Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Collegial is as Collegial Does

A few weeks ago, Dr. Crazy had a post about collegiality in academic departments. She suggested some pretty basic notions about how one should behave in such an environment. To crudely summarize, she suggests that collegiality involves no more than simply doing your job at its most basic level: teach, research, and serve to the best of one’s abilities as outlined in your contract.

I tend to agree with that assessment. Nonetheless, it strikes me that such a straightforward mandate still confuses many professors. So, allow me to provide a simple set of guidelines to help you gauge whether you are an ideal colleague or the professor everybody wishes would just die. Think about which of the following most closely resembles what you might say in these situations.

When it comes time to decide the course schedule for next semester:

    Best: “I am willing to teach a mix of upper level and service-oriented courses. While I certainly have preferences about scheduling, I am willing to negotiated with my colleagues to insure that we have a wide distribution of classes throughout the day.”

    Fair: “I have several courses that I teach over and over. They serve some basic requirements of the department.”

    Bad: “I will only teach classes between the hours of nine and noon. Teaching a survey class is clearly beneath my intellectual talents. Besides, I have a political obligation to offer an incredibly narrow graduate course that only appeals to two students every year.”

    Evil: “My class enrollment is by instructor permission only. That way I can make sure that only hot, fit students ever sign up. No fatties!”

When I take the last cup of coffee from the break room:

    Best: “I always make a fresh pot of coffee for the next person.”

    Fair: “I be sure to shut off the burner so that the whole office doesn’t fill with the smell of scorched coffee.”

    Bad: “I demand the secretary make a new pot of coffee.”

    Evil: “Coffee? I replaced all that with Postum© years ago.”

When it comes to time for committee assignments to be made, I think:

    Best: “Nobody likes service, but it is a necessary part of keeping any university operating. I will roll up my sleeves and serve on committees when needed.”

    Good: “If I really care about a particular issue, I am willing to serve on a committee or two.”

    Bad: “Gee, I would serve on some committees, but I think that my decision to have children means that I can neglect my basic duties for which I am paid. Selfish childless people can pick up my slack. After all, what else do they have to do with their empty lives?”

    Evil: “I see every committee assignment as a stepping stone to be dean one day.”

My thinking about new hires is usually along the lines of:

    Best: “I consider it a basic part of my job to advocate vigorously for new positions based on my particular intellectual training. Nonetheless, I also recognize that a diverse set of perspectives and coverage is required for a really solid academic department. Therefore, I am willing to yield on hiring decisions when other priorities are clear.”

    Fair: “I will work really hard to hire people in my immediate field."

    Bad: “If I didn’t get my way when a job position was conceived, I will do everything in my power to sabotage this search. It’s better to have a failed search than for other people to have won a new hire.”

    Evil: “If a candidate wants this job, they better invite me to their hotel room during the campus visit.”

When Running a Meeting:

    Best: “I have a clear agenda and will get you out of here in an hour.”

    Fair: “The agenda is set, but everybody can speak their mind on whatever topic they desire. It’s fine with me if we have to spend the whole afternoon chatting.”

    Bad: “Was there a meeting scheduled today?”

    Evil: “Let me tell you what we already decided as a committee.”

When Attending a Meeting:

    Best: “I did my due diligence and read any pre-circulated materials before I arrived. I listen attentively and will give my opinion based on a well reasoned argument about the best needs of the unit.”

    Fair: “I didn’t really have time to read up on this particular issue. Still, I’ll go along with whatever the majority has to say.”

    Bad: “I would have attended this meeting, but I needed to wash my cat.”

    Evil: “I am only here to point out how much I really, really, really hate the chair of this meeting.”

When I find that I am in the minority on an issue facing the department:

    Best: “I will voice my opinion and give my reasons for objecting. In the end, though, I must have faith in democracy.”

    Fair: “I will withhold my opinion but then complain bitterly to colleagues over drinks later.”

    Bad: “I take this decision very personally. It shows that there is a larger conspiracy at play to take away my power and agency!”

    Evil: “I pack a gun.”

