Sunday, December 30, 2007

Reviving aphorisms as New Year's resolutions

That rough, old aphorism, "Never shit where you eat," doesn't seem to be followed very closely by academics.

We are known to go stomping into the Dean's office and rail about whatever grievous decision is vexing us at the moment. We write hateful notes to our colleagues, accusing them of high-handed skullduggery, and we exhibit cliquish tendencies that exclude peers we dislike. We act dismissive and thoughtless as we deal with support staff. We sometimes publicly embarrass students or blow off entire classes to suit our own (self-important) agendas.

The number of academics, especially men but some very well-published women, who sleep with staff members, grad students, or undergrads is consistently surprising to me. And it is rarely the case that the profs met the person in question in a bar. No, usually the first meeting happens in the professor's classroom or when the staff member was hired by the professor. Some academics are careful to wait until the grades are in before the first "date" (read: sex) occurs with a student, but many are not. While I would agree that not all of these relationships constitute "harassment," the problem is that the possibility almost always exists for this to occur in these relationships, even when the professor in question does not have that intention.

Perhaps these behaviors explain why the public sees professors as arrogant, elitist, and lacking common sense--because many of us fit the caricature.

I am sure Dean Dad will use this as another invitation to attack tenure... After all, if we didn't have an unreasonable sense of unending job security, we might be more careful in our actions. And if the Dean we yell at has to grin and bear it, rather than firing us, what impetus do we have to behave better? I am not sure abolishing tenure would rectify these issues, as the cultural identities of being a professor, an academic, and a scholar go far beyond the tenure issue.

We academic types like to think we are different from other workers, but the truth is, we could learn a lot from the 9-5 work world. Look around at the staff in your department...Staff members remember one another's birthdays, they ask about each other's children and families. They learn the rules of the systems of which they are a part, and they understand their role in the organization. They expect regular evaluation and feedback. Most important, they remember that maintaining positive relationships can greatly impact their success and happiness in the workplace.

Faculty members should take away a few of these ideas. We should learn the personnel policies of our employer and follow them, or work to change them when they are problematic. Our students are not consumers (ick), but their learning is one of the indicators on which we will be judged. We need to function within the organization, seeing ourselves as part of the system, part of something larger than ourselves. Along with staff and administrators, we establish the tone and culture of the department, just as we develop the curriculum. We should consider all of these part of our role as faculty.

So, when you are making your New Year's resolutions, perhaps you might consider reviving this old aphorism and making your department a better place to be. I'll do my part.


Dean Dad said...

Moi? I wouldn't dream of it...

Tenured Radical said...

Well, our disagreements on this sex thing are not worth reviving, although I think our real disagreement is about the cultural feminist thing where power structures are always rigid and absolute, not in taking ethical approaches in our relations to others. But I did want to point out that Jane Gallop did not sleep with the student, she kissed the student.