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10/16/2023

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recently tenured

Not going to faculty meetings--which is a required part of your job--is the kind of thing that is easy to list as a reason in a departmental negative tenure report. (They do in fact have to give reasons!) It's a failure to perform the basic duties of your job. Meetings might suck but I would really *strongly* advise people against not going to them. If you disagree respectfully and with reasons with your colleagues, it is harder (obviously not impossible!) for them to morph that into a negative tenure report.

Just my two cents--you should make sure you are satisfactorily performing the minimum required duties of your job, whatever other decisions you make, because not doing so is the single easiest way for your department to turn against you at tenure time.

Jaded junior faculty--tenured now

Thanks recently tenured! I totally agree ... I didn't just skip out. I found reasons not to go, or to "attend virtually" and turn the sound off. It didn't come up in my tenure review.

You can request to teach at that time. That's one way to miss that can't be held against you.

Bill Vanderburgh

To paraphrase again that oft-cited bon mot, "The fights in academia are so vicious because so little is at stake." That's a good reason to stay out of it as much as you can.

But if it is a general department meeting, "recently tenured" is right that attendance is more or less required, and that non-attendance will likely result in strikes against you in the "department service" and "department citizen" parts of tenure review. Being there does not require speaking up, however. In fact, the advice for a long time was that junior faculty should keep their mouths shut until they get tenure. I don't believe in that myself, and in most cases I think it is extremely unlikely that disagreeing with a senior colleague on a departmental matter could lead to tenure denial. And if it did, it would usually be pretty easy to appeal.

To bolster one of Marcus's comments, I've heard it said that nothing is decided on the floor of the UN General Assembly: All the positions are discussed and negotiated in the hallways and offices, with only the formal votes taking place during the meeting itself, the results of which are pretty much known in advance (notwithstanding any grandstanding, putting things on the record, and other performative gestures). Taking this as advice for philosophy departments (and faculty senates) can end up supporting "old boys networks," but it can also be an avenue for less-dominant groups (including younger faculty) to carefully formulate a position in advance and come to meetings more prepared than the potential opposition, with a voting bloc already lined up. I find this sort of effort too tiresome to bother with unless there is something on the agenda that actually matters. And that is rarely the case (see the opening paragraph).

A friendly and reasonable chair or dean, or in a pinch another senior colleague, can offer advice on how to navigate the difficult personalities.

A caution to OP, or folks in their position. If you are a junior faculty member and find yourself regularly disagreeing with the positions taken by your department generally, or by experienced faculty members specifically, the cause of the disagreement might be information, experience, or judgement that you happen to be missing at your career stage. Maybe there's an old policy, a tendency of the dean's, or an event in university history that's relevant to the issue that you just don't know about. I'd recommend asking senior colleagues you disagree with to help educate you on the topic. "I would have thought x; can you say more about why you think y?" Pitched correctly, this is giving them an opportunity to "prof-splain" things to you, which will likely make them feel good and may allow you to learn something.

Many of these disputes pretend to be about facts (which set of classes the department should offer, which job candidate is better, etc.) when really they are about values (what does it mean to have an adequate undergrad education in philosophy, whether research or teaching is more important for our department, etc.). Values are much less susceptible to reasoned discourse than we would hope (especially as philosophers!). You aren't likely to be able to persuade anyone to change their values much, especially not in a heated and polarized department meeting. Sometimes the way to avoid or limit acrimony is to just vote and get it over with (Calling the Question under Robert's Rules of Order, etc.). Having formal meeting guidelines on the length of time someone can speak, the number of times they can speak (e.g., once until everyone has spoken, twice max), etc., can be useful, too.

Newly Tenured

I'm recently tenured in a department that was a minefield of faction fights when I first got there. One practice I found useful was adopting a policy -- not uncommon across academia, I had learned -- of not voting on personnel matters, besides routine stepwise promotions, until I'm tenured. So no votes on tenure or hiring. I think this is a good policy for departments to have in general, a way to protect junior faculty and avoid coerced votes. But either way it may help to adopt it for yourself.

A survivor

One thing not mentioned here is email. While untenured, I had some extremely unpleasant experiences through email with a senior member of my department. Snark, derisiveness, what felt to me like veiled threats. That they were tenured made it all the worse. It turned out this was a common experience with this person's emails--but no one said anything, we just dealt with it.

(Learning this made me reflect on my own email practices. Perhaps my emails also sent unintended implications, or could be read that way. I might never know because academics seem to prefer to just step over the missing stair. That's a whole other topic, though.)

Eventually, I decided not to engage in discussion through email if at all possible and tried to encourage this as a policy for our faculty. I also stopped replying immediately, preferring to wait (what emergencies are there in academia?). It is easy to misinterpret emails and fire off an email that raises stakes unnecessarily.

Recently tenured 2

I really appreciate the OP’s questions and these helpful responses.

I would add that forging friendships with faculty and staff in other parts of your university can make your life and work much better if you find yourself in the situation described. Ill just here speak from my experience navigating tenure track years.

One reason my friends outside the department were a lifeline to me is that they supported and encouraged me through the tenure of track years in a way that no one in my department did. They often had encountered similar challenges and had great advice, or gave me a window into how more functional departments operate in the same institutional context. And there was no competition as there might be with other junior folks in your department- just pure good will and support.

Another reason this ended up being crucial is that I was able to find out when my colleagues or chair were acting on bad information or disregarding policies. Comparing notes with people in other departments often helps unveil misinformation.

Finally, I’ve ended up being part of grassroots organizing efforts that have been effective in changing some university wide policies. College or university wide policies that allow departments to run undemocratically, for toxic individuals to tank searches, etc. need to be changed, but no one dept or faculty has power to effect change. When our provost saw that there was a pattern leading to poor outcomes across multiple departments (like low retention of junior or diverse faculty) , they were moved to create new policies to alter that pattern.

whatever

Of colleagues who seem to enjoy investing their energy in departmental matters (and campus politics), I take the approach of thinking that that is a THEM problem, not a me problem. Don't get too invested or pay much attention to them. For some of them, it is sadly all they have. And as others have said, it can result in a lot of wasted energy and unnecessary stress.

Mark van Roojen

If there are particular faculty who are threatening you you can request a meeting with your dean. You don't have to name names. Some 30 years ago I had such a meeting and did not name names, but reported that I had been threatened by multiple faculty over an ugly matter.

Luckily for me that dean was still around when I came up for tenure and my department vote was in my favor but too close for comfort and the executive committee also split as a result. I had a helpful chair by the time I came up and that mattered a lot. But still, I'm pretty confident the dean knew what was behind at least some of the odd abstentions and negative votes and this helped me get tenure by the skin of my teeth.

Also, all academic politics is local. So the advice to find friends in other departments if you can't find them within the department seems like good advice to me. Though be aware that local can mean *very* local, including local to departments.

Living untenured (or tenured for that matter) in a warring department is not fun. Lucky for me our department got its shit together not long after I got tenure. I think that in fact living through the bad years led a number of us to commit to not letting that happen again. I'm still there and like my colleagues.

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