When advising students about what courses to take:

    Best: “I emphasize the strengths of the department. I also take some time to consider the particular interests of the student and their own career ambitions. My goal is always to give a student the widest range of perspectives that we offer.”

    Fair: “I am vaguely aware of what my colleagues teach, but, whatever. I guess that I wouldn’t actively dissuade a student from taking a class with another professor -- if that is what they really want to do.”

    Bad: “I take the time to trash all the colleagues in my unit that I dislike. A student should leave my office knowing that my department is nothing but a snake pit of dissension filled with people who aren’t half as smart as I am.”

    Evil: “I take the time to explain the power of the dark side of the force and invite the student to become my protégé. Together we can topple the department chair and rule together.”

When serving on a masters thesis or dissertation committee:

    Best: “I read the entire thesis/dissertation. My goal is to provide strategies for the student to revise the work to the best of hir abilities.”

    Fair: “I read the entire thesis/dissertation. My goal is to get this over with as soon as possible.”

    Bad: “I read some of the thesis/dissertation. My goal is to show that I personally know a lot more about this particular topic than the student.”

    Evil: “I plagiarized several chapters of this thesis/dissertation. Nonetheless, I will still vote to fail the student just because I can.”

During the summer:

    Best: “I drink a lot.”

    Fair: “I drink a lot.”

    Bad: “I drink a lot.”

    Evil: “I drink a lot.”

When a hardworking undergraduate student tells me that ze is applying for graduate school:

    Best: “I am supportive and offer to write a letter. Still, I do provide a candid assessment of the job market and encourage the student to think about the time, energy, money and effort that goes into obtaining an advanced degree.”

    Fair: “I write a letter of recommendation and wish the student well.”

    Bad: “I write a letter of recommendation but also frighten the student with horror students about the academic world. I cite the Center of Gravitas as evidence of academia's moral bankruptcy.”

    Evil: “I promise to write a letter of recommendation but never quite get around to it. I assure the student that, even if the job market is terrible, they will absolutely get a tenure-track job because they are the exception.”

When a colleague in my field publishes a book:

    Best: “I buy and read it.”

    Fair: “I send an e-mail of congratulations.”

    Bad: “Do I have colleagues in my field?”

    Evil: “I tell anyone who will listen that I would have written a much better version of that same book.”

When editing an academic journal:

    Best: “My goal is to give authors clear and concise feedback as quickly as possible. No journal can accept everything submitted, but I work really hard to be fair and prompt. I understand that my authors often have tenure and/or promotion pressures. Any delay only harms their research agendas and makes my journal look unprofessional.”

    Fair: “I farm out a lot of my duties and depend almost entirely on others’ opinions. Still, I aim for an initial turn around of six to eight weeks. After all, I have a basic competence in my job.”

    Bad: “I decide that my journal will devote itself to publishing many, many ‘Special Editions’ so that I can reward all my friends by printing their articles. Others can submit manuscripts, but they really shouldn’t hold their breath.”

    Evil: “I regularly sit on manuscripts for over a year and a half (or longer if I can!). When I do finally get around to making a decision, it’s usually a negative one. Heck, somebody has to teach these young scholars a cold hard lesson. If the author doesn’t like it, then they shouldn’t have bothered my prestigious journal with their pitiful article in the first place.”

My office:

    Best: “Is a place where I work quietly.”

    Fair: “Is a place where I meet students from time to time.”

    Bad: “Is a place where I can really turn up the volume on my music.”

    Evil: “Smells suspiciously of sulphur.”

When a colleague in my field comes up for tenure:

    Best: “I diligently read as much of the file as possible. During the meeting, I aim to make sure that every candidate gets a fair hearing by offering well informed insights on the research, service, and teaching.”

    Fair: “I read the cover letter to the file and dip in and out of the other materials. Unless there are clear problems, my default impulse is always to vote in favor of the candidate.”

    Bad: “I didn’t really have time to read the file. I’ll go to the meeting and try to get a sense of which way the wind is blowing and then make up my mind.”

    Evil: “I met with the candidate a full year before they went up for tenure to remind them that they needed my vote to advance. If they didn’t spend the past several months groveling, it’s curtains!”

