February
7th 2012
Who let the dogs out? The importance of a diverse faculty.

Posted under: American history, race, students, weirdness

Tenured Radical offers some thoughts from pseudonymous guest blogger Herlin Hathaway, a Jamaican American graduate of a small, liberal arts college who’s midway through his first year in a Ph.D. program.  The main point of the post is to get some insight into academic transitions like Hathaway’s, but to me the strongest point that came through in his piece was the overwhelming whiteness of the faculty he has worked with:

My advisors had always told me that there is something about being a black male in academia that attracts well intentioned but often embarrassing special attention from some white faculty. I had not experienced this while at Little College because my professors seem to have been the most socially conscious, social justice oriented and culturally sensitive teachers ever. They were never patronizing or imposing and always critical but kind. Indeed, there were other professors at Little College who were known for being inappropriate or “too much” but I never studied with them. I was not prepared to not have this happen in graduate school, however.

.       .      .      .      .      .      .      

Prof. X is not so much inappropriate as he is overly paternalistic. Prof. X wants to “rescue” me intellectually, which is both nice because he is supporting my work, but weird because sometimes he talks down to me. In class, Prof. X points to me when he discusses any and all things “African American.” (This I can at least understand because my work is on the African American family but it has become a running joke in the class because he doesn’t realize he does it.)

Prof. X once asked me if I played basketball because I’m so much taller than him. I told him I used to play football. In front of the whole class, Prof. X then proceeded to tell me how he graciously helped (almost rescued) his previous inner city black student-athlete from his inability to read and write and guided the young man to become a multiple fellowship award winner (Fulbright, White House Internships etc.).

Hathaway’s experience is probably all too common given the absence of faculty of color on most faculties, let alone in top graduate programs.  As I recall, I worked with three black faculty in my decade-long college and graduate school career and no other faculty of color, compared to dozens of white faculty. 

Hathaway’s commentary is also a fascinating sociology of whiteness, particularly with respect to a major quirk among white faculty-types today:  obligatory dog companionship at all times.

I confess I’ve never been a dog person. Before I went to Little College, I had never known a friendly dog and I never knew anyone who had a dog. As a child I was taught to run or at least stay far away if I saw a stray dog because it probably had rabies or would attack me. (My Jamaican parents were convinced that there was something fundamentally different in American dogs as distinct from the dogs they owned “back home.”)

My parents and I thought it was crazy and sort of funny that on my freshman move-in day, a number of dogs were roaming the dorm halls and resting on the couches because a few students had brought their pets to see them off. (My father concluded that this was evidence of Little College’s “liberal” policies.) So, imagine my surprise when I visited my first year advisor’s office during freshman orientation and realized that her dog stayed in her office!

Advisor: Are you okay with dogs?
Me:……Sure…….

She lets the dog out of the pen and I sort of freeze up in my seat as it walks to me, sniffing my shoes and my bag. At this point I’m only half listening while my advisor is introducing herself because I’m trying to look as comfortable as possible around a dog that has quickly grown fond of my book bag. I missed most of what she said in the meeting but that day I learned that dogs are part of academic life.

Those of you who have been affiliated with a college like Hathaway’s will understand what he means.  In addition to a White Thing, the dog fetish must be a SLAC and elite school affectation–teaching at a public Aggie means that the only animals on my campus (aside from the occasional service dogs and Seminar, my commuter horse) are the patients in the off-campus Vet School emergency department and the ones hanging upside down in the Animal Science building awaiting their appointment with the meat cutting students.  In other words, animals have their uses here–and hanging out in faculty offices ain’t one of ‘em.  (And this is not the case because we on the faculty aren’t white, of course.  Like pretty much everywhere but at HBCs, we are overwhelmingly a white faculty.)

Go read the whole thing.  Good luck, Herlin Hathaway, and dog bless.

42 Comments »

42 Responses to “Who let the dogs out? The importance of a diverse faculty.”

  1. Dr. Koshary on 07 Feb 2012 at 9:08 am #

    Good piece. I’m filing that one away for future reference.

    Also, Seminar, my commuter horse is perhaps the best thing I will read all week. I love everything about that phrase.

