Saturday, July 3, 2010

Chapter 4

"It still seems funny," said Ruth Silverstein, laughing gently, "for me to be sitting in the chair's chair and you to be sitting in the guest chair." She was talking to the previous chair of the Political Science Department, Trond Knutsen, in what was now her office.

"I sat in that chair long enough," Trond returned. "I don't want to ever sit there again. And when the time comes, I'll bet that you'll be happy to give it up to someone else too."

Ruth wasn't prepared to give it up yet, though. She had only just become chair--actually, acting chair--on September 1. After just over a month on the job, she had found it to be exhilarating in some ways. As a department chair, she was invited--in fact, expected--to attend important meetings with senior administrators at the university with whom she had had almost no contact with before. This would give her, she hoped, the opportunity to interact with them and make a positive impact on university decision-making. And just by virtue of her being chair, she had begun receiving invitations to serve on important committees both in the university and outside it in the profession. She had even been invited to give some talks herself.

On the other hand, she had also found that being a department chair had many frustrations. The OTPS (other than personnel services) budget for the department was small--only $30,000 for the year. This did not go very far, though, in a department with twenty-one professors and an office staff of four. Not only did this sum have to cover the postage, telephone, photocopy, office supplies, and other miscellaneous charges for this group, but it also had to pay for professional travel. Back in the old days, Ruth remembered, the department faculty did not present papers at professional conferences all that frequently, and so travel money was available for those who did. Now, however, more departmental faculty--especially the younger ones--were presenting papers at conferences. This, of course, was excellent for the visibility of the department, but a real strain on the budget. Although she had chafed at it when Trond was chair, she felt that she had no other choice but to continue his policy of allocating no more than $250 in travel money per professor per year--a sum which obviously did not go very far.

What she had also discovered in just the past few weeks was just how uncooperative the department's faculty could be. It took a lot of work to keep a department running smoothly. The chair depended on faculty members to participate in departmental meetings, to serve on departmental committees, and to vigorously defend the department's interests on college- and university-level committees.

Much to her dismay, though, she found that it was often very difficult to get some of the faculty to do these things, or to do them well even when they consented to serve. Some of the tenured faculty she had asked to serve on committees had simply refused, saying that their plates were already full. Nor could she force them to serve: they already had tenure and they knew that the chair did not have the power to reward extra service with higher pay.

This, however, was to be expected. She had herself refused some additional service responsibilities that Trond had asked her to perform when he was chair. But she, of course, had been justified: she was then, after all, performing the time consuming task of running the department's MPA program. What she had not expected, however, was that even some of the tenure track faculty would turn down her requests to serve on various committees. They said it would get in the way of the research they needed to get done in order to be awarded tenure! The worst offender by far, though, was Rob Barnes. As far as she was concerned, he was just a little too big for his britches.

"One of the things I wanted to talk to you about," she said, "is your agreement with Rob Barnes about when he would go up for tenure. As you can see," she said pointing to a thickly packed three-ring binder, "he's already prepared his dossier. But it's just his third year. That's awfully early. I would prefer that he wait a year. Besides, this is Ann Sweezy's sixth year, when she has to go up. Her publication record is not as strong as his, and I'm afraid that if they both go up together, she's not going to look good in comparison."

Both Ruth and Trond were intimately familiar with the academic year-long process that promotion and tenure decisions took. The candidate prepared a dossier detailing his or her teaching, research, and service record, attaching copies of publications. The candidate also submitted a list of half a dozen tenured professors at other universities who were prominent specialists in the candidate's area of research. The chair would select three professors from this list, plus select at least one other not on it, to serve as external reviewers who would write a letter evaluating the candidate's suitability for promotion and tenure.

Sometimes it was difficult to assemble a group of external reviewers for a candidate. But once this had been done and their letters received by the chair, they would be added to the candidate's dossier. The dossier would then be considered by and receive a written recommendation which would be added to the dossier from 1) the tenured members of the candidate's department; 2) the chair of the candidate's department; 3) the promotion and tenure committee of the college or school the candidate's department was located in; 4) the dean of that college or school; and 5) the provost. Although the candidate would not be allowed to see the letters from external reviewers (at least, not officially), he or she would receive copies of the recommendations received in these five stages.

These recommendations, though, were purely advisory. The final decision would then be made in a sixth stage by the president. If the president's decision was positive, the dossier would be sent on to a seventh stage--ratification by the board of trustees--but this was a formality. If the president's decision was negative, the dossier would not be sent to the board of trustees. Candidates who received a negative decision during their "up or out" sixth year normally received reappointment for one last year during which they could appeal the decision--as well as search for another job. If their appeal was unsuccessful, there would be no further reappointment at the end of that seventh year.

