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Author Topic: When NOT to STFU  (Read 11097 times)
shrek
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« on: April 28, 2012, 12:59:26 PM »

Okay, I'm worried for a junior faculty member who will be going up for tenure this fall. They were bullied-- not openly, not publically, but in a subtle way where they were caught in a web. When they tried to extract themselves, they had to push back hard. Now this junior member of the faculty (great teaching-- awards, etc., and strong research, getting stronger) is completely intimidated by the senior member (who is an evil manipulative person-- everyone who deals with them ends up being bullied-- I was also bullied by this person too, or at least they tried, but they're only ahead of me by a couple of years in career (although more than 10 years older) and since I'm a troll, I just am not going to let it happen).

Anyway, the junior faculty member has cut themselves off from virtually all department interactions that are not required-- they don't go to the small research meetings, and reading groups; they don't go to faculty parties, college parties, or anything like that. They teach, do research, and avoid all situations where they might find themselves in a room with the bully. My fear is that this person won't get tenure because they haven't made the connections with members of the faculty (and members of the college) that are part of becoming part of the academic community. So, no one have the opportunity to interact informally with this talented young faculty member either in or out of the department. I worry that they've become too invisible.

So, anyway, the story here is sure, maybe you STFU, but don't cut yourself off from the very people who would help and support you. Those ARE people you need to talk with and be seen with often.
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soymilk
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« Reply #1 on: April 28, 2012, 1:18:18 PM »

I can think of two things you can do for this person that may be helpful. First, take him/her to lunch and invite some powerful, non-bullying colleagues to join you. During the lunch, don't dwell on the bully's antics, but make it clear that you are supportive. Let him/her know that you recognize their many accomplishments. You can't imagine what an impact this can have an a person's emotional health going up for tenure!
Second, the spring/summer before tenure review seems like an excellent time to get this candidate some positive publicity. Can you mention this person's accomplishments to your public affairs/publicity department and see if they can get an item in the paper, a radio interview, or an item in a university publication?
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skeptical
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« Reply #2 on: April 28, 2012, 1:19:18 PM »

If you have the opportunity to vote on your young colleague's tenure, I think you should laud his or her accomplishments and describe (in detail, naming names) how your colleague managed to do all the right things in spite of being bullied. That will create a record of the situation and give the "higher-ups" some context as they read all of the ballots.
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tortugaphd
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« Reply #3 on: April 28, 2012, 6:08:29 PM »

Good ideas, already from soymilk and skeptical.  When I was in a similar situation, some supportive senior colleagues did what soymilk suggested (closed ranks around me; took my mind off of the toxic person in question; and got me refocused on my work), and it was a real morale booster for me.  Also, I received a query from the university's PR rep who wanted to interview me about my work--perhaps a supportive colleague tipped them off?--and then she sent a bunch of press releases out that generated a lot of publicity for what I was writing about.  My dept. chair also sent the press release to the faculty email list.

How is the dept. chair on all of this?  Is s/he aware of the situation?  In the tenure and promotion process, the chair's letter takes on an enormous amount of weight.  When I went up for review, the chair in my dept. wrote one of those hyperbolically, over-the-top positive letters (more in line with a grad student rec letter than a faculty review letter), because s/he was one of the supportive senior colleagues who understood what had transpired.  If the chair in your dept. isn't aware of the situation with your junior colleague (or is aware but isn't supportive), it might be good to get a group of supportive senior colleagues together to be proactive about influencing what goes into the chair's letter that will be added to the tenure file.

As far as what your junior colleague can control....  It really helped me to adjust the way I presented myself anytime I was at a dept. event.  I always dressed up, looked fabulous, and smiled and chatted amiably with everybody.  It was all a performance, but there's something to be said about the transformative potential of a good performance.
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systeme_d_
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« Reply #4 on: April 28, 2012, 6:12:52 PM »

If you really want to help, then talk to your junior colleague and tell them this:

My fear is that this person won't get tenure because they haven't made the connections with members of the faculty (and members of the college) that are part of becoming part of the academic community. So, no one have the opportunity to interact informally with this talented young faculty member either in or out of the department. I worry that they've become too invisible.

So, anyway, the story here is sure, maybe you STFU, but don't cut yourself off from the very people who would help and support you. Those ARE people you need to talk with and be seen with often.

And then offer to escort them to these kinds of events, and to serve as a kind of defensive phalanx if Bully appears.  Get your colleagues to help you, and to offer the same.
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larryc
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« Reply #5 on: April 28, 2012, 7:09:39 PM »

Shrek, are you just telling us, or are you planning on doing something?
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tortugaphd
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« Reply #6 on: April 28, 2012, 8:29:32 PM »

And then offer to escort them to these kinds of events, and to serve as a kind of defensive phalanx if Bully appears.  Get your colleagues to help you, and to offer the same.

