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.