The secretary/support staff in my unit:

    Best: “Are not paid nearly enough given that they do 90 percent of the heavy lifting! I support any effort to improve their working conditions.”

    Fair: “Do their job well and I acknowledge that.”

    Bad: “Are fine, but I don’t understand why they won’t pick up my dry cleaning.”

    Evil: “Should only be paid for nine months given that is the length of the academic year.”

If I had not become an academic, I would have:

    Best: “Found another avenue to share my knowledge and research with a wider public. My goal would always be to find a way to enrich our intellectual conversations.”

    Fair: “Found a job that allowed me to earn much more money.”

    Bad: “Run for public office as a Republican so that I could dismantle higher education as we know it.”

    Evil: “Harvested the souls of the innocent.”

The role model who influenced my career:

    Best: “The hardworking professors who took an interest in me as a student. They not only taught me the knowledge that I need for this job, but also what it means to be a committed educator.”

    Fair: “Wonder Woman.”

    Bad: “I did it on my own. Nobody ever helped me and I was always falling through the cracks.”

    Evil: “Pope Benedict XVI.”

When writing a book review for a journal:

    Best: “I highlight the strengths of the book and the author’s intent. I limit my critique to one or two questions at most. It is important to recognize the hard work that goes into writing any monograph.”

    Fair: “I offer faint praise, but conclude with criticism.”

    Bad: “Most of my review is simply critique about what the author might have written but didn't. I can only think of holes in the work and imagine an entirely different book than the one that I am reviewing.”

    Evil: “Every book review is just an opportunity to ruin somebody’s career.”

When a colleague passes me in the hall:

    Best: “I greet them and ask how they are doing.”

    Fair: “I smile warmly.”

    Bad: “I avoid eye contact.”

    Evil: “I make a distinctive rattling sound.”


Janice said...

These? Are brilliant. I'm fortunate in that my departmental colleagues are all "Best" or "Fair" these days, but, gosh!, I could see where the other categories come up all the time in self-absorbed academics.

Sisyphus said...

Brilliant! I love these.

But what's so wrong with harvesting the souls of the innocent?

Dr. Crazy said...

Gayprof, you are my favorite person in the whole world. This post = brilliant.

GayProf said...

Janice: I, too, am lucky to be in a pretty collegial department(s). This has not always been the case for me. . .

Sisyphus: Well, I know the souls of the innocent are what keep me looking youthful.

Dr. Crazy: You are wise to consider me your favorite person.

Anonymous said...

The part on "when editing an academic journal" was particularly hilarious.

Z said...

What a great post.

Most of the fair and bad practices were recommended to me in graduate school as ways of cutting corners. I would never make tenure if I did not cut corners in these ways.

tornwordo said...

The I drink a lot got a big laugh out of me. I'm pretty good according to these criteria.

Anonymous said...

teehee, I dropped out of grad school because of a professor who was pretty much "evil" in all ways...thats not entirely fair but pretty much

Historiann said...

Love this!!! Sorry to be so late to the party. I was hiking in Southern Utah and finally made it home just yesterday.

I was worried that I was a bad person b/c most of my answers were in the "fair" category. Then I saw the "Wonder Woman" answer and realized that I'm in the best of company.

Comrade Physioprof said...

Fucken hilarious!!

Anonymous said...

How about
Best: I serve as an officer in my campus union and recruit others
Fair: I pay my union dues and attend the meetings
Bad: I refuse to join the union thinking they aren't for professionals
Evil: I try to talk others out of joining the union

Dr. Koshary said...

Brilliant post! I'm saving it to my professional development files as a model to work from.

P.S. My captcha is "mekingu 15." Surely this is a rough quotation from one of the Evil Profs, right?

Susan said...

I'm not sure whether it's a good idea a chair of the department to share this widely. Probably not in my role as chair... but that doesn't make it less brilliant.

Prof. Shaver said...

Beilliant. You are my new favorite person.

Along with Anonymous@9:58 AM

matt_l said...

Gay Prof is a font of Awesomeness in the tubes on the interwebs. Thank you for this.