Friday, September 12, 2008


Week 2 of my life as a department chair and I find one of my senior colleagues trying to bully me into dropping an initiative that would greatly benefit my discipline. The specifics of the situation don't really matter (and it would be impolitic of me to lay them out here) but I realize just how negatively I am reacting to his approach. Rather than seeing his communications as his best attempt to give me a realistic assessment of my chances of seeing this project through, I'm feeling bullied and that makes me ornery. I am deeply troubled by the inflexibility of his thinking. His objections were crafted long ago and that he won't really even look at the current situation bugs me enormously. And his telling me that I should just walk away from it -- that I will never, ever be able to apply enough creative thinking and good politicking to make it work for him -- just pisses me off. I can feel my jaws locking down on this one...

So I wrote that first paragraph of this post this morning after composing a careful, cautious, yet firm e-mail response to my colleague. This afternoon I wandered over to Historiann's site wanting some good feminist perspective on the recent Palin interview so I that I could feel less alone in the world, only to find that she has been posting quite a bit lately on the topic of academic bullying. One of her posts even got picked up for a story in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Reading her blog/comments and the article was unnerving. So familiar. My normal cynicism gives way to naivete, perhaps, but I am just baffled at people who use the privilege of tenure and academic freedom to act like manipulative asses.

Now I'm flashing back to the thrashing I used to regularly get from the chair at my first tenure track job. He'd yell at me, belittle me because I was young (and most certainly made him feel old), and, most frustratingly, conflate my actions with those of other female faculty in the department. When I or others challenged him on his inability or unwillingness to tell the women apart (7 out of 25 faculty), he would blow up and claim that it was impossible for him to act in any sort of sexist way because he had been a part of 'the movement' in the 1960s.

A part of this trend in higher education has got to be that faculty are world-class grudge holders. What I can't figure out is why so many of them are so damn grumpy. We have lovely jobs, as the world of work goes. We get paid to pursue our own intellectual interests (within limits). No one tells me what to research, where to publish, what books to use in class, what time to come to work, or what time to go home. That freedom, however, may also contribute to the problem. No one tells the senior people -- people who sometimes feel like they have earned the right to treat others with little respect since that was the way they were treated when they were junior -- to sit down, shut up, let it go, and behave like civil human beings.


Historiann said...

Hi Zoe--thanks for the shout-out and the links. I'm sorry for the lack of Sarah Palin coverage--I didn't see the interview last night, and I can't see the special tonight. (I'm kind of Sarah Palin'd out, to tell you the truth.)

Good luck with your chairing--what a task! I'm glad if anything I've written about bullying is helpful to you, either as someone who needs to fend off a bully, or as someone who may be called to intervene and protect other faculty and students from being bullied.

Warren said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Warren said...

What, academics having a hard time listening to others tell them they might be wrong? Graders getting grumpy when graded? Smart people smarting from being told that they're smart asses?

I am shocked. Shocked!