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  1. #1
    Blah Orangey's Avatar
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    Default Politics and Bullying in the Academy

    Is it just me, or do any of you who are also in grad school/adjuncts/tenure-track professors/tenured professors experience an inordinate amount of politics and bullying in the academy?

    I ask because I (and my entire cohort, for that matter) are being continually bullied by an assistant professor in the department, and no one seems to have the backbone to either (1) stand-up for us, or (2) stand-up to her. And the bullying is totally without reason (we are not a particularly shitty cohort or anything), and I know this because she is doing her best to tarnish our reputations in the department after only having met us for a couple of seminar sessions (both of which she talked through the entire time). Seeing as how she is only an assistant prof, you might think that her power is relatively limited. I will only say, at the risk of betraying some identifier about her (and signing my academic death knell, should anyone I know find out who I am and what I wrote), that she has other forms of leverage. And she uses it to bully the grad students.

    Of course, I'm not so naive as to think that there is some place where this kind of shit doesn't happen, but I am getting the impression that it is of a particularly irrational and powerful form in academia.

    Edit: Also, my example is only one example of many that I've experienced during my time in the department. There are many, many more.
    Artes, Scientia, Veritasiness

  2. #2
    / nonsequitur's Avatar
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    Sigh. Unfortunately, I have to agree. Irrationality, ego and the need to have "control" and power are big things in academia. I think that the grad students bear the brunt of it, though (that said, there are also grad students who are also controlling, childish freaks). Tenure-track profs fight the hardest to be "right" and force others to do it "their way" because they have the most to gain. Tenured profs just don't give a fuck, as long as it doesn't infringe on their territory. I don't know any adjuncts, so I can't say anything about them.

    I bitch like crazy about my supervisor here, and worry constantly about having someone who knows both of us read it and put the dots together. He is ruled by irrationality and ego and primitive emotionality (sigh, and an assoc. prof.). My project and our meetings exist to fulfil his emotional needs.

    I think in academia people don't really develop their "people" skills, which leads to problems such as the above... Childish emotionality that gets "justified" via logical means, never giving them a chance to "grow up". And because of the "prestige" of academia, they're never called out on it.

    God, I hate politics.

  3. #3
    Blah Orangey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nonsequitur View Post
    Sigh. Unfortunately, I have to agree. Irrationality, ego and the need to have "control" and power are big things in academia. I think that the grad students bear the brunt of it, though (that said, there are also grad students who are also controlling, childish freaks). Tenure-track profs fight the hardest to be "right" and force others to do it "their way" because they have the most to gain. Tenured profs just don't give a fuck, as long as it doesn't infringe on their territory. I don't know any adjuncts, so I can't say anything about them.

    I bitch like crazy about my supervisor here, and worry constantly about having someone who knows both of us read it and put the dots together. He is ruled by irrationality and ego and primitive emotionality (sigh, and an assoc. prof.). My project and our meetings exist to fulfil his emotional needs.

    I think in academia people don't really develop their "people" skills, which leads to problems such as the above... Childish emotionality that gets "justified" via logical means, never giving them a chance to "grow up". And because of the "prestige" of academia, they're never called out on it.

    God, I hate politics.
    I agree. And I feel like there's nothing that I can do about it...it's just a pure and shameless power play, and if it's tolerated by those tenured, then there's absolutely no recourse for me or the other harassed grad students. I'm sorry that it's spilling over into your own project, though. I at least get to maintain some autonomy in that arena, though it isn't without constant negotiation (and this has its own politics, down to some profs not taking students on as advisers or committee members because they don't 'like' their project).

    I also agree that it has something to do with an emotional childishness that is fostered by the cloistered-away-ness of the academy. I've never been a fan of the whole "accountability" argument against the idea of tenure, but now I'm starting to think that the lack of external accountability, and the overall incestuousness of many academic specialties may lead to odd forms of (obnoxious) behaviors that are particular to academia.
    Artes, Scientia, Veritasiness

  4. #4
    On a mission Usehername's Avatar
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    I'm only an undergrad student, but I do recognize that academia is unique in the sense that some people have truly never experienced anything different. You just... keep... going. I'm sure there's lots of profs out there who only went to grad school because they didn't know what else to do, and they just followed the path until they wound up being the teacher instead of the student.

    I've had more than my share of wonderful profs () but some people are just living the only life they've ever known and it becomes intimately personal.


    At least in other corners where this happens people are gathered from a larger selection of different backgrounds and it makes for a (slightly) less homogeneous group--academia is the only weird one.
    *You don't have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.
    *Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason once accepted, despite your changing moods.
    C.S. Lewis

  5. #5
    / nonsequitur's Avatar
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    Yeah, nothing can be done about it unfortunately. That's why I bitch about it all the time... I feel helpless. I guess I could quit, but that's more to my detriment than anyone else's. Nah, it's not that bad with my supervisor. I just think that it's a waste of time when I talk to him and have to coddle someone three times my age.

    Hee. Incestuousness. I like that. I think that there are huge failings with the academic system, but can't think of any practical solutions for it. Even the peer-review process has tonnes of politics, and if you have someone "on the inside", it's so much easier getting stuff done. Maybe it's this "because I've been here long enough and have the connections and publications so people need me" attitude that leads to this sense of entitlement.