  2. Janice on 07 Feb 2012 at 9:10 am #

    I’m a dog person and yet my dogs have only accompanied me to campus on two rare occasions in twenty years. A university office isn’t a good place for a pet, in my opinion, and letting a dog bully a student, staff member or faculty person is unacceptable.

    But faculty privilege and cluelessness is one of the true universals, isn’t it? I am sure I have my blind sponts that drive my students round the bend.

  3. Perpetua on 07 Feb 2012 at 9:15 am #

    You would not believe the amount of b*tching I overheard when we moved to a brand new building where faculty could no longer bring their dogs. I was like, is that even a THING? Apparently, yes. I’m glad I’m not alone in finding that weird.

    The issue of undergraduate mentorship and preparation for grad school is key to shifting that overwhelming whiteness, I think. So many top grad programs feed directly from elite colleges, where the vast majority of students are white. Students who go to large state us and smaller, more intellectually modest SLACs aren’t prepped for grad school, which makes applying effectively a big issue (let alone performing well, and of course the bigger issue of even thinking of academia as a career path).

  4. ej on 07 Feb 2012 at 9:20 am #

    I went to a large public university for grad school, and there was a phase when dogs took over the history department. I actually had to present to a post comps seminar in front of faculty and other grad students while one humped my leg under the table.

    Rather awkward.

    But eventually, after one accident too many in the foyer, they were banned.

  5. Historiann on 07 Feb 2012 at 9:28 am #

    Thanks, Dr. Koshary, but I can’t even take credit for the name. Seminar was in fact the name of a family member’s imaginary horse. I wonder where she got the idea? (Her other imaginary horses were named Glory and Domino, but I always loved Seminar the best.)

    ej: Eeeewwww. I hope Herlin sees your comment and takes protective measures.

    BTW, I’m not anti-dog–but until I saw this post, it occured to me that they’re just not a factor in my work environment, whereas in the East at the elite institutions I attended (20-25 years ago even) they were a factor. I had one colleage once at my former (private, midwestern) uni who had her puppy in her office with her during his puppyhood, but I resigned and moved away so I don’t know if she still does that.

  6. Dutchie on 07 Feb 2012 at 9:53 am #

    My introduction to my doctoral program featured a scolding from the Graduate Advisor because of his dog:

    Him: This is “Rex”! You don’t have a problem with dogs do you?
    Me: Yes, actually I’m afraid of dogs
    Him: Afraid? What sort of person is afraid of dogs????
    Me: an incident when I was a toddler—
    Him: Probably your fault!
    Me: I’m sure it was but I have an irrational fear of dogs.
    Him: full 5 minute lecture on the lack of character shown by people who fear dogs…

    I’m better with dogs now but I still hate him lo, these many years later…

  7. Shelley on 07 Feb 2012 at 9:58 am #

    I’m a writer, and no one is more hyper-sensitive than we are, but still I’ll say:

    Always a bad idea to be hyper-sensitive.

  8. Indyanna on 07 Feb 2012 at 9:59 am #

    Don’t get me going on dog parks in trendy neighborhoods. I like dogs just fine, but when every neighbor has a brace of wolfhounds on thirty-foot strappy leather leashes, going this way and that way on narrow sidewalks, and taking over the nearby greenspace for early morning Saturday barkfests, it’s almost like being back there at William and Mary Won’t Do. Some collegefriends of mine at SLAC had a small, friendly, very non-barky dog who had the run of the campus, knew everybody, audited courses at will, wore a bandanna but didn’t deign to catch frisbies. That’s still my model of canine cool. But a commuter horse; wow, I’ll have to look into this. Can you do EZ-Pass with one of these?

  9. Historiann on 07 Feb 2012 at 10:05 am #

    Indyanna, your story about the campus dog brings to mind a story about the campus dog at my school, who was owned by an upperclass couple when I was a Freshman and Sophomore. The dog was a genial black Lab called “Art History.” (Pretentious, for sure.)

    Some friends of another friend came out from Penn to visit. Their introduction to our campus was walking through an archway, where they were overtaken by a bald woman in a leather jacket running at full speed and screaming “Art History! Art History! Art History!”

