|Heisenberg collapses to the zombie |
state...here, and not here.
"I just wanted you to know that, although I voted to change the bylaws, I think you're right; but I could just see the way things were going, so it wouldn't have changed the result. I hope you'll understand."
He was silent at the meeting. The other spots me as I'm leaving the building:
"Are you leaving us? I look at her, puzzled. She continues: "Forever?"
And these are the friendly ones; the closest I have to people who are okay with having me around. The majority is completely indifferent. And then there's a small but persistent group who is convinced I won't make deals, that I'm trouble. Better keep me under a tight lid, or better yet, gone.
My departmental colleagues are definitely contributors to professional misery. The things we talk about here: the rise of adminiflakes with strange priorities, the entitlement and poor preparation of most students, the adjunctification and disempowerement of the faculty, the erosion of tenure. Big-picture professional stuff that I've never discussed with colleagues. I could be wrong, but I think they'd say "waste of time, like talking about the weather. Just keep most of them happy and you won't be bothered." It's bad form to talk about it. Administrators can change the rules for new people any way they want; those not personally affected won't bother to voice any opposition.
And it's the same with long-term strategy for the department, graduate or undergraduate. Not discussed in open fora; we don't have any data. Historical PhD data? Not easily available. Number and placement history of our majors? Impossible to find out. Course assignments are decided in smoke-filled rooms (technically by the head), who has reduced teaching loads and why is a closely guarded secret. Criteria to evaluate teaching? None openly known. And nobody cares. Nothing is done transparently--everything decided behind closed doors, with most people voting by absentee ballot (when there's even a vote). Faculty meetings are attended by maybe half of us. They don't matter, except to make social support statements: tell me whom you hate.
And oh, the rich social life. There are two groups of people: those I say hi to if I see them in the hallway, and those that lead me to walk off in a different direction. That's it. That's the entirety of my interaction with most colleagues, outside of committee meetings. I never see anyone outside of the building. Maybe there are parties, beer outings or dinners somewhere, but I doubt it.
It's a strange place, and I'm wondering if it's exceptionally bad. Other places I've been to seemed a lot more social, even in my notoriously asocial, individualistic field. A couple of recent comments on CM lead me to believe that others here have "colleague problems". So, what are your departmental colleagues like? Are big-picture professional discussions common? Any socializing? Any friends among them?
I don't think your experience is an outlier. I have something similar going on in my department. What makes it less lonely is knowing that there are a few other like me (labeled malcontents). The rest of them are besties who know also know what's best for the rest of the department. I am lucky that I got tenure, and can basically take some of their good ideas and leave the rest. I usually sit in the back at department meetings, and I can sense the change in the room when I finally get fed up enough to speak up.ReplyDelete
That's what CM is for...a place to feel less like a freak for the way you feel about things.
It's lonely (no other skeptics in my dept), but that I can get used to. The worst is that it's a dangerous position to be in, since you can be harassed at no cost. And yes, being on CM does help deal with it.Delete
Wow--that's a pretty desolate campus environment. My colleagues are nuts because we have a mix of uber conservative religious folk and liberal West-Coastians. But we generally get along in my dept (with the exception of one who reuses to participate in work and feels persecuted that everyone else seems to be getting along without hir). But I live in a small, small place surrounded by my colleagues (it's a residential SLAC). Our kids play together and all go to the same schools, and most of my neighbors are are my coworkers (not limited to only in my dept). A small group of us gets together once a term to gripe and roll eyes (much like this blog, except in person). Have you been able to sniff out any sympathetic/empathetic souls to at least befriend?ReplyDelete
There used to be sympathetic souls in the department (four of them, three more senior), but one by one they left. And part of the problem is that I'm known to be "out there liberal" (former West Coast person) by local standards. There is one other confirmed liberal, but he is very secretive about it.Delete
I feel so lucky that I genuinely like almost all my colleagues and am happy to go to a faculty meeting because it means I'll see them (I live quite far from campus). But I will say that it was years of backbreaking labor for the original small core of sane people to get these fabulous people hired, push the crazies out, and so on.ReplyDelete
Luckily many of the crazies have retired, but unfortunately so have some people who would have been on my side. And renewal here is very slow, two-thirds of the full profs were already on the faculty 23 years ago.Delete
That's bad. It's not outside of the bell curve, but it's on the icky side. My own administration is insane (the president has just lost his mind, evidently, and made a number of very controversial decisions that the faculty would have liked, you know, to have some input on), but even still with the civil war going on, we're not that bad. We do talk outside of work and have drinks, but I wouldn't say anyone is particularly my friend at work. I am leery of making friends at work.ReplyDelete
As for the "I didn't vote the way I wanted because I'm a cowardly shit," yeah, well, par for the goddamned course, as far as I can see.
