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One obvious kind of department politics concerns the direction the department is going. This is actually multi-dimensional. Should we invest more in Gen Ed courses at the cost of servicing majors? Should we collaborate on programs with Psychology, rather than Political Science? Should we voice our concerns against a new trend on the campus or in the administration, or should we be quiet? These may not seem like either/or issues. But they are because of the limited resources and time that a department has. And they can become very divisive at times. I had colleagues who were determined to walk the department into oblivion. One was a spiteful shit who was getting ready to retire.

Random R1 Prof

At schools with a particular religious affiliation, conflicts around how to interpret and implement the religious mission can be really complicated. So we're affiliated with Church X. Some of us think that being X is all about social justice, some that it's all about X-ish doctrine, some that it's all about the X-ish intellectual tradition (so somebody who works on X-ish figures or issues is good, even though they belong to Church Y), some of us regard the whole X thing as a dead letter, and on and on. And the different perspectives overlap and compete in different ways around different issues (curriculum, hiring, etc.).


I learned early on that proposals or ideas that might push against department norms or traditions, but are eminently reasonable, are more likely to be well received when you shop the ideas around prior to meetings, especially with the chair and/or sympathetic colleagues. Much of the political work and debate happens not in meetings but in hallways and offices. I take this also to be a general point about politics.


There are plenty of relationships/disagreements/tensions/feuds that predate your coming to the department, and it's good to stay out of those. Maybe that sounds obvious, but there were a couple of unimportant things I took unnecessary stands on during department meetings at my first job, and I didn't realize until later that I'd been wading into some long-running conflicts. In those cases it probably would have been better for me not to speak up.

Marcus Arvan

(Moderator's translation of an unapproved comment that gave too many specific and potentially-identifying details):

Tenure-stream faculty, non-tenure-stream faculty, and grad students can have conflicts over labor issues (e.g. unionization and labor disputes). Also, departments can be merged with other departments, and this can lead to power struggles for control over the department and its direction.


There are more subtle versions of it. I once crossed paths with a university staff who had a rocky talkie. Someone on the other end referred to a Latinx staff using a well-known slur that starts with a “w”. Both of them were so casual about it. I think many of us know what the word is. Blue collar workers (of color) often get look downed upon. There’s this bias that if you’re not a professor, an admin, or an office worker at a university, you are less deserving of respect. Even some students treat these people with less respect just because of their occupation. If you take time to pay attention to and observe your own and/or other people’s spatial existence at work, you’ll notice these more subtler biased and problematic behaviors.

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