Jerk du Jour: Robert Felner, bully par excellence!

If you see this man on your campus, alert the authorities

If you see this man on your campus, alert the authorities

Speaking of academic workplace bullying, today we find an interesting story at Inside Higher Ed about a (now former) Dean at the University of Louisville who sounds like a real piece of work.  Go read, shudder, and thank your lucky stars that this guy is now unemployed and no longer in a position to do harm to faculty, students, or any other institutions of higher learning.  (For now, anyway).

The story has it all–an allegation of sexual harassment, a dodgy doctorate awarded to a crony after only one semester of work at the university, alleged misappropriation of federal grant money, and (of course!) retaliation against anyone who tried to do hir duty and stop this guy.  As one former UL faculty member who worked there for 32 years said, “He did the Russian mafia thing: If I can’t kill you, I’m going to kill everybody you care about.” 

What also piqued my interest was the angle of the story, which is that harassment policies focus on sexual harassment and ethnic intimidation.  If someone is an equal opportunity creep, it’s very hard to take action against hir:

Felner, whom the university provided with legal counsel, always fared well in the faculty grievance process. Of the four cases that came before the University Faculty Grievance Committee, which is made up of faculty members selected by their units, the dean was never found to be at fault. But a number of the complaints about Felner never made it into the grievance process, in part because faculty members said they felt intimidated or were told their concerns couldn’t be handled in a process designed to address policy or procedure violations.

“The grievance process, as it stands, doesn’t have room for [addressing] people being jerks,” says Beth Boehm, the outgoing Faculty Senate chair, who is working with a committee to revise the process.

This is a point made in the comments to the previous post by D. A. Xue and Shaz.  As Shaz said, “people who are asses to everyone are often not breaking any rules, other than civility. Much easier to take official action against a sexist/racist/etc. than an equal-opportunity bully.”  Or, as Mary Ellen McIntyre, one of the UL faculty who complained about the “environment of fear and retaliation” that Felner created, said:  “It’s more about ethics than policies. It’s more about morale, and respect — the kind of stuff that you really can’t grieve.” 

Another issue in this story is the way in which institutions always maneuver to protect administrators.  Could this be because it’s other administrators who have elevated the jerks to their position of authority in the first place, and then it’s also the other administrators’ call as to whether or  not to defend them?  Hmmm?  (This is something I saw at my former institution:  once someone is made a chair of a department, unless ze kills someone with hir bare hands in full view of the Dean, the Dean and other administrators are very unlikely to take action against the offending Chair.  For taking action against a department chair would be a tacit admission that one’s judgment was flawed in permitting that person to become a department chair in the first place.)  I should note that the IHE story points out that the president and provost of UL have apologized for supporting Felner and keeping him in his position as long as they did.

Good for UL for seizing the opportunity to revise their grievance process.  Perhaps UL will craft new grievance criteria that other institutions can use as a template to draft policies that will allow them to weed out the bullies.

Academic bullying: these boots were made for walkin'

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a major article out now on bullying in the academic workplace, “Academic Bullies.”  I was interviewed and extensively quoted in it, so if you’re curious, you can read it to learn the heretofore undisclosed location of my first tenure-track job.  (Many thanks to the article’s author, Piper Fogg, who provided Historiann with the free link.  Piper is a young go-getter with her eye on the main chance, so look for her byline in other high profile publications in the years to come!)  I think the article is a good overview of the problem, it offers some possible solutions, it points to resources for people who find themselves in similar straits, and my hope is that it will draw attention to what many of us in the academic blogosphere know is a major problem in our work environments.

These boots of Historiann’s were made for walkin’, and I’ve never regretted my decision to walk out of that university, saddle up Old Paint, and ride on out to Baa Ram U.  I hope those of you who are still stuck in a bullying environment are busy photocopying your CVs and dossiers and will all have good luck on the job market this year.  Changing jobs is not possible for everyone–family obligations, medical issues, spousal employment, or other factors mean that not everyone is as free as I was to change jobs, but I strongly believe that it’s the shortest and fastest route to preserving your career as well as your physical and mental health.  Institutions always have more money and time than individuals, and if your department or college administrators are unwilling to intervene effectively on your behalf, then you owe them nothing.  You’ve already put up with more than should have been expected of you.

For those of you just tuning in, or finding yourself in newly desperate circumstances, here’s a roundup of my major posts on academic bullying:

Workplace bullies and the academy, March 28, 2008

Academic bullying and discrimination round-up, yee-haw!, April 10, 2008

Don’t sue–run for your lives! (part I), June 24, 2008

Don’t sue–run for your lives! (part II), June 25, 2008

Academic workplace bullying:  run away, indeed!, June 27, 2008.

