July
8th 2009
Why we call it patriarchal equilibrium, Part II: Historiann says, “Make my day.”

Posted under: Gender, happy endings, jobs, wankers, women's history

cowgirlbroncobestedAs hinted at in yesterday’s post, “Why we call it patriarchal equilibrium, Part I,” Historiann has had her run-ins with this phenomenon, patriarchal equilibrium, and with the interference of administrators in the advancement of women faculty.  Still, it came to me as a surprise, since I’m such an easygoing cowgirl who looks for the best in people and who does my darndest to get along with everyone.  (All y’all who know me can attest to that!)  Well, being super-friendly and determined to get along is no defense against a phenomenon with the force and strength of several millennia of history, not to mention awesome institutionalized power across world cultures!

Anyhoo, here are the true facts:  When I came up for tenure at Baa Ram U., I sailed through the department with a unanimous vote, won strong recommendations from my Department Chair and Dean, and then. . .was telephoned by my Chair one morning in January and informed that the (new that year) Provost and (new that year) Dean requested that I withdraw my case because I had “only” a book under contract plus five articles, and they were concerned that my case wouldn’t pass muster at the Council of Deans (the Provost’s advisory board that reviews and makes recommendations on tenure cases.)  Mind you, the tenure standards at the time required only four articles or a book contract, so I was clearly an overachiever, with more than twice the required scholarship!

I told the Chair of my department that I would not withdraw my case, and instructed her to tell the Dean and the Provost that I would instead consult an attorney.  And I did.  The Chair of my department also convened a meeting with the Tenure and Promotion committee, and together they wrote a detailed memo to the Dean and Provost protesting this interference with the judgment of the department and explaining once again how I had not only met but clearly exceeded the tenure standards.  (I am very fortunate to have such right-minded and generous colleagues, and I’m sure that their memo was much more persuasive than my personal refusal to withdraw my case.)  Fortunately for me and my department, my case went before the Council of Deans where it was blandly approved without comment, and where it was then approved by the Provost, the President, and the Board of Governors of Baa Ram U. 

A house in Maine with an oceangoing craft of some kind
A house in Maine with an oceangoing craft of some kind

What a disappointment it must have been for the Dean and the Provost that my case in the end was utterly uncontroversial!  (It was in fact a huge disappointment for Dr. Mister Historiann, who was looking forward to getting “a house in Maine, and an oceangoing craft of some kind” out of a lawsuit or settlement!)  Perhaps the Dean and the Provost were whingy because they were new in their jobs that year.  (They both quickly moved on to other jobs, thank goodness, and I hope for the sake of the faculty they work with now that they’ve learned a thing or two in the past five years.)  But, I assume that a large part of their insistence that I present more than twice as much published scholarship than people in my department have been expected to present for tenure (before or since) has a lot to do with the fact of my sex, and with the fact that I publish articles and books that are clearly feminist women’s and gender history.  Just a hunch.  Oh, and by the way–I was only the third woman tenured in my department (of about 24 faculty!), and was the leading edge of a tiny wedge of 3 more women who would be tenured a few years later.  (Somehow, institutions find a way to resist change.)

The lessons I learned–aside from the pervasiveness of that ol’ patriarchal equilibrium–is that 1) institutions count on junior faculty women to be poor and scared, and that 2) administrators can do whatever they want, no matter what the written standards, rules, or procedures are.  Why else would the then-Dean and then-Provost have assumed that their strange instructions, conveyed second-hand and most definitely not in writing (and yes, after the Dean herself had recommended me for tenure) would be followed obediently, if they didn’t think I was poor and scared, and if they didn’t think they could mess with people’s careers with impunity?  The then-Dean and then-Provost didn’t know I was married, let alone married to a feminist man who makes a good living and who was getting sick and tired of seeing his wife pushed around in two different academic jobs.  What a position of privilege I was in to be able to say to my Chair, “Tell the Dean and the Provost that I won’t withdraw my case, and that I’m consulting a lawyer!” when most other women would probably have felt pressured to do whatever the Provost and the Dean told them to do–and reasonably so, especially if they were single, or if they were the primary income in their families, or if they had children to think about or educational debt to pay off still.  Because the truth is that institutions have infinitely more money and (perhaps more importantly) infinitely more time to fight us in court than individuals have. 

