Wednesday, February 24, 2010

 

Privacy and Diversity

Every so often, I'll hear some longtime employees complain that the newer cohort (of which they still consider me a part) doesn't care about the college like they did. The last time I heard this line, I asked what they meant; what made them think we didn't care? I wasn't expecting the answer I got:

"Everybody used to go out drinking together after work. Nobody does that anymore."

Well, okay. It's true that we don't now; it may be true that they did once. But what the hell does that have to do with dedication to the college?

"We used to make our entire lives revolve around the college. We worked together, played together, drank together, and gave it everything we had. Your generation doesn't do that. It doesn't care as much."

Hmm.

I think this is one of those "is it a rabbit or a duck?" moments. It's true that mandatory face time at the bar has gone the way of the typing pool. But I'd be hard pressed to call that a bad thing. Even leaving the whole drinking-and-driving thing out of it, there's something basically imbalanced about making your workplace your entire life. Workplaces change, they come and go, and they aren't really about individual people. All that forced togetherness can become coercive, and can force out or keep out people with different priorities. And the effect on family life can be devastating, judging by the divorce rates of the 1970's and 1980's.

That very different experience, I think, explains why I've taken a very different view of the relationship between privacy and diversity than the one I was taught in grad school.

In grad school, I was taught that the public/private distinction was a tool of patriarchal oppression, used to relegate women's concerns to the margins. I was taught that making the personal political was a necessary step towards egalitarian empowerment, and that 'problematizing' the public/private distinction pretty much wherever we saw it was the right thing to do.

And that view probably made sense in the context from which it arose. Certainly, "women's issues" (!) were often marginalized, and "privacy" covered a great many sins. And if you spend fourteen hours a day of face time at work, with coworkers at bars, and doing mandatory face time with coworkers at various events, then the private side could get pretty badly neglected. No argument there.

But there's also something to be said for being able to leave work at a reasonable hour and go home.

Part of respecting diversity is allowing people the time and space to lead different lives. Some people go home to their partners and children. Some go home just to partners. Some go home to heaven knows what. And that's okay. In fact, I'd argue that liberating people from the expectation of making their entire lives revolve around work -- getting rid of the coercive mandatory socializing at the bar, say -- is far more respectful of different life choices than "work together, play together, drink together" could possibly be.

In some ways, the public/private split actually serves real diversity quite well. When the boundaries between home and work get too fuzzy, what, exactly, does your job evaluation reflect? What do decisions get based on? How much of my life do I have to make over in somebody else's ideal image?

In my cohort (and the younger one), I see a much stronger impulse to separate work from home, and that strikes me as healthy. Let people lead their home lives as they see fit, and let them have time to do it. Work hard when at work, but live your life as you see fit when you go home. Let work decisions and evaluations reflect only what happens on the job.

In my faculty (and grad student) days, I was constantly frustrated that work was never really 'over.' I could always be reading more, or prepping, or grading, or trying to publish. That "sword of Damocles" feeling made for some pretty stressful times, since it seemed inescapable.

In administration, I spend waaayyyyy more time on campus than I ever did as faculty. But when I go home, for the most part, I go home. I don't make a habit of checking my work email at night, or of hanging out socially with coworkers. The sword of Damocles hangs in the office. I don't mind leaving it there. At home, I can be fully 'present' as a father. Call that 'patriarchal' if you want -- it's certainly paternal -- but being a 'present' father to my kids matters to me. If others choose to live their lives very differently, let them. As long as we can work together well, the rest strikes me as properly private.

It's true that we don't hang out at the bar after work the way people once did. And we're freer as a result. The public/private split gives the room for that freedom. I'm wildly dedicated to my work, and wildly dedicated to my kids, and they both take time. Carving out time for each requires keeping the two mostly separate. I'm plenty dedicated, as are my counterparts; I just reject the compulsion to neglect my family to prove it.

Comments:
Ah, Grad school, where so many of us learn such terrible lessons about work-life balance. I remember a week or so before quals feeling wretchedly guilty about taking a couple hours off from studying to do some badly-needed laundry. Good times.
 
Should we completely "neglect" other things in your life like family and friends? Of course not, but I have made many important contacts and gained critical information and insight during "after" work functions.
 
I catch a lot of heat for leaving at the end of the work day from those senior administrators. Never mind they are in their late 50's with kids out of the house. I am in my 30's with a young family and like you, want to be present for my kids. Your thoughts on this are encouraging and nice to hear. Thanks.
 
I saw another angle on this as a grad student, when I listened to the male faculty argue against hiring a very well qualified female candidate for a faculty position because she wasn't someone they felt like they could go out for a beer with. Unspoken (by them, but not by the few other female faculty) was the fact that no woman would be. They torpedoed her candidacy, reopened interviews, and hired a man who turned out to be a complete loser of a faculty member.

