Thursday, September 18, 2014

Weird is...

I was at a small casual get together to meet some new faculty folks, and get to know some other new folks today.  Most folks were newly minted phuds, though there were a couple other folks who've been around as I have.

One of the spouses argued that things on campus should work like they do in the military, and when a faculty member asks a non-faculty staff person to do something, that person should basically drop whatever they're doing and take care of the faculty member.  Then the new folks all started in agreeing wholeheartedly that non-phuds should treat phuds with way more respect.

And weirdly, I, the old fart, was trying to say that no, sometimes staff folks had more important things to do than whatever it was the faculty person wanted, and no, staff folks are sometimes treated with less respect than is right, and so on.  I was probably more polite than I might have been, but also cognizant that I have more power than these folks, and shouldn't throw it around. 

It's not that I've never been frustrated by administrative staffers.  I have.  Still, their reactions struck me as showing that they thought having a phud made them special, better than people who don't have phuds.  They seem way more enamored of hierarchy than I am, even though I have more power in the hierarchy than they do.  I guess that weirds me out.

Want to guess what our common denominator was?


  1. Starts with a g, ends with an r.


    I will also point out that university staff usually have a much lower salary ceiling than faculty and are often expected to support a lot of faculty who are often pretty irrational in their demands. Low pay, little autonomy and a bunch of often directly-contradictory "bosses"? So not fun.

  2. What Janice said. Geez.

  3. And, of course, the secret to real happiness on any university campus (which these fellas probably will never learn), is staying on the right side of the staff.

    It might be your chair who decides what you teach; but it's the departmental secretary who decides where you teach. Maybe the provost determines your salary; but it's plants and maintenance that makes sure your office and classrooms are heated and lit properly. IT can make your tech life lovely or hell.

    And so on.

    Treat staff like serfs, and you *will* pay.

  4. saucyturtles4:36 AM

    Oh, I was going to say starts with wh, ends with a silent e, but Janice may be right. I'm actually kind of shocked that anyone would talk like that, or make an analogy to the miltary. The military sees the hierarchy as necessary to its functioning but the university has ideals of shared governance and academic freedom, etc. Should assistant professors drop everything to do what associate professors order them to, and they in turn be at the disposal of fulls, while the provost can have everyone shine his shoes?

  5. We were: People of color and white folks; vegetarian and omnivore; straight and lesbian; US-born and born elsewhere; women and men.

    I recognize that the people of color here unanimously report that staff folks treat them poorly, and I believe those reports.

    What we have in common? We're all affiliated in one way or another with the most stereotypically liberal area of study on most college campuses.

  6. What delegar said.

    At my institution a department staffer talks about how there are really only a few faculty members (I'm among them) who don't treat the staffer like crap. It's so stupid. I learned in grad school that if you want to know anything about the institution (i.e., scuttlebutt) or want help with getting around stupid policies, make friends with the staff. Seriously, Bardiac, probably the best advice I can ever give a new faculty member is be nice to staff. They know stuff before we do and know better how to work the institution. Maybe let these new phds suffer a bit for their ignorance, but anyone I mentor, I would tell them that straight out.

    I love that the departments who most often have radicals, socialists, malcontents, and revolutionaries (I count myself among them -- these are my peeps) can so classist (and self-serving). But seriously, even those who can justify being classist from a principled perspective should be savvy enough to be nice to staff to find out stuff.

  7. I am so mystified by all the guesses that I keep coming back to see if someone will explain it for me. Sorry to be so dim.

    1. Anonymous2:27 PM

      I got "white" but I still have no idea what begins with a g and ends with an r. And for "the most stereotypically liberal area of study" I'm torn between "GLBT studies"-- thinking that maybe most campuses don't have that and "feminist studies" or "black studies" or "hispanic studies." My best guess is feminist studies.

      Our university has a program for improving faculty and staff interaction, and I hear it works pretty well. Of course, we've got some staff who are wonderful amazing people, some who treat you well if they like you and abuse their power if they don't, and some who try to do as little work as possible and pretend they were never informed of things they were supposed to do unless a dean tells them to do it directly. (Don't feel sorry for the latter-- I just checked the salary of one such example, and she makes 85K/year to do nothing but obstruct. Also the rest of the staff, who get paid less than she does and do far more work, hate her too. Oddly the folks in the second category also tend to make more than the folks in that first category. Being a jerk means we can't get rid of you and you get a bigger salary, I guess.)

    2. Anonymous2:33 PM

      Oh good grief, I just looked up the salary of our wonderful department secretary who works herself to the bone and makes amazing things happen-- 45K. Obstructionist woman who does nothing: 85K. NOT FAIR.

      Similar thing in IT: Guy who actually does stuff, 62K. Obstructionist guy who does nothing all day except say no: $89K.

      I'm going to stop looking now. This is just too depressing.

  8. Cultural studies?

    And what delagar said.

  9. I assumed that Janice's guess was "gender". But totally depressing. A friend and I (both women, late middle age) were agreeing that the trick to maneuvering through our system (which is notoriously bureaucratic) was to make friends with staff, and be nice to them. The people I work with regularly always get gifts at Christmas -- and I know who should get wine, who chocolate, and who chocolate without nuts. And then (because our staff is centralized in the Dean's office) there is always a big tray of cookies or some such for everyone. This came up because my friend is supervising a man who seems to work on this model, and keeps breaking rules. He is so far protected (his wife is very senior, and "has his back") but he has annoyed everyone in parking, facilities, etc: and we agreed, no one would go out of their way to help him.

    I'm always astonished at the way some faculty think receiving a phud is a license to treat others badly. Really, being nice to someone costs you nothing and gains you everything.

    And please tell me this was English, not women's/gender/sexuality studies.

  10. The answer, alas, is that we're all affiliated with women's studies at our school. I despair.