On Collaboration

Dear Pompous Professor XY

When you are assigned to collaborate with another faculty member, expressing your disgust about it to any other faculty members in on the decision to randomly connect professors across the curriculum to make up for the budget related firings and early retirements increase intersectionality on campus is probably a bad idea. When you are neither famous nor the author of a well-read book, or any book for that matter, you’d especially want to refrain from insulting an esteemed colleague who has two well-read books and name recognition in the field in which they work. Please also keep in mind that prefacing your disparaging comments about working with others with “I mean Dr. B is lovely but …” or “Of course I am thrilled but …” is fooling no one on the committee.

Many of us find the recent course loads with which we have been burdened untenable this term. You are not alone in your frustration nor unique in your workload. Nor are you or your research so important to the university that you should be exempt from that with which the rest of us have been left to contend. More than that you should be grateful that while you are making all kinds of transparent backhanded compliments to Dr. B, Dr. B has been professional enough to simply smile when your name is mentioned. Instead of complaining about working with you, Dr. B has simply offered the best niceties available and tactifully moved the subject elsewhere. With which of you do you think faculty will sympathize under these circumstances? Public behavior matters as much as public scholarship in academe.

So here are some helpful hints on collaboration that I think you and others might need:

  1. When working with other colleagues, whether you respect their work, their discipline, their gender, or any other aspect of their identity, it is important to remember that even at a large state funded institution, the university is small and we all talk. When you insult someone else based on the assumption that everyone else in the room agrees with you because you are so wondrous and brilliant, you are working with false logic. Instead of assuming your perspective is universal, recognize that there are always likely to be people who like and enjoy working with the colleagues you disparage and that they will be insulted by your behavior. Also assume that there are people in the room who disdain both conflict and public displays of unfounded pomposity especially when related to disparaging other colleagues. When those colleagues are more famous or more accomplished than you, it is also very likely that many people in the room will assume your insecurities are showing and that you are simply preening to hide your own inadequacies. Bottom line: when you use public space to insult people you work with in front of other people with whom you may or may not work directly, you do more damage to your own reputation than to anyone you are insulting.
  2. If you are working with another person, whether they are your Junior or you Senior, you have an obligation to tow your end of the line. This means that when the university sets basic standards about syllabi production, book orders and pdf packets deadlines for the library, course related field studies or film series, the minimum expectation is that you will meet them. Do not saddle your colleague with the tasks you find tedious or beneath you, especially when these tasks are expected of everyone who works here. Admin talk too and when it becomes a pattern, Admin talk loudly in front of Chairs and Deans so that you become as known as you think you are but for completely different reasons than you might want. It also means that when the whole thing blows up later, your reputation will be part of what any review is based on. Bottom line: understand, that setting up a colleague by not doing your end until the last minute in the hopes that your incompetence will be foisted onto others, may work with students but not the rest of us.
  3. When working with others it is impossible to continue your work schedule as if you are working alone. Just because your brain works best at 12:01 am on Saturday does not mean that your colleagues’ brains do. Especially if your colleague has children, a spouse/partner who isn’t an academic, or … a life, it is unlikely that they will appreciate late night Friday emails informing them you are now ready to do the job they have been trying to get you to do all week. And while it is standard for students to show up 10 minutes before or after class to get their needs met, you showing up 10 minutes before or after class to do the planning work for the session that should have been done prior to the session is neither appreciated nor helpful. Being upset about the fact your colleagues let you know this is not proof that they are anal but it does make the rest of us think of an anal related metaphor about you and your head. Bottom Line: collaboration means finding an equilibrium between your natural work cycle and that of the other people with whom you are working.
  4. Everyone gets upset about certain involuntary activities or large work loads at the university. Many at pov u engage in the time honored tradition of work stoppage to make a point to the administration. Most of us recognize this tactic. However, when you are working with someone else, your work stoppage is no longer about calling attention to tedium at the uni and instead jeopardizes the work of others and very seldom reaches the ears of the department or uni in the ways you intend. You always have choiceschoices at the beginning of collaborative work projects that can mediated your involvement or extradited you from it all together. If your ego was too huge to let go of the collaborative project then you needed to find a way to make it small enough to actually be able to accomplish one. Bottom Line: The fact that you were unwilling to do whatever you needed to do is not the problem of your faculty partner or the administration. You are now part of the process and everyone is paying attention to your level of engagement and any work that others are saddled with to make up the difference.
  5. Everyone employed at the university as a professor has written a dissertation and engaged in independent research. Many have engaged in some form of interdisciplinary research during that process or since then. Unless you invented something totally unique, you are no better than the rest of us in this regard. Many of us also had to write a book or at least do three heavily researched and cited articles plus bring in 2 nationally or internationally recognized funding sources to get tenure. Having accomplished either of these things would also not make you unique to other scholars working here. As a result, you should not assume nor expect to be worshiped for doing the basic requirements for employment at pov u. Nor should you resent assume that participation in the collaborative projects means you are here to enlighten the rest of us. Bottom Line: Collaborating with colleagues should start from a place of respect for the fact we have all done what is required and that we are now working across the disciplines in order to enhance each other’s work.
  6. While women, people of color, and all of the other marginalized identities at the university remain marginalized as faculty, potential Deans, and Presidents of the college, etc. that does not mean that you get to work out your particular brand marginalization fantasies on your faculty partners in this project. In other words, just because you do not want to tow your end of the line does not mean that because you are paired with women and/or people of color they should be obligated, or even, grateful to do it for you. Waxing poetic in front of them or others about white male privilege will not mask the ways you are engaging in it on the collaborative projects either. Your ability to discuss privilege all the while expecting to be mothered or mammied does not make you enlightened or endearing. Bottom Line: while academia is riddled with oppression, your willingness to engage in oppression to avoid working with other or at all, is duly noted by people engaged in anti-oppressions work at the university and will reflect on their willingness to work with you in the future, including validating your sense of yourself as a good person and their votes on those merit raises you want/will want.