The "we used to all go out drinking together" statement doesn't just represent a supposedly-golden day of commitment to the school, but also a time of much less diversity among the faculty, such that they didn't have to put effort into feeling comfortable socializing with each other.

I think that this was a world that I'm very glad to see go.
 
The (older, male) faculty who have expressed similar feelings on my campus always struck me as the sort who could dedicate their whole lives to the college and students and work because they had wives at home running the household and largely raising the children. It is a pretty significant marker of privilege to claim the ability to be that wrapped up in your work and workplace.

And it isn't that I think people shouldn't be able to approach their work that way. Plenty of academics feel their job is some type of calling, which requires quite a bit of dedication. But I'm an academic who very much enjoys what I do, and also considers it a job, that I can keep separate from other parts of my life.

I think my generation (I'm the sameish age as you Dean Dad) and younger folks have also seen that institutions don't keep their promises of dedication to employees (especially, perhaps, we've seen our parents burned by this), and have more of an expectation of various careers in our lifetime, which adds to thinking of work and school life as something that is not all-consuming.

Finally, I still want to see more changes at my school that reflect a separation of work and home life. There are very few seminar slots during the day, for example, and I don't actually think it is reasonable for people to have to teach a seminar in the evening. This is a holdover from when people (men) had spouses (wives) at home holding down the fort, and when socializing with your students in the evening during and after class was seen as part of the romantic vision of being a small college professor. It drives me nuts.
 
I thought I'd come in on the other side of this just a little bit. While I don't think the "going out for beers after work" with colleagues thing needs to be central, I do think that particularly for new faculty socializing with colleagues is a really, really good thing, can help one to figure out institutional politics, can give you allies to assist you when you need advice or support.

And yes, I think that senior colleagues do a disservice to their junior colleagues if the only time they speak to them is when they see them in the hallway, the copy room, or the main office. While after-work drinking culture may not be something that anybody's sad to see go, I think that the failure to replace it with any other socializing is, well, uncollegial. Maybe this is not as much an issue for administrators or at cc's as opposed to 4-year universities, but I do think that it's an issue within academic departments at 4-year places, and I think that it sure helps with day-to-day functioning in an academic department when people in it can stand to hang out with one another for lunch or dinner or a university sporting event or performance that they are not required to attend.
 
Our college has a clear divide between those whose lives revolve around campus and those whose do not. For decades, the college has provided subsidized housing for faculty and staff to live on campus. The administration touts it as a big benefit, but to me it feels more like the housing that mines and mills used to give their workers. There’s no way I want my housing tied to my job in that way. It’s very important for me to make that physical and mental distinction between my home life and my work life. I like my work colleagues just fine, but it’s my spouse, my kid, my other family members and my friends that I truly want to spend my evenings and weekends with.
 
Wow, Dean Dad, this post and these comments are sort of revelatory to me. I've always just felt bad that I don't feel the drive to continue working at night, and I rarely do substantial work after dinner (grading and lecture tweaking, sure, but hardly ever research or writing). The stereotype of academia is that I'm *supposed* to be driven and obsessed with my work. I like it plenty, but I like other things too. But it never occurred to me that there is a generational attitude shift going on, and that my lack of single-minded devotion to my research is actually OK (or at least, it will be once my generation are full professors).
 
To follow up a bit on Dr. Crazy's point: many new faculty members have just moved to a place where they don't know anyone, which can be pretty lonely. Personally, I knew a surprisingly large number of people before moving to where I am now, but I don't think that's common, if I think about my friends in grad school. I remember a discussion with one friend who went out to California and was buying a car. When you don't know anyone, then even things like shuttling cars between rental places and dealerships is quite an ordeal. Having no friends does not make for ideal faculty lives.

I don't think that the old boys' network is a great thing, and it can certainly come up, but complete privacy is not good either.
 
But that socializing - that I agree is very important, especially as a new junior faculty member - can be done during work-ish hours. Our college has socials every month or two, in the late afternoon. I think that is much more fair to the faculty who might have other evening committments (family but also all the non-family things that people have to do in addition to their jobs, and also faculty who live far away from the school - we have an issue with this since we're a very small college town with a bigger city about an hour away) so that they have a chance at socializing with their colleagues and figuring out institutional culture. Otherwise, it is just another way you end up marginalizing people who can't make those events for perfectly good reasons.
 
JimC: "I have made many important contacts and gained critical information and insight during "after" work functions."

I don't think anyone doubts that; the less formal parts of conferences (lunches and dinners, hanging out afterwards) are routinely cited as the most useful parts of the conferences I attend. But the distinction there is that it's still basically `work time', even if it's after 5pm.