    By the way, I'm sure you've seen this, but:
    Piled Higher and Deeper

  6. #6
    Once Was Synarch's Avatar
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    In any social realm, politics will be a factor, especially where there are haves and have-nots and a scarce resource (tenure) to mete out to those in favor.

    Academia is prone to politics more so than anywhere else because academia is concerned more with status than with results or creating value. I think you'll find in fields where the results are important, politics is a minor concern. So, I would expect Engineering Department to have fewer political problems than say, the English Department, because who gives a rat's ass what they accomplish. Academia is largely broken and irrelevant and will always be the autistic, genius brother to Enterprise. Art will be done outside the Academy as it has always been, and as far as scholarship goes, that shit is inside baseball.
    "Create like a god, command like a king, work like a slave."

  7. #7
    Blah Orangey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Synarch View Post
    In any social realm, politics will be a factor, especially where there are haves and have-nots and a scarce resource (tenure) to mete out to those in favor.

    Academia is prone to politics more so than anywhere else because academia is concerned more with status than with results or creating value. I think you'll find in fields where the results are important, politics is a minor concern. So, I would expect Engineering Department to have fewer political problems than say, the English Department, because who gives a rat's ass what they accomplish. Academia is largely broken and irrelevant and will always be the autistic, genius brother to Enterprise. Art will be done outside the Academy as it has always been, and as far as scholarship goes, that shit is inside baseball.
    Well, not to defend academia (because I am certainly not in the mood for that right now), but I think your explanation is a little facile. "Enterprise", as you're calling it, has its own set of politics and political practices, and fields in which tangible, valuable results are created are just as prone to politics in the general sense as other fields (think of the research projects that get nixed because funding from large companies is being funneled into certain projects in the expectation that beneficial results will be had).

    My complaint is that, for me at least, the types of politics and bullying I am experiencing are of a particularly irrational sort. I can't predict them well enough to manipulate them to my advantage...I feel like someone wandering around with a bag over their head in the middle of a minefield.

    nonsequitur: Haha, I love that comic strip. It's all true, too. And yeah, I understand wanting to quit, since I get the urge at least once every couple of weeks or so. What stops me is that I actually like what I'm learning and researching, and it would be stupid to let them deter me from that with their silly bullshit. Everyone thinks that people who go into academia are doing so to avoid the "real world", but honestly, if I didn't really love what I was doing (subject-wise) there is no chance in hell that I'd stick around in this place. The real world makes more sense and is easier to deal with.
    Artes, Scientia, Veritasiness

  8. #8
    Once Was Synarch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Orangey View Post
    Well, not to defend academia (because I am certainly not in the mood for that right now), but I think your explanation is a little facile. "Enterprise", as you're calling it, has its own set of politics and political practices, and fields in which tangible, valuable results are created are just as prone to politics in the general sense as other fields (think of the research projects that get nixed because funding from large companies is being funneled into certain projects in the expectation that beneficial results will be had).
    Agreed with relation to large corporate bureaucracies. Again, it's the fight for scarce resources in the absence of a true measure of value relative to two competing entities. The difference is that in our system of Free Enterprise, failure to create value in a systemic sense results in business failure. This may be the case in Academia, but I really have no clue.
    "Create like a god, command like a king, work like a slave."

  9. #9
    Senior Member edcoaching's Avatar
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    I "cheated" and went to a smaller regional university where the politics weren't quite so heated. Still I was shocked at what some people experienced during the dissertation process. I'd avoided our major university because I'd heard too many tales of people going to defend, only to be torn apart--and in my naive mind after paying thousands of dollars they'd bloody well better have you set to defend. I'm too old to play games. I pretty much went unscathed but...

    I didn't want a fulltime professorship so I had a lot more freedom. Only one person has ever asked me where my doctorate is from so if you can make it through...
    edcoaching

  10. #10
    Blah Orangey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by edcoaching View Post
    I "cheated" and went to a smaller regional university where the politics weren't quite so heated. Still I was shocked at what some people experienced during the dissertation process. I'd avoided our major university because I'd heard too many tales of people going to defend, only to be torn apart--and in my naive mind after paying thousands of dollars they'd bloody well better have you set to defend. I'm too old to play games. I pretty much went unscathed but...

    I didn't want a fulltime professorship so I had a lot more freedom. Only one person has ever asked me where my doctorate is from so if you can make it through...
    Wow, people defended but didn't make it? I think this has happened one time to someone in my department in the last ten years, but it was kind of a scandal. The advisers and committee members are implicated so deeply in a student's failure at the defense stage that it behooves them to make sure their student is successful, one way or the other.

    The worse bit about this politics stuff is that it totally eats away at your confidence. One moment you're angry and cynical about the whole thing, and the next you're thinking "well, maybe I'm not that smart. Maybe I really am a fuck up and a disgrace to the name of academia."

    It really isn't pleasant, and to be honest, if I didn't have anything personally invested into continuing my studies, I'd probably rather put up with banal office banter between chatty women as a secretary or something than continue. At least in that situation I could scoff and the consequences wouldn't be real.
    Artes, Scientia, Veritasiness

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