What have you seen or heard of in the course of your careers?

35 Comments »

35 Responses to “Why we call it patriarchal equilibrium, Part II: Historiann says, “Make my day.””

  1. Historiann on 08 Jul 2009 at 7:41 am #

    In an earlier version of this post, which was screwing up my sidebar display, anon left this comment:

    Unis might have infinitely more money than individuals, but I wonder what the stats are on tenure lawsuits. It would be impossible to track but it would also be interesting to see how many faculty who lawyer up end up getting tenure. Universities absolutely do not want lawsuits – especially if a savvy feminist manages to get a media outlet interested in the lawsuit and rampant discrimination at her u. Universities ARE under pressure to “diversify” even if they don’t. Plus, ugly tenure fights make universities look really really bad and not like places people want to work (I know, I know, like we have a “choice” in which job we take).

    Rock on with your refusal to be belittled or coerced. Those of us who can have got to stop having it, for those who can’t (for the reasons you mentioned). Staying silent is what perpetuates the system.

  2. Historiann on 08 Jul 2009 at 7:42 am #

    So, I replied to anon:

    Anon–I agree with you that silence and acquiescence are NOT the ways to make changes. But, I’m pretty pessimistic that one or two P.O.W.’s (Pi$$ed-Off Women) with attorneys would be much of a story for most local media outlets. It’s too easy to portray people as disgruntled employees, especially women, who are under cultural expectations to be *nice* and to get along and shut the hell up.

    I’ve been really happy at Baa Ram U., with the exception of the reign of this one Dean (2 years) and one Provost (less than 2 years). My experiences–and the experiences of people who went up for tenure under a different Dean and Provost–are testimony to the importance of leadership.

    This is my story, it’s mine to tell, and I’m sticking to it.

  3. Historiann on 08 Jul 2009 at 7:42 am #

    Anon replied:

    I know what you mean, Historiann about media outlets – I was thinking more about an expose in the Chronicle (or some such)* that highlighted data collected from universities along the lines of what we know about Buffalo & what others have posted here. I think *exposure and discussion* of the issue is necessary, if only to help other women and people of color denied tenure more encouragement to speak up. Isolating us is the best way to enforce compliance – everybody is made to feel like her tenure denial is an isolated incident (related to a problem with her file) rather than systemic discrimination. Bad administrators are bad administrators and sometimes not much can be done about it, but making a public stink and embarrassing them would make ME feel better anyway.

    * We know the NYT wouldn’t touch a story like this because it would disturb their Women Are Taking Over the World narrative of academia.

  4. clio's disciple on 08 Jul 2009 at 7:46 am #

    I’m starting on the tenure track this fall. Stories like this scare the crap out of me. I just hope the administrators at my little college are more reasonable. Any advice for the new asst prof?

  5. Historiann on 08 Jul 2009 at 7:48 am #

    Good point about the NYT/Mainstream Media narrative. The Chronicle has published this stuff, again and again, but as Liz Lunbeck said last year at the Berks (see the comments on the previous thread)–and I’m paraphrasing here–the same data with the same numbers and same narrative is presented again and again, like Groundhog Day (the movie), and as in Groundhog Day, nothing changes.

    I want to think that data matters, or that exposure and shame matters, but patriarchy clearly matters more to the women and men who run universities. Clearly, we can’t just give up–but the same data again and again isn’t making much of a difference.

  6. Historiann on 08 Jul 2009 at 7:53 am #

    clio’s disciple–congratulations on your new job! These stories are big bummers, aren’t they? I apologize to you and to others who might be starting new jobs, on the tenure track, and/or up for review this fall.

    The best advice I can offer is just to do your job well, and publish enough so that you can explore other options if that’s what you want or need to do sometime down the road. Maybe you will have a blessed career path–some of my friends have. Most women I know haven’t had a perfectly smooth path, but most of them were able to find other jobs or to work out the hassles in their jobs.

    It’s unrealistic to expect that anyone’s career is hassle-free, male or female. But if you take care of your career, and see it as something you could do in a variety of different institutions, then you’ll preserve the flexibility you’ll need if you want to leave your first job.

