Sunday, February 6, 2011

Guest post: A Steelers Fan rant about colleagues who back out when there’s work to be done

I'm an untenured professor who was assigned to chair a committee.* A tenured colleague (who shall be called Dr. L) brought a bunch of work to the committee but feels that it isn’t his/her place to do any of it. Dr. L was released from teaching to develop a proposal for significant changes to our programs. To her credit, Dr. L developed a proposal that won department-level support despite complicated politics. My committee is formally responsible for changes to our program, so I'm responsible for sending it to the next level. At the next level, you need more than just the proposal made to the department (which is nuts-and-bolts stuff about how it will work). You need a detailed justification, with statistics, comparisons to other programs, and so forth. We've all reviewed the evidence and agree that there’s a very strong case for this change to the program, but we need to synthesize it into a document that hits all the things that the administration is looking for.

Dr. L isn't on the committee, but when we got the task of preparing the document I asked Dr. L if she would take the lead, outline what needs to go in it, and delegate to us as she sees necessary. I did this for 3 reasons:

1) Dr. L spoke very passionately about being personally committed to these changes to our program. In fact, Dr. L views this as being integral to her future career plans, and wants to be the lead on steering this program when it is approved. Dr. L even went so far as to wrestle control of this from another colleague who has far more experience than Dr. L in these matters.

So I thought that Dr. L would be upset if I didn't involve her.

2) The rules governing this addition to our program are complicated, and Dr. L did a lot of work to master the intricacies. I specifically said to Dr. L that I was approaching her out of respect for the work she had put into understanding what needs to be done, and her networking with the relevant people.

3) I've seen other colleagues work on proposals for various changes. Even if they weren’t on the relevant committees they would attend open meetings of the committees and volunteer to help throughout the process, because they were invested in the success of the proposal.

Dr. L resents being asked to do this, even though when I first approached her I volunteered for a significant task and told her to delegate the rest of it as she sees necessary. I offered a longer time frame after she expressed displeasure, but she still feels that this is not her job. Perhaps I made n00b mistakes in how I discussed things, but an experienced (and tenured) colleague who is on the committee and involved in the process says I handled it fine.

What I'm here to vent about is not the report itself (serving on this committee is part of my job, so I'll do my job and make sure the report gets done without her), but the fact that this person can get control of a project outside her expertise, get time to work on it, and then bail on it in a later stage. However, the rewards structure at our school is screwed up, so I'll work much harder than this person and get exactly the same deal. And this person will remain popular and will probably get more release time for similar tasks in the future because she is on the right side of the right people. So, actually, I'll get fewer rewards. It's very, very discouraging to work with people like this in a system where the incentives for hard work are almost entirely personal. Yes, I'm a professional who wants to do a good job even if my superiors don’t reward me, but a reward now and then certainly wouldn’t hurt, you know? Especially when other people are shirking work and making my work harder but getting at least the same rewards as me. Can I get some overtime pay for cleaning up her mess?

A Steelers Fan

*Before you ask why an untenured professor is chairing a committee rather than focusing 100% on research, that's just the way it is at my institution


Comrade PhysioProf said...

Before you ask why an untenured professor is chairing a committee rather than focusing 100% on research, that's just the way it is at my institution[.]

Well, that is a fucked uppe way to do thinges, and the key reason why this lazy greedy tenured fucke is getting away with her shenanigans. If you want to get tenured fuckes to do shitte, you need someone with some authority or, at least, influence over the tenured fuckes to be the ones who ask them to do shitte, not some poor untenured schlubbe.

Putting untenured schlubbes in charge of committees whose mission requires voluntary participation of tenured fuckes guarantees that those committees don't succeed.

GMP said...

Considering the time stamp on CPP's comment, I think the real issue here is why isn't CPP watching Superbowl? :)

Anonymous said...

Um, GMP, the Eagles are *not* playing.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Cause the fucken Iggles aren't in itte!

Applied Physics Prof said...

And this person will remain popular and will probably get more release time for similar tasks in the future because she is on the right side of the right people.

Eh. Isn't this always the truth. You need to learn from the masters (e.g. Dr. L) how to get maximum bang (i.e. recognition) for minimum buck (i.e. time put in). Some people are just naturally lovable and great at schmoozing, also great at dumping hte hard work on others. You don't want to be the one considered the "most hardworking" or "the most useful" or any other epithet that indicates you are the one to dump unwanted stuff on. You need a more sparkly title, such as "passionate and visionary," sort of like Dr. L.

GMP said...

A Steelers Fan,

My advice to all the untenured folks is to be maximally selfish about their time and avoid doing stuff that does not direclty benefit the tenure case. This means assessing how much the research, teaching, and service are valued at your institution and doing more of what is valued; at R1's it's research, teaching a somewhat distant second, with service a very VERY distant third. I have no experience with PUI's, but it's my feeling that the teaching and resarch are reversed, and too much service still won't get you tenured...

I think it's terrible you have such a time-consuming role while untenured, which also puts you in the position of being exploited by a tenured procrastinating Dr. L. Not only will you do all the heavy lifting, she may still be displeased with your "demeanor" (pointing out her lack of involvment) or performance on her pet task and not vote in favor of your promotion.

Hang in there, A Steelers Fan. Life sucks in many many ways while being vulneranble before tenure...

Dr. Sneetch said...

Welcome to my world. I've been asking myself why an untenured assistant professor has so much service. In frustration last week I started a blog to rant.

The writer of this post is in a difficult situation because no matter what she does she's going to be told something wasn't done right. Most telling is the fact that the writer offered a longer time frame and that was frowned upon. The goal seems to be to make life as difficult as possible. As I read this post I couldn't help thinking did I send this in to GMP and forget about it? Becasue I have the same issue with a male Dr. L. Looks like it is a common exploitative technique. I think it may be best to gradually withdraw from the project

A Steelers Fan said...

Thanks for letting me guest blog to rant about this, GMP. You're right, I need to be able to say no. Unfortunately, this committee chairmanship was an assigned position, not a volunteer position.

Dr. Sneetch-

Actually, Dr. L doesn't want me to work faster, she just doesn't want to do it at all, even in the longer time frame.

I'll add your blog to my list. God knows we all need a good rant while untenured.

prodigal academic said...

Wow, that sucks. Here at Prodigal U, TT profs also have to do a fair bit of service, but I have not yet heard of a TT prof actually chairing a committee.

My advice is to do the minimum required to get the job done to an acceptable level, since service won't get you tenure. At National Lab, I knew many people who could work the system to get credit for minimal work. You must avoid/ignore these people as much as you can for your own mental health. Good luck!