What is "professional dress" in academia?


Unless you’re a politician, suits have been kind of out for women for quite a while now (pants suits, skirt suits, wev.)  I wore them a lot in the late 1990s when I started my career–they were more in fashion then, and I hoped they would enhance my authority in the classroom.  But, I think it’s time to revisit the rules of academic fashion.  (Or rather, to discern if there are any, whatsoever.)

I was on sabbatical last year, and so spent at least the first half of each day in my pajamas most days.  I’m back in the classroom and in meetings again, and I’m wearing mostly dresses now, or skinny jeans with boots.  It’s what I want to wear, but I wonder sometimes if my students don’t know who’s showing up to teach the class:  Donna Reed or Patty Smith?  But to tell you the truth, I don’t really care what they think.  I’m confident that my students think that I’m older than dirt and dress worse than their grandmothers, so I’m beyond all that.

Do you wear jeans to work?  It’s a relatively new experiment for me, and I tend to dress them up with blouses or sweaters, jewelry, and the shoes or boots.  One of the first times I wore jeans to work a few years back, one of the adjunct faculty (someone older than me) said, somewhat sarcastically, “you’re looking pretty comfortable today, Historiann.”  That kind of piqued me.  I said, “Well, ever since I was tenured a few years ago, I figure I can wear whatever I like.”  It seemed inapprorpriate for hir to comment on my clothing–I would never dream of saying anything to anyone about hir clothes, unless I was paying a compliment.  I also seriously doubt that any of my tenured male colleagues have ever been addressed that way–and here in Colorado, many of them (and some of my tenured female colleagues) wear jeans.  (The jeans/cargo shirt/fleece or canvas vest look is fairly standard for male faculty, and many women faculty too at Baa Ram U., but there are a lot of people here who teach at the Vet school, or in Animal Science, or work in the biohazard labs, so that uniform may be only practical.)

What’s your line of professional/unprofessional?  What would a colleague have to wear (or, rather, not be wearing, as may be the case) for you to volunteer your displeasure at hir costume?  Pasties?  A leisure suit?  A bare midriff?  A “wife beater” t-shirt?  Real life stories of uncollegial rudeness and/or scandalously inappropriate clothing will be most welcome in the comments below!

UPDATED 9/9/08, EVENING:  New Kid on the Hallway has come though with the link I wanted, which was a discussion of gender and dressing for the classroom.  She wrote,

Because [women faculty] HAD to figure it out – because students respond very differently to men and women teachers. I’ve certainly known students to mock male professors’ clothing (usually when such clothing consists entirely of jackets produced in the 70s, or rotation between the same three outfits). But it’s different from when they mock women professors’ clothing. Bad dressing doesn’t seem to undermine male professors’ authority – in fact, it might enhance it: oh, look, they’re so smart they don’t care about clothes. If you’re a woman, however, and you don’t care about clothes, you’re just a mess, a slob, and unworthy of respect. And if you do care about clothes, then you’re frivolous and not serious about your work, and unworthy of respect. Or, god forbid, you’re a slut, and obviously unworthy of respect.

Men Who Get It

While most of the bloggy stuff I link to is written by women, because of mutual interests and not by design, I want to take a special moment to acknowledge the contributions of those among us who are not women.  These non-women have typed up some good stuff recently, and I want to acknowledge their contribution to intelligent political discourse.  So, let’s all light up a mandle instead of cursing the darkness, and enjoy:

  • George Lakoff “frames” much of what I’ve tried to communicate here over the past 10 days about “be” campaigns versus “do” campaigns, and why Republicans are so darned good at the “be” campaigns.  (H/t to Roxie, who is female but is of another species, and so is also not a woman!  See her latest post on Palin and how her fundamentalism is not being read accurately by the Demoratic Dimmesdales among us.)
  • Matt Stoller makes good points about Dem cluelessness about the charms of Sarah Palin, and the dangers of Dems “not getting it,” comparing some Dems to “insiders during Stephen Colbert’s white house correspondent’s dinner, insiders that insisted he wasn’t funny because they were the butt of his jokes and they couldn’t see it.”  Ouch!
  • Arthur Silber at Power of Narrative, both here and here.  Re: the second recommended post here, I also listen to some right wing talk radio.  (Here is where you might suspect that “Historiann” is actually an elaborate internet hoax being perpetuated by a 70 year old man!  But–I’m not, in spite of the AM radio quirk.  Ask GayProf–he met me in RL, and can vouch for me.)  I only listen late at night, the local guys on the 10-1 a.m. shift and the national B- and C-listers I catch,  not the big shows like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, or Bill O’Reilly.  But, trust me:  from what I hear, right wing talk radio is alive with excitement now in a way it hasn’t been all year long because of Palin, and because of the paroxysms of rage and disbelief her nomination has elicited from the Democrats.