  7. Emma on 08 Jul 2009 at 8:09 am #

    Historiann,

    You consulted a lawyer at exactly the right time — after a threat had been made and before the tenure decision had been made. So, congratulations to you for doing the exact right thing and lucky you for being in a position to be able to do it.

    In your case, too, the admin tipped their hand thus giving you ample time to lawyer up and convey to them your willingness to fight before any decision that had to be defended by the U had been made. Once a decision is made it’s very, very hard to change it because the admin will pull out all the stops in defending the decision.

    So, for me, the lesson is: talk to a lawyer earlier rather than later. If you suspect that things might not be going your way because of discrimination a good lawyer can help you take steps to protect yourself, even if you don’t ultimately sue anybody.

  8. Historiann on 08 Jul 2009 at 8:20 am #

    Emma, thanks for your expert advice on this. My instincts were exactly what you recommend: why wait to talk to someone? In the end, the attorney I consulted told me that there wasn’t anything to be done at that point, because my tenure hadn’t (yet) been denied or deferred, but he outlined a number of options depending on how the future might unfold. It made me feel better just to do something.

    He never even billed me for the hour-plus he spent on the phone with me–I had to call his office and tell them that I wanted to send him something for his trouble!

  9. A on 08 Jul 2009 at 8:35 am #

    Thanks for sharing your story. Useful to know.

    Emma has a useful point about the admin tipping their hand. All too often the decision is made and a surprise to the tenure-candidate. Once made they are almost impossible to turn over.

    For clio’s disciple who is starting a tenure-track position be sure have options and hide weaknesses to the extent possible (learned from past experiences). Weaknesses include having children, spouse with high powered career, health problems.

    Also be confident (advice I got from blogging last year).

  10. anon on 08 Jul 2009 at 8:57 am #

    @A: I understand exactly what you mean by hiding weaknesses, and I would never criticize anyone for doing just that. It probably is the best way to solidify one’s position, to survive, get tenure, flourish, and change the system from within. (I don’t want to you think that the below rant is directed at you. I’m just feeling ranty.)

    But. I am just not having it. (for myself) Even if it costs me tenure and lawyering up doesn’t help me. I will not hide my child, or the fact that my family is important to me; I will not accept that men are permitted to be “family men” (and praised for it) but women are not; I will not accept that female faculty are taken less seriously as committed intellectuals and professionals because they have boobs & wombs. I bring my baby to conferences (not to panels, though!), I bring him to work, I leave my breast milk in the office fridge (though this is really out of necessity, not choice). And I do this while being engaged, dedicated, and prolific. I won’t let anybody tell me the only way to be a female academic is by turning myself inside out in a totally gendered and misogynistic way. (And even if one plays the game there is no guarantee that one will be accepted as notreallyawoman/personofcolor.) I will not be silent and coerced. I will not be ashamed or deferential.

    Sorry to get all riled up. It was H’s posts and then reading this: http://chronicle.com/free/v55/i41/41b01601.htm that did it to me. Pretty appalling, though in light of this discussion, not surprising.

  11. The History Enthusiast on 08 Jul 2009 at 9:17 am #

    Thank you for your insights, Historiann! You and your t-t commentators have provided me with such useful information about academia.

    I am starting to be more and more convinced that having a lawyer for an uncle is a great, GREAT thing. I still hope, though, that if I successful get a t-t job these issues won’t be plaguing my department.

  12. Mamie on 08 Jul 2009 at 9:40 am #

    For Clio’s Disciple: In addition to the good advice A and Historiann have already offered, I’d add, 1) know the process at your university. Read the by-laws, faculty handbook, contract, or whatever governing documents lay out the rules. Know your department’s standards. Follow the rules for how to present your file. 2) Cultivate colleagues (and friends!) outside your department (and outside your college if you are at a university). Knowing how the process works in other departments can give you perspective when someone tries to tell you the rules are something other than what they are. 3) Join your union, if you have one. 4) Once you get tenure, step up. Make it clear you’re willing to serve on the college RPT committee. It’s a lot of work, so at many places it’s not that hard to get elected. The biggest danger to Patriarchal Equilibrium is feminists with power. (Not that the RPT committee is all that powerful, but start where you can.)

