Little Breakdowns

In the hallway tonight, I felt a little panic nibbling around the edges. Naturally, someone stopped me to talk.

The last few weeks have been a lot of little hoop jumping moments, and they've added to the vague sense of distress that I had the wrong idea about what I was being hired to do. There are, I am reminding myself, a few ways to build a department and to handle new hires. You can hire someone who does something your department is lacking. This is what I'd thought was happening. But you can also hire someone who does something similar to what your department or someone in it already does. And, realistically, there's the possibility that you weren't being strategic at all.

So there was some mild discomfort when I discovered the two of the courses I thought I was being hired to teach were already being taught. But I bucked up, little campers, and got on with it. Imagine, though, the horror when I found out today that the other course I'd been developing and shepherding through various hoops and hoopla is being taught in another department.

Superfluous?

An economic luxury?

Soon-to-be bureaucratic piƱata?

Oh, how tired I am tonight. If you see anyone coming with sticks, warn me. Or at least stuff me with candy. They shouldn't disappointed.

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6 Responses to “Little Breakdowns”
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bitternsweet said...

I have to say that every story about your new gig has me more and more worried that your the victim of some serious bungling on the part of your new dept. Sounds like they didn't really know what they wanted/needed, how to accurately represent the job, or what exactly they want you to do now that you're there.

Of course, I have every confidence in your ability to make the best of the situation. You handled all that racism bullshit at your previous job -- you can handle this. But, you might need to be more proactive about defining for yourself what your role/responsibilities are -- what *you* want the job to be -- and then make that happen.

And, boy, avoid all those hallway and after event chats ... your colleagues really know how to create more stress for you!

October 16, 2009 at 9:25 AM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

I've been thinking about this ever since the fire alarm went off in my building this morning. Finally, eight hours later, I think I'm coherent enough to actually offer meaningful clarification.

I think the position advertised is pretty much what I'm being asked to do; the difficulty for me is there's already someone here who is doing that. I'd just about wrapped my head around having someone in the department doing the same thing. I'd chalked it up as someone trying to stake a claim in a growing area. But to have someone else in another department doing the area that I'd decided was what was distinguishing me fanned more than a few flames.

What I'm not clear on is whether these things are intentional - there's a little turf battle that seems to be brewing here - or whether it's accidental.

And, of course, all that new faculty stress - which I somehow convinced myself I'd be immune, having been in a tenure track spot for four years before this - is just more fuel on the fire.

October 16, 2009 at 2:39 PM
Dr. Crazy said...

The question I have is whether you have anyone (your chair? someone else senior?) you can talk to about what's going on. I think you need to communicate with somebody about this stuff - to get the lay of the land. I don't think that the "there seems to be a course in another dept. that does something very close to what I do" thing is necessarily a death knell (in my dept. we've fought many battles on behalf of comp/rhet specialists who want to teach rhetoric-based classes, while the communications dept. wants to claim rhetoric as theirs, for example), but as a new person, you need somebody with some clout and some seniority in your corner. You can't get that if you don't communicate your perceptions to somebody. You need allies. Right now, it sounds like you don't have any. Do what you can to get some. Don't just keep this stuff to yourself (or only communicate it on your pseudonymous blog).

October 16, 2009 at 8:26 PM
ash said...

I could not agree more with my fellow readers that you need to re-channel your energy away from fretting and into finding an ally you can trust among your colleagues. That said, I have this sneaking suspicion that you won't (exactly) do that. Having been friends with you for a long (looooonnnng) time (but recognizing that it's probably not safe to say I "know" you, since I do realize--and respect--how close to the vest you play all things personal), it's hard to imagine you sharing these anxieties with a colleague, esp. one you barely know.

So, if having a frank conversation (that could potentially make you feel exposed and vulnerable) is not in the cards, I hope you'll maybe think about ways you can approach this strategically. That is, find ways to get the info you need (from one source or many), without giving away your reasons for asking. Seems like that would, if nothing else, feel better/more productive than worrying alone!

Good luck, and keep us posted!

October 17, 2009 at 4:19 PM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

God, I hate editing comments in this stupid Blogger comment box...

Thanks for the thoughts and advice.

To catch everyone up, shortly before I posted the original entry, I actually had contacted both my department chair and a couple of other faculty members about the course outside the department. There's rumored to be a meeting in the works, so we'll see. I'm not sure how much hope I'll put in the meeting - we've got some pretty obvious arguments for the course, but I suspect we're also a little further down the totem pole in terms of clout.

What's probably missing from the recent blog posts, though I imagine it's been an undercurrent that everyone's been too polite to express, is a sort of midlife crisis moment that seems to be happening in relation to this job. Having put all sorts of things aside for school and career, the one certainty of starting a new job was that, even if I'm "starting afresh here" in terms of tenure and such, I at least had the teaching/research agenda put together. The implication - however self-imposed it truly is - that I might be starting over with those things, too, throws those other choices into pretty sharp relief. And that's really what a lot of this stress is about.

Ash is, not surprisingly, right that there is a lot of this that I'm loathe to talk about with folks in the department: chiefly, the various anxieties these moments have caused. In part, it's because I think the anxieties are probably part of a natural process - and that's the big reason why I mention them here in the blog. But also, I'm holding that bit back because while everyone's getting to know me, I'd rather make sure they're seeing the bits they're likely to see once I'm truly settled in.

October 17, 2009 at 5:27 PM
bitternsweet said...

So ... that's what your blog is for. More ranting, more anxieties, more fears of choices made and paths chosen. If you can't talk to them (and I can completely understand the desire to keep the shine on as long as possible) you can talk to us. And hopefully some RL friends who will take you out for a few drinks.

October 19, 2009 at 9:21 PM