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Author Topic: Advice for what seems like an impossible situation?  (Read 17271 times)
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« on: July 28, 2007, 7:29:04 am »

Hopefully, this will not get too convoluted but there are multiple layers to my dilemma.

I currently hold a deanship at a university. I took this position with good intentions and in good faith. Within several months, it became very clear that there was a great deal of petty bickering and jockeying for power. I have come to realize that certain key persons in this college are real back stabbers. Not only am I personally being attacked, but these same individuals would sell out their own mothers and children to claw their way to the top. Of course, my concern is for myself, but they are also ruining the reputation of the College in the community and hurting students. The problem is they are very adept liars and essentially corrupt. It is me against them and they have the edge because they have the provost snowed as well. Last night coming home, I literally felt like I am on the Titanic with self serving fools at the helm.

Yesterday, I was in a meeting with the two main back stabbers and I had this awakening. It was apparent they were absolutely entrenched and the machine was too big for me to fight. I have no doubt that someday they will fall, but at what cost? It is like being in the Nixon Whitehouse in 1970. You know it is going down, but not for a couple of years and after a lot of destruction.

I read with interest the article Dean for 91 Days. There are similarities, but that person at least had a job to which to return. Right now I am absolutely tied to this area due to other issues. Plus, it is August and there is nothing out there. I even tried looking in the private sector but nothing worked out there either. I do have tenure so I could go to a faculty position. This situation has gotten so out of control that I contacted my attorney last night just in case.

Any advice? Anyone been in similar circumstances and lived to tell?

« Last Edit: July 28, 2007, 7:30:50 am by lorii » Logged
or, the modern Prometheus.
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« Reply #1 on: July 28, 2007, 7:41:09 pm »

 I do have tenure so I could go to a faculty position. This situation has gotten so out of control that I contacted my attorney last night just in case.

I think your best move is to return to a faculty position.  You just tell them that "This isn't really for me" or some such thing.  I know oodles of profs who had short-term or long-term dean gigs, so going from prof to dean back to prof is no big deal, certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

Zharkov's Razor:
Adapting Zharkov a bit to this situation, ignorance and confusion can explain a lot.
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« Reply #2 on: July 28, 2007, 11:17:42 pm »

It's not uncommon for deans to return to faculty; it's not a job for everyone.  As to your situation, there is one very much like that on my campus, and I feel for the dean between those people who have agendas and will hurt people to get what they want. 

Talking to a lawyer wouldn't hurt since you already began that process, but you might even talk to your union, as they can help you return to a faculty position if this is what you wish.  Could you transfer to another division?


Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things. --Diderot
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« Reply #3 on: August 02, 2007, 11:23:03 am »

I don't want you to reveal more than you absolutely have to, but some of this sounds like the ordinary adjustments that every dean has to make.  This statement for example:

Within several months, it became very clear that there was a great deal of petty bickering and jockeying for power. I have come to realize that certain key persons in this college are real back stabbers.

That's fairly standard in most organizations.  The question then becomes what, if anything, do you do about it.

Of course, my concern is for myself, but they are also ruining the reputation of the College in the community and hurting students.

I think retaining your attorney and preparing to return to the faculty are fine if your only goal is self-preservation.  But you need to decide whether you feel it necessary to take these people down because of the harm they are doing to the students and the college.  If you have examples of concrete and specific harm that they are doing to students, then you should certainly address those, either directly or with their supervisors as appropriate.

My instinct would be to serve the greater good, and stand and fight.  I've been stabbed in the back before, but that happens in faculty jobs as well as administrative ones; moreover, that's why they pay me more money.  And if you have tenure then there's a limit to the amount of damage they can do to you. 

Consider also what they will do if they are not stopped.  Will your successor as dean have a better time of it if you leave them in place?  It's possible, of course; there may be another person who is better equipped for this kind of fighting.

If they are corrupt and perpetual back-stabbers then they will have enemies besides you.  Build alliances with the people they have wronged, either to topple them or to take action by working around them.  Since they are "entrenched", working around them may be the best way to go.  You can give them some areas of authority so that they leave you alone, or isolate them by soliciting their advice and then ignoring it, or assign them to search committees or other bodies to sap their energies.

