Sunday, March 07, 2010

In Touch with my Inner Petty Bourgeoisie Self

The responses to my last post got me thinking. First, thanks for all the encouragement about the bike. It's truly a glorious thing to go out and play on my bike.

That said, thinking about the responses has made me really aware of my inner petty bourgeoisie. Either that, or I've become The Man.

I don't skip meetings, and though I may post occasionally about being frustrated by meetings, and being frustrated by colleagues, I think most of what we do in our meetings has some purpose and is worth doing. No one has to make me prepare for my committee responsibilities, because they're my responsibilities. That's it. The job may pay poorly, but I've agreed to do the job for the pay (well, except for the furlough thing), so my sense of responsibility leads me to do that job. And I try to do it well. I may not always, but generally, I try.

Recognizing how important it is to be well-prepared for meetings and to work hard to make them useful has been a big step in my development as a faculty member. Yes, I always took the meetings that seemed important to me seriously, but now I take the stuff that doesn't seem obviously important to me seriously, either out of respect for the colleagues who've put in work and think it's important, or out of self-respect. And often enough, I've learned something useful. Sometimes, though, I haven't. (I've yet to find an assessment meeting really useful, alas.)

I was chairing a meeting last week, and one of the male members came in late and disrupted the meeting by loudly greeting his buds. He did this while a female committee member was talking, and continued while another female committee member tried to do her part in the work. I think there's likely some sexist attitude there, but in any case, he's being disrespectful of his colleagues.

I'm trying to think how to better handle his rudeness if he does it again. Maybe it's as simple as "Mr. A, please don't disrupt the meeting." Or maybe more like, "Mr. A, please don't interrupt your female colleague." I'd really like to make him aware that he's being rude specifically to a woman, because I think he doesn't want to be a sexist, and might actually change his behavior if he recognized it (hey, I live a rich and full fantasy life!). On the other hand, he might also be all the more resentful and rude if I call attention to his behavior.

There's another woman on the committee I know well, and I checked my perception of his sexist behavior with her, and she agreed. So I don't think it's just me misperceiving. There's another female colleague on the committee, but I don't really know her well, so I don't know how she takes things.


  1. I wonder how your colleague would deal with a student who did exactly the same thing...

    The colleague is teaching, a student comes in late and interrupts him to greet his friends...

    Do you think he'd have acted the same way if a male were speaking -- or if one of his buddies were doing their part?

  2. dollars to donuts he wouldn't be so disruptive for a male colleague. and also, that he wouldn't react well to being called out on sexist grounds, especially publicly. sigh.

    i'd suggest something firm but relatively neutral -- "glad you could make it. everyone's busy and we are pressed for time, so let's get back on track. ms. X, please go on." if interruptions continue -- which would be a clear breech of conduct -- perhaps something more to the point: "we have work to do, and it is hard to focus with conversations going on."

    really, he ought to get it -- aren't student disruptions a nearly universal source of angst with professors?

    should there be a private conversation, you might frame it as: "i don't know if you realized this, but because you were interrupting female professors, that might give the impression that you think less of them." i know, soothing his anxious little ego, but it is less of a blow than a direct accusation, and might spark more thoughtfulness.

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  4. Speaking as a white male from an upper middle-class background who knows nothing about Mr. A other than what's in this post, it might be the case that the guy is an equal-opportunity jackass who'll walk all over anyone who gives him a chance.

    Then again, he might also be a sexist asshole who thinks that women, by pure dint of being women, can be talked over and ignored.

    Either way, I think you should call him out, though tactfully and preferably in public.

  5. In faculty meetings, I tend to be less tactful about interrupters and more funny. Ish.

    I've been known to call out to disruptive colleagues, "Hey bud, shut your pie hole. I can't hear what Dr. A is trying to say." That usually generates a laugh and helps diffuse the situation.

  6. I agree with J Harker that your chatty colleague may be an equal opportunity jerk. When I chair meetings, if there are side conversations, I do exactly what I'd do in class (or one of the things, because I have several tactics). You could even do a "Mary, I'm sorry to stop you but Joe and Ed have to finish their discussion of last night's basketball game before the meeting can continue." That should embarrass them into silence. Depending on how well you know him, it's also possible to have a conversation outside the meeting of the "I don't know if you were aware of it, but when you came in, Mary was speaking...I know you don't meant to be disrespectful of your female colleagues" variety.

    I think I am like you in that while I don't always like meetings, I take them seriously, and try to do my job. I get annoyed no end when a colleague does not chair well.

  7. I like both roaringgrrl and kathy's suggestions. Depending on the mood of the meeting/nature of your colleagues, one of those ought to work. But yeah, I'd call him out on the spot. My experience has been you lose the meeting otherwise. And too many people are already willing to believe women can't run things, so.