Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I'm Rubber, You're Glue: Tenure, Privilege and Reputations

Combat Philosopher has a provocative post up this week about crazy colleagues: he apparently has one, who is currently torturing one of his friends. You can get to CP's blog from mine easily, and I recommend that everyone read this for three reasons. First, he raises the question: why is it that a woman, no matter what her reputation for lunatic behavior, can make charges against a man of a sexual nature, and have them stick instantly? Second, it is a good reminder never to have sex with a colleague without thinking about it for a very long time and getting advice from at least two friends (I'm just saying, CP). And third, I think it raises the more general question: we all have at least one, probably more, colleague who is erratic to say the least, maybe crazy, maybe senile, maybe an alcoholic. And no one ever does a thing about it, even to the extent of saying to that colleague, post-egregious behavior: "That was wrong."

This is not just on my mind because of Combat Philosopher's pal, who is in a tight spot and I wish the fellow well in his ongoing struggle to get rid of a woman who is clearly remaining attached to him by the simple strategy of calling various police agencies to complain that *he* won't leave her alone. She is, I am sure, doing this in the desperate hope that he will begin to contact her to try to work it out, and from that, their relationship will somehow flower - or she will be able to stem her grief about the loss of a relationship that is probably standing in for *some other relationship in her life.*

The point, however, is that CP's pal is in a struggle to save his reputation, and it is a terrible position to be in, particularly when someone else holds all the cards. This reminds me of a tough situation that arose this week at a friend's institution, which a number of people there are scrambling madly to cover up. Thank the Goddess for email attachments! Apparently there was a nasty letter from one person who voted on the case accusing the candidate of being unsuited to the job because s/he is a bigot. And when asked by a colleague why, the author responded that there was no damage intended.

Oh. OK. I get it now.

Character assassination in the university is not a new thing, it's just that it is usually done where it belongs, in the bathroom or in a department meeting. It is almost unheard of that anyone writes such a thing down and makes such an evil, stick-to-you-like-gum charge part of an official report. My friend does not think it will do any damage -- apparently the department, one and all, was appalled across political and ideological lines, rallied around, etc. And I'm sure they are eating baskets of Tums over at the various administration buildings, praying that the case just zips through and that all is forgotten. But here is the thing: at the risk of the candidate finding out this horrible hurtful thing, I don't think my friend's department should forget about it or hide it. And I think there is something very wrong about the tenure system that practically everyone I have discussed this with has said, Yes, it was dreadful, but nothing can be done in such a situation.

It is also worth saying that it is my friend's view that this is one in a long string of horrible things this crazy man has done, and when called on it, he claims that he is only being attacked for his conservatism by liberals who want to marginalize him. Ergo, he also believes that it is his task to go after "liberals" (your Dr. Radical is actually referred to publicly by a colleague as "the department radical," acompanied by similar claims that this is merely descriptive.) My feeling is that we all have tolerated such bad behavior because it could be managed, and because it happens in private. And because everyone acknowledges that such people are crazy, we lose perspective on the damage done.

What say the rest of you to this grisly tale? And how do we reconfigure the idea of tenure to link its privileges to a set of ethical responsibilities?

1 comment:

The Combat Philosopher said...

Err, sorry -- login problem with the last comment.

Thanks for the reference.

First off, Toni cannot contact Joan. If he did so, he would go to jail. So, the reconciliation thesis is probably a non-starter.

However, I also have an update. I saw Toni today. He has a theory about the stalking claim (Toni is very big on theories).

Apparently, some time ago there was almost a moment in which some kind of minimal communication was re-established. Joan asked about communicating about 'just professional stuff'. Toni was Ok with that, but had an addtional request: During their relationship, by all accounts, Joan was extremely verbally abusive. Toni said that he would be happy to resume communications, provided that Joan would promise not to be abusive again. Apparently, Joan did not reply (Toni believes that this is because Joan never admits anything negative, but that is just his view).

Some time after that, Toni was logged into e-mail late. The system was running very slow. This happens. However, Toni was teaching a technical course this semester and students often had a habit of running simulations late at night. Toni from time to time had used the Unix 'talk' function to talk to the students, when they were in the lab, late. It seemed that the students often used the same workstation that Toni usually logged into for their simulations.

So, Toni issued a 'who' command, to see who was logged on. It turned out that the other person logged in was Joan. Toni told me that, in retrospect, this made sense -- he set up her computer to use the most powerful workstations.

Like a fool, Toni tried to set up a talk session with Joan. He claims that he figured that he could just end the session, if Joan went off the deep end. According to Toni, his motivation for doing this was just to share some very hot campus gossip (Professors, students and porn sites and a cover up -- it is a fabulous tale, I wish I could share). Joan absolutely LOVES gossip.

So, Toni's theory is that Joan thinks that she is being stalked, due to a quirk of fate, bad timing and Toni being dumb.

I am not convinced by this. I think that it would take a huge pre-existing dose of paranoia to make this tale plausible. However, what is really sad is that Joan apparently has been claiming that she has been so terrified by 'recent local events' that she, at times, shakes. If Toni's theory is correct, she is scared of nothing. Thus, it seems that everyone in this situation ends up a looser.

I still think that the whole situation is sickening and nuts. You raise excellent questions in your post. Although it is an unpopular idea, I favour some kind of post-tenure review. Of course, this will not deal with the productive nut jobs, but at least it would be a start. However, it has been my experience that referees often notice insanity in submitted papers, even if it takes a while.

The CP