Monday, April 28, 2008

Rachel from Raleigh, One of Our Chief Correspondents, Tells Us When and When Not We Can Jump Ship.

I thought with Newton you had created open season on junior faculty again. I'm glad you revisited the issue.

You always generally eat it when you're the new kid on the playground. Some of this is actually useful, like the beatings you get reviewers and journal editors, some of it is necessary in how the university is structured (somebody has to do the work in the department), and some of this is just some stupid hazing that primates engage in to see how committed you are. But there are limits, and you should know what are grounds for leaving vs what you should just suck up and deal with.

Reasonable Dues-Paying Activities:
  1. Having the crap office. I literally cried when I saw my first office at Cracker Uni. My desk was held together with duct tape. There were fist-sized holes in the plaster. Here, you just gotta suck it up, invest in some decent furniture even if it comes out of your own pocket, and do what you can to spruce and liven it up.

  2. Teaching (some) crap classes. You should expect to teach a few of the classes that nobody else wants. A decent department is entitled to expect you to carry some service teaching but won't overload you with it. Be enthusiastic about teaching one or two rotten classes and use your good performance in those classes as a reason to say no to other things. "I'm sorry, I could teach Overview of Overview-ness, but I already teach Intro to Intro-ness. That would mean the majors would have two classes with me their freshman year. I'm thinking that diversity there is important, don't you?"

  3. Some general snootering around and expectation that you be seen and not heard in various departmental contexts. You should expect that you will get some lectures and some spankings, for lack of a better term, at the same time you get little to no praise. Plenty of good people will generally ignore you as long as are you are doing what you should be doing (getting good evaluations, publishing enough) and only rouse themselves when it's time to chew you out for something. This actually counts as mentoring in some worlds. My advisor was of the Dr. Cox (Scrubs) school of mentoring, so I got trained on this early. If you want to get to know them, take it upon yourself to ask them out to lunch. Again, this should be a balance. It's not unreasonable for junior faculty to take some bruises to the ego while they are being trained and proving themselves. It is unreasonable to bully or belittle them and then expect them to give a crap about your opinion or your institution.

Reasons You Should Get Out:

  1. Bait-and-switch on expectations. Yes, people promise you the moon during recruitment and then neglect to mention that you must build your own ladder to the moon. But there is a difference between that and universities that promise you one teaching load (3/3 or 2/2) and then ROUTINELY discover that you must teach uncompensated overloads. That is a sign of a bad ship.

  2. Overloading you with departmental housekeeping. You should be contributing to the shared work of the community (that goes for both senior and junior faculty; seniors who use tenure as an excuse to do no departmental work are selfish and, in an ideal world, should have their merit promotions and raises revoked or delayed). And some of that is going to be crap work as noted above. But there are limits. Junior people should NOT be doing all the advising in the department. The department didn't score a win in the "Buy one young Ph.D., get one Event Planner Free" sale. You should be teaching at least one graduate class so that you get to know the good graduate students if you need them for your research. You should not be on university committees, not until you have tenure. Ask to be replaced on them if you have been appointed. Learn to say “no.” If you get ignored when you say “no,” that’s a bad ship.

  3. Terrifyingly obvious discrimination. All universities have race/class/gender/orientation bias, I am convinced. But if absolutely all of the power at your university is held by the silverbacks (old white guys), then if you have ambitions to move into administration, this is a problem for you if you are not one of the boys. Take some time to figure out the possibilities for advancement there and if it is not good, you are entitled to strategically move. If they are loading all the junior female faculty with advising and freshman teaching and the junior male faculty are given research appointments, this is a bad ship to be on. If you are overloaded with being the “Face of Diversity” at your university, that’s another sign of a bad ship. Feel free to jump.

  4. Bullying or harassment that goes unchecked by the rest of the faculty. Don't mistake well-intended chiding with bullying. By this time, you should be mature enough to know the difference between somebody who says "you need get involved in the biggest issues in your field" and somebody who says "You're an idiot." The former is constructive, the latter is not. Beware: there are variants of the bully/jackass everywhere. Don’t move just because of him/her. If you like the rest of your situation, ask the chair to shield you from the ass by moving you to different committees.

  5. Just plain better opportunities. This is related to #3. Yeah, so your first job was a low-tier university. You work your fanny off and publish a lot and make major contributions. And you're supposed to turn a blind eye to the opportunities that come your way because of loyalty? There is a difference between a mawkish junior faculty prima donna who wants to be treated like a star straight off and one who has actually delivered goods. In the latter case, there will be places that can and will reward a consistent producer even if he/she comes with a bit of ego noise (like Newton) and senior faculty need to get over that "Back in MY day, we didn't play that game and we knew our place" routine if they want to hang on to high human capital faculty. Back in their day, they had wives raising their kids for them, typing/proofing their work for them, keeping house for them, and trailing them without question. Back in the their day, they got hired with no publications and got tenured with four. Senior faculty who are real mentors to you understand that mentoring is a gift: mentoring serves the institution if everything works, but it is unreasonable to expect your proteges to turn down wonderful opportunities that you can not, for whatever reasons, offer them. IOW, mentoring is casting your bread upon the waters in a major way. We all have to live with these risks in the hypermobile, globalized world of elite labor.

  6. Irresolvable Two Body Problems. This is where Backwater and Cracker Unis have a huge problem. Located in a town of 16,000 people with 10,000 students, there is nothing for a nonfaculty trailing spouse to do. Some trailing spouses do a great job of reinventing themselves and find ways to fit into the context. Others, like my spouse, basically ruin their career by moving to these locations where in order to get a job outside of the university, your grandpappy had to be a fine, upstanding civic leader. If nothing comes together for your spouse or your kids at your job locale, you are entitled to look for a situation where you and your family CAN build a life together. And anybody who doesn't understand that is a dick and can be ignored freely.