you do: you begin to keep a log. You have already had (more than one?) meeting with HR about this, where HR exonerated you. HR will be keeping notes meticulously. HR fears above all else the lawsuit. They don't care if you are friends. They just want to avoid the lawsuit. They avoided said lawsuit by siding with you, but they took notes the whole time.
So you should too. Keep a weekly log of your interactions with her (or daily if needed). Anything odd? Jot it down -- just the day, time, and description. This can and will be used as evidence if this is needed.
To make things even more trustworthy at court, create a google thread and update your log by emailing a reply to the initial thread. Do not do this on your school computer nor using your school email account. Use your private account. But the time stamp with each email will help establish a pattern over time.
If you are lucky, you will never need to use this journal of events for your defense. If you are unlucky, this log will help you support your point and keep your job intact. And sometimes power mad people do power mad things.
Finally, while keeping this log, do your best to steer clear of your Chair. Keep your interactions short. Have a few handy excuses always around -- "I'm sorry, but I was just leaving for an appointment." "If you don't mind, I have to catch Dr Silverback down the hall before her class." "I'm sorry I can't talk right now, I have a deadline due tonight!"
Always been cheerful. Be extra diligent in your promises and words around her. Do not say you will do something unless you can be 100% sure that you can do it. Cultivate relationships with people *not* in power so you have allies and potential recommendations as you move on.
And live out your spectacular post-doc with the dream of moving on to a more stable crew.
(But let's be honest: ever department has one of these, and every university has one of these in a position of power. We should all be keeping logs. I imagine a spectacular thirty where we all share our horror stories of people in power doing things of pure insanity)