    P.S. My route to tenure was pretty smooth, so it happens. Congratulations on your new job! I hope you love it.

  13. Rad Readr on 08 Jul 2009 at 10:12 am #

    In addition to the patriarchal equilibrium, this was clearly a case of bad administration! Good administrators, meaning those who will place the mission of research and teaching above their own careers and the bottom line, are in short supply. And one of the factors in bad administration is that many of these folks are short timers. It takes a while to learn an administrative job, and there are very few who can take on a new position (much less at a new university) and understand the implications of certain decisions. It appears that the provost did not understand or tried to bypass the tenure requirements, but the dean also made a bad move. The dean needed to educate and stand up to the new provost and not allow this to reach you or your department.

    Here is one in which the system — the reasoned response from your colleagues and the tenure committee’s decision – was able to prevail over temporary administrative labor. Good for your university that they moved on!

  14. Emma on 08 Jul 2009 at 10:29 am #

    1) know the process at your university. Read the by-laws, faculty handbook, contract, or whatever governing documents lay out the rules. Know your department’s standards. Follow the rules for how to present your file.

    I second this and I can’t do it strongly enough! Know what the process is, what the RULES and POLICIES are so that you know when they’re not being followed. Be more informed than anybody else and have hard copies of all policies in your possession.

    It’s been my experience that more privileged candidates/applicants don’t need to know the rules because they’re being looked out for. Less privileged folks need to be self-educated and self-protective. Don’t fall into the trap of not knowing this stuff because your more privileged colleagues don’t need to be bothered.

    They can screw you while following the rules, but if they screw you by, or while, not following the rules that’s ammunition for you.

  15. JJO on 08 Jul 2009 at 11:08 am #

    I really wonder what goes through administrators’ heads in situations like Historiann’s. Is the provost on a personal crusade to make life difficult for “uppity” feminists — does s/he have some personal/political/intellectual objection to that style of work or the type of people they assume do that kind of work? Or is it more indirect — that they (consciously or unconsciously) think of feminist scholarship as a politicized niche and thus don’t think the work is as valuable as “real” “mainstream” publication [scare quotes to indicate I think this hypothetical line of thinking is bullshit and that the distinction is meaningless and pernicious, but I'm just trying to imagine what's going on]? Is it just a power trip, and if so, why aimed particularly at women — because, as Historiann and others say, stereotypical expectations of nonconfrontational behavior make them easy targets?

    I just find this stuff baffling at an intellectual level — why on earth does anyone do this (though it’s clear that they do do it)?

    Finally, I’ll third or fourth the recommendations to know the process, as well as to cultivate your department — having strong departmental support is important (both institutionally/politically and psychologically) if you do end up facing bumps in the road.

  16. Historiann on 08 Jul 2009 at 11:14 am #

    Wow–thanks for all of your comments/further suggestions for clio’s disciple! I especially concur with Emma’s and Mamie’s advice–it’s excellent. Since tenure review happens only after several years of annual reviews, and the annual reviews begin in your first year, probably in the winter, there will be a bureaucratic trail of evidence for your career established from the very beginning. It’s good to know all of those policies and procedures inside and out. Emma wrote, “They can screw you while following the rules, but if they screw you by, or while, not following the rules that’s ammunition for you.” This is really true. Because of the “bad administration” (as Rad Readr called it–ya think??) and the fact that they were off-roading, my department’s remonstrance was all the more effective. Because the department had followed rules and procedures correctly and scrupulously, they were in a much stronger position than the Provost and Dean.

    Like anon, though, I disagree with A’s advice to “hide weaknesses to the extent possible (learned from past experiences). Weaknesses include having children, spouse with high powered career, health problems.” I don’t think hiding most of these things is even realistic–but more importantly, I don’t think it’s desirable to hide so much about oneself. It’s almost like being forced into a closet! We gotta be us, right? Otherwise, what’s the point of sex diversity, or any other diversity, on a faculty, if we try to conform to a cookie-cutter idea of what faculty should be? Would we really want to stay in departments that demanded that we hide so much of ourselves? I think that kind of effort takes a real toll, and leads to some serious, permanent brain damage, if not also depression, drinking problems, drugs, etc.

