Tuesday, March 07, 2006

 

Ask the Administrator: The Demented Dinosaur Is On a Rampage!

A "Frustrated Academic" writes:

---------

It's an emergency! Our deadwood, lame duck colleague is heading out
the door and the department's preparing to hire a new faculty member,
but the colleague's still raising holy heck!

Last year we replaced two other retirees and the outgoing faculty
members excused themselves from the hiring process, which is to be the
norm at our institution. Not this fella! He's trying to put his twenty
cents in at every level and protest the entire process from
challenging the job description to the makeup of the search committee
and the criteria used to select short-listed candidates. We've spent
some tense hours reviewing institutional and legal documents to
counter his charges which have also been cc'ed to the administration
and national organizations (fortunately, so far, without success).

In two weeks, we'll have the first of the short-listed candidates
arrive on campus and it seems clear that he's going to continue his
interfering ways. We're afraid he's going to try to contact the
candidates by phone or in person during their visit, outside of the
on-campus faculty meeting hours provided for in the schedule, in order
to try to push his agenda or pump the candidate for information he can
use to try to poison the process.

How do we warn off these candidates from his dangerous interventions
while, at the same time, not appearing as if we're a department full
of dysfunctional crazies?
----------

It must be nice to be able to replace people as they retire…(sigh)…

At this stage, I’d say you’re way past the “shovel praise and hope for the best” approach. It’s time to circle the wagons.

I’ve learned that you really can’t do much about people with tenure. If they’re receiving signals from the mothership, that’s just the way it is. I don’t know, from your message, if the Demented Dinosaur in question has always been nuts, or if his pending extinction has sent him over the bend. (I’ve seen both.) In some ways, it probably doesn’t matter. What you can do is prevent damage by inoculating those he might infect.

Build the visiting candidates’ itineraries so that Demented Dinosaur isn’t their first contact. Make sure that at least two people who escort the candidates early in the day warn them about the Dinosaur, and mention his retirement. If you can, try to schedule the “meet the faculty” times when Demented Dinosaur has class. If that’s not an option, at least put it at the end of the day, and bracket it with some sort of off-campus deadline – say, a dinner with Big Muckety-Muck who is Very Busy and Can’t Be Kept Waiting. Whatever you do, don’t build in too much ‘alone time’ for the candidate – predators strike when a vulnerable one is separated from the herd. Use scheduling to create ‘regrettable’ facts that just happen to cut short the Dinosaur’s opportunities for mischief. It’s not perfect, but it can at least contain the damage and give the candidate a sense that the rest of the department is relatively sane.

I’ve heard of cases in which Demented Dinosaurs were given movie money to catch a matinee that day, or roped into other campus activities that kept them occupied. Maybe a compliant Dean can schedule an emergency meeting with the Dinosaur at a strategic moment? That only works when the miscreant is wacky but not determined. If he’s determined, containment is your best bet.

And for heaven’s sake, don’t let him get phone numbers! If need be, have the search committee chair keep those confidential, and make any calls him/herself.

Faithful readers: how have you handled this (or seen it handled)?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.

Comments:
"I’ve heard of cases in which Demented Dinosaurs were given movie money to catch a matinee that day." I can't believe they're so easily bought, but I love the image of an old professor or two having cash shoved into their hands and being pushed in the direction of the local movie theater. Demented indeed!
 
We nearly had a lawsuit because of Demented Dinosaur's fulsome praise for a candidate led him to believe he'd been offered the job! Human resources became involved, and I have to remind everyone of guidelines for campus visits now--only the committee interviews, no contact that is not on the official agenda, &c. It's not a bad idea to send everyone such guidelines, which you can at least use as a reason to head your dinosaur off.
 
One thing that I've seen done is to not allow the candidate to be alone during the day. I.e., have someone from the search committee with the candidate, even when they're meeting with others "one on one." A little awkward, but I've seen this technique defuse some potentially difficult situations.
 
I really like the idea of movie money. It's such an elegant solution to the otherwise endless opportunities for messing things up!
 
I just witnessed a similar spectacle on my campus. Happily, the dinosaur, who was nominally the chair of the search committee, took ill just before the interviews and was unable to participate. Had this person been present for the interviews and attempted to steer the process to favor the sort of candidate he favored hiring, a couple of the committee members were prepared to dig in our heels and refuse to forward any names to the second round of interviews.
 
I hate to suggest this, and it is VERY extreme, but the chair should have the DDs office painted two days before the visit. All of his stuff should be thrown out in the hall in boxes, and if he complains, just say it was the schedule. He (or she) might get the hint. It is too late to play nice.
 
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