Naturally, you need to filter this advice through the layers upon layers to which you allude.  I can easily think of some nightmare scenarios that would be too difficult to fight, or a situation where you have something to protect (such as children) that leaves you incapable of pursuing this.

You may want to read the preface to a book called "Failing the Future," by Annette Kolodny.  It is the best short introduction to deanship and the toll it can take on a person.  If you need a longer book to read, try "Academic Deanship" by David F. Bright and Mary P. Richards, which contains plenty of advice about how to deal with difficult situations.

Good luck.

"I do not pretend to set people right, but I do see that they are often wrong." -- Jane Austen, Mansfield Park
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Be excellent to each other.

« Reply #4 on: August 02, 2007, 11:53:39 am »

I was going to tell you to cut and run, then I read Sybil's wonderful post and felt ashamed. Is there a reasonable chance that you can take on these liars and win? Or would that just be career suicide?

I can be happy anywhere I have a little money and the cops aren't after me--I'm still searching for this place.
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Positively impactful on stakeholder synergies

« Reply #5 on: August 02, 2007, 11:59:09 am »

I spent the entire first year of my current position thinking I'd made the worst mistake of my life leaving a very happy and generally positive department chair position at a place I loved to come to my new university, in what is frankly a lot less desirable place.

We also have some versions of the problems you mention, and these were getting me down, and often still do.

However, Sibyl's suggestions are great.  I second the recommendation of the Kolodny book--I thanked her in an elevator at a conference one time after I'd read it!

At any rate, you do have to protect yourself, but it's probable that at least some of your feelings are just the difficult-new-job stuff.  Think carefully before you do anything drastic.

FYI, at this point I actually enjoy somewhere around 60% of my job.  That is pretty good, I think.

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« Reply #6 on: August 07, 2007, 2:50:42 pm »

It seems to me that at least part of what goes on in academia involves petty back stabbing and power grabs.  Sibyl's post is inspiring--I concur!  Maybe you can get in a position to get the worst ones removed.

Am I the only one who even remembers Up with People??
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« Reply #7 on: August 08, 2007, 8:46:42 am »

Respectfully, you are describing the initiation process all senior managers in all organizations go through.  Some of this you have to accept, knowing it will disappear as you become more entrenched in the organization. 

You can only be backstabbed if you allow it to happen.  Transparency breeds self-correcting behaviors.  You have to be so open about what you are doing, what you have done in the past, and what your future intentions are that there is no room for surprise or gossip.  At the same time, keep your own counsel Ė donít brainstorm with anyone or express opinions.   Practice detachment, remain focused on why you took the job, remember they chose you for a reason, seek input but make your own decisions, speak with authority on matters within your own purview, and concentrate on obtaining small, quick positive wins.

As you demonstrate success and become more entrenched, you can begin to deal with your detractors.  Youíll know when the time comes, call them in individually and give them the facts of life in your most patronizing, dismissive tone, and invite them to take their silly a$$ down the hall.

This too will pass.  Remember organizations, especially higher education institutions, are glaciers and change tends to be geologic -- either imperceptible or catastrophic.  Manage the change your entry created.  Donít let it become catastrophic.

Oh yeah -- and have fun!
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« Reply #8 on: August 08, 2007, 10:16:21 pm »

I am a lowly faculty member so I have nothing to offer. But it is refreshing for me to know that a dean can feel this way. I always thought they rule the school at will.
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« Reply #9 on: August 19, 2007, 10:59:13 pm »


Many of us have been there. While returning to faculty may seem appealing now, if you do it, you'll have let the bastards win. Stick to the high road, stay on the job, practice yoga, take a walk around the block and count to 300 if they provoke you, and you will prevail.

Find ways to help the provost see through these people's bad stuff. Focus on students -- it's the rare provost who won't be swayed by arguments on behalf of students.

And let us know how all of this works out.

Chin up. Chest out. Deep breath. Onward!

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Posts: 12

« Reply #10 on: August 28, 2007, 2:06:08 am »

Thanks to everyone. It is at least encouraging to recognize that I am not alone in this situation and  others have had similar experiences.

As a system, it is extremely chaotic. Many things were permitted to spin out of control prior to my stepping into this role. Stopping that momentum now seems next to impossible.

Anyway, thanks again to everyone.
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