Saturday, March 10, 2007

I just don't know

This week seems to be the week of just not knowing.

I went to two job talks, trying to think about which candidate would be the best choice. I just don't know. There are more job talks coming up, so maybe I'll feel some clarity after those.

Sometimes the thing is, we can hire someone who's taken the expected steps, one after another, just like almost everyone else, and we think they'll do the job as expected. Or we can hire someone who's taken a different stairway altogether, and we think they may bring something really exciting to the job. Or they may crash and burn because the stairways really don't come together well.

After one of the job talks, I was chatting someone from another field; she wanted me to understand that the different stairway model is much more typical of how women get into this field. That's something to think about, isn't it? If women aren't getting a chance at the usual steps, but the go-getters find a different stairway, well, there's a lot to think about. I hadn't put two and two together about the gendered stairwells because of my relative inexperience in this field.


I talked to a friend and had the sinking, nauseating "we're the wrong kinds of doctors" feeling. We talked about feeling useless and ignorant. Unfortunately, even the right kinds of doctors apparently aren't much more use. I just don't know.

I do know that statistics are cruel.


A colleague asked me to take up a concern (without using her name) that she has about a campus activity X, reported to a committee I'm on. The procedure is for someone (anyone can, but I'm a logical choice) to take the concern before the sub-committee of the next-step to the powers-that-be. That's part of my job. And part of what usually happens when someone takes a concern to the n-s is that the powers-that-be are there and get alerted to the concern. Or you can ask the n-s to take up the issue in an official way. So that seems straight-forward, right?

This colleague, though, is also fairly close with the powers-that-be.

My colleague asked me to take up the concern, and I suggested that the procedure was that I would go before the n-s. I checked with the head of the n-s, a woman I regard with high respect for her ethics and judgment, and made sure I understood the procedure, and then asked my colleague to give me some more concrete idea of what she wanted me to ask of the n-s. My colleague hesitated, and warned me that the issue is very political, and that she didn't want me to get in trouble. My colleague is senior to me, and has had substantially more interactions with higher ups here than I have.

This seems less straight forward. But I'm seeing a pattern.

I told my colleague that nonetheless, it was my job to represent her concern before the n-s if she wished the concern to be heard, and that I would do so. I wrote up a short statement, asked my colleague to check it to make sure I was representing her concern accurately and appropriately, and then sent it on to the head of the n-s so that she'd know what was coming. My note expressed concern about X done by Y, and asked the n-s to inquire into X. So the head of the n-s invited someone from Y to come to the meeting. At the part of the meeting where people from outside have their say, I read my note, and then we had an informative discussion about X.

The powers-that-be were there in force, and I was nervous. But it was okay. The powers-that-be that were at the meeting spoke in agreement with the concern I raised. The person representing Y felt a little under the gun, no doubt, but really, we're right to be concerned about X. The power-that-be who actually has most direct control over Y wasn't there.

Afterwards, one of the powers-that-be stopped me to thank me for bringing the issue up because s/he shares the concern, but it's hard to bring the issue up between powers-that-be because they're afraid to step on each other's toes (or egos). And, not at all surprisingly, this particular power-that-be mentioned in passing that s/he and my colleague (yes, that colleague) had already had a chat about the issue. And we come full circle.

So, yeah, the pattern was pretty much what you'd expect. My colleague went to the power-that-be, who couldn't step on the toes of another power-that-be, so did a faculty end run to get the concern on the table so that the original power-that-be can now take it up as a faculty concern, and thus not step on any toes or egos.

Will anything change about X? I just don't know. I don't have the energy to put into this particular concern in a big way. I recognize it as a concern, and I'm willing to do my job as a committee member and all, but I'm not putting my energy here.

Why was my colleague all het up about how political the issue is? It is political. A lot of what we do involves exercising power and governing ourselves, and is by definition, political.

I just don't know why she needed to warn me. Either she's way more politically savvy than I am, and I've stepped into quicksand without realizing I'm already sinking to my knees, or she's oversensitive and over-worried. I'm hoping it's the latter, because this colleague is the sort who, I think, would be willing to ask a less senior colleague to do something damaging and then say, "but I warned you not to!"

I just don't know.

1 comment:

  1. Re the last scenario- Though you may not know, it seems to me that you've covered all your bases so that you are not in the position of being the fall guy on this issue. As longas you are clear that your role is to represent the intersts of those you represent, you've done your job.