I've kept talking to Molly (see here and here for background) about her situation as a junior faculty with, to her perception, a difficult chair. There has been a lot of back and forth from my faithful readers on what is good advice to Molly. Read the comments to those posts for a sense of the debate.
Molly has, for now, decided to stay in academics. I know some of you will think that's a foolish decision. But I think it is a very personal choice, in the sense that liking Peeps, one's preferred time for waking up, and having children is a very personal choice. There are different levels of difficulty and significance of said choices (see post on making decisions), but this is Molly's decision to make. My ongoing commitment to her is to work with her, and help her, and advise her. I write about this in part to elicit your, dear reader, help, but also because I value the various responses I get.
Molly's chair sent her a list of expectations. It's actually two parts: a list for the entire department and a list for Molly and one other jr faculty. If I was chair, in my current PhD/non-clinical department, I couldn't imagine sending this to a bunch of academics. On the other hand, from my time in a clinical department, I can certainly perceive that in that setting, a department of people who have not come up through a standard academic pathway, that it might be necessary. I recall discussions I have had with junior clinical faculty who wanted to stay in academics and were baffled by some parts of the culture. Context, once again, is important here.
Molly was confused by the list. She was not insulted by the list (which would be an understandable reaction), but just didn't understand what it meant. I looked at it and thought, if I gave this to any junior faculty that I am currently mentoring, any basic science jr faculty, they would shrug and say "so what, I'm doing that already".
Here are some of the points (paraphrased):
- Follow all AMRU institutional accounting requirements
Yup. You can't spend money on alcohol. You can't buy a computer from the equipment money on your federal grant without special procedure. You gotta turn in receipts. You gotta get authorization for over a certain amount.
- Teaching: Should be aligned with department, college, and university goals. Should be agreed upon and approved by Chair during annual review
- Service: Should be aligned with department, college, and university goals. Should be agreed upon and approved by Chair during annual review
To me, these are just restatements of something I told Molly before. One doesn’t get hired because of some altruistic need on the part of the university to improve you, and help you, although that often comes along for the ride. One is hired because there are jobs that need to be done, jobs within the department and within the school.
Molly who worked as a consultant and a lone ranger, didn't understand why anyone else would care about these things, and why she needed to pay attention to them. Then there is the part of the list that might be a bit insulting.
- Attend all department meetings and participate accordingly. Absences (excused and unexpected) should be communicated to the Chair.
- Serve on departmental committees as agreed upon in consultation with the Chair
- Participate in departmental strategic planning and implementation as agreed upon in consultation with the Chair
- Notify the Chair or designee in advance if unable to keep a meeting
- Follow institution guidelines regarding all human resources requirements, including timely submission of all reports (direct and indirect)
- Follow institutional guidelines regarding all IRB requirements and expectations of compliance.
If I showed this the jr faculty in my department and asked what they thought, they'd probably say "you're kidding", in part because they trust me not to jerk them around. These are kindergarten rules. These are rules you give to teenagers who are thinking with their hormones, and have significantly screwed up something to the extent you need to lay down the law. (If you have a teenager who has never significantly screwed up, like drugs and arrest and hurting someone badly, you are very lucky. This, in my perception, is usually orthogonal to parenting, but that's another post).
But it makes me think that someone in this department screwed up pretty badly to make a chair think that these kinds of rules are necessary. I know some commentators will see this as proof that the chair is six kinds of BSD and jerk and ineffective as leader. Yet, I've seen enough evidence to the contrary and I know that he didn't institute these rules when he became chair, but in response to situations of which I do not know all the facts. These
rules, er, guidelines, are a response to something, and not necessarily Molly. That doesn't make it any easier for her.
Molly's particular "expectations", which is not quite the same thing as rule, include:
- Be familiar with and follow all tenure and promotion guidelines
- Actively maintain a successful program of scholarship
So to whom of us are these surprising? Unexpected? Molly was adjunct in this department before this chair came on board, and moved to tenure track at the time he started. Thus he didn't have a hand in her hiring, which is when I would expect these things to be discussed. Molly wrote to me saying she didn't understand. I said these things I would tell any brand new faculty. The only problem is that the previous chair did not say these things explicitly to you when you were hired.
Part of what is most difficult for Molly, something with which I remember struggling as a new jr faculty are the expectations about research funding. Not that one should get research, but about how getting funding is overseen and regulated. Research should:
- be aligned with strategic goals of department, college, and university
- be limited to a manageable amount of required oversight
- strictly adhere to institutional requirements for IRB, grants accounting, and human resources
- be discussed with chair and approved by the Chair during annual review
Now, in my dotage, these seem reflexive to me. These guidelines are one (large) part you work for the university not yourself and one part we (the admin) need to make sure you don't screw up anything in public for us and one part I (the chair) don't want you doing more than you can reasonably do. Do not get more money than you can handle.
When I was younger, I bridled at rules like this: why can't I do whatever I want? Well, I couldn't and you can't. We live in a society with rules, and guidelines, and expectations and limitations. We work for an institution, that often reports to the State Government, and when we are so lucky to get NIH money, we are answerable to the federal government. When we use animals in our work, there is Federal Law that governs what we can and cannot do.
As I said to Molly: this is the job. These are the guidelines and expectations. If you cannot live with these, it's time to move on. If you want this job, then you figure out how to work and live within these limits.