Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Department Meeting Rule #5

The department meeting is not the appropriate forum for you to take out / work through / air your personal dislike of your colleagues. 

Do that at lunch after the meeting.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

But what if I brought my lunch to the meeting?

Anonymous said...

Yes I like to enjoy freshly opened canned tunafish with my faculty meetings. Typical fucking colleagues now trying to dictate when I get to eat my lunch.

Anonymous said...

Of course it is. That's where they all are.

Not all of us have the balls to post cryptic, anonymous complaints about our colleagues to a blog.

Anonymous said...

Jesus Christ, how many faculty meetings do you have per month?!

Sincerely,
Scared In-Coming Faculty

Anonymous said...

"Next item on the agenda: I think we will increase enrollments by removing all prerequisites for all upper-level courses, even though my own upper-level courses don't have prerequisites and can't attract students, while yours are tough and fill up with dedicated students every time."

"Following item: last year, students who attended a student conference found out there that we had been lying to them when we told them that some of our graduates have got in to top programs. So I move that we _not_ encourage students to attend conferences this year, including one senior who got her paper accepted."

In all seriousness, I ask: how is one to address this idiot (a real person who really put these items on the agenda and has a good chance of having the sheep vote on her side on both) _without_ touching on my key reasons for disliking the person -- that she's dishonest, lazy and stupid?

Seriously asking. Thanks.

729 not logged in said...

Hi Anon 8:07,

It's tricky to avoid touching upon colleagues' dishonesty, laziness and/or stupidity when they put forward proposals that manifest these qualities--often with the sort of "do-gooder" pride that the Dunning-Krueger effected experience. However, this also means that touching upon any dishonesty, laziness and/or stupidity isn't worth your time. Nothing can be achieved by calling these out. The counter-measure can be summed up simply: hit dishonest, lazy, and/or stupid proposals with DATA.

So, for example, if you want to shut down the prerequisite issue, run the data on the enrollments of all the upper level courses for a substantial number of years. Put it all on a spreadsheet. Make hard copies for the whole department attending the meeting. If it is the case that enrollment is only a problem for this faculty member's upper level courses, use a yellow highlighter on each copy to show this shortcoming in enrollment. You can use a lovely blue or green for any courses that are overenrolled, if you really want to push it.

The reason to go through this effort is that changing the prerequisites to upper level courses is *actually a big deal.* Why? Accreditation, ultimately. As "assessment and learning outcome measures" are increasingly *required*, particularly "exit outcomes," your department needs to think hard and long as to whether or not turning upper level courses into intro/sophomore level courses is worth the trade off. Departments with low enrollments in upper level courses very often (though not always) face this hard issue--remove/lower prerequisites increase enrollment at the cost of maintaining the level for majors. Your colleague is playing on the "increase enrollment" narrative while totally ignoring the issues with learning outcome assessment and accreditation down the line.

Deans care about enrollment--so with your handy, easy to read spreadsheet, you get to show how there is no real problem with upper level enrollment. No, there are courses that need to be trimmed from the curriculum and list of course offerings. Whether or not you state this is up to you. You can defer this to a later date by suggesting that instead of voting at the meeting to remove the upper level prerequisites, next semester (in the fall) the Curriculum Committee needs to meet to address this matter in detail, including revising the course offerings. The spreadsheet with data lays the ground for a number of options.

Your second problem can also be dealt with through data -- in this case "tracking data" -- and also *department publicity* with tracking data. Yet again, this comes down to accreditation. Tracking data is typically part of the data required in accreditation, and if the department has been faking it, it is time to stop. Students should be able to go to the department website and see a wide variety of things that former students are doing with their lives--not just getting into graduate programs. Your colleague's desire to keep up deception serves virtually no purpose at this point of time. Students can go to conferences or not, who cares--because graduate school is not the be all and end all worth lying about. If someone is not in charge of tracking (necessary no matter what) and then maybe going further and providing that information to whomever maintains your department website for a "What Can I Do with Philosophy?" page), then counter your colleague's proposal with a demand for doing this instead of trying to hide tracking data.

Yes, this means you'll have to do some *work* before the meeting if you want to shut down the DLa/oS proposals. This is, in my experience, a practical necessity in battling academic BS.

Anonymous said...

11:16 is right on the money. I have found that producing some documents and data shut down colleagues who are crazy, lazy and full of shit. So the best way to deal with this sort of BS is to do a bit of practical work and make constructive suggestions. Your decent colleagues will respond positively to this. Keep in mind you can always rely on the others to continue to be crazy, lazy and full of shit so plan accordingly.

Anonymous said...

Wow -- it sounds as though 8:07 and I had exactly the same experience.

I like the advice as a first try, but it didn't work in my case. I was in a very similar situation and did what was advised here. I brought facts along, refrained from personal attacks, understated everything, and spoke calmly but firmly.

However, I was the newest hire in the department and the two people whose courses were routinely hemmoraging students had a very friendly relationship with the dean, going back decades. Moreover, the courses that were hemmoraging students were of the "Philosophy and tragedy" variety, while mine were hardcore analytic philosophy. The dean was a 'great books' type who loathed actual philosophy.

So, at the meeting, my concerns (documented though they were) got brushed aside. When I got voted down, I clearly stated how unhappy and uncomfortable I was with all this.

As a result, the two powerful department members arranged a humiliating meeting with all of us and the dean. The topic: this new-ish guy is being disruptive and needs to learn how things are done around here.

I presented the same well-documented and clear facts again. They were clear and unambiguous, and really uncontestable. I mentioned the point about accreditation, and also speculated that making clearly false statements to students about their prospects might be actionable (I don't know whether it is).

Anyway, the response of the dean was to treat this as a distraction from the real issue, which was departmental harmony. Neither she nor anyone else denied any of the facts: they just said that the majority (everyone but me, in fact) voted one way and I voted the other way, and that meant I had better shut up about it, no matter how ethically compromised I might feel.

Some students I had brought into the major later complained about the change in policy (the department agreed to cancel all the directed studies sections I had promised to them, among other things), and were told by the chair in a very public email that if they didn't like it, they should switch majors or schools. And the students did.

On the accreditation front: I don't know what things are like where you are, but in my neck of the woods it's practically impossible for a department to run into troubles with an external review once it's passed the initial accreditation process. The reviewers, no matter what they hear, seem to report grave problems as minor glitches and not mention small- or middle-sized at all. Then they wrap it all up in pleasantries and submit it to the VP Academic. The dean must have known that...

Anyway, I don't know what to do in a situation like that: no decent colleagues, stupid dean. In my case, I left the school and ended up somewhere much better. But it was a trying year and a half!

729 not logged in said...

Hi 9:13,
You describe a real worst case scenario--no decent colleagues, stupid entrenched dean. Moving on was the only good option, and it's great that you were able to do so.

The accreditation thing can be, well, interesting. As you describe, departments can coast by in external review for quite some time, seemingly indefinitely. There can be a good deal of collusion involved. By this, I mean that I have seen chairs cook/invent data, faculty make sure that especially selected external reviewers are not out to do anything, etc. But I have also seen this come grinding to a spectacular halt. All it can take is *one* external reviewer that takes her/his job seriously and/or one change in administration to send a department reeling. Even a department with a highly entrenched culture of incompetence may not stand a chance against an overzealous provost with a political mandate for "accountability." If virtually no one in a department has the competence to manage meeting such demands, it is truly a sight to behold. The appearance of things like receivership and retrenchment on the horizon make for very different kinds of department meetings.