My Beautiful Wickedness


Unbloggable professional issues
November 25, 2007, 4:11 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

As I’m not anonymous here, there are things that I don’t talk about much. It hasn’t been obvious around here, but the program directorship has been both markedly successful (with what I can accomplish on my own, like planning the annual conference) and a real headache (much dysfunction in the way that the faculty relate to one another and I have too little experience and seniority to figure out how to coordinate people who just hate one another). There’s so much that we could be accomplishing, yet so little that is actually being accomplished.

It’s gotten so crappy (people shouting at each other in meetings, backstabbing, refusing to serve on committees together and other petty junk — we had a real set-to the other day about whether the word “feminist” was something that a women’s studies program should have in its mission statement, for example) that I don’t even want to call meetings any more. The former director took me to lunch on Friday to give me some advice. I love her and she’s a good friend, but no amount of gentleness disguised the underlying “man, you suck at this” despair she’s feeling at watching the program she led so ably get consumed by what amounts to unprofessional behavior by women who ought to know better. I honestly don’t know what to do.

I figure I’ve got a few options:

1) Scrap it. It’s not mandatory that I do this with my one beautiful life. I took the job to get some experience running a program before I had to rotate into the department chairship, but it’s turning out to be hugely time-consuming and unappreciated. I can serve out the year and step down. Let someone else do it.

2) Stick with it and knock some heads. Unfortunately, two of the big offenders are the very people who wrote me tenure letters and I haven’t yet heard whether I’m tenured or not.

3) Stick with it and go with the flow. Be willing to accomplish a whole lot less. If they can’t get their collective shit together, that’s not my problem and I shouldn’t make it my problem.

4) Stick with it, delegate like hell, and make them be more responsible. I’ve shouldered most of the work because we’re all teaching too much, but I think maybe that’s ultimately making them feel a lot less invested and cooperative because they don’t have a stake in program success.

Or some combo of all this. Anyhow, I have to come to some sort of decision soon, as I can’t put up with it this way.

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4 Comments so far
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I’m not an academic, despite my being surrounded by them, so take this for the largely context-free amateur advice that it is.

If you’re doing most of the work, your colleagues will either happily let you do so (taking credit for at least some of your efforts and counting on the fact that they can get you to do more of the heavy lifting for them in the future) or they will resent you, feeling that you don’t think they’re as good or as competent as you are–they’ll feel punished and they will likely look for opportunities to punish you. In either case, neither of these groups will respect you for having taken their work upon yourself.

As for the people who have written your tenure letters–unless I’m missing something, it doesn’t *matter* what they said in them. Either they slagged you, in which case it doesn’t matter whether you offend them by making any tactical or labor-sharing changes, or they wrote things that will get you tenure, in which case you’re in, those things already having been written and submitted. Either way, do what you think will improve the workings of the program; it won’t affect your tenure prospects.

Above and beyond all of this, though, two things:

1. Adults are just children with slightly better impulse control and larger vocabularies (generally *much* larger, for you professor-types). As such, adults want what children want: tasks and boundaries. They want to be useful, and they want to know what they should and should not do. If you head the program, among your purposes is defining and enforcing these tasks and boundaries. People with goals and limits are happier than people who lack one or both.

2. This may not be one of those situations, but often one knows what’s right if one gets away from the noise that others introduce or that one fills one’s mind with. I’ve had to make some large choices in my life (who hasn’t?), and some of them were best guesses…but for some lucky few of them, when I sequestered myself for a bit and just stopped *thinking* about it so much, I realized that I knew what was the right thing to do. Once you’re sure that you’re doing the right thing, it’s *easy* to do it–even if you know that it might have some awful short-term effects. As I said, this may not be one of those situations for you–but if you haven’t already, maybe taking a while to stop listening to the advice of others and worrying about what effects certain actions might have will let you discover a course that you know is right. It’s very fortunate if that occurs…but if it doesn’t, everything else above still applies.

Comment by John Gruver

I deeply feel your pain. I haven’t talked much about this for similar reasons but we have been having problems with a program at my school that I am quite invested in. Also, Faculty Senate has not been an endless source beer and/or skittles. Still, things have been getting better and I think because of using the sort of methods you mentioned in option 4. So, for whatever this is worth, that strikes me as your best bet.

First, I think options 1 and 3 are probably not going to work for you. My bet is that they would leave you feeling a lingering sense of failure, fair or not. If the whole thing falls apart, then it falls apart. I think you’ll feel better in the log run if you stay in swinging and trying to achieve all you can until the end despite the immediate hassles.

Option 2 seems to be politically untenable and probably wouldn’t achieve the goals anyway. Even those who deserve a head-slapping usually respond to it badly.

Option 4 is probably your best bet for the reasons you have already mentioned. You are putting their egos and ambition to work for you. Also, if you have a group of dedicated “stake-holders” (I hate all of this new corp-speak, but it is appropriate here) you are more likely to have people on your side in those meetings. Delegation is tough, but it is the only way these sorts of things can ever work.

For what it is worth.

Comment by Gerald

Would Option #2 provide the expected results? The problem there is unpredictability.

At my college, the English Dept. hated the Journalism Dept., which rendered their joint writing program nearly non-functional.
I feel your pain.

Comment by Nick Dupree

My suggestion would be, in order, options 2, 4, 3 and 1.

If possible, get everyone together (or in whatever combinations will make them most likely to listen) and knock some heads. More specifically, impress upon them the importance of the work you’re doing and stress that their behavior so far has been unprofessional and beneath them.

After you’ve shocked them, invest them with some creative (but firm) delegation. This is their project too, and you’re all overworked, so we’re just trying to share out the workload as fairly as possible. Besides, you need their strengths to make the project the best it can be, and you know they can contribute in ways that other people can’t.

If that doesn’t work, careful lowering of your personal expectations does wonders for one’s job satisfaction. I know that’s what’s keeping me at work right now.

And if it comes to it, if you’ve done everything you can think of and it’s still not working, then quit. Do what you need to do for your own mental and physical health, and don’t worry about not being super. You can sink your whole self into trying to fix things, but that’s not your job. You didn’t sign anything saying you were going to sacrifice your well-being for this, and you’ve done everything they asked.

Comment by Magniloquence




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