September
11th 2008
Department of Corrections

Posted under: Gender, jobs, unhappy endings, women's history

I have been reliably informed by a colleague at my former institution that I was mistaken on the facts about my major antagonist’s career.  I had written on my blog in this post that,

[m]y major foe at my former university was someone who was tenured but simultaneously (and humiliatingly) denied her promotion to Associate Professor.  She had published a book after all in a department that didn’t require a book, whereas men in the department had recently been promoted to Associate Professor before tenure and, in one case, without a book at all.  (That’s right:  men without books?  Can’t wait to promote you!  Women with books?  Wait a year or two, then apply again.)  There was a whole class of women assistant professors who got that treatment right around the time I was hired, either within their department or at the college review level.  Need I point out that the curious creature known as the tenured Assistant Professor was a pink-collar only rank?  Unfortunately, this individual’s experience resulted not in anger and radicalization, but in shame and internalization, which was then directed outward not at the people who caused her misery, but at other targets below her on the hierarchy. 

(I’ve highlighted the incorrect assertion in bold letters.)  My colleague-informant at my former university says that my major antagonist was not denied promotion when tenured, but rather tenured and promoted at the same time.  Portions of this post were then quoted in the story published by the Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this week (which I again blogged about here), so my error was repeated and amplified.  I apologize for my error, and take full responsibility for it.  Speak, Memory! 

By way of explanation, I can only think that at this distance, I’ve conflated her story with those of the “whole class of women assistant professors who got that treatment” within the space of a few years, right before and right after I joined that department in 1997.  Of four women up for tenure, one was tenured and promoted (she had a book); one was tenured but denied promotion at the college level (although she had published a book); one was tenured but denied promotion by the department, and one was tenured and (as I recall) didn’t even apply for promotion that year because of what she had seen the other women go through.  Clearly, this is a shameful record that strongly suggests sex bias and mistreatment of women, which was part of the larger story at my former institution, and which was clearly relevant to the way I was mistreated as a young woman and a women’s historian there.

But, I was still wrong on the facts of the one case, and I deeply regret not checking my memories with my former colleague before going public with the misinformation on this blog.  I am very sorry.  But, given the new facts at hand, they beg the question, why was this woman so miserable?  Her case may prove the larger point that bullying can infect the whole atmosphere and poison people who aren’t themselves the objects of bullying behavior.  I also strongly suspect that she was herself mistreated, even if she wasn’t denied her promotion.  The bare facts of someone’s rise through the ranks don’t reveal what the experience felt like.

7 Comments »

7 Responses to “Department of Corrections”

  1. Roxie on 11 Sep 2008 at 11:23 am #

    I think your mistake is a good indication of what a decent person you are, Historiann. Your memory lapse gave your bullying colleague the benefit of the doubt by attributing her behavior to a terrible humiliation she had suffered. Even now, as you correct your mistake, you compassionately aim to situate her behavior within a toxic atmosphere or climate rather than personalizing it and dismissing her as an evil bitch. That’s very generous of you. A lesser person would be far less kind, I think, and might churlishly suggest that you are trying to put. . .lipstick. . .on, you know, a, um, pig.

  2. Historiann on 11 Sep 2008 at 11:29 am #

    Ha! Thanks, Roxie–that’s what another friend of mine just said on the phone. Oh well–I could be wrong! (And in fact, I suspect that my informant-colleague thinks I’m too generous, too. I guess can afford to be generous at a distance of 1,500+ miles!)

    I still believe that most bullies were themselves bullied. Because if I don’t believe that–if I thought that bullies were born and not made–how would we ever fix bullying environments and make them better? Isn’t it more optimistic (even if sometimes delusional) to believe that bullies are made and not born that way?

  3. GayProf on 11 Sep 2008 at 12:40 pm #

    My feeling is that a great number of bullies emerge not because they are “born,” but because they A) Feel threatened and B) Feel entitled. It has also been clear to me that having (or not having) tenure rarely informs either of those.

    As for your mistake, it would have been a nice way for your antagonist to think that you weren’t really referring to her, but some other colleague that she forgot knowing.

  4. Historiann on 11 Sep 2008 at 1:04 pm #

    GayProf–I think that tenure contributes mightily to your criterion B) entitlement. Unless the bullying is linked to sexual harassment or ethnic intimidation, tenured bullies can say or do whatever they want, and rest secure in the knowledge that there will be few if any consequences.

    But, that said, I agree with you that feelings of entitlement are not necessarily linked to the protections of tenure. In my case, I think the bullies felt threatened more than entitled. In fact, in so many conversations with them I felt it was their naked ids speaking, not their egos or super egos, as it were–I was frequently just embarassed for them.

  5. NewSocProf on 11 Sep 2008 at 2:48 pm #

    Hi, I read the Chronicle article about bullying (which is how I found out about your blog).

    I am a newly hired, tenure-track professor in the social sciences at a large, private university in Southern Cal. Oops, guess I just gave it away where I am!

    I read your story and had 2 different and distinct reactions. The first was as someone who experienced bullying in my graduate program. The second was as an undergraduate where you had your worst job.

    While I enjoyed my grad experience, I hated my department. Insane is the closest word that captures who immature the majority of the faculty were. I did not expect that a department ranked in the top 5 in my field would at times seem more like an elementary school playground than a community of colleagues. I escaped mostly unharmed, but saw a number of new faculty feel that they had to accept it because they felt they could not do anything about it or leave.

    I was floored when I read about your experience at my undergraduate institution. It sounds like a different place than the one I went to! I took a number of classes in your department (was in CORE and loved American History) and never had any idea what was going on behind the scenes. I loved all of my history classes. I loved my time at UD and felt like I had wonderful mentors and models of how engaged faculty should act. It pains me to hear of such ugliness at a place that I deeply love.

    I am deeply enjoying my experience (so far) here in Southern Cal. I feel supported by my department and have not seen anything that raises any red flags.

  6. ari on 11 Sep 2008 at 3:44 pm #

    Classy correction. And despite the error, you seemed measured and fair in the Chronicle piece. Well done.

  7. Historiann on 11 Sep 2008 at 3:50 pm #

    Hi NewSocProf, and welcome–I’m very glad to hear that you have found such a terrific job! I’m glad that you were insulated from the nonsense at your undergrad institution, although I’m sorry to hear that you weren’t as a grad student. But, I think that’s pretty typical: I’m not even sure that I was aware of ANY faculty politics as an undergraduate. Unfortunately, grad students are frequently the ones who pay a big price for faculty ugliness in their departments. Good luck you to, and I hope your job is a font of collegiality. I’ve got a good job now, and it’s pretty great!

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