    Heh. It was kind of like that third-grade joke about the dog named “Freeshow.”

  10. Western Dave on 07 Feb 2012 at 11:02 am #

    Better Art History than Art Garfunkle. (I apologize but could not restrain myself.) Don’t remember many/any faculty or student dogs at my SLAC. And I would have, as I am pretty afraid of them after I was bitten by one as a child (and no it wasn’t my fault – idiot owners at fault). I did have a professor in grad school who taught his seminar at his house (which required driving to, a pain for the student who did not have a car) and he had a dog that often crashed the seminar. But this dog was older and quite calm so I was okay with it. The class was in the basement/library of the professor next to a huge fireplace. The dog often sat at the professor’s side and he petted it with great regularity throughout the class. At our second class, the Professor broke down in tears announcing that his wife had terminal lung cancer and they’d only found out that morning. I think his dog was a great comfort to him during the class, and helped him through it. I believe he retired from active teaching the next year although he saw his graduate students through to the end.

  11. Ruth on 07 Feb 2012 at 11:26 am #

    When TR and I were both assistant professors we both used to bring our dogs to the office and they used to play. I lived about 3 miles from campus so it was a good way for me and the dog to get exercise by walking to work.

    True story: The college’s administrative offices were in the same building as my department. One day on my way in, the dean (whom I had never met) came out of his office and bent down to pet the dog. He was wearing a loosely woven wool tie and the dog bit at it and pulled some threads out. I apologized profusely. I then left the dog in my office and went to a department meeting. When I walked in someone said “How are you?” and I said “Well, this day isn’t starting off so well; it’s only 9:30 and already my dog has shredded the Dean’s tie,” and the whole department started going “Good dog! What a GOOD dog!”

  12. Anonymous on 07 Feb 2012 at 11:57 am #

    One of my colleagues (in a very pro dog department) brings to his office every day his german shepherd who barks very aggressively towards anyone female. Oh, she’s an old dog, she’s harmless, you just don’t understand how to act around dogs! If you really have a problem with my dog, I suppose we could talk out in the hall….

    I am not a dog person, but I don’t understand how anyone could ever think this was remotely acceptable. And yet … no one calls him on it. The chair is also a dog person. So all you dog people out there? Get a fucking clue.

  13. Leslie on 07 Feb 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    I’m at a public university. My least favorite colleagues are those who think that the “No Dogs Allowed” signs actually posted on campus buildings couldn’t possibly apply to their own special dogs. It’s not really the dogs that bother me in this case, but the arrogance of their owners.

    Interesting, isn’t it, that it isn’t deemed necessary to say No Pets–people with cats, birds, reptiles, and assorted rodents must leave them at home without prompting.

  14. Historiann on 07 Feb 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    I don’t know anything about birds, reptiles, or rodents, cats have nervous breakdowns whenever anything changes about their environment. It’s like they all have autism/ASD.

    For a while there about 10-15 years ago, perhaps during the first internet bubble, I started seeing news stories and reports about “companion animal friendly” workplaces. I guess the job market is so sucktastic now that employers don’t think they really need to host Bring Your Dog to Work Days any longer.

  15. bardiac on 07 Feb 2012 at 1:40 pm #

    I’ve been guilty of having my dog in my office (at my previous place of employment). Especially for me as a beginning professor, often working there til late at night, it made my life a lot better to have him with me. But yes, it was probably not great for some students. (Of course, my dog was special and wonderful and not like those other dogs… but alas, not really.)

    I had an undergrad prof who had a magpie (I think it was) in her office. Scared the dickens out of me flying nearby once, but was also so cool.

    Back to me and my dog: as someone who had moved to a rural area with no family members or close friends within 2K miles, I really needed that dog.

    And now, I’m going home to hang out with the neighbor’s dog that’s my guest for the week. :)

  16. bardiac on 07 Feb 2012 at 1:44 pm #

    ps. Stupid non-typographical renditioning!

    I’ve been told that white folks (such as myself) are very weird with their dogs.

