Those pesky colleagues interested in equality and such….

How do new faculty learn to cope with the difficult types acting out at department meetings? So asks a columnist for the Chron of Higher Ed. But the list has at least one unwelcome entry. See below.

A new faculty member joins your department. Your task, as an experienced and sensitive long-term faculty member is to help this person navigate the murky waters of your department’s meetings. How do you mentor this person in the “art of meetings” in your school?

How to you help your new colleague handle

The committee member who never stops talking but rarely has anything useful to add to conversations…
The committee member who cries in meetings if her opinions are in the least way challenged…
The committee member who remembers that, “we tried that 30 years ago, and [new initiative] didn’t work”…
The committee member who cannot see any limitations on initiatives…
The committee member who cannot see anything but limitations on initiatives…
The committee member who overtly (or covertly) reminds everyone how she/he is smarter/more accomplished than others in the room…
The committee member who has been in the department a short time and who continually compares the current university to her/his graduate institution, “When I was at XYZ University, we did it this way”…
*** The committee member who sees potential for discriminatory behavior (gender, sexual orientation, class, race, religion [and others]) in department decisions…
The committee member who is a bully …
And there are many, many others …

One response, by John D Foubert, registers a concern many here will sympathize with:

For the committee member who sees potential for discriminatory behavior (gender, sexual orientation, class, race, religion [and others]) in department decisions, please put that person on a fast track to leadership in the department and school. We have far too few leaders in higher education who care about such issues of discrimination when it happens to faculty. As a faculty member who experienced what I believe to be sexual harassment, I wish there were more people in power who saw the potential for such behavior in my organization and moreover, I wish there were more leaders in higher education in general and in my organization in particular willing to do something about it.
The worry about the list is that it reflects how in general academia views issues about equity, particularly gender equity; that is, as boring and tedious interruptions and/or special pleading covertly on one’s own behalf.  That is not to say someone who is interested in advocating for equity can’t be boring, but the chances are, at least from what I’ve seen, that with equity issues too many members of some dominant groups have a very low tolerance for issues about others.

14 thoughts on “Those pesky colleagues interested in equality and such….

  1. I wonder if the point of it was the opposite of the way it reads at first — i.e., because it’s awkwardly phrased, it could be read as meaning “The committee member who sees department decisions as an opportunity for engaging in discriminatory behavior (gender, sexual orientation, class, race, religion [and others]),” although this is not the most natural reading. (I had to read it three times before I realized that this just might have been a clumsy way of stating an actually reasonable point rather than what it seems to say.) I have difficulty believing that an academic could seriously regard department decisions as involving no potential for discriminatory behavior.

    But, admittedly, I have been overly optimistic about people before. And it is certainly not difficult to find people who treat even raising the issue of possible discriminatory behavior as if it were just obvious political jockeying, and nothing more.

  2. Brandon, neat and ingenious.

    But these are suppose to be people who make meetings difficult and tedious, etc. I think it is more likely the writer has in mind things like “knee-jerk feminists” (to employ a common dismissive phrase) than people who exploit policies outside of meetings.

  3. yes, we learn the lessons all too well. We can also profit from distinguishing ourselves from the whiners, cryers, etc.

    Some women manage not to teach their daughters this behavior, I hear from at least one blogger here. Others of us struggle against the lessons for much of our lives. That seems preferable to living the stories out.

  4. 4-7: right, but angry, not embarrassed, I should think, no? There’s no reason for those of us who actually make an effort, at some cost, to live our feminist principles to see ourselves as identified with those who write such tripe as this (in the way that would make appropriate being embarrassed on their behalf)– be they women or not, avowed feminists or not.

    Also: Dear Chronicle– see article interviewing Haslanger…

  5. Kate, i’m not embarrassed on her behalf, however interesting an idea that is. I find it instead publicly embarrassing to have these undercutting voices that can hold a lot of sway.

  6. jj– huh– why “embarrassing”? just curious. I’m completely agreed that the undercutting voices can hold a lot of sway.

  7. Kate, I think embarrassment is the right word here. The situation is close to a public chiding from a member of a group one purports to be acting for. And one can easily be seen as a disavowed nuisance.

  8. I’m sorry, jj, I’m losing track–just grammatically– of to whom the “one”s in your sentence above refer. The chronicle article is a public chiding, from a member of the group [faculty]– then I’m just having trouble parsing the sentences…?

  9. Given that John Foubert is being dismissed from Oklahoma State University due to two sexual discrimination complaints from lesbian students, it is safe to say he is probably not the best person to have as quoted in this line of argumentation.

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