Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Yelling at Tenured Colleagues Is Not a Good Tenure Strategy

Remember my previous story about wishing I could speak my mind to a tenured colleague, but not doing so (for obvious reasons, such as I'd like to get tenure)? Well, Tenured Colleague was at it again today.

Today, during our regular program meeting, he tried to hijack the agenda to discuss "how horrible the intro textbook is". Of course, T.C. was missing in action last summer during the two weeks when we were trying to pick the textbook, and took no part in the discussion at all, and the reason we were selecting the textbook over the summer in the first place was that he "didn't have time" to do so last spring. So the other professors for this course (all junior faculty) picked the book. And we think we picked a darn good one. And no one else seems to have a problem with this book. But there we were, listening to T.C. go on and on about this.

I so wanted to jump in, but decided to wait and see what the others did. And so one of the junior profs (who I could see was internally seething) spoke up first and brought up T.C.'s absence over the summer during the selection process. This did not derail T.C. Well, I figured, one junior person has piped in, and I can't leave him hanging, so what the hell.

I'll spare the details, because I honestly don't remember what I said exactly, but I was up on the soapbox for a bit. I tried to be as diplomatic as possible (although once I got on a roll, I don't think I was all that diplomatic anymore), but I was honest and frank, and I told T.C. that if he felt that strongly, then it was vital that he participate in future textbook discussions. I also pointed out that he was the reason we did the whole selection exercise in the summer last year. And so on.

It was a risky move, and I don't know if it was a good risk or a bad risk. At the time, I felt a bit scared but also relieved. I mean, everyone in the room was thinking it; I was just the dumb person who decided to vocalize it. Most of my colleagues thanked me privately afterwards, although one Esteemed Senior Colleague did say he was "not sure" how this would affect my tenure case (in terms of how T.C. will perceive me). Oops.

There are so many times when I bite my tongue and bide my time. I have so many ideas and so many opinions. But I'm still trying to feel out and navigate the culture here. And I've found out recently that the culture is much harder to read than I thought---things I thought I had figured out, it turns out, aren't that way all the time. Particularly people's attitudes towards "strong women", both inside and outside my department. Sometimes I feel like I have to wait until I get tenure before I can make any impact or work for any meaningful change, either within my school or within my department. I do get good advice from "more senior" junior colleagues, but they're just guessing too. So sometimes I guess. And sometimes I guess correctly, and other times....well, other times like today I'm not so sure.

But one thing's for sure: Yelling at your tenured colleagues is most likely not the best strategy for earning tenure.


New Kid on the Hallway said...

Isn't this such a catch-22? For a little while in my last job I was the only untenured faculty in my department who wasn't temporary/adjunct. It was very strange, because there were enough temp people of my cohort/age that we felt the same way about things that my sr. colleagues didn't, and it made conversations very strange.

I think it's important to be able to tell senior faculty when they're wrong (at least, in a politic way...) and that reasonable senior faculty want to have that kind of open and honest conversation, and won't hold it against a jr. person...but unfortunately not everyone is reasonable. I think my last job had a MUCH better atmosphere for jr. faculty speaking up than my current job does (partly b/c the former job involved jr faculty much more heavily in the governance process from day one, so if they were going to make us staff it, they kind of had to be willing to listen to us).

But it is a really hard tightrope to walk sometimes.

Ianqui said...

What was TC's visible reaction at the meeting? Did he seem to be pissed at you?

(BTW, I would think that if this affects your tenure case, then your dept has really big problems way beyond your control...But I did just see it happen, so maybe you should get assurances from other tenured faculty that they didn't think you were out of line.)

Jane said...

TC didn't look happy, but he didn't look pissed either. I agree that this shouldn't affect my tenure case, that it's pretty small potatoes, but as New Kid said "not everyone is reasonable". The thing is, I asked Esteemed Senior Colleague about this affecting my tenure case as a joke, but his answer was definitely not given in a joking tone. So this did worry me a bit more. Well, we'll just have to wait and see what happens, I guess!

What Now? said...

I bet that if TC blew you all off in the decision-making process last summer, he's probably blown off other, senior colleagues as well, and so what you were pointing out was something that all of them have thought (and maybe yelled at him about) at various points. And if one TC dislikes you and everyone else thinks you're doing a great job, then it really shouldn't matter by the time you come up for tenure, which is a few years away, right? And just because you yelled at him doesn't mean that TC actually will dislike you; by that point, it may all be water under the bridge.

I was incredibly impolitic a few times my first year or so, and I know that some of my senior colleagues thought that I was hot-headed and needed to mature a little bit. And apparently that's what's happened--I now feel much mellower about my job and my relations with colleagues, and we all know one another well enough by now that we can have arguments without there being an apparent power differential, a welcome change from my first year.

Andy said...

Go get em. That's one way to test and see if your job security is as good as you think it is.