Hyah, mule!

So today as I was sitting in my office, taking advantage of the A/C on a post-gym visit, my department chair stopped in. We talked about cell phones, student registration patterns, upcoming events, writing the posting for our new line, and it was all very cursory. And then, the bomb was dropped.

"How would you like to chair the search for our new line?" he asked.

Without blinking or laughing, I replied, "Not a bit." And this seemed to stun him. There was a long awkward pause.

"I thought it would look good on your C.V."

Now this, my friends, is such a load (and loaded) moment in Senior/Junior faculty relations. This particular bit gets spread so thickly and regularly, you'd think they were trying to grow prize roses. It's code, though, and it can be roughly translated to "I don't want to do this. You do it, sucker."

"I'm not hurting for service," I said. "I advise 40 students; I manage our website. I'm still on the college's strategic planning committee, and I'm going to be helping with the honor society this year. And that's just the stuff I'm doing on campus."

More stunned silence, then "I just thought you'd be good at it."

"I probably would be. But do you really want me potentially talking to someone about salary? Or about tenure requirements when I haven't gone through the full process? Do you really think I should be in charge of all the contact with them, particularly when I'm going to be on an overload one of the terms? Doesn't this seem like a Senior Faculty sort of thing?"

There was no response. And that isn't surprising, really, because it's been a very rare moment that I've said no to anything. But by year four, I think it's a word that needs to get some exercise in my vocabulary. And part of why I'm so irritated is that often times these missions I get sent on wind up being enormous wastes of my time, and this request came hot on the heels of an e-mail from another colleague about the conference I was drafted into helping with, that handily dismissed all but one word of the work I'd been asked to come up with.

I guess perhaps my chair didn't recall me explaining a few weeks ago about the conference - which he's not helping with - that I felt like I'd been chained to a plow, blinders on, and been set to work doing the tedious stuff, never mind what I thought about it.

And that's probably not going to change, as his parting words out the door were, "Well, think about it ,and get back to me."

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7 Responses to “Hyah, mule!”
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Dr. Crazy said...

Ok, well, probably the more diplomatic response in the moment would have been, "I'd be happy to serve as a search committee member, but chairing is just too much with all of my other service and with the BOOK I'm trying to finish."

But isn't your department small? Is there even a search committee - or is it just the chair who has to do all the lackey work and then everybody chimes in? I feel like that's your situation, though I'm not certain. Point is, you did the right thing.

To my mind, there is NO WAY somebody without tenure should chair a search. I suspect you were called upon because between your search and the search this year, the senior people were all, "but I JUST CHAIRED a search - WAH!"

Nevertheless, that's not your problem. That's their problem. They should be helping you to tenure. Period. Regardless of what you might say about salary and whatnot, they shouldn't want you to chair a search because they should want you to be working to make the best tenure case possible, and no service will insure that.

What I would do (although I'm not terribly diplomatic since the whole book contract thing in my department) is I'd email the chair tomorrow and say that I'd thought about it and that as much as I LOVE service (blah blah blah) I just can't step up in that particular capacity prior to tenure.

If he still insists, I'd maybe agree, but only if I got at least one course release if not two in order to do so. (Which is, ultimately, you saying no, for they'll probably never agree to it. But if they want you to do it that badly, and if the senior people won't step up, they should compensate you with time, if not money.)

June 9, 2008 at 11:19 PM
flacius1551 said...

No way should junior faculty ever chair a search. What a political nightmare!

June 10, 2008 at 6:53 AM
Dance said...

If I were an applicant, I would be deeply put off to discover that a department had an untenured professor *chairing* the search. I would be very unhappy to be asking questions about tenure, institutional practice, etc of someone who had only been there 2-4 years. You might emphasize that point, perhaps dig up a Chronicle Careers piece that addresses why untenured faculty should not do certain things, regardless of whether they are protecting your time or not.

In fact, the half-assed dept with the junior faculty rep (who came all alone to the AHA to interview candidates in a lobby) is an enduring market memory, and my friend who got the on-campus said it was equally half-assed. (that's more about half-assed than the junior faculty, but feel free to tweak it to your chair)

June 10, 2008 at 12:30 PM

I agree with everyone else about the problems with having an untenured person chair a search (for a VAP, fine, but not for the t-t - unless there's only one sr. person in the dept or something!).

But really I wanted to say: don't you love the phrasing of "How would you like to..."? Because really, the person using that phrase clearly already thinks of this as a treat, or something you'd definitely like to do!

June 11, 2008 at 11:16 AM
adjunct whore said...

i just want to say how impressed i am by your strength and response to said chair. really, you provide a model for us newbies.

as a newbie, i can't properly advise on such things, but i would think that mentioning the tenure file on the horizon, the political viper pit of chairing a search, and your scholarly obligations (not to mention what seems like quite a load of service on your plate already) would be a gentle but firm push back.

no. stick to it. people don't get anything, much less course releases, for chairing searches. at least nobody that i know has.

June 12, 2008 at 4:23 PM
Notorious Ph.D. said...

Wow. I am in awe of your no-saying abilities. I think my number is finally up this year to serve on a search committee. But chair it? Pretenure? That's just a bad idea.

June 14, 2008 at 5:34 PM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

Just catching up. Sorry for the delay.

It helps being irritated and cranky if you've got to say no. As things have gone job-wise, I'm fairly annoyed. No small part of the problem is that the department has worked itself into a spot where at least one colleague is assumed to be unavailable. But I've also actually heard someone say "we should let the new folks deal with it."

Paying dues is fine, but I'm not going to foot the entire bill. I do a lot and gladly, but there's a limit, particularly when the type of help I need isn't so forthcoming. The possibility of a course download or other break for such a duty is pretty unlikely, all things considered. They've more or less removed that as an option with the most recent contract (the assumption is that as we're shifting to a 3/3 that course downloads are given). But other than that and to Department Chairs, I don't think they give them out for much other than research here. And when I actually had one, it really translated to more work coming my way from other directions.

The other thing that let me say no was the feeling I have about how appropriate it is for a junior, untenured faculty member to lead this type of process. I'd be put off if I were an applicant, for one thing. But it would also mean either having to negotiate with someone on your same level or having a useless search chair who had to refer you elsewhere for anything substantive. Both seem bad to me.

June 16, 2008 at 12:03 PM