Friday, July 24, 2009

Academia

Once again, I am amazed at how different departmental culture is in different academic institutions.

Dr. Crazy asserted her right (now that she is tenured) not to have to be a team player and pick up the slack for other faculty who have child care commitments. I understand on one level, but on another, I'm pretty concerned about her attitude.

My context is that I work in a department where we all look out for each other and help each other out. Some of us have child care commitments, some of us have elderly parents, some of us have classes (we have a few faculty currently in PhD programs). We have a 2-week teaching opportunity in Asia, and we don't control the schedule. If the opportunity happens during the term, we pitch in and sub for the other faculty so they can go. I've taken on last minute schedule changes so that I could accommodate another faculty member for a non-child-related reason.

Furthermore, there are opportunities that I as a parent of young children can NOT take. I just learned that my colleague is going to Europe to teach in one of our programs next spring. I have been DYING to have that opportunity. I can't take it because I have young children, and I would have to leave them behind for 3 months. I would take them with me, but I am not allowed to teach in the program with my children there. How fair is that? Only the childless or those with older children get that opportunity. I hate it. I don't want to wait 10 more years (my son is 7) to teach there. But that's the way it is.

I think part of the solution to this problem is that a chair/dean has to create the culture of support and reinforce the idea that everyone is sacrificing. One term, we had 3 faculty in my college (of Arts and Sciences) who were severely ill, enough to take significant time off. The 11 faculty who helped out during that time were honored at our end of the year awards ceremony. They got nothing really, except they got the thanks of everyone and the acknowledgement that what they had done was above and beyond. That's the kind of thing departments can do. People usually don't mind making sacrifices if they feel that people appreciate them and do not take their work for granted.

I understand that Dr. Crazy lives in a particular university/department culture where she had to assert her rights or be given the less desirable teaching times. But what I would suggest to Dr. Crazy is that now that she has tenure, she could use her new-found power not to simply assert only *her* rights in a Randian way, but also to change the culture of her department. I hope she doesn't just sit back in her office with her books and her computer and pat herself on the back for asserting herself. Some day she may need consideration for a struggle to balance life and work, and I hope she would have helped to change her department culture by then instead of simply saying "now it's my turn" and victimizing some other untenured faculty member in her department the same way she was.

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