  17. Historiann on 07 Feb 2012 at 2:29 pm #

    Sorry about that, bardiac ;)

  18. History Maven on 07 Feb 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    Ah, there was a sort of “Seminar, the commuter horse” at Penn. Long before my time there, Anthony Garvan rode his horse from his home on the Main Line to Philadelphia. It was an attempt to answer a question about how long it took one to travel by horse around the Quaker City.

    The professors who brought their dogs to Penn seemed to live close enough to campus to combine going to work with walking their dogs.

    I love dogs (and currently have a cat, thank you), but I was surprised when professors brought their dogs to campus, if only because it seemed so rude to think that no one could be allergic or fearful of Fideaux.

  19. Liz on 07 Feb 2012 at 4:49 pm #

    I graduated from a SLAC. There was a (married? I think?) pair of poli sci professors who had a very small black dog that spent every day in their shared office. Every afternoon, at approximately 4:30, without fail, they left their office to go home and let the dog off the leash. The dog always sprinted off across the quad, and the profs would spend the next 20 minutes loudly hollering the dog’s name attempting to coax him to come back to them. He never did, but they always caught up with him at the other end of the quad. Finally, in my junior year, after a friend and I had kept a long running joke about the poli sci profs and their dog, my friend joined them in yelling the dog’s name across the quad from my dorm room window. “What? Who is that?,” one of the profs cried, in a totally annoyed, how dare you?!, kind of way. They had absolutely no sense of their own absurdity.

  20. quixote on 07 Feb 2012 at 5:56 pm #

    “They had absolutely no sense of their own absurdity.”

    Could you specialize in poli sci if you had a sense of absurdity?

    And Dutchie, “I’m better with dogs now but I still hate him lo, these many years later…”

    As you should! What a mannerless oaf.

  21. Comrade PhysioProf on 07 Feb 2012 at 6:42 pm #

    I’ve spent my entire academic career in elite private east coast universities, and the only fucken dogges I’ve ever seen on campus have been owned by humanities faculty. Natural sciences faculty wouldn’t dare bring their dogges into facilities where scientific research is going on.

  22. Spanish Prof on 07 Feb 2012 at 7:10 pm #

    This one is a cut and paste from a comment I left at a different thread, but applies perfectly to the stories being told here .

    I had a campus interview with a well-known, elite SLAC. I was told to pick a cab from the airport to the hotel, have dinner there, and pick a cab for the school the following morning. I had to be at 9:30 am at the Chair’s office. The Chair shows up at 10am with a beautiful Golden Retriever, tells me ze has to do a few things around campus, and if I could look after hir Golden Retriever until ze comes back (which ze did, half an hour later). That half hour was actually the best part of the whole campus interview. This SLAC in particular is a repeat offender at the “Universities to fear” in the Academic Wiki Jobs.

  23. Dr. Crazy on 07 Feb 2012 at 10:32 pm #

    “cats have nervous breakdowns whenever anything changes about their environment. It’s like they all have autism/ASD. ” This is because cats are all about their own territory, and their own territory gives them happiness, which I TOTALLY understand. Because they have minds of their own. And they don’t give a crap about anybody’s happiness but their own. In other words, my cats won’t come to my office precisely because they know that it is a place of pain and work and misery, and F#$ck that noise! At home they can have a glorious nap in a sunbeam! Without people trying to touch them! A dog might accompany me just to make me happier, because dogs actually care about their owners. (Yes, I am having a moment of irritation with those free-loading cats of mine. That said, one could read their choices more positively, as being about caring about people with pet allergies.)

  24. Susan on 08 Feb 2012 at 5:59 am #

    Love all the shaggy dog stories. Our campus brings in therapy dogs at exam time so students can cozy up. Otherwise no pets on campus, but you do see rabbits, and my cat Sheba was found abandoned, (barefoot and pregnant, as it were) on campus. Does anyone have a theory about why professors have big dogs, rather than little ones which are easily carted around?

  25. Historiann on 08 Feb 2012 at 6:44 am #

    “Does anyone have a theory about why professors have big dogs, rather than little ones which are easily carted around?”

    I don’t know, except that little dogs are usually feminine accessories, and even most feminist academic women shun overtly feminized accessories/affectations?

