Thursday, July 27, 2006

Married to the (University) Mob

Dr. Crazy's recent post on why she's looking for a new job and New Kid's response talk about the loyalty to self/loyalty to institution issue. One metaphor being used is that of marriage, as New Kid comments:

One of my greatest dissatisfactions with academe is the kind of underlying encouragement to see the job as a calling, to see one's commitment to a job as a "marriage" or becoming part of a "family," because I think this is part of the way that academe abuses its practitioners.

Like liz ferszt in the comments section at Dr. Crazy's, I've seen this from both sides; there's no question that having a faculty member come in for a year and then leave is disruptive, especially if the department is small, the budget is tight, and the powers that be would rather fund yet another Assistant to the Associate Sub-Head in Charge of Administrivia than shell out for a faculty line to replace the departing person. The fear of having junior faculty move eventually even causes some haunting fears at hiring time: "If we hire so and so, will she stay?" This can't, and doesn't, enter into the decision-making process, but it's not an unrealistic idea.

That said, I'd side with the junior faculty on this one. Although we'd like to deny it, working at a university is like a marriage, albeit an old-fashioned and unequal one with all sorts of sexist overtones. We (academics) are the dewy, eager prospective brides who want the institution to "marry" us by offering a tenure-track position. We don't want to be the ones good enough to teach courses for a university but not good enough to hire when a t-t position comes available. Even as t-t faculty, all the power is implicitly on one side: "We chose you out of hundreds of applicants. If you behave yourself, publish like mad, and seem grateful enough, at the end of six years we may make this marriage permanent--unless, of course, we decide we'd like someone newer and more exciting." It seems to me that the increasing trend for junior t-t faculty to explore their options on the job market is just an attempt to even up this power differential.

I don't think that institutions mean to abuse this power. Departments hire candidates because they want to see them stay, of course. But whatever it may promise in the courtship process (and there's that metaphor again), however much it might want to behave ethically and in the best interests of the faculty member, an institution will always place its own interests first. Always. That's the nature of an institution. A faculty member who forgets this, who places the institution's interests ahead of her own or at least refuses to acknowledge that the two are different, does so at her peril.


Chaser said...

I think you are right about this. My department is very good about trying to foster a family atmosphere, but my chair does a good job of understanding that it's an institution. Institutions don't say thanks. They pay.

susan said...

Maybe I'm naive (she said, 3 days before becoming department chair), but I am hoping to try to nudge the culture in my own department toward one that believes that faculty who are tending their own interests (professionally and personally) are also tending the institution's needs, and that the institution's needs can be a good force in shaping professional work. Some kind of work is better done on some campuses than others. But you're right, the institution isn't going to be looking out for individuals--we need to do that for ourselves.

undine said...

Lisa, I always hope they'll say thanks as well as pay, and a lot of times they do. When they start substituting thanks for pay--then I worry.

Susan, I think you described the ideal beautifully: having the faculty tending their own interests benefits the institution's needs and vice versa. Your department's lucky to have someone who sees both sides of this.