    The other kind of damage that may result from this suppression of one’s genuine self and genuine life is that you may become what you beheld–that is, there’s a real danger that you’ll succeed and you’ll become just as insistent on conformity in succeeding generations of jr. faculty. I have seen this in my previous department–people there internalized so much damage and abuse that even some allies of mine there were angry with me that I didn’t just buckle under and suck it up. I became a problem for them, because I didn’t believe that it was right to endure abuse in a work environment, which they read as an implicit challenge or rebuke to the way they handled their own careers.

  17. Historiann on 08 Jul 2009 at 11:21 am #

    JJO said: “I really wonder what goes through administrators’ heads in situations like Historiann’s.” I don’t know that any of this involved critical or logical thought–I think it’s more of a lizard brain response. Something about women’s advancement doesn’t feel right, so all of a sudden administrators make up new rules and standards. I’ve seen it in every uni I’ve worked in. No one thinks that they’re being sexist or racist or classist or disabilist–and yet, many of us perpetuate these inequalities, most of us without thinking about it.

    I think it also mattered that I was the advance guard for a small bubble of soon-to-be tenured women in my department. Although their stories aren’t mine to tell, I can tell you that the same Dean interfered with the tenure of all three women’s cases she oversaw (mine plus 2 more), so her track record in 2 years as Dean is that she messed with 3 women’s tenure cases, whereas she supported without qualification the one man who was tenured in those 2 years.

  18. John S. on 08 Jul 2009 at 12:29 pm #

    Studying the Academic Personnel Manual saved my job here. I learned a couple of years ago that there can be possible screw-ups even when well-intentioned people are involved. I had a health problem that made it necessary for me to apply for a tenure clock stoppage. I learned when I applied that there was contradictory language in the APM–some of the subsections suggested I was eligible, some suggested I was not. (To make things even more confusing, I work in a larger system where some of the universities are on quarters, and some on semesters. This meant that some sections referred to a “one semester” illness, others to a “one quarter.” No one had yet noticed these discrepancies.) There was also disagreement over which governing body in the university got to make the final decision about my application. Nothing acrimonious, but the Uni. was in the midst of changing how it handled employees whose performances were impaired by illness, disability, or the like. (Nothing like setting precedent!)

    It took a lot of negotiation and a lot of time parsing what exactly the manual said, but in the end I got what I needed. But I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t studied and fought. No one was ill-intentioned–far from it. But confusion and ambiguity were my enemies. (And I am sure that there are more internal contradictions in the APM than the ones I identified.)

    I know this isn’t exactly the same situation as the experiences Historiann relates–but I wouldn’t even be coming up for a tenure vote in the fall if I hadn’t been able to take control of the situation earlier. Our Personnel Manual is my friend!

  19. Historiann on 08 Jul 2009 at 12:34 pm #

    Good point, John S. “RTFM” is *such* good advice. I’m searching my mind for cases in which it would be a BAD thing to do, and I’m failing.

    On reflection, it’s lucky for me that the administrators who meant me harm never bothered to read the frakkin’ manuals. How fortunate I am for having engaged only halfwits and incompetents rather than wily Machiavellians!

  20. LadyProf on 08 Jul 2009 at 1:57 pm #

    Thirding, fourthing, whatever the advice to RTFM. Even if you think you’ll never need it. Historiann is totally right about the lizard brain: Administrators who oppose women’s advancement often don’t realize that what they want to do violates university rules, and if they mistreat you, you can beat them with the manual.

    Speaking as a lawyer with my own patriarchal equilibrium experience (even though tenure went smoothly for me), I have to say that sex discrimination lawsuits against universities almost always lose. Judges side with the school administration, which usually succeeds in portraying a claimant as crazy. So unless you can point to some procedural irregularity in what happened to you, probably you got nuthin’. Fortunately for the good guys, there’s often some procedural irregularity in sex discrimination, if you know how to look.

  21. LadyProf on 08 Jul 2009 at 2:16 pm #

    Rereading what I just commented, I think I was unclear. What I meant to say is that “The university treated me worse because I’m a woman” is an accusation that courts don’t want to hear. To the patriarchy, it sounds like dangerous crazy-talk. “In my case, the university violated its own rules of fair play,” however, sounds like a good complaint. It could happen to anyone, even a white cis-dude; so it must be worth hearing.