    In my experience living in college towns, there is always a huge stray animal (esp. cat) problem. Many students think it’s fun to adopt a house cat with their roommates, but then they don’t spay/neuter, and/or when no one can take the animal home for the summer it ends up abandoned on the street.

    Sad. But of course, college students are not the only offenders. My cats were the offspring of animals owned by adults with jobs, whom you’d think would be hip to limiting the unwanted cat population. . .

  26. Anonymous on 08 Feb 2012 at 8:09 am #

    CPP, you are wrong-o. There are a gajillion dogs in basic biology departments (vs. biomed) including at snooty ivy league schools. They all get whisked out of sight when the labs get inspected, of course. Why, a friend of mine was actually bitten by the dog of an esteemed Harvard professor of biology, whom I am sure you know. His response? “I can’t believe little Fifi would ever bite you!”

  27. Rachel on 08 Feb 2012 at 10:37 am #

    There were dogs aplenty of my SLAC. I rather liked them, and most of them snoozed next to their owner during lecture. I did have a science prof who let his dog wander during exams (which weren’t proctored, at least not my humans). He insisted that the canine proctor would eliminate cheaters or at least sniff them out. How he trained the dog, I have no clue, but this was a prof who showed up on day 1 and called everyone by their names, so he probably had some method…

  28. Rachel on 08 Feb 2012 at 10:38 am #

    Edited to note: the SLAC I attended back in the day…

  29. Adjunctorium on 08 Feb 2012 at 10:55 am #

    Good grief!

    We had an admin assistant whose volunteer work entailed training service dogs. Since service dogs are allowed on the campus, she naturally brought her puppy-in-training to the office.

    The administration threw such a shi*-fit they threatened to fire her if she didn’t quit it…even though service dogs are explicitly allowed in state buildings by state law. Despite a petition from faculty and staff supporting her, she was told she had to leave the dog at home.

    In 15 years at the Great Desert University, only one colleague ever brought a dog to the office, and that was in a pinch. It just wasn’t part of the culture there.

    However, I did have students who had been attacked by dogs and were, with good reason, nervous or outright afraid of them, and many people have severe allergies to dog hair and dander. IMHO it’s inconsiderate and self-centered to insist on bringing your dog to a workplace where others have little or no way to remove themselves from your pet’s presence.

  30. M.K. on 08 Feb 2012 at 1:44 pm #

    I used to have an extraordinarily great cat. She loved everything and everybody, and (unlike most cats) was always up for new experiences.

    Since she was so friendly and loving, when I went to work, I always felt fine about . . . leaving her at home, of course!! Why the hell would I bring my cat to work?

  31. Leslie on 08 Feb 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    I guess I did once bring a cat to campus, however briefly. During my first job (part time adjunct) I had my cat in a no-cats duplex (my bad) and there was a plumbing emergency which entailed bundling the cat, the cat box, and the cat food into my car on a sort of stormy spring morning because the landlord was on his way over. Fortunately, she was a mellow creature. If I had to do that with my current cat, I’d still be washing pee out of the upholstery.

  32. Tigs on 08 Feb 2012 at 9:11 pm #

    Hell, the profs having their dogs around them all day at my small northeast undergrad institution had no small part in convincing me that the academic life might be a good one for me.
    I suppose that’s not a reasonable thing to inquire about on campus visits, though…

    I know I’m a crazy dog person, but is having a dog lying at my feet really mean that I’m inflicting the dog on another person?
    Irrational fears are irrational, you wouldn’t cater to someone’s fear of heights if your office was on the 6th floor of a building. I’m more sympathetic towards concerns about allergies, but who is sitting in a closed office with students for long enough for that to really be a problem? I’ve got so much dog hair on all my clothes that if a student is that allergic, I’m probably going to set them off without my dog actually being in the office.

    If you’ve got a dog that’s a pain in the ass–that’s another story–but a good dog who isn’t actually bothering anyone? What’s the problem?

  33. Sniffing the Past on 09 Feb 2012 at 5:10 am #

    Great post. A former university I worked in put up a ‘No Pets’ sign in one of the meeting rooms to stop academics bringing their dogs to meetings.

