Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Dealing with Bad Apples

Inside Higher Education reports back from the recent Leadership Excellence for Academic Diversity conference, meant to focus on promoting faculty women. One of the issues arose was that the environment in some academic departments can be poisoned by a few bullying "bad apples."

Faculty leaders said they can talk within their departments all they want about being inclusive, but one disparaging comment about race, gender or sexual orientation by a professor can poison a discussion and potentially sour junior professors on the department. Some said the thorny professor also plays a role in both scaring away potential female hires who can already feel unwelcome in male-dominated fields and convincing female graduate students at the institution to continue their careers outside of higher education.
These bullies are often older tenured faculty that are "unwilling to take direction." The trouble is that few scientists have training in management and dealing with unconscious bias is particularly difficult.

Terri S. Fiez, director of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at Oregon State University suggested that academic chairs should try not to allow a single senior faculty member dominate discussions of departmental policy and should gauge departmental consensus in private discussions. Other departmental leaders at the conference were not convinced that they would be able to implement that solution:
But several department leaders said during the meeting that they didn’t seek out the chair position and don’t have an interest in policing faculty discussions. Many noted that they never had training in managing personalities, to which Fiez said she disagrees. “Everyone has had to manage graduate students,” she said.
What Fiez may be forgetting is that faculty members manage graduate students and postdocs out of necessity and there are few who are particularly adept at dealing with contentious personal issues within their labs. Being a good leader is a totally different skill from being a successful scientist. It seems that departmental heads are not always chosen for their management skills; seniority, scientific acclaim, or even the fact that only one person wants the job, play a greater role in the selection than actual skills appropriate for the position. That's a problem if the departmental head is expected to convince senior members of the department that their behavior needs to change.

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Virginia Lee said...

Wow. A friend of mine was dealing with a bullying issue not long ago in her lab. How synchronicitous of you to address the topic, Peggy!

And yes, I am here on a mission.

TAG! You are IT! Please take a moment to type eight interesting science-y things about yourself and your woman in science-y-ness and then forward the entry to eight blogging friends.


Virginia Lee said...

Oh yes, and ask them to play too.

Sheesh. It's my first time. I forgot that bit.