Thursday, March 05, 2009

Welcome to the Club (a Post NOT about Rage)

Well, although the rage-inducing things have something to do with it actually. I've been venting a lot on the blog lately because I've needed to do so. It's not generally the sort of tone I like to hit on this here blog, and I think it's about time for some positivity.

One of the best things that's been going on with me lately has to do with the huge amounts of support and acknowledgment that I've been getting from the vast majority of my colleagues. It's crazy: as much as the current goings on leave me feeling angry and filled with disgust at the minority, when I take a moment to count my blessings (as my little grandma would have told me to do weeks ago were she alive), well, I realize that these feelings are not the most important ones that I'm having - just the most obvious and the most distracting.

The other side of the rage and disgust coin is, actually, real and deep feelings of pride, belonging, community, and satisfaction - all inspired by the work that I'm doing and by the relationships I'm developing with so many of my colleagues with whom I'd previously not had a huge amount of contact. My favorite bright spot over the past couple of weeks happened when a veteran of my department popped over to my office and, chuckling, began the following interchange:

Battle-Scarred Veteran: Well, Crazy, I just thought I'd come by to tell you congratulations! You've been inducted into the club where you perform backbreaking service that's central to the department and to making the university better and for that work you get treated badly by your colleagues! Kudos to you!

Crazy: Why, I don't know what to say! I'm just so proud to have achieved this status so quickly after getting the tenure letter!

BSV: As you should be! We're an elite group you know!

We bantered in this fashion for a couple of minutes, and it gave me the first laugh I've had at work outside of the classroom in weeks.

I've also forged a much closer relationship with my chair, who I really think is phenomenal, I've had tea and commiseration in another colleague's office, I've received lovely emails of thanks and support.

And perhaps better than all of that, we'd done a temperature-taking sort of vote about the progress thus far, and there was lots of participation and a very clear sense that the vast majority of people are on board with the process thus far (a), that with tweaking things look like they will move forward in a fashion that I think is really positive (b), and that those loud few who've been giving me shit do not have meaningful support for their position (and that their tactics of domination are not actually working in the way that they thought that they would) (c).

More than anything - more than the stress, more than the anger, more than the personal offense I've taken - I feel proud. Proud of the work that I'm doing, and proud to have so many truly wonderful colleagues. And, more than I have since I signed my contract for this job almost exactly 6 years ago, I feel like I am truly a part of the life of this institution. The work that I'm doing isn't just about my own professional development or my own edification. I'm not doing this work for a line on my cv, nor am I doing it thinking that I'll get a better raise (or any raise at all), nor am I doing it because I "have" to do it. I'm doing it because this is what you do when you get tenure someplace: you work to make it better. You fight those battles that as junior faculty you don't have the protection to fight. You throw yourself into the hard stuff, because now the hard stuff is your business, and it's worth it to pursue it. Getting tenure doesn't mean that all of a sudden you can give voice to all of your petty concerns, nor does it mean that you now have the "academic freedom" to piss all over things that you disagree with. No, it means that you have the "academic freedom" really to make a difference - not just to students or to your stature in the discipline, but to your workplace.

Now, don't get me wrong. When all is said and done, I'm going to trade on this service for at least a year or two. No more big fights for me, not for a while, thank you very much. I'm not a martyr, and I'm also not a person who gets off on being constantly pissed off. I hate being this angry, and I hate having to do what's best politically even when it makes me feel sick to my stomach. I hate having to keep my mouth shut for the greater good, keeping my eye on the prize as it were, when I feel like people are acting in bad faith. That is so not my m.o. And I look forward to that moment when this process has reached its conclusion and I can tell some people in no uncertain terms what I think of them. (I probably won't do this, actually, but thinking about being able to gives me a sense of calm and happiness right now.)

