Friday, September 19, 2008

Academic Bullying

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently had a feature and a related article on the issue of "academic bullying," a phrase I hate but that probably works as description. It came as no surprise to me that the university featured most centrally in the main article is Minnesota State University-Mankato, where I had my first job before an utter nightmare of a situation drove me out. MSU has had to confront the issue of widespread senior faculty assholery in the years since I left because indications were that such bullying was widespread. It is nice to see that President Richard Davenport's testes have finally dropped, albeit far too late for me.

That MSU features so prominently about poisonous academic environments should tell you something about just how awful MSU has been. And suffice it to say that I could tell you the identity of one or two of those bullies, since they were well known to populate the history department, which at the senior ranks was populated largely by third-rate historians and fourth-rate people who were talented at playing second-rate Machiavellian politics, their toadying junior allies, a gutless and blindingly mediocre chair, and a number of folks too cowed or feckless to stand up to them. There were some good people there as well, but they had long since been marginalized.

The reason I shy away from the term "bullying" is because of its roots in physical intimidation. There is one member of the MSU department in particular who had better hope his and my paths never cross again. It could be at the Presidential lecture at the American Historical Association's annual meeting and I would be inclined to jump across tables to tear this fucker's lungs out through his nasal passages. And there are not a whole hell of a lot of people in this profession who'd be able to stop me, and I'd surmise even fewer who, if they know this guy, would feel compelled to do so.


Steve Dunkley said...

Why don't you stop pussy-footing around and tell us how you really feel?

If I were looking out over my wrecked home in Galveston, I and all the other Ike and Katrina victims might be thinking, "Gee I wish I lived on Wall Street, look at how quickly Federal Government would rescue me and look at the financial help I'd get!" I wonder if members of congress have substantial shareholding in these companies?
¡Yo digo, no!

Anonymous said...

Amazing...I will check out this article. I see this on the community college level as well. I've been at it going on two years and I've learned so much. You know experience is sometimes the best teacher. This something graduate school didn't teach, but it does come in handy.
thanks for the post.
t. anderson

dcat said...

Tramaine --
I'm sure community college faculty sees this as well. I imagine the ranks and the status of publishing changes things a bit at universities, but in terms of the personal dynamics, I'm sure this plays out in a whole host of institutions from the Ivy League on down.
I do think most places are fine. Every institution has its pain in the ass faculty members, and we should be careful not to see bullying everywhere we look. But certainly it is pervasive enough and at places like MSU, Northern Colorado, and a number of other places this sort of thing is rife.


Slicer said...

Back in the day when I was in private practice, I had this gentleman come into my office to see if there was anything he could do about his recent application for tenure being denied. It was one of the biggest screw jobs I had ever witnessed. In short, he was up for tenure in the music department, I believe, of this small liberal arts school in the area. There was an entire set of objective criteria on which the committee would supposedly base its decision, and he passed them all with flying colors. Rave reviews from his students. The guy was well respected by his colleagues and had the letters of recommendation from them to back it up. The committee unanimously recommends him for tenure and a week later, the Department Chair reverses the decision. The Provost or someone similarly situation sat on his thumbs when the formal "appeal" process was initiated and this miserable human being of a department chair pretty much sank this guy's career. It was not only the biggest crock of shit I have seen but probably one of the more hopeless feelings I had, as the worst thing you can tell a prospective client is that you've taken a look at anything and researched the law, and there just really isn't anything you can do.

You would thing that a more fair appeal process would involve some type of ad-hoc committee comprised of a couple of current students, alumni, faculty from different departments, etc.

dcat said...

Slicer --
That situation is all too common. I'm not certain I'd want an ad hoc committee so much as simply more faith placed in the tenure and promotion committee (students and alums really may have their hearts in the right place but are rarely especially qualified to make these sorts of judgments). That situation is odd inasmuch as the chair usually makes their recommendation before the T&P committee would get to it, but different institutions have different approaches. Some places have the department weigh in as a whole, undercutting the ability of a chair to wield that much power.
That sounds like an awful situation. I wonder if the guy left academia or if he found something else.


Stephen said...

This made me laugh out loud.