Thursday, April 12, 2007

Academic Politics

New Kid is only the latest casualty. Here are my comments to her:

The good side and bad side is how the hierarchy is or isn't implemented. But, based on this and other stories, it is everyone's best interest NOT to have any chair as a mentor. By the nature of the beast, they are supposed to be somewhat of a mentor, but their view of the entire dynamic is quite different given their direct responsibilities to the admnistrative levels above them. I once heard a chair's position described as half faculty and half administration and they are constantly struggling with being torn. On a personal note, anyone who is your mentor is supposed to want to see you succeed and they sometimes see it as a personal failure if you don't. So, they, too, may have had trouble seeing any particular signs of problems although his comments to you seem direct in hindsight and without the context in which they were spoken to you. Our interpretation of everything around us tends to further support what we want to believe and while academics as a group sometimes are quite brutally honest with students, they play in an entirely different dynamic. So, there are at least some systematic issues.

The most important thing is that you had this trip planned and you are enjoying what is a great city (my brother does quite a bit of business there and is thinking of moving there) and are spending some quality time with LDH.

Although there will be times it will be difficult, at least you have a terminal year unlike those in other careers that can be booted out the door almost immediately upon a bad review. Take some time to reassess what you want to do.

Most importantly, academia is NOT the only option although we're sometimes led to believe that it is. Even those of us who survive the various academic battles (and almost everyone has who stays very long) sometimes question the ultimate costs. Do what is best for New Kid and no one else. It may be as simple as that this place was not a good fit. The sad reality is that most doctoral programs prepare us to teach in settings just like they have and that is simply NOT the majority of teaching positions. Plus, you identified an important issue - being a good teacher doesn't mean we can teach all. Look how many students at all levels complain in "national surveys" that they didn't learn much in college and didn't have to study. And those same people are the ones evaluating professors who push them to do their best as being not the best. Interesting paradox that actually affects peoples lives and careers.

One thing to keep in mind as you encounter your campus colleagues over the next year - hold your head high and don't let them know they got to you - that is ultimately the best revenge. And, most importantly, it's most important for you to focus on yourself and what you need to put them all in their little boxes that won't be affecting you anymore. We (your friends and colleagues in the blog world) certainly don't want you to feel overwhelmed by this decision for another year. Enjoy the freedom you have - do your job as you interpret it - taking care of students, etc., but don't worry about other obligations to the institution that ultimately decided you weren't meeting their 'requirements'. Keep thinking forward about what you want to do next and do the writing and presenting and researching that will help you with that - whether it's professional research or researching what options you have out in this big wide world.

Hang in there! The cliche is true - what doesn't kill us makes us stronger - and don't be shy about seeking out all the support you can. As you said, that's when you know who your real friends are.

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