Learning informally from your peers or seniors, and even just having friendly socializing time with them, is useful and valuable; but at the point when it becomes effectively mandatory and those who don't participate often enough start to become `not a team player' or, more generally `not one of us', that's where it starts to get oppressive. I've seen that in academia, and with friends in medical professions as well.
 
As a female non-drinker, I too am glad to see the drinks at the bar days disappear. But I also agree with Crazy and J that new faculty members in new places need a replacement of sorts for both professional and personal reasons. You exit grad school with a tight knit cohort and you show up at a new place with new institutional norms, etc. In our experience, if you have a young family, you are likely running home for play, dinner, and bedtime but not doing anything that would increase your social circle. That leaves you with few personal resources when the stress does hit.

I also wanted to chime in that this isn't just an old school "male" thing. In two different institutions, I have seen examples of females acting similarly. In one situation (at a CC actually), this woman has replaced beer drinking with activism and can't understand why the last two hires (with toddler age kids) aren't available every day, all day to run to this Saturday rally or 6pm talk!
 
Remember! When you assume, you make an.......

So many stereotypes and so little space. What are you people going to do? Amazing and disheartening at once.
 
Some people go home to their partners and children. Some go home just to partners. Some go home to heaven knows what. And that's okay.

I read this blog regularly and normally love it, but can I just say that I'm really perplexed by the tone of this statement?

Those of us who don't go home to partners and/or children often go home to really fulfilling lives of our own, with friends and activities and sometimes just peace and quiet.

Most of you who now have partners and/or children at some point HAD the life without those things. Why is it so regularly presented as some horrifying, unknowable existence? Jeez.
 
Well, for us "younger" types (caveat: I don't work in academia), there's also less commitment to the workplace.

In the old days, one could almost say that you could spend an entire career at one company -- be it tenured faculty at a university, a lifelong employee of IBM, or who knows where. It's not a stretch to see that work is your life, and work can dominate your life outside of it.

However, these days, with pensions going by the way side, tenure track positions going the way of the do-do bird (hello adjunct!) there's simply less commitment from the employer. As such, there's less commitment from the employee and less of a sense of belonging, and less need to feel like make your work your life outside of work.
 
What pinky said.

I go home to a cat, book, blanket, and (these days) the Olympics. And maybe exercise a couple of times per week in a good week. Sometimes I'm grading or prepping class, but still...life is good!
 
Ianqui:

"But it never occurred to me that there is a generational attitude shift going on, and that my lack of single-minded devotion to my research is actually OK (or at least, it will be once my generation are full professors)."

This really struck a chord with me. At my institution, Oregon State University (and I can freely talk about this as I'm not directly employed by the university or faculty), there was a recent push for the faculty to take unapid furloughs. I was shocked at how many faculty, even Faculty Senators, didn't care enough about the issue to weigh in. Basically, they abrogated their responsibility re: shared governance. I asked a faculty member who has been here 20 years about it, and they responded by asking why people with PhDs get hooded. The point they were making is that this faculty, at least, feels like that with the generational shift being faculty is less of a calling and more of a job, which means that while yes, it's much better to be able to go home and (sometimes) leave work at work, it also suggests that newer faculty are less inclined to participate in shared governance and more inclined to treat the university administration as their (corporate) bosses.

This is especially true at OSU, which has large Engineering, Agriculture and Business programs.
 
There is a way to continue faculty camaraderie without the old boys club feel. In my department it is not so much about drinking as fishing. Former chairs have connected with fellow faculty, mainly male, by fishing together. This really discourages me and reminds me of corporate America, which I had been hoping was not in academia. I agree with what someone wrote - that it can be anything, not drinking. When I worked in corporate America there were coworkers that smoked together and made connections.

I hate to say this, but the prop. u. I worked for had great faculty development weeks where people from all departments had a chance to network. At the state college I work for now it seems they discourage that kind of connectiveness and adjuncts, which make up the bulk of the staff, are left in the dark.
 
I don't see a generation split here, maybe even reverse. Those of the X generation or very young Boomers are the ones in charge as well as encouraging socializing. It's not specifically a good ol' boys network, as women who are part of the in crowd can participate, but since the company is mainly good ol' boys it's unknown how the beer drinking actually helps the women who participate. So I'm not sure it's a generational thing.
 
I do see a place for socializing, and it should definitely not just be drinking. Especially with new faculty, junior colleagues, it is nice to get to know them. We have skied, bowled, gone to movies - no pressure just show up if you want.
 
I like this post. To me, it's about having healthy boundaries. My colleagues on campus are my colleagues. My friends are not people I work with.