I should probably acknowledge that I'm not totally altruistic as I'm moving forward. I'm also taking intense pleasure in exposing the haters for what they really are, and I'm taking intense pleasure in watching them show their true colors and the way that their capital in the department is plunging in direct proportion to that. And, let's be honest: I'm encouraging that downward spiral in some subtle ways, and that is mean-spirited and not terribly mature. I'm not proud of myself for that, but at the same time, well, I'm not really doing anything directly. I'm just giving people enough rope with which to hang themselves. If they choose to slip the noose around their necks, well, they're doing it to themselves. There have been lots of moments in the past few months where those people could have made choices that were different, and had they done so, they'd be in a much better position now. In fact, it might have been that a version of what they want would be the one with the most departmental support. And in saying that I'm not saying that they could have chosen to agree with me. Actually, they could have been in complete disagreement with me, made choices that were more collaborative in their approach, and I think they would have served themselves much better. As it is, nobody is seeing their intractability and closed-mindedness as evidence of their commitment to their convictions: no, the vast majority are seeing it as just intractability and closed-mindedness. And that's hurting their ability to advocate for those convictions that they do hold.

You know, when I put myself in the shoes of those people who have, in my estimation, proceeded in ways that are really diabolical, I do think that they are operating from a real set of values. I don't think that they are without convictions, and I don't think that their values are necessarily "wrong." In fact, I share some of them. We just have different ways of getting from A to B. I think that there was a moment weeks back when, had people made some different choices, all of the conflict and negativity that resulted could have been avoided. As it is, with the choices that were made, some people who started out pretty unhappy are only more unhappy, and they look a bit foolish to boot. If I didn't want to strangle those people, I'd feel sorry for them.

But so anyway, things are actually, when I sit back and reflect, pretty positive in my world. Sure, there is more stress to come, but I think at the end of the day, things are going to work out just fine.


Another Damned Medievalist said...

You know, when I put myself in the shoes of those people who have, in my estimation, proceeded in ways that are really diabolical, I do think that they are operating from a real set of values. I don't think that they are without convictions, and I don't think that their values are necessarily "wrong." In fact, I share some of them. We just have different ways of getting from A to B.


But sometimes, I doubt that, too. Especially when their goals seem to include doing as little as possible, or pushing it off to other people...

Susan said...

I love the club of people who do backbreaking service that is central to the deparmtnet and to making the university better and get badly treated by your colleagues for it.

But we need a better name. . .

It is useful to remember that most of our colleagues are not jerks.

Dr. Crazy said...

ADM - I totally hear you on the doubt. In the generous mood I'm in today (really productive conversation with my chair, more productive conversations with some other colleagues), though, I don't think that people's impulse to slackerdom actually has much to do with their "values" writ large.... I can still see where their "values" come from a real place... it's just that they're not actually interested in doing the work to put their money where their mouth is. So the values in themselves aren't the problem: it's the lack of investment in really championing those values, and then they blame others who are willing to invest. That impulse to blame, to push work onto others, etc. is the primary difference between my approach from getting from A to B and theirs. Theirs is about name-calling with little obvious work to back it up. Mine is about inclusiveness, positivity, and lots of visible work. And, well, it does seem that people appreciate and trust in that approach much more, even if they're freaked out about what the outcome might be. Whereas, people seem to trust much less in the "do what I say even though I'm not willing to invest anything" approach, even if they believe in the "what I say" of the equation, if that makes sense. Again, though, this may because by and large I have pretty rational and generous and practical colleagues: they trust in work, not in pontificating. A lot like the students here, actually.

And Susan, yes, the club totally needs a better name. It was awesome, today one of my colleagues decided that I should get a new title: Department Provocateur! Another colleague came along and we fantasized about me wearing a t-shirt with that on the front and a big bull's eye on the back for the meeting at which we vote on this stuff :) Teehee!

Another Damned Medievalist said...

DC -- you're right, of course -- at least in some cases. But here's what I've been seeing:

Some of my colleagues place a very high value on "the important work of the university", i.e., scholarship. They all agree that service and faculty governance are important, and would be very upset if there were no attempt by the administration to consult with faculty.

So that's one value system. The other is the one I and most of my colleagues who are friends have -- that the university has many goals and needs, and faculty have many obligations, including engaging in governance and service.

But the problem is that at some point, it moves from a slight difference in philosophy to a huge difference in actions. The people with the first value system on my campus seem to forget that, if everybody focuses exclusively on their scholarship, and does as little service as possible, the service doesn't go away -- other people end up picking up the slack. And then they come up with comments like, "well, you made the choice to take on that load and put your important work in a secondary position." And this reinforces their special snowflake status.