Great idea!  I was also advised never to allow my bully to see me attending work events alone, b/c bullies pick on those they perceive to be isolated.  It was a relief to know that friendly faces would always be surrounding me whenever I had to go to something.
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shrek
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« Reply #7 on: April 29, 2012, 2:14:48 AM »

Shrek, are you just telling us, or are you planning on doing something?
I'm venting, and I'm doing what I can. For example, there was an event recently that my colleague didn't want to attend and I basically made them go. They were never alone and we interacted with them and with other members of the university as well, and introduced them around.

I will vote on this person's tenure, and I pushed to make sure that the bully would not be on the college committee the year they go up--because even tho' you can't present the case for the person in your department, you can advocate and provide background (or not). My junior colleague has many allies, but I don't they they really know how much these folks are pulling for them or how aware we all are of the bully situation. I think they believe they're alone, but they're not. It was a long time before they let me know and I hadn't been aware (lots of reasons-- most of which is that my lab is not on campus-- so my work there and my grants keep me away). But, when I heard, it was not a surprise. Which is why you cannot STFU all the time, if this person has talked to me even a year sooner I might have been able to help more and helped to strategize better.

So, all your ideas have helped a lot. Some of the things I've tried to do, and others I will make a point of and I think I can rally other faculty to do the same.  I just don't know if I'm doing the right things or if it will help. Of course all this didn't help research productivity-- but I think that they'll be okay on that point too. We'll see. And thank you all, it helps to be able to vent and to get your collective wisdom.
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adjunk
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« Reply #8 on: April 29, 2012, 8:27:34 AM »

Chances are likely that junior has withdrawn from department activities they're busy applying for other positions.  A bully will cause that.  Consider junior a lost cause, and concentrate your efforts instead on dealing with the bully.  So long as there's a bully in your department, retaining good faculty is always going to be a challenge.
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soymilk
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« Reply #9 on: April 29, 2012, 9:00:52 AM »

Chances are likely that junior has withdrawn from department activities they're busy applying for other positions. 
I thought the same thing. However, if he deserves tenure, and it sounds as if he does, then helping him get it is not a lost cause, it is a worthy one, no matter where he goes.
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monsterx
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« Reply #10 on: April 29, 2012, 10:37:11 AM »

Chances are likely that junior has withdrawn from department activities they're busy applying for other positions.  A bully will cause that.  Consider junior a lost cause, and concentrate your efforts instead on dealing with the bully.  So long as there's a bully in your department, retaining good faculty is always going to be a challenge.

I think this is right.  Junior has an exit strategy, and doesn't see any point in investing in a department where junior will not be next year.  It's the situation I am in right now, and have been for the past year, and I saw it also in the people who fled my dysfunctional department before me.  It is difficult to socialize with people you like but aren't sure if you can trust to keep their mouths shut, when you're busy meeting with new colleagues, buying houses and researching schools in and daycares another city, etc. etc. - it is very hard not to share.  So it is best just to keep personal interactions to a minimum and focus on the new place. 

But you need to fix the department's dysfunction (unless you plan to leave yourself), although I can't see how you can possibly manage that given that the bully is probably rooted in place.  Maybe you can capitalize on junior's flight when it happens, in order to underline the problem?
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shrek
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« Reply #11 on: April 29, 2012, 11:56:58 AM »

I hope they don't leave. I don't think they're planning to, not yet. But, the bully has only gotten worse over time.

There were opportunities to get rid of bully at tenure, at promotion to full they've only gotten worse. This is also why I usually say in cases where an assistant professor is showing signs of being a bully (in this case it was to students at that level and more junior assistants) to not promote. Promotion only unmasks the total bully.

I've lived with this for a 15 years in this department and only my ability to be an a**hole to them and to do it in public has kept them from continuing to act like this to me. But, it's a lot of energy to constantly challenge and constantly push back. The other junior faculty are bullied by this person too, but not as much. They're also stronger and have learned to push back. And I think the rest of the faculty have been on high alert and we get in the middle of it before it gets too bad. Another mistake made by my one colleage is that they didn't say anything for a long long time (as in about 3 years).
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larryc
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« Reply #12 on: April 29, 2012, 12:18:25 PM »

Let your colleague know that a bunch of you are working to help her and she doesn't have to worry about the bully. It will be a huge peace of mind.
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hegemony
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« Reply #13 on: April 29, 2012, 1:27:23 PM »

I don't know how your department works, but at ours, excellent teaching, good research, and required service would be enough to get someone tenure.  You wouldn't have to put in an appearance at the reading groups or the departmental parties.  I shudder to think about being officially penalized because I haven't appeared at some party or other.

It does sound as if your junior colleague is just biding time until making an exit.  And with good cause, it sounds like. 
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larryc
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« Reply #14 on: April 29, 2012, 1:35:11 PM »

Also, you need a plan to deal with the bully--marginalize, warn others, discredit.
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