While pomposity is common in the profession and can even be enigmatic in some, when you are working with others your primary goal should be to actually WORK WITH them not demean or abuse them. In these hard times, everyone needs to pull their weight and even the most liked among us are under scrutiny about doing our fair share. While some of us will always be saddled with more service and more care work than others on the basis of marginality and oppression, we are all expected to do some. While you are clearly famous in your own mind, one of the only ways to become famous in the real world is to do your research well and to expand your ideas beyond the cloud of me upon which you currently float. To do both, requires the help of others. Research requires funding and funding is often procured through a vote of your peers at the departmental, university, or national and/or international level. While you may think treating your peers poorly has no impact on your national or international funding chances, you forget how small academe is and how much those of us who sit on those decision making bodies talk. In your pomposity you may have even failed to notice some of us work with you at pov u.

Though the life of the mind seems like a solitary and insular one, to do it well you should think of it as the life of the minds. Ideas are not formed in a vacuum but in conversation and COLLABORATION with other scholars. Truly inquisitive minds reach outside of themselves for confirmation, expansion, and helpful critique or even challenge, of their ideas. While you can get some of that by cold calling scholars you admire and then moving on when they figure out you are only interested in taking from them and being validated in your sense of self-importance and uniqueness, sooner or later you will run through the list of people to talk to and/or people willing to talk back. Burning bridges can be something that happens in a powerful intentional blaze or a slow burn fueled by the helium floating your unchecked ego, but either way all the paths eventually burn to the ground and you find yourself alone, pontificating to students who could not find a different class or procrastinated too long to transfer out of yours because your colleagues have all turned away. Don’t let it get that far and don’t help the process along by failing to provide the people with whom you work the basic courtesy of assuming (1) they also did research and writing to get their jobs, (2) their schedules are also hectic and do not revolve around you, (3) they have something to contribute to any collaboration you are engaged in and you can learn from them, and (4) that they are not your mother, your wife, your vixen, your maid, or your groupie they are your intellectual equal. Do your work and say please and thank you when you are asking for something or looking to be accommodated and I think you will find that you might one day be half the scholar you thing you are now and twice as well liked or esteemed when other projects arise.

Sincerely

the wary and watchful Chair

6 thoughts on “On Collaboration

  1. It would also be worth noting that if this is arrogant prof’s first/only job (ever), that ze might be well advised to learn what it means to be in a professional workplace. I am often astounded by the things that professors do that would never be tolerated in another work setting.

    • good point! Even if you’ve been at your uni forever, these days you never know when you might need to or want to move and it is hard to do if you are known for being difficult to work with.

  2. hi!This was a really magnificentsuper post!
    I come from itlay, I was luck to come cross your Topics in bing
    Also I get a lot in your blog really thank your very much i will come daily

  3. Wow. You can become a professor without publishing a book?? I thought that was kind of mandatory?

    Well, your advice/observations are sound in any field. Not just academia…

    • It used to be mandatory at the university level (as opposed to the community college level) but for some disciplines several peer reviewed research articles or a documentary film or several art showing have become more appropriate forms of evaluation at certain schools. For most of us who came before these changes a book was standard and I would argue that it does remain a dividing line for many.

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