  22. Historiann on 08 Jul 2009 at 2:36 pm #

    LadyProf–gotcha. I think you’re right that institutions usually prevail in making a complainant look like a disgruntled axe-grinding kook. Most of us could probably be portrayed that way–certainly those of us with blogs!

    I think you’re right that using the University’s own values and procedures against them is a better bet than most others. (Mostly because anti-sexism and gender equality are not big values in most universities or courtrooms!)

  23. Mamie on 08 Jul 2009 at 2:49 pm #

    LadyProf is right about courts, but the real value of knowing the rules is that you can often resolve issues at the lower levels of the process. We can all tell stories of toxic departments and vicious colleagues, but it is waaay easier to persuade a fellow historian that your work is legitimate than to get, say, a geologist to understand what we do. I’ll never forget the college meeting I sat through where discussion of a humanities person’s file began with a chemist saying that the person should not be tenured because “books don’t count. Anybody can write a book.”

  24. ADM on 08 Jul 2009 at 4:31 pm #

    *quietly points out that several of us uppity feminist types got tenure this year, and that there are _some_ good places to work!*

  25. Ann Bartow on 08 Jul 2009 at 6:37 pm #

    Teaching at a law school presents its own challenges. My colleagues know a fair amount about discrimination law. Sometimes this makes them very cautious, other times this emboldens them. Even though I am an attorney, I consulted with a lawyer pre-tenure when several of my senior colleagues told me that I wouldn’t get tenure if I didn’t give a certain student an “A” in one of my classes. I grade my exams anonymously, and I turned in my grades to the Registrar without knowing what grade I’d given that student, and it turned out that I had given him an “A” and he’d earned it. What an incredible relief that was. The student later apologized profusely – the intervention wasn’t his idea and he had strenuously objected to it, and was quite mortified about the whole thing. He’s a brilliant and wonderful person I still keep in touch with.

    That wasn’t the only “you won’t get tenure if you do or don’t do X” I received, either. I dealt with all this by working hard at my teaching and compiling a pretty good scholarly portfolio. That’s the takeaway advice I’d give to any untenured person reading this. Exceed the tenure standards by a wide margin and they will be afraid to mess with you too much. I know it’s hard. Believe me, I know. But it pays off if you can pull it off. It worked for Historiann, and it worked for me.

  26. historymaven on 08 Jul 2009 at 9:03 pm #

    Having been attacked by a new chair trying to prove himself in my very first year at my last university, I ended up knowing the law, the faculty handbook, the university guidelines, and my union rep. The new chair’s decision about me was rebuffed by the dean, and ended up having to resign. One faculty member who was swayed by the chair apologized for his vote. And, it seems, the chair had erred–I wasn’t supposed to stand for reappointment because I was a mid-year hire!

    Though I continued to be threatened with negative recommendations even though I published, won teaching awards, and hit my marks and more, the dean saw through these attacks and I did win tenure. (It’s one thing to try to cultivate one’s department, another to realize that some departmental members don’t want to be cultivated. Nor do they consider it their job to cultivate you.) I did make the point of speaking to my dean the semester before I applied for tenure, going through the procedures and discussing my reappointment files at the department level versus the unanimous support of the college-level committee.

    I really missed that dean after he left. He was committed to fairness and to feminism.

  27. Susan on 09 Jul 2009 at 1:01 am #

    I can’t really add much. From my own experience, lawsuits usually lose, often on a technicality. As a friend said to me when I went through my tenure case, you always want to argue about procedure, not content. So RTFM is totally good advice. Also, document everything. If you have a meeting with your department chair for your annual review, take notes, send the chair copies of your notes. That way if there is anything “informal” said, you have a record. For the truly informal things (“In the hallway Joe said that as long as I did X I would get tenure”, or “As we were walking to our cars Jane told me that I had to do Y to get tenure”) keep a journal of some sort. I could just be a WORD file that you enter things in, but do keep track. I regretted not having those comments written down. Dr. Crazy had a great post about how she kept track of things, and it will vary depending on your institution rules, but find a record keeping system that works for you and stick to it.

