Scientist, Educator & Speaker
There are periods in our lives where it seems that every time we roll out of bed, we need to gird ourselves for battle. Battle at work, battle at home, battle on the freeways, battle at the grocery store. But let’s face it, not every potential fight is worth engaging in. It’s not always easy to determine when to throw yourself into the fray, and when to back off and let the (perceived) problem slide.
Perlmutter (2010) suggests a series of questions to ask yourself before engaging in battle.
Let’s consider the following real case that occurred not that long ago (names and affiliations changed).
Dr. Linda Oka is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology at Excellent State University. She has submitted her tenure dossier to the department for review and is meeting to discuss the Chair’s letter that will go to the Dean of the school and university’s tenure and promotions committee. She has a very strong dossier in terms of research, teaching, and service to the university and research communities. Her department chair informs her that he will not support her promotion case because he doesn’t like the direction of her research over the past several years, he’s not confident that she’ll continue to be competitive for extramural research funding, and she’s pregnant. Dr. Oka knows that her Chair’s last statement is discriminatory and actionable at her university. She also knows that he knows this, as well. Think about this case in the context of the seven questions above. If you were Dr. Oka, how would you proceed?
Dr. Oka knew that her Chair was in the wrong. Her response was immediate – calling him out on the pregnancy issue before leaving his office. Dr. Oka knew this was a battle worth waging because if she didn’t get tenure, she would lose her job.
Dr. Oka had influential allies in her department that she had cultivated since arriving at Excellent State University, and she went to the most powerful for advice. Professor Power informed her that he would take care of everything, and she should just carry on as before. He rallied other colleagues and a battle was fought without Dr. Oka having to get further involved. Why did Professor Power and these other faculty fight on her behalf? First, Dr. Oka loved to talk with her colleagues about their mutual research interests, leading them to have a great deal of respect for her work and creative approach to scientific problem solving. Second, Dr. Oka had spent years helping them in small ways without asking for anything in return – she was a true colleague that they valued. Finally, they knew that Dr. Oka had been wronged in a way that could be embarrassing for the department if the news got out. Dr. Oka received tenure and is currently Full Professor in that department. Amazingly, she and her Chair are now on speaking terms and get along fine — after some time to recover from all the drama.
Remember that you need powerful people to support you when you go into battle. Salancik and Pfeffer (1974) showed that in academia, the scarcer and more valuable the resource you bring to the university (e.g., extramural grants, public visibility, business and professional contacts, outstanding graduate students), the greater your power. The greater your power, the more successful you will be at acquiring university resources (e.g., unrestricted departmental funds, renovations of office and research space, graduate student support). This would apply to any business or industry, with organizational resources that are specific to the business. Be aware of who is highly visible, powerful, and collegial in your organization. Develop solid working relationships with those people before you need them as allies. And whenever YOU get the chance, help your colleagues when they need some support.
Perlmutter (2010) Chronicle of Higher Education.
Salancik and Pfeffer (1974) Admin Sci Quarterly.
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