Thursday, May 05, 2016

Knowing better

You know what's vexing about being mid-career at a new institution?

You already know everything, and you have all the impatience and world-weariness that come with being at mid-career--but no one else knows that you know everything! And you kinda don't! A new institution means rules and procedures that you don't fully understand (ranging from basic chain-of-command issues to the longer history of why things get done X way), not to mention unknown people and personalities, so when you see something that strikes you as problematic, it's hard to know when interjecting an opinion would bring some much-needed outside perspective. . . and when you should shut your damn mouth.

This is an even bigger problem if you're me, and have a fundamental conviction that your way of doing things is always the best, most reasonable, and most efficient one.

I mean, let's be honest: it probably is. But in order to convince people of that, you still have to understand the terms of debate, the personalities, and all the rest. And I don't know those things. So instead of seeming like the patient, reasonable one (another fundamental conviction that I hold about myself), I fear I come across as simultaneously intemperate and patronizing.

And sometimes I find myself at big, college-wide meetings where someone is being That Guy--perseverating, bloviating, whatever--and I look sideways at my neighbor, a total stranger, and he looks sideways at me, and we both exchange an omigod eyeroll and it feels all nice and familiar--and then suddenly I realize I have no idea what we're actually bonding over. Is it That Guy? Is my neighbor signalling that, holy hell, there's Fred being Fred again? Or is he rolling his eyes at the particular issue under discussion, which is a total non-starter that some idiot or other raises at every meeting?

I have no idea! I just have reflexive mid-career snark spilling out of me!

I suppose there are virtues, though. Being a midcareer newbie means you have certain kinds of cynicism, but lack others. I've been to enough meetings and met enough academics that I know all the types and behaviors--the irrelevant stand-taker who cares more about students (or adjuncts or, God help us, Palestine) than all the rest of you; the perseverator; the committee chair who can't keep to an agenda; the person obsessed with Robert's Rules of Order. Those things are pretty much the same from one place to the next. But when you don't know all the personalities and their backstories and prior conflicts, and you have no idea what proposals have been shot down before, you may have more optimism and a greater willingness to believe that things can be done differently.

Because, of course: you know better than everyone.


heu mihi said...

Ohmygod YES! I feel you, sister.

Try chairing a committee to revise the undergraduate curriculum in your second semester at a new school. I have no idea whether I'm a figurehead for a pointless committee, an astonishingly brilliant and efficient innovator, or just pissing everybody off.

Flavia said...

Heu Mihi:

Believe me, I wish I lived close enough to buy you a drink! Because I think we'd have Things To Say On This Subject.

Susan said...

Hah! We have a new dean, and my complaint about her is that she hasn't tried to find out any of this. To the extent that I'm telling her things that she should know, four months into her job. But she figured she knew what was right, and. .. presented a plan for revamping the Dean's office without talking to faculty about what would help US. Grr.

But I'm sure you're reasonable, and everything would be good if it was done your way. Except if I disagree with you, because I'm SUPER reasonable, and the world really would be a better place if I ran it!

(And Heu, good luck on the curriculum revision!)

undine said...
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