Lying Low

On the one hand, things would likely not be better elsewhere.

On the other hand, things might be better elsewhere.

I like my department. I like my colleagues, I really like most of those with whom I interact frequently, I like department staff, and I like department leadership.

I am, however, not delighted with our college-level leadership. I do not like or trust our dean. Our dean keeps pushing against the established practices of self-government and has made several  decision-making processes much more hierarchical than they used to be. There is more power in his hands than other deans historically had. He has the effect of a wet blanket whenever he delivers a “state of the college” address. In his words, we are never doing enough or doing well; we should always be doing more; we are always failing, always disappointing. I have stopped going to these and I know many other faculty have, too, because it is too disheartening. Our daily reality is good and positive (students, papers, grants, colleagues) while the big picture delivered from higher up is never anything but gloomy. I do not consider this to be effective leadership.

I have butted heads with him somewhat on a couple of occasions in the context of higher-level university service, and I know that he is someone I want to stay away from. But I need to work here for another 20 years.

Husband doesn’t want to move. Kids don’t want to move. There are no guarantees that moving elsewhere would be any better. There is no indication that I am in actual trouble here, at least not right now. But, with my big mouth and my opinions, sometimes I fail to stop myself from giving a piece of my mind, so I might conceivably get in trouble. The thing is, it’s in my nature to speak out against things I find unclear, unfair, illogical, or plain mean, but this is not something that is welcome, so I spend a lot of energy suppressing my natural responses or avoiding meetings altogether.

Blogosphere, save for sewing my mouth shut or giving myself a lobotomy, what strategies do you recommend for lying really, really low locally for the next 20 years, while at the same time not becoming completely disenfranchised?

7 comments

  1. Poor decanal leadership is totally disheartening. We all deserve better. But I’m not sure “lying low” is a healthy coping mechanism. If I remember right, you’re a tenured full professor. What kind of “trouble” do you imagine getting into?

  2. I hear you, nrnrnr. I am not even sure what I mean by trouble. Just a vague feeling that some individuals might act in petty or vindictive ways down the road because of perceived slights, or might fail to have my back when they should, or might sabotage the initiatives I spearhead (e.g., veto the hiring of candidates I champion out of spite), or pass me over for expansions in space or disbursement of discretionary funds, or go out of their way to make me feel unwelcome to the point of me leaving on my own.

    Most of my colleagues in the department are such that we can disagree, but the baseline relationship is one of respect and trust. But there are a few whom I don’t trust; who I don’t think would have my back; I believe there is a fundamental difference in values between me and these people. I am wary of these individuals, fully expecting them to stab me in the back. I am afraid I feel the same about college-level administration. Sure, the backstabbing does not result in actual blood, but certainly can in loss of research space, students, time/energy, and enthusiasm for job. Not sure what I can do but avoid these people, try to stay out of their way. The alternative would be to fight them, but I don’t have the clout or the will to do so. After all, I am here to teach students and do research and help the university function by serving on committees. The more I spend on these core activities and the less I spend on politics, the happier I am. The political games make me feel icky and I am not particularly skilled at them.

  3. My thought was the same as n and m’s: Deans don’t usually stick around for 20 years these days. Most likely Dean is demanding more, more, more precisely because he needs some numbers to put on his c.v. when he applies to the next job (provost somewhere?).

  4. I decided when I was a lowly assistant prof that I would act like I already had tenure and speak my mind. The worst they could do was fire me, and then I could go into industry and make more money. Here I am coming up for retirement in a couple of years, still with a reputation for speaking my mind and being blunt. I try to be kind to staff and to faculty just starting out, but I don’t have much tolerance for incompetence in those above me in the hierarchy.

    As others have said, deans come and go (and executive vice chancellors even faster). We’ve had 4 deans while I’ve been a faculty member, only one of whom was really competent at leading the division (and he was bumped out of the position despite strong faculty support by higher administrators who wanted a yes-man).

    You can survive an incompetent dean.

  5. I have a big mouth too, and have tangled with our dean. I definitely avoid some events because I can’t stand listening to him, but I still speak up when the stakes are high. I can’t help myself. I do worry about retribution, but what form would it realistically take? I don’t think I’m treated any worse now than when I kept quiet (pre tenure). Actually, the only people who are treated well by our dean are hopeless suck ups, and man, I’m not ever going to be one of those.

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