My own department is more like Cynic's and F&T's, although I've observed some dysfunctional departments. Yours seems extreme but not unbelievable.ReplyDelete
"Dysfunctional" is an interesting word. I wouldn't say my department is that; the teaching gets done, people's individual research programs advance, graduate students get PhDs at a steady rate. There is no visible drama, faculty and committee meetings are subdued affairs. It's just that there's no sense at all of a shared mission or shared educational "values" (what are we trying to accomplish?) I think this is a consequence of two things: (i) turf is everything; a lot of the politics is just people trying to preserve space (students) for their specialties. (ii) Awareness that the number of competent students we get, especially at the undergraduate level--the students who can take our courses at the level intended--is minimal, and getting smaller. Competition for the "right" to teach this handful of students is fierce, and woe on you if you threaten to discourage their gentle souls with something like a low grade.Delete
This sounds too much like my own situation, except I'm in a small department. Definitely no socializing, no coffee hour. I complained about this in my post on SundayReplyDelete
My department is about 2/3rds as described above and 1/3rd cool folks who call/text each other, see our families nearly every weekend, and generally make the best of a rather crazy situation. I'm so happy that I do get to consider a least a few of my colleagues true friends - when I've had a health scare or two in the past, it was my family and these few colleagues who came to the hospital, who even came and cooked dinner when I couldn't. A new colleague and friend left her TT job for a one year here because so few of her colleagues spoke to one another. It was an oppressive working environment.ReplyDelete
And then there are the rest. Many times I've been confronted with questions like, "Why don't you teach Chainsaw History? Then you'd be teaching REAL Chainsaw Studies to MAJORS." Or when a traditionalist completely changed his research focus because he googled my field and mistakenly assumed that it was offensive to him. Now he's completely changed his teaching load and plans on writing a ridiculous book (utterly unfounded in scholarship or research).
And yeah, as someone who is unafraid to speak up about my perspective, I've had many conversations that started with, "well, I support you but voted against you..."
1/3 cool folks is not bad. I don't understand this cowardly voting business (what happened to searching truth and all that?) but I understand even less that they own up to it.Delete
A long time ago, right after I got tenure, a senior colleague came to my office to apologize: "I signed a letter of dissent against your tenure, but I do think you deserve it; it was only for political reasons". Apology not accepted: "you're screwing with my career". Bad luck for me, that was the next dept chair.
My department is mostly friendly. There are some factions that do battle during faculty meetings and a few cliques that seem to only speak to each other, but everybody at least pretends to get along with everybody else (and most actually do). We have occasional outside of work functions that are fairly well attended and the coffee and cookies before the weekly colloquium are generally very friendly and not just attended by graduate students.ReplyDelete
The biggest issue that I've run in to is that we have a couple of real assholes who don't seem to think that non-tenure track faculty actually count as people. I'm a lecturer and have no hope of ever getting tenure, ever, but it is at least full time and a semi-permanent position. I've been in this department longer than many of our tenured and tenure-track faculty (10 years teaching--first as adjunct, then visiting, and now lecturer) and while most of the department treats me just like everybody else, and the administration has been really good to me, there are a couple who just pretend I don't exist. It is irritating and kind of entertaining at the same time.
