Things I don't understand (tenure edition)

Could somebody please explain to me why some senior faculty feel the need to treat the tenure process as a hazing?*

Possible hypotheses:
1. These faculty members never quite got over the teasing and hijinks aimed at them in junior high/high school and are exacting revenge on a powerless faction (junior faculty).

2. Lack of social skills (= not good at giving feedback in a constructive way).

3. Sick notion of a rite of passage ("My life was hell as junior faculty, so your life better damn well be hell too!").

4. Extreme need for milk and cookies/a nap/a glass of wine/a timeout.

* I'm not saying this is happening to me, but I've heard enough stories lately from my peers to make me think that this is not something that's limited to a few bad apples.


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Yeah, it's most likely #3. Tradition is sacred, you know. Besides, it's their turn to dish it out. You don't want them to miss their turn, do you?

Because of the faculty meeting I just attended, I need to add a #5:

The deep belief that the world revolves around them, they are the stars while other people in their general surrounding are mere bit players.

Number 3 does seem to be universal, although different disciplines have different ways of accomplishing number 3. I also think #5 might have something to do with it.

Considering the absolute and total, beyond hell that I went through, including a false accusation of misconduct being taken to the Provost, I have to say that number 5 certainly plays a big role. I also have found that it only takes one or two bad apples to have a rotting effect on an entire institution. Their behavior is so beyond the pale that no one knows how to deal with them, so the other senior faculty for the most part ignore the bad apples antics and pretend that it is just #3 going on.

I would also add that for some of them it is fear. The younger faculty is accomplishing something, and they perhaps are not as productive. It turns into some kind of act of revenge. Ugh.

This post comes at a time when I was thinking: is this true for all departments out there? Is there such a thing like a department where people work together - for some loose definition of work and together - as opposed to against each other?

I think people are insecure and get threatened by other people's accomplishments. I've seen this among students, between students and supervisors, and among professors as well. And, maybe, as a consequence, they do nasty things to feel "in control".

What I don't seem to understand is this: doesn't the department as a whole depend on the success of each of the employees? if so, don't you want to help them be successful? Reading this makes me sound naive... I'm a student and I don't have the experience of being a prof, but still... I can't stop asking these questions.

Do any of you have positive experiences in your department part of the tenure process? Or some "smart" skills to deal with the unpleasant - to say the least - experiences?

Duh, #5! I forgot that one. Definitely needs to be on the list---thanks, adriana!

phd wannabe, you raise a very interesting question. I am too jaded at this point to give a rational answer. :) I am sure there are departments out there that are functional...maybe...although I can't think of any off the top of my head. All of the departments with which I am familiar have some level of dysfunction, from relatively mild to hair-raising. Some departments deal with this dysfunction better than others. But I'm curious....are there any positive stories out there for phd wannabe?

Hi phdwannabe,

I agree that most departments are disfunctional to some degree (see my comment on the previous post - academics are selected in such a way that we form a rather odd group of skills and are weak as a population on certain aspects of collaboration/cooperation/community building which lead to levels of dysfunction - I also believe that academia, perhaps especially science academia, is a natural career for many people on the high-functioning-autistic-spectrum... we had a training session on Asperger's Syndrome because we had an undergraduate with a severe form join the department, and the trainer said she'd never been in an academic department with more than 20 staff where at least one person didn't score highly enough on the diagnostics to be considered at least a mild case - after going through the main features, we clearly identified two colleagues - this isn;t a problem but it might be another reason for the tendency to mild dysfunction).

However, I've also seen departments which ran well and were happy, friendly places for a few years. In both cases, this pleasant period ended with staff turnover - in one case, the Head of Department who was, amazingly, a thoughtful leader (a rare quality anyway, never mind finding it coupled with academic brilliance sufficient to get a chair - but he'd been through officer training during his national service, which may have helped), retired and the place went back to being grumpy and suspicious and secretive, and in the other case (my current place) we hired several research 'stars' who are totally #5 and this was the last straw to tip the place from functioning pleasantly (not perfectly, but comfortably) to upsettingly dysfunctional (cliques are forming and reforming, everything's become more about individual competition rather than group collaboration, the gossip's gone from interested to malicious...).

That said, I don't know many people in other jobs who don't have workplaces which are stressful/dysfunctional in SOME way... and at least the work in academia is interesting! Imagine being BORED all day and still having to deal with it...