    What this means is that you simultaneously act as if you are just going to follow the rules, but also defensively keep track of the process..

  28. Historiann on 09 Jul 2009 at 7:30 am #

    Ann’s, historymaven’s, and Susan’s stories and experiences illustrate the importance of separating “hallway conversations” and informal advice (even if given with the best of intentions) from the formal annual review process (and mid-point/3rd year review) that most universities and colleges do for probationary faculty. Documenting the informal advice you may get, especially if it conflicts or contrasts with the formal, written evaluations you’re given, is a really good idea.

    In my former job, I was regularly given glowing review letters, but then was told, “lemme tell ya, this is what they’re REALLY saying about you…” It was a really disturbing mindfrack, motivated by unacknowledged aggression on the part of “allies” who were just trying to “help,” or by open aggression on the part of those who held minority opinions about me, which is why their comments never made it into my review letters. But, when I pointed out to the Chair of the department that I didn’t really need to take her whispered “advice” because the review letter was the only legal instrument, and if the advice wasn’t in the letter I didn’t need to hear it, I was retaliated against. Uppity me!

    When junior faculty come to me for advice, I always tell them to look at their annual review letters from the T & P committee. I’ll talk over whatever it is they want to talk about, and we can outline a range of ideas or strategies for finding a publisher/appropriate journal/etc., but I always direct them back to the letter that reflects the consensus of the T & P committee.

  29. Ann O'Nimes on 09 Jul 2009 at 6:04 pm #

    Historiann, your story fills me with rage and sadness. Not least because the dean whose treatment of you and other female colleagues was so inexcusable was an XX person. Reminds me of the recent study of gender discrimination in the theater world: turns out, women are all too often the gatekeepers of said patriarchal equilibrium. For the study’s findings, see this article http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/theater/24play.html

    All the more reason to teach women’s history, dammit.

    Now, back to my summer reading — the faculty handbook at *my* U.

  30. JimH on 09 Jul 2009 at 8:20 pm #

    Dear Yall,

    Historiann experienced one of the most insidious practices we’ve noticed at the University of Buffalo–the mid-promotion communication from the Provost’s Office that he planned to deny the candidate in question, and advising her (usually) to withdraw her candidacy, since his pal the President NEVER overruled him. And he never did.

    There was sometimes a carrot, of sorts, with the stick: the offer of a non-tenure-track bridging line to ease the exit. But these were available only to those who withdrew, not to those who stuck it out (for some reason, insisting on due process makes a candidate unworthy of bridging lines). And these generous offers frequently came with an expiration date as short as a few days–yes, just like a plea bargain offer on LAW AND ORDER.

    This makes it possible for the UB Administration to avoid lawsuits (since it’s difficult or impossible to withdraw and then sue successfully), and to fudge the gender bias statistics by saying that these de facto denials are really just candidate withdrawals. No doubt, this cunning technique has been the subject of an article in SNIVELING ACADEMIC ADMINISTRATORS FORTNIGHTLY. Huzzahs to Historiann for dropping the L word and beating the bastards back.

  31. Historiann on 09 Jul 2009 at 8:55 pm #

    Jim–wow, that is indeed an insidious practice. “Your money or your (professional) life!” It’s a stickup! This information strengthens the advice to monitor the process closely and to get a lawyer. People may not realize how much they lose when acquiescing to patently unfair and abusive requests.

    In my case, the Provost didn’t directly threaten to deny me tenure. I was told I should get the book done–the book I didn’t need for tenure at all in the first place!–and then go up the following year again “without prejudice.” But–if I didn’t have a unanimous department behind me, if I didn’t have a Chair working with the Dean to change her mind, if I didn’t have a second household income–I surely would have seen the Provost’s “request” as more of a direct threat to my career.

    When I (backed up by my departmental colleagues) stuck to my guns and went ahead as planned, he approved my case. His professed concern about the verdict of the Council of Deans never made sense to me–it’s strictly advisory. He had the power all along to ding me or pass me. What was the point in asking me to withdraw my case and try again next year, other than to inject pointless anxiety into the process in my case? I think it just made him (and of course the Dean too) look weak and indecisive.

