Again, from the mailbag, cries of help from someone else stuck in a bullying department:
I’m writing because I’ve been enjoying your blog (as does my wife, another Ph.D.) and your airing of concerns over academic bullying has struck a cord. While I’m not directly the victim of such things, I see it at my current department in the most awful ways – seniors “pushing around” juniors to take sides in various departmental debates knowing full well the juniors’ fears of tenure, profs battling with each other in and out of department meetings, the spreading of rumors and gossip about one or another prof, and other stuff I can’t even write about. (I’m actually quite surprised it didn’t end up in court.) One of the perpetrators in our department is someone who has admitted to me that he was bullied as a child, and now he’s transitioned into the worse kind of academic bully, and he doesn’t see what he has become. All this kills department morale, makes it hard to recruit and keep faculty, and turns what should be the best profession in the world into a weekly ordeal. Every Monday morning I ask myself, “I wonder what disaster will happen this week?”
Anyhow, I’m taking your advice (advice I’ve heard from others, too) and am trying to run away. It’s hard, since I am beginning my fifth year and tenure review is coming up next fall. Other places are sure to ask questions about a fifth year jumping ship, and I don’t want to air dirty laundry. We’ll see how it works out.
Thanks for writing, Eduardo. (It’s Monday again–what disaster rains down on you today? We’ll pray for a reprieve for you until tomorrow, at least.) Your letter is interesting to me because it confirms something I’ve observed about bullying, namely, that it poisons the whole environment for everyone, and not just for the victims of the bullying. (It also provides an example of something else I’ve long suspected, which is that bullies very often have a history of having been the victims of bullying, either professionally or perhaps deep in the recesses of childhood memories.) It sounds like you should try to run away, and fast. Five years is long enough to have sacrificed to the cause.
I don’t think it’s at all strange for someone like you to apply for other jobs. (See Tenured Radical’s sensible post on applying for jobs when you already have one.) The gist of the advice is, keep your application positive and upbeat, and explain why the job/s you’re applying to would be the next logical step in your career. You absolutely should not air any dirty laundry, either in your letter of application, or in any of your interviews. Even if you’re entirely correct and justified in your analysis, you will sound like a kook or a malcontent. (By the way, a letter from a trusted friend and colleague in your current department will go a long way towards insulating you from those suspicions. It doesn’t have to be from the department chair, although ideally it will be from someone who’s above you in rank.)
You’re at a decent mid-tier regional university, but there are lots of other places that would be a step up for you. We regularly get applications from assistant professors at regional universities and branch campuses elsewhere, and although Baa Ram U. isn’t exactly Rutgers or UCLA (and by “isn’t exactly,” I mean “not even close!”) we just think, “well with that publication record, of course she doesn’t want to stay there the rest of her life!,” or “Of course he wants to get the hell out of that rathole!” If your wife is on the job market too, that’s a really good reason for you to hit the market–one or the other of you may even be able to finagle a job for the other one. You may also prefer to live and work in another region of the country–and almost all institutions like to hear from applicants that they’re located in incredibly attractive and appealing places. There are all kinds of excellent reasons to apply for other jobs even if you have one–write your letter as a confident expression of your professional achievements and experience, not as an apologia. Readers, you were so generous in helping out Tenured Tammy–do you have any other advice for Eduardo? (And Eduardo, please be sure to let us know what happens, okay?)
Finally–confidential to any administrators out there: Eduardo sounds like a guy who ordinarily would have been happy to buckle down, get tenure, and become a respected and hardworking faculty member at his institution. It sounds like the only reason he’s going on the job market again is the climate in his department–and possibly in other places in the institution–that tolerates bullying. This is the price you pay when you permit bullies to run wild! Good people with other options wise up and exercise those other options.