    And have you read Mark Rowland’s The Philosopher and the Wolf (2009)? He used to take a wolf into his lectures…

  34. other side of the pond on 09 Feb 2012 at 5:40 am #

    And Simon Schama used to have a mongoose when he was at Oxford. Dogs are so last century.

  35. Anonymous on 09 Feb 2012 at 10:35 am #

    “I know I’m a crazy dog person, but is having a dog lying at my feet really mean that I’m inflicting the dog on another person?”

    The answer is clear enough. Yes. There are a million ways to rationalize it away, of course, as you just did. But at some point one must admit that by having a dog in the office, one inflicts the dog on those who must visit. Therefore, having it there means that one prefers the dog’s company to the comfort and full attention of one’s guests. Another analogy might be: what if a minimalist workspace helps you to think, so you don’t put a visitor’s chair in your office? So it doesn’t break any rules, fine. If you want all of your students/visitors to have to stand before you, shifting from foot to foot (and some impaired guests to perhaps not be able to visit you at all), you could probably do that too.

    But the least you can do is to be upfront about the fact that you are focused on your own environment and mental health to such a large degree that you deeply discount the comfort of others. (This last sentence helps me to understand why dogs in faculty offices are an East Coast phenomenon. I’ll bet they’re prevalent in California schools too.)

    However, this is definitely the most horrible thing I’ve read in the thread:

    “There was a (married? I think?) pair of poli sci professors who had a very small black dog that spent every day in their shared office.

    Ick.

  36. Anonymous on 09 Feb 2012 at 10:41 am #

    A great many Muslims, by the way, have religious and cultural rules against indoor dogs, another reason that exercising this kind of privilege tends to be a white thing.

  37. Anonymous on 09 Feb 2012 at 10:43 am #

    http://www.islamicconcern.com/dogs.asp

  38. M.K. on 09 Feb 2012 at 12:11 pm #

    I really like Anonymous’s analogy of a minimalist who refuses to put a chair in the office.

    And Tigs, about fears (irrational or otherwise) . . .

    I am in fact afraid of dogs. I can deal with service dogs, because they are invariably extremely well trained, and because I recognize that they allow other people to function more fully in society. (I still keep my distance, but I don’t run screaming from them.) You might say I need to get over my irrational fear of dogs, but I say “Why?”

    I don’t work for a vet or the humane society. I’m an American historian. If I was afraid of books, or nineteen-year-olds, or boring committee meetings, I would say “Yeah, I’ve got to get over that fear so that I can do my job.” But dogs? I see no reason to think that as an academic, I can’t expect a reasonably dog-free work environment.

  39. Historiann on 09 Feb 2012 at 1:11 pm #

    This is just an observation about office life, but no one will ever tell you directly that either your 1) child/ren or 2) dog bothers them when you bring them to your office.

    They may complain about you behind your back, though.

    (I’m not endorsing this status quo. I’m just describing it.)

  40. Tigs on 09 Feb 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    “But the least you can do is to be upfront about the fact that you are focused on your own environment and mental health to such a large degree that you deeply discount the comfort of others.”

    Yeah, that’s probably true.

    “Therefore, having it there means that one prefers the dog’s company to the comfort and full attention of one’s guests.”
    And given that my dog is pretty much my favorite person, that’s definitely so. ;)

    Note: I rarely actually bring my dog to campus–fewer than 20 times in the past 6 years, and mostly during summer session. But damn, it is great to have her around–and on those days, I have definitely been more interested in my comfort and mental health than the minimal discomfort that was potentially experienced by others during those times (my dog doesn’t bark, lick people, make sudden moves or indoor messes–she is generally invisible except when I’m walking her through the halls). Fair enough.

  41. Big Boss Lady on 09 Feb 2012 at 9:37 pm #

    I love how a post about racial diversity in higher ed and dogs gets 40 comments about…the dogs. Talk about missing the point!

  42. M.S. on 20 Feb 2012 at 1:01 am #

    In fairness, the prof in question (Prof X) is actually not a white guy. But the point still stands about the lack of diversity of the faculty at said Big Grad School.