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Perhaps it was me?!

I was in a divided department, and we had a junior colleague trying to avoid taking sides. He would abstain on votes which were almost always divided two and two. I helped solve the problem. I got a job elsewhere, and then supported my poor younger colleague in his efforts to get a job elsewhere. He got one, so it all worked out. But we left our one colleague with two difficult colleagues - fortunately, they have retired. They were really quite difficult ... before and after I left.

Prof L

My department sucks like this. It's a hard thing to navigate.

One thing I've been trying to do recently is be more social. Invite your colleagues to lunch, stop by their office (briefly!), say "It's nice to see you!" and mean it. These problems are not solved through politicking but through friendship. Some people are beyond friendship, and it's okay just to tolerate those ones as albatrosses around the proverbial departmental neck (we have a major one) ... However, MOST people do not make a whole identity out of department politics, but are rather just ordinary humans getting sucked into a fight. You can be friends even if you are not on the same "side" on certain issues. If you sense some animosity from someone you respect, invite that person out for a drink or over for dinner before things get hostile and paranoia sets in. This is time-consuming but you will enjoy your work a lot more when you don't hate/suspect/mistrust the people you work with.

Also, you may suspect everyone is scheming and that these factions are whispering behind closed doors and so on ... In my experience, such paranoia is overblown. Most people don't have the time or energy or stomach to do all of that. Be friendly with them and that will help ameliorate these issues.

Bill Vanderburgh

Talk with the chair, dean, maybe the HR department, for advice--some of them might know the backstory and have insights that won't be available to a newcomer. And talking to the dean can let them know to look out for instances where you get badmouthed by one faction or another.

Don't tolerate disrespect, but mostly try to stay out of it. Vote for what you want (you'll be there longer than they will, if this has already been simmering for decades, and giving in to bullies does not usually make them behave better). In fact, one way to minimize some pointless debates, ugliness, and grandstanding is to use Robert's Rules of Order and Call the Question

Find your "home" in other parts of the university if it can't be your department. (E.g.: faculty senate, faculty development, the Honors program, clubs or other informal groups. If you have the right AOS, maybe even a joint appointment in another department--Women's Studies, History, a science, etc.)

I've been there...

First of all, I'm so sorry you're dealing with this. My department is heavily factionalized; one senior colleague in particular has put an enormous amount of pressure on junior colleagues to side with them, and later retaliated against junior colleagues who raised concerns about their behavior. It took an enormous toll on my mental health, productivity, and happiness. I'm still deciding whether this is a job I can live with, or whether I have to leave.

My strongest piece of advice: if someone seems to you to have unreasonable expectations about your behavior, don't try to accommodate that person - that will only push the problem down the line. At some point you'll fail to meet their unreasonable expectations of you, and at that point, the fallout will be worse: they'll be more disappointed in you (perhaps they'll even feel betrayed), and you will, at that point, have sunk time and energy into accommodating them that, if you're anything like me, you will seriously regret. Instead of trying to please people with unreasonable expectations, I wish I had set clear boundaries (e.g. "as a junior faculty member, I'd rather stay out of this one") with the knowledge that if someone is unwilling to respect those clear and reasonable boundaries... there would have been no way to please them, long term. (I like the way Bill Vanderburgh puts it: "giving in to bullies does not usually make them behave better".)

Unfortunately, my experiences with reporting issues up the food chain have been mixed: e.g., I experienced retaliation after raising concerns with my chair. But I would recommend speaking to someone outside the department to ask for guidance, and to put your concerns on their radar. If anything comes up down the road, you want the relevant university offices to have context for it.

I strongly second Bill Vanderburgh's advice above to find your "home" elsewhere if it can't be in your department - both elsewhere at the university and elsewhere in the profession. I am currently pursuing this strategy, and it has made me feel less alienated from my place of work even though I can't feel at home in my department.

Best of luck - it's a terrible thing about academia that toxic departments are so common, and so normalized.

union guy

Do not forget to talk to your union reps. They can sometimes help. They should respect confidentiality, and they can provide you with some options - they have seen numerous such cases. So then you know what possibilities are.

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