    Sniveling administrators, indeed. Can you get us a link to that publication? (Oh, yeah–and which “L” word are you referring to?)

  32. Anti-hypocrisy advocate on 11 Jul 2009 at 9:57 am #

    It’s not clear that getting a lawyer is that simple and easy to do. Often colleges and universities are well-connected in their community and lawyers are hesitant to rock that boat. Further, even the lists provided by advocacy groups aren’t usually really “vetted” for performance. And if you have the wrong lawyer, it might be better to have no lawyer at all!

    Also, employment law is big business: the “dark side”, the employer side, has the best and the brightest working in some of the most prestigious firms in the nation — and likely, the university community as well. And discrimination law is complicated: the Supreme Court has seen to that.

    It’s not an accident that the best early success stories are about the letter that an uncle-lawyer wrote, etc. So, be very careful in choosing a lawyer. Many a discrimination case has been lost by the mistakes — or the misplaced and often unethical alliances — of the attorney representing the plaintiff.

  33. Anti-hypocrisy advocate on 11 Jul 2009 at 10:05 am #

    P.S. The other advantage to becoming an expert on your institution’s faculty handbook, etc. is that you can avoid the heavier burdens of proof of intent, etc. required by most gender discrimination law.

    If you can threaten a breach of contract suit based on the plain English in controlling documents, that’s a far more effective (and often, less costly) strategy than, literally, making a Federal case out of it, even where one could be made.

  34. Emma on 11 Jul 2009 at 11:40 am #

    Also, employment law is big business: the “dark side”, the employer side, has the best and the brightest working in some of the most prestigious firms in the nation

    I beg to differ. I am a Plaintiff’s side employment lawyer, I’m fabulous, and I know many other Plaintiff’s side employment lawyers who are similarly fabulous, dedicated, focused on justice, unbought, and unintimidated by employers be they universities, big business, or the government.

    Yes, you absolutely should vet any lawyer you’re thinking of hiring. Use Martindale Hubbell, check with the State Bar Association, ask any lawyers you already know for their opinion, check what organizations they are members of, and so forth. There are bad lawyers and you should do everything you can to avoid them. But I sure don’t like the blanket slander put out here about lawyers.

  35. Anti-hypocrisy advocate on 11 Jul 2009 at 8:50 pm #

    The sentence which you cite from my comment was NOT about the poor quality of plaintiff’s lawyers but rather an accurate statement about the resources available on the defendant side.

    Most faculty seeking an attorney in a tenure battle need to secure the services of counsel on a contingency fee basis. Employment law firms representing plaintiffs are often, if not usually, unable to consider that option, for obvious reasons, especially in cases where the university’s financial resources are vast and the case might require a commitment to a decade of battle. The best and the brightest on the plaintiff side are thus, at several hundred dollars an hour, most often out of the reach of a female or disabled faculty member.

    Yes, Martindale Hubbell is very useful but I know of cases where the Web was more up-to-date about attorneys recently disbarred. And as for organizations lawyers belong to, that is more often a “paid advertisement” than a barometer of quality. Indeed, the subscribed organizations often receive higher allegiance from the attorney than the client does — when the defendant’s counsel is in a position of power and privilege. And lawyers, like doctors, have a certain, shall I say, reticence to discuss colleagues frankly with actual or potential clients.

    I know too many faculty plaintiffs whose cases were, indeed, jeopardized or destroyed by the less than stellar performance of counsel, or by the withdrawal of counsel from representation, for whatever reason — even more devastating to a client in a contingency fee arrangement. The courts approve such withdrawals all the time, of course, with the plaintiff in the catch-22 where protesting the withdrawal to the court is proof that the withdrawal is justified. The plaintiff accused of being difficult by counsel (the usual excuse for withdrawal) is thus raped by her counsel as well as by her employer.

    And how many attorneys are comfortable with a client trained in research who also begins reading the law? Is not a faculty member, involved in her case, a “challenge” for the average J.D., who, like an M.D., is used to being the only one in the office with expertise?

    In the courtroom, as in much of life, one gets what one pays for — and that, in a nutshell, is the dilemma of the faculty member who seeks legal counsel after being subjected to employment discrimination.

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