Thursday, March 6, 2014

Trish from Texarkana

After I won a fairly prestigious award,  faculty within my department pointedly ignored it. However, they are never lack self-congratulations for even the most minor accomplishments. My colleagues are rather cliquey, and have not had the time of day for me since the day I arrived here. Many a time I have tried to start a conversation only to be ignored.

Since we are talking about jealousy this week, my question is: why are departments so much like high school? 

Cliques, conformity, jealousy, gossip seem to be the norm!


  1. They are friends, and you are new. They are set in their ways and don't realize that they aren't talking to you, because you aren't a part of their old group. They are conspicuously older than you are and it hasn't occurred to them to make friends with you for that reason. They congratulate each other for reasons of friendship, not professional reasons; your award may be professionally prestigious but you aren't one of their friends.

    I'm not saying any of this is good or as it should be. Just, likely, that's what's happening. So long as the award is on every piece of paper that matters - your CV, your annual report, your tenure documents, etc etc - and your chair knows about it, that's what matters professionally.

  2. I have always felt that people need to let others know what they need, even if it is obvious. In this case, that might just involve some self congratulating. People might just be that busy, or that self centered, or that clueless, to the degree that if you don't congratulate yourself, they will never actually really notice your accomplishment (especially if it was announced at a meeting, where many are only half listening, or through an e-mail, which people don't read).

    That having been said, I think many workplaces end up resembling high school, with cliques, conformity, jealousy, gossip, etc. And it depends, not on the type of business being conducted, but just on the type of people you end up with. From factories, to IBM hubs (my husband worked at a particularly HORRIBLE IBM location) to universities, to health care and banks. One or two especially noxious people can poison the atmosphere. If you are in such a place, you have my sympathy. There are many crazy things about my college, but we have a very nice bunch of folks here.

  3. Do we work at the same place? Do you want to be my friend, as I too am an "Outsider"? I gave up a few years ago when I realized that they were all BFFs from grad school and they had no room for me-- (and the bookface compounded the sense of being left out)--though they made room for other new kids who were "cool". I made friends with one junior colleague (regular get-togethers for coffee and chats) but those stopped. I didn't get invited to her wedding, though others in my department were--she was absorbed by the Cool Kids.

    The short answer to your question is that it is the same as HS because both situations are about power, and proximity to it. If you are willing to play the game, then play it. If you aren't, look for others in your department who aren't in the Cool Kid clique, because I guarantee you there are a few. You don't have to bond over your mutual exclusion--but you might be able to find other common ground.

    And I second Mildred's advice: put that big shiny award on everything that will be seen by higher-ups. Good luck.

  4. Boy, does that sound familiar! Most of the places I worked were like that, so Bella's observations confirm what I experienced.

    At the place where I used to teach, I was social poison because I was too "different" for most of my colleagues. I had more education, I wasn't married and wasn't dating anyone (which prompted a number of unkind rumours about my personal life), and I didn't "drink the kool-aid". Then I got my Ph. D. and certain people I used to talk to before clammed up. I also made the social mistake of revealing that I belonged to Mensa. (I made fun of the latter two items by saying that when people dealt with me, they got malarkey with a pedigree. It didn't work. They still disliked me.)

    I didn't go out of my way to be best mates with most of my colleagues, largely because we didn't have much in common and I got into trouble at some previous employers because I made friends on the job. I thought it best to maintain an arm's-length relationship with the people I worked with but most of my fellow instructors took umbrage at that. ("Just who does *he* think he is?")

    My situation was similar to what is described at:

    I guess there are some people who'll be offended at what one does or is, no matter what one tries.

    1. Don't forget also #77, "It Attracts the Socially Inept" (, and especially #25, "Academe is Built on Pride" ( Academia is full of people who think they are smart, but who are not rich. Therefore, much of what they do is motivated by pride, but pride is so easily wounded. As no less than Henry Kissinger observed, "The fights in academia so so vicious because the stakes are so small."

      Another reason that academics act so much like high-schoolers is that academics were often SO socially stilted in high school, they don't get around to letting this crap out of their systems until now. The result is that they may never achieve it fully.

    2. While I was teaching, I often had the impression that the department I was in was like my old high school, and I'm not referring to my students.

  5. Congratulations on your award! We should have a Water Cooler award for anyone who needs affirmation. :)

    I wish I knew why people are competitive with their peers when they don't need to be. I could see if they were all up for the same award and you knocked them down and kicked them around to win it.

    1. It's probably the academic equivalent of keeping up with the Joneses.

      My last department head was bad for that. I ordered plaques of all my degrees through my alma mater's alumni association and hung them on the wall of my office. He, in turn, put up the certificate he got for every course or seminar he attended, regardless of how trivial or ridiculous it was. He was obsessed with showing that he was #1 in the department and a bunch of framed certificates on the wall can look mighty impressive to people. None of them, though, were a university degree, at least while I was there.

      I guess some people in academe are quite insecure.

    2. I don't even know where my diplomas are! Shoot, you mean I've been missing out on an opportunity to make my chair even more jealous of me? :o)

  6. Trish, congrats! I wish the lot of us uncool kids could go buy you a celebratory dinner.