Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Privacy and Diversity
"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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
So many stereotypes and so little space. What are you people going to do? Amazing and disheartening at once.
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.
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.
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!
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.