I’m Rubber, You’re Glue: Tenure, Privilege and Reputations

December 5, 2006, 3:53 pm

Combat Philosopher has a provocative post up this week about crazy colleagues: he apparently has one, who is currently torturing one of his friends. You can get to CP’s blog from mine easily, and I recommend that everyone read this for three reasons. First, he raises the question: why is it that a woman, no matter what her reputation for lunatic behavior, can make charges against a man of a sexual nature, and have them stick instantly? Second, it is a good reminder never to have sex with a colleague without thinking about it for a very long time and getting advice from at least two friends (I’m just saying, CP). And third, I think it raises the more general question: we all have at least one, probably more, colleague who is erratic to say the least, maybe crazy, maybe senile, maybe an alcoholic. And no one ever does a thing about it, even to the extent of saying to that colleague, post-egregious behavior: “That was wrong.”

This is not just on my mind because of Combat Philosopher’s pal, who is in a tight spot and I wish the fellow well in his ongoing struggle to get rid of a woman who is clearly remaining attached to him by the simple strategy of calling various police agencies to complain that *he* won’t leave her alone. She is, I am sure, doing this in the desperate hope that he will begin to contact her to try to work it out, and from that, their relationship will somehow flower – or she will be able to stem her grief about the loss of a relationship that is probably standing in for *some other relationship in her life.*

The point, however, is that CP’s pal is in a struggle to save his reputation, and it is a terrible position to be in, particularly when someone else holds all the cards. This reminds me of a tough situation that arose this week at a friend’s institution, which a number of people there are scrambling madly to cover up. Thank the Goddess for email attachments! Apparently there was a nasty letter from one person who voted on the case accusing the candidate of being unsuited to the job because s/he is a bigot. And when asked by a colleague why, the author responded that there was no damage intended.

Oh. OK. I get it now.

Character assassination in the university is not a new thing, it’s just that it is usually done where it belongs, in the bathroom or in a department meeting. It is almost unheard of that anyone writes such a thing down and makes such an evil, stick-to-you-like-gum charge part of an official report. My friend does not think it will do any damage — apparently the department, one and all, was appalled across political and ideological lines, rallied around, etc. And I’m sure they are eating baskets of Tums over at the various administration buildings, praying that the case just zips through and that all is forgotten. But here is the thing: at the risk of the candidate finding out this horrible hurtful thing, I don’t think my friend’s department should forget about it or hide it. And I think there is something very wrong about the tenure system that practically everyone I have discussed this with has said, Yes, it was dreadful, but nothing can be done in such a situation.

It is also worth saying that it is my friend’s view that this is one in a long string of horrible things this crazy man has done, and when called on it, he claims that he is only being attacked for his conservatism by liberals who want to marginalize him. Ergo, he also believes that it is his task to go after “liberals” (your Dr. Radical is actually referred to publicly by a colleague as “the department radical,” acompanied by similar claims that this is merely descriptive.) My feeling is that we all have tolerated such bad behavior because it could be managed, and because it happens in private. And because everyone acknowledges that such people are crazy, we lose perspective on the damage done.

What say the rest of you to this grisly tale? And how do we reconfigure the idea of tenure to link its privileges to a set of ethical responsibilities?

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