"I have to tell you, Ruth," said Trond. "Rob and I had an agreement from the time he was hired that he would go up in this third year. He's had this expectation all along. I don't think we can tell him now that he can't. If you did, we might well lose him. Considering what a young hot shot he is, I don't think the administration would appreciate that. And besides, anyone who wants to can decide to go up early for tenure."

But virtually no one did, Ruth thought, without the blessing of his or her chair. "But Trond: that boy has not done one lick of service at the department, college, or university level. He turned me down flat when I asked him to serve as the department's representative on that new committee that's supposed to revise the general education requirements."

Trond rolled his eyes at this, and she knew why. No one was happy with the existing gen ed requirements, but no one could agree on how to revise them. Committees to do this had been appointed in each of the last five years. Even when they did, after months of rancorous debate, agree on a plan to present to the faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences, the faculty had unfailingly voted it down.

"When I asked him why he wouldn't serve on it," she continued, "he actually had the nerve to tell me that it was just something he wasn't interested in! Can you believe that? Whoever said that assistant professors have to be interested in the work of a committee before being assigned to it?"

"Now look, Ruth, you and I both know that Rob's research record more than qualifies him for tenure."

"But why shouldn't he do service work the way Ann has--the way most of us, including me, did? If he gets away without having done his share before he gets tenure, do you think he's ever going to do any for us after he gets it?"

"That's not the point, Ruth. We all did a lot of service before getting tenure because we didn't do all that much research. Rob has done a lot of research, therefore he doesn't have to do as much service. And you know as well as I do that a dossier like his is going to sail through without a problem. He's the kind of person the administration wants here at NDU."

"But look Trond: I am really worried about Ann. That book she's been working on since before she even came here is finally coming out. But the publisher is SPA."

SPA was short for Scholastic Press of America, Inc. It was not a university press, but a "scholarly commercial" one instead. In the academic world, scholarly commercial presses were considered to be much less prestigious than university presses. And while some scholarly commercial presses were quite reputable due to their being as selective about what they accepted for publication as any university press, SPA was not in this group. Indeed, it had a reputation for being willing to publish just about anything (but only printing a few hundred hard back copies which they sold for $40-60 each just to libraries). Ruth, though, knew that this reputation was unfair as she understood that poor Ann had had a tough time getting her manuscript even through SPA's review process.

"Ann's had as much time as anyone to write and publish," said Trond. "She only has herself to blame if she hasn't."

"Oh, come on, Trond! You know as well as I do that she's undertaken a backbreaking load of service work ever since she came here. You certainly didn't spare her in that regard."

"Hey, I admit that I asked her to serve on several departmental committees and that she never said, `No,'" Trond acknowledged. "But I never asked her to serve on committees outside the department. She volunteered for that herself. In fact, I tried to dissuade her from volunteering for that Sexual Assault Complaint Review Committee because it might eat up her research time, but she insisted on doing it anyway."

Yes, Ruth knew that Ann was a highly enthusiastic committeewoman. At department meetings, she had the annoying habit of wanting to argue on and on in defense of her position even when it was clear that the rest of the faculty didn't support her and wanted to move on to something else or end the meeting. Still, she had been a real trooper about taking on extra student advisees when the faculty member they had been assigned to was on leave. She had taken some of Rob Barnes's students last year when he was at Harvard, but Ruth doubted that Rob was even aware of that.

"I don't want to beat this to death, Trond, but here's the point: Ann has to go up this year but Rob doesn't. I tried to persuade Rob to wait a year so that Ann's dossier won't be compared with his, but he, of course, wouldn't budge. My only hope is that you might be able to persuade him."

Trond shook his head. "I'm sorry, Ruth, but I can't help you. I'm far more worried about losing Rob than I am about losing Ann. Don't you see how embarrassing it would be for our department if someone like Rob decided to go elsewhere? And while I hope Ann gets tenure, it won't be the end of the world for the department if she doesn't. I think we both know that if her position suddenly opened up, we would be able to fill it with someone far more qualified--someone more on Rob's level."

"God, what a typical way for a man to think!" Ruth exclaimed. "You use a woman for all she's worth, and then toss her aside when you're done with her!"

"If gets shot down this year, she can always appeal next year," said Trond.

"Oh, won't that be fun for us all!" rejoined Ruth. As both knew from previous experience in the department, dealing with someone going through the emotional strain of a marginal up-or-out tenure application was hard enough, but was nothing compared to dealing with someone who had been denied tenure and was appealing the decision in a terminal seventh year.

"All right," she continued, "I didn't think I could convince you to get Rob to delay going up, but I promised Ann that I'd try. She became frantic when she realized that Rob would be going up at the same time that she was. But she's just going to have to get over it. Besides, there's something else we need to talk about--this new Public Policy Institute."