POWs in the eighteenth century

Did you know that John McCain was a P.O.W. in Vietnam?  Me neither, until I heard it about 600 times at the Republican National Convention!  (Someone, please explain to me exactly why Wesley Clark was wrong and was an ineffective surrogate for the Obama campaign.)

Anyway, this lovely September Sunday morning must have been much like the dry and sunny late summer days in which French-allied Abenaki typically attacked English houses and villages in Northern New England and Western Massachusetts, and marched away with their prisoners of war.  The winter attack on Deerfield, Massachusetts in 1704 notwithstanding, the vast majority of captive raids, like the vast majority of other eighteenth-century military engagements, happened from July through mid-October.  Any earlier than that interfered with the agricultural calendar, and any later than that made for rough overland travel into (or out of) the northeastern backcountry.

ZOMG: Erica Jong is working for the Republican Party!


Thanks for nothing, jerk.  Erica Jong calls Sarah Palin “white trash” and implies that “rednecks” are lesser Americans (h/t Ann Bartow at Feminist Law Professors):

White trash America certainly has allure for voters. Some people think rednecks are more American than Harvard educated intellectuals of mixed race. God help us in the next election. The NRA and the oil industry sure won’t.

As a very wise young historian once said, “keep it up, Dems!  Remember:  the people don’t think you’re laughing at Palin.  They think you’re laughing at them.

Apologies to Rose at Romantoes for suggesting that she was using the phrase “shut up” too much in her posts.  Obviously, there’s not enough shutting up happening around here.  We could all use a nice big cup of…well, you know.

UPDATE 9/7/08:  Well, well, well:  that strategy of Democrats and so-called “progressives” piling on Sarah Palin has worked really well–for John McCain!  Rasmussen has him tied now with Obama, and the Gallup daily tracking poll has him up by 3 points (margin of error 2 points)!  (H/t TalkLeft.)  Wow–great job, “lefty” blogs and “feminist” concern trolls!  Keep it up, and we’ll be on our way to a McCain landslide.  Keep laughing at the rubes, and McCain will laugh all the way to the White House in January!

Academic blog roundup: I know what you did this summer edition

We’ve had some recent reader complaints that Historiann has been remiss in posting pictures of cute cowgirls lately, and we agree.  (Although, don’t you think that real-life North Country Gal, Rootin’ Shootin’ Sarah Palin counts just a little bit?)  So, here you go complainers!  Didn’t we overhear you complaining about the coffee and beans at a Dude Ranch out thisaway, too?

Give the people what they want, I always say, so here’s a little roundup of news, previews, and advice on the academic blog circuit:

  • Tenured Radical was on the job all summer long, working on her series of posts containing advice for both job seekers and search committees.  Yesterday she offered a post about applying for jobs when you already have one.  For those of you behind in your mandatory TR reading see these posts on how to write a great letter of application, and (for those interviewing hapless young victims) how to write a good job ad and how to be a good search chair.  Next up, she promises advice to search committees as to how to evaluate a pool of applicants.  
  • Adjunct Whore (who is really Tenure-Track Whore now) has had a couple of really bad weeks, but all is well and order has been restored in her universe.  Still, I sympathize with her fears that both her body and her blog had been taken over by hostile invaders.  As a family member of mine famously says, “After 40, it’s all patch, patch, patch!”
  • Squadratomagico is back home from Burning Man, and we all eagerly await photos and descriptions of what she saw there, (especially any Barbie- or other doll-related displays, natch.)
  • At RomantoesTom Rose explores his her hatred of the “mawkish and bombastic” Bob Seger in “Shutup in Aisle Five,” while Rose and also writes “Meet the New Right, Same as the Old Right, now STFU.”  (What is it with the shout-outs to shutups at that blog?)  I guess I would say that it’s refreshing to hear at least one major party in this country speak out against sexism, however disingenuously–I’m just really sorry it’s not the Democratic Party! 
  • Cakewrecks does it again, with some cakes that make taxidermy for household pets look like a classy afterlife.  (So it’s not an academic blog–but you all don’t post enough photos of stupid cakes on your blogs, so what’s a girl to do?)