Did you say "weekly colloquium"??? Is this a weekly thing, or do you mean before school starts? I'm just envisioning being required to attend such a thing.Delete
And they're definitely assholes if they treat you poorly for that reason. How would they even know your status?
My department has weekly colloquia, I think it's common. Attendance not mandatory. I used to go to most of them, but they are so specialized. Speakers seem to have no idea what a talk for a general audience is, so most of them are more like seminar talks. Hence, low attendance. Doesn't really work as a "social event".Delete
We're ok. For the most part. I have one colleague who I will only talk with if we have something specific that needs doing. We used to be good friends, but have had a falling out, which is too bad. Fortunately my other colleagues are great. We get along well and when we don't agree, we have rational conversations about the disagreements so we actually understand one another. I feel for you - I couldn't imagine being in a department like yours.ReplyDelete
Have a bourbon.
A bourbon sounds like a great idea! Actually, most people here have gotten used to the way my department is. It's a place to work, and nothing else. It only becomes a problem when there's an attack. And due to confidentiality of personnel matters, most people aren't even aware of what is going on, unless I tell them. Took me a while to realize that advertising broadly was a good idea in my case.Delete
I may be somewhat out of the loop, since I'm non-tenure-track, but my sense is that my department is considerably better than this. It's pretty big, and people live over a far-flung area (really far-flung in the case of some members with two-body issues), so there isn't as much socializing as people might ideally like, but at least they/we lament the lack of as much socializing as we'd like, and people within smaller subgroups (defined by field, tenure status, etc) are supportive of each other (taking classes, etc.) when sickness, death, pregnancy, etc. makes life temporarily complicated. Transparency is generally valued, and striven for (with appropriate exceptions for things like personnel matters), and many decisions are made in common (we've got one person in charge of course scheduling, but she solicits preferences from all of us, and does her best to accommodate them, and to explain the whys and wherefores behind her decisions). We've got some strong personalities, and there may be some feuds I don't know about -- and yes, I wish more of the tenure-track faculty members paid more attention to the situation of the non-tenure track faculty members -- but I'm pretty sure that things could be much, much worse.ReplyDelete
The lack of transparency is related to, but different from the social problem. People slowly get used to working this way, and don't feel it's an issue unless they're personally inconvenienced (and I don't know if anyone else is). A while back one of our lecturers was in charge of lower-division scheduling, and she usually gave me my first choices. But now even that part is centralized in the UG Chair, so the preferences I express are completely ignored. Your situations sounds much better, especially if it is in a large city (so you're not so dependent on the U for a social life.)Delete
There are some colleagues of mine who I'm quite close to. Small department. Lots of dinners, softball, etc. Some really nice folks. I don't always agree with them ON campus, but most are pretty good away from it.ReplyDelete
Oh Peter, that sounds pretty dismal. At my college, we play nice with each other for the most part. There are friendships that develop, which also means there are people who probably feel left out. I remember when I first began, I had a friend who was "in" on much of the social stuff that happened. My kids were small, and I just had no interest. I think that ship might have sailed for me.....but this friend was made sort of unhappy by it anyway, because as with many social groups, drama tended to ensue fairly often.ReplyDelete
The drama aside, I think we are a fairly friendly bunch (for New England), and we don't take each other down at meetings, etc. A new guy from an ivy school (Cool Cal from one of my earlier posts) is always going on about how damn civilized we are at meetings! Who knew?
I don't know if that's common, but in my field a social interest often begins with shared scientific interests. My situation is exceptional, in that I was hired to start a new research area, and that had support from some people in the department, but not broad-based support. And one by one the senior people with an interest in my area--people I interacted with socially as well--left the department, in part due to the unfriendly atmosphere (towards them, or us.)Delete
And I don't know about New England, but it can't be worse than the South. All the stereotype about the South being a friendly, warm place? All talk. Oh, unless maybe if you're conservative, religious and from the South. And I'm none of those things.