Unlike Rob Barnes, this was a subject which they shared similar views on. The entire Political Science Department had been caught off guard by the announcement of its creation last month; no one from the department had been involved in the planning for it. Worse yet, Ruth's memos to both the president and the provost pointing out the overlap between the department's and the new institute's research interests and suggesting that the former play a role in shaping the latter had so far received only evasive answers.

To top it off, Ruth and Trond had between them blown what little opportunity the department may have had to select the institute's first director. Shortly after President Michaelson's press conference announcing the creation of the institute, the provost had sent an e-mail to all faculty announcing that the five faculty members on the selection committee for its director would be chosen by mail ballot, and called for nominations. Without consulting each other or anyone else in the department, Ruth and Trond had both sent back an e-mail to the provost asking to be placed on the ballot.

When she and Trond had realized that both of their names were on the ballot, they had naively hoped that they both would be elected to the selection committee. Whether by accident or design, though, each of the other five professors listed on the ballot was the only nominee from his or her particular department or school. Although Ruth didn't know for sure, she suspected that these other departments or schools had rallied their faculty members to vote for their nominee. While political science was one of the larger departments, its votes ended up being split between Trond and Ruth. These factors were what made the difference in a low turnout election--as most faculty mail ballots at NDU were.

In retrospect, it seemed obvious that if only one of them had run, he or she probably would have been elected. This was not the first time that the Political Science Department had proven itself to be far less adept at university politics than other departments. Ruth was pissed at Trond for not checking with her before nominating himself for the ballot. There was no point, though, in engaging in recriminations over this now that it was too late to do anything.

"You know," said Trond, "this Public Policy Institute may really spoil our plans for building up our department's public administration program.”

She knew--only too well. Over the past few years when she and Trond had hoped that an expanding MPA program would allow them to receive permission from the central administration to add faculty to the public administration section of the department. They had even hoped to get permission from the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences to grant a one class course release per year for one PA faculty member to devote serious attention to writing grant proposals. They feared, though, that this was a lot to ask, and so they had postponed asking for it.

Grants were wonderful things not only because they provided the direct costs to do whatever had been proposed in them, but also a substantial additional amount for "overhead"--that is, money to subsidize the ongoing operations of the university. The department would be able to keep a portion of the overhead received on any grants awarded to it--something that could do much to augment the meager OTPS budget provided by the central administration. The College of Arts and Sciences would also get a cut--thus helping to improve the department's standing with the dean. But grants awarded to this new institute would provide no money from overhead either to the department or the college, but just to itself and the central administration. It would be especially galling if, as the report about the president's press conference in What's New at NDU stated, professors would be encouraged to solicit grants through the institute and hence not through their departments.

"I think," said Ruth, "that this might be a good time to approach Dominic with our request for a course release for grant proposal writing." Dominic DiSola was the dean of the college of arts and sciences.

"Yes," agreed Trond. "Dominic should be our ally in this." He had not always been the Political Science Department's ally in the past, but this new institute threatened the college's interests as much as it did the department's.

"I don't think that it will come as a surprise to you," said Ruth, "that I would like to receive a regular four-year appointment as chair after this one-year acting appointment. Now, if our external chair search had succeeded, that would have added one more person to our faculty allocation. If I remain as chair, I wonder if we can get the dean to give us the extra position we would have gotten for an additional PA slot."

"That's possible," said Trond slowly. "I think he might go for that. The question is, of course, can he get the provost to go along?"

"Yeah, I know it's a long shot," she responded. "But we've at least got to try." One way, of course, to get that extra position would be to re-open the external chair search. Ruth would either have to compete with others for the job or step down from it after her year as acting chair. She did not want to do either.

"You know something?" she asked, with a malicious twinkle. "If Rob Barnes really did leave, we could convert his slot from an international relations to a public administration position. Maybe I should tell him that he can't go up this year so that he'll get mad enough to go somewhere else."

"Ruth!" exclaimed Trond. "That wouldn't be right! Besides, if you tried to convert his position to PA, the IR faculty really would revolt."

The Political Science Department had three main components: public administration, American government and politics, and international relations. There had been talk among the IR faculty about seceding from political science and forming their own department, but fortunately they were not agreed on this--although Ruth doubted they could do it even if they were.

"It was just a thought," said Ruth. "Of course, since Ann's in public administration, losing her wouldn't allow us to gain another PA position, but only to replace her."

"If we're lucky!" said Trond. "The dean could give her slot--or Rob's if he left--to another department. But assuming Rob stayed and Ann left, the dean might let us keep her position but could give it either to American government or IR." Both being PA types themselves, neither Ruth nor Trond wanted that.

Ruth looked at her watch. "Whoops! There's a chairs' meeting I've got to get to."

"Better you than me!" said Trond grinning as they both got up and left.