That doesn't mean I'm not friendly to people I work with, and I do meet colleagues for coffee and that kind of thing, but especially when things get stressful at work, I'm very glad my life does not revolve around my job.
 
Like some other commenters, I think this isn't unique to academia. Firemen, for example, are similarly clannish.

It strikes me that the whole work-life balance thing is an outgrowth of the Industrial Revolution. Through most of history, people lived and worked in the same place, and they worked with their families. Only recently has work happened somewhere remote. Now, we actually have to choose every day between work and family....no wonder we're all angsting about it.
 
What a weird post: blaming the feminist analysis you were "taught" in grad school.
 
An anecdote: I was once interviewed for a position for which I was ideally suited. I didn't get the job. I had a friend in the dept. and after I learned that I didn't get the job, I asked her if she knew anything. She said that some members of the committee didn't think I'd be someone they could or would socialize with outside of school. She added that they thought I was qualified, and that I was a nice guy, just not their type.

And isn't this all an off-shoot of that other type of question sometimes asked at interviews: "so, beyond your academic work, what kinds of hobbies do you have, what sorts of things do you like to do?" I've been asked that a bunch of times. The first time I was asked it, I was flummoxed. Hobbies? And then I stammered out something that was both true and the absolutely wrong answer: "umm ... I play tournament pool." I now know I should have said antiquing or baking artisan bread, i.e., something that was more in line with the lives of academics, but I'm not really into antiquing, and while I love eating artisan bread, baking is not my thing.

Oh well, live and learn. Apparently in academe one is being judged as a scholar and an academic, a colleague, and, remarkably, as a dinner partner. "What would you make for the dept. pot luck?"

But then, they were probably right. (and here I disagree with Dr. Crazy) I'd have made a lousy dinner partner because beyond a commitment to the work, I tend to have very little in common with most academics. So I'd be the guy who'd come to work, teach my classes well, do what I'm supposed to, be friendly, and then go home and back to my life. If I happened to click with some individual in the dept., awesome, but if not, no biggie. We can all still work together and get along, right? Right?
 
Re: weird post: the weirdness comes because of the nature of blogging. With a rewrite, this post would have been much more cognizant of the fundamental difference between 14-hour days and 8-hour days on the human psyche.
 
You've totally missed the point with the complaints of your senior colleagues. I suspect I'm a bit older than you, but not much. I'm 47, you do the math. We both have the same job.

My father spent his life teaching at a community college and my five brothers and sisters grew up there. At various times, he sponsored the literary magazine, coached the club football team, and served as the president of the AAUP chapter. Yes, he sometimes went drinking with the other folks at the college.

More often, he and his colleagues held informal gatherings at their homes. Since no one had much money, it was a big pan of lasagna, a jug of cheap wine, and some popsicles. The adults argued about things that mattered, kids acted like kids, and we all had a great time. It's true--I suspect sometimes our parents probably shouldn't have driven us home.

The complaint your senior colleagues are making is that you compartimentalize your life--work to the left, home and family to the right.

I was attracted to this work by the prospect that my personal and professional lives would not have to be distinct. It's worked out well for me.

Perhaps there is more to this than happy hour.
 
The changes you're talking about are not unique to academia, but are widespread in American society. See Bowling Alone, etc.
 
I think that part of the problem here, given how petty-political department life can be, is that there is always the risk that the private can be dragged into the public and used against someone. I don't want to drink a beer around other faculty members because I don't want them to know I even drink beer.
 
Despite Dean Dad’s arguments (and that of the many enlightened responders to his post) I think that most of you have missed the boat here. The problem Dean Dad so perceptively raises has nothing to do with whether one goes out for beer with the old boys; it has to do with the level of institutional commitment younger people feel toward their college or university employers. I really like what Dennis said about institutional commitment at OSU regarding the death of shared university governance. Too often, though, I think my junior colleagues have been trained by their graduate institutions to see themselves as victims--of corporate culture’s invasion of the professoriate, of capitalism in general, of the conflation of public and private in the service of patriarchy, racism, oppression and elitism, and of a general invasion of their employer into their God-given right to teach their classes and go home without talking to anyone else about anything at any time that doesn’t suit their child-care, privacy, partner-time, domestic-sharing or other schedules.

What’s missing from all this is the desire on the part of junior faculty where I work to connect with something that is bigger than themselves that they buy into and support. The pendulum has swung so far the other way from mandatory attendance at happy hours and the like that, at least where I work, we threaten to devolve from a department and institution with at least a loosely shared identity and mission into a shared workspace of self-involved, Facebook-addicted ego-maniacal individuals whose only shared workplace goal is to maximize time spent on pursuits other than work, and whose only job-related moral compulsion seems to be to share their sense of victimhood with whoever will listen.
 
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