Friday, April 13, 2012

Chair talk-No changes, feel heard, tho.

Chair came in my office and said, we need to talk. I have to note that my chair is a very gentle, kind, level-headed, reasonable guy. He may be a teeny bit on the conflict- avoidant side, but really a person of integrity that I trust. Here's the jist of our convo:

Me: I'm totally losing it. [Then I summarize the precipitating events as I did to you in this post]. I. SIMPLY. CANNOT. IMAGINE. SIX. MORE. YEARS. OF. THIS.

He: [empathizes genuinely].

Me: Last year we sat in my office like this and I said I couldn't take another year like this. 4 weeks ago I told you I was in trouble. And yet, here we are. I don't know what to do. Serious responsibilities are being left neglected, and I'm deeply unhappy.

He: How long has this been a problem, was it like this 4 yea...

Me: No, It's the babies. It's being a single Mom. Before the kids, I was managing just fine because I could work long hours and work at home.

At this moment, a reasonable synapse returned to remind me that the "work load" -though tough- is not actually fatal, its the combination of the tough workload and the single Mom lifestyle my family chose.

Me again, ranting a bit: I also realized that I don't really have a "NO" problem because no one asks me to do things. They assign it to me. [I cite several examples, some small, some huge in which this has been the case]. And its stuff that's important and needs to be done, and in a lot of cases I really am the best/ most qualified person for it. But it adds up, and its too much!

At this moment another reasonable synapse comes back on line, and we both realize that all the assigning has been done by one senior colleague- lets call him Grand Old Colleague.

He: Do you want me to approach Grand Old Colleague?

Me: I think I've made it clear to him that I am distressed. I will talk to him directly at the right moment.

Now G.O.C. is a well-intentioned guy, efficient and successful. Part of his efficiency and success comes from his ability to delegate. And many, many of the tasks that are crushing me are of his delegation. I can't be angry with him, I just needed the realization of what was going on, and put my foot down peacefully and with confidence.

Me, again: I was hoping that you could protect me from some of this stuff!

He, without being defensive: Yeah. There are a few things we have done- have you been getting requests from admissions to meet with prospective students?

Me: Come to think of it, no.

He: Good. We asked them not to call you. But I also have to be fair in my treatment of everyone in the department.

Yes, he had a point. At that point I realized that he wasn't being passive, but concerned with equity. Anything I shed has to be picked up by someone else. And no one is coasting around here.

Me: But the administration has set a precedence of taking individual circumstances into account. I have seen the Provost excuse a young mother from extraneous service obligations so she could concentrate on a big project. I have seen the Dean tell the Intramural Scholarship Committee to cut some slack for a certain faculty member because of health reasons.

He [looks thoughtfully, doesn't respond]


He: Well, as far as your contract, it doesn't make any difference to the department if you get a one-year contract, or if you take the 6 year contract and then break it a year later. But as far as the administration is concerned, it would be much, much harder to get that long term contract back...

Me: What kind of a fool would refuse tenure?

He: [looks out the door toward his office] I have to take that call...


  1. It's very hard... but at least you feel heard, which must be a tiny bit comforting. Good luck for the GOC conversation!

  2. I don't think Elliott said April is the cruelest month for nothing. My perspective is that I don't think I'd give up tenure for a circumstance that is, by definition, at least somewhat temporary (your kids WILL get older and in many ways older kids are easier to manage).

    I am not usually one to give firmly biased advice, so please feel free to ignore me, but it seems to me that two things are in order. 1. Asking your chair to work with you on identifying balls that it is ok to drop. And then dropping them, without guilt. 2. Sleep training your children at the start of this summer. It sucks to do it - no lie. (In fact, in your situation, I'd make your husband listen to the crying for the 3 nights it takes while you leave the house. You deal with everything else, so that seems fair to me. YMMV) But I can make two arguments that it's the right thing to do. As I read it, there's not a long-term impact on the children, from an evidence-based analysis. Also, I think if you continue in a state of sleep deprivation and overstress, I have seen evidence that stressed out parents do have a long term impact. So risk vs. benefits, I think it's a win. Again, feel free to ignore my unsolicited advice.

  3. eeks. this is so tough. no job is worth more than an enjoyable life, though!

  4. Don't refuse the tenure. You need to do what is best for you, and getting the long term contract even if you choose to break it after a year is better for you hands down. I agree that you should not take 6 more years of this. It sounds like you are overwhelmed and no one is sticking up for you.

    I like MommyProf's idea to have a plan. I, personally, like her plan, although you can choose a different one, too. Having your husband help with the sleep training is a good idea, if it would work for you.

    I'm so sorry that you're going through this. Yes, your life sounds intense right now, and it is not surprising that you would be struggling with it all. I really hope it gets better very soon.