I work in higher ed, a small college with about 400 faculty and staff. It’s a new job for me, I’ve only been there about three months… never worked in education before. I’m learning a lot quickly about the politics of the place and it isn’t pretty. I thought the last job I had at a now-dead, internet startup was bad.
Anyway, this woman – who I’ll call Smartie – is supposed to be figuring out how to keep students at the school, doing something called retention services. That’s her job. Instead, she runs around the college trying to find out what everyone else is doing so that she can get involved. Ostensibly, this is teamwork. Before you know it Smartie is attempting to direct your activities – telling you what you should be doing – and then taking the credit. So far, I’ve only narrowly managed to avoid this.
Smartie has a talent for having great ideas and suggestions, and usually every single one of them is something you had already thought of and planned to do. Of course, you hadn’t told her about it because
- why would you? (you don’t work for her), or
- it was a really great idea that you didn’t feel like letting her take the credit for, or
- it’s not something you plan to do anytime soon so you don’t discuss it or she’ll think it’s on your short-term list and push you to get it done.
Now this is annoying because it kills any motivation you had. If you do something that she talked about Smartie just thinks you were acting on her idea and will take credit for it.
Yesterday’s phone conversation went like this:
Smartie: I sent you an email on the 5th, did you get it? [She is setting the trap.]
Me: Uhhhh… no. What email? [I have lied.]
Smartie: The one about writing an article for my department’s newsletter.
Me: Really? No, I don’t think I did. What about the newsletter?
Smartie: You read the email on the 6th, and I never got a reply from you. You did read it, I have a receipt that you opened it on the 6th. [Shit… I’m busted, damn Microsoft Outlook’s read receipt function. From her, it figures. My bad, I never even thought to look.]
Me: Oh. Here it is, sorry I must have looked at it after I got back from vacation and forgotten about it. I was pretty sick then too. [I have ‘suddenly’ found it and am now trying to make excuses.]
Smartie: I’m looking to get an article from you by the end of the week, early next at the latest. I’d like you to write about what your accomplishments have been since you’ve been here, and what’s coming in the future, so we can share them with the college community. With proper credit to you, of course. [Remember, this is not my boss. And something tells me she has an idea that people think she likes to take credit for their work.]
Me: I’m sorry, I don’t think I’m prepared to write that kind of article just now. [Why would I publish my activities in her newsletter?]
Smartie: You mean you don’t think you’ve done enough to write about? [Ohhh… let me slap her now!]
Me: No, I meant that my time would be better spent continuing with the priority items on my project list instead of taking the time to write about them. [Of course, I said that in the nicest possible way.]
Smartie: Well, it doesn’t have to be a full length article, just a paragraph or two will be fine. Motorhead is contributing too. [Motorhead is my boss.]
Me: No, I really think I should wait until next time before contributing.
Smartie: I’m sure it will be fine for you take the time to put something together. I’ll look for it in the next few days. [She is not taking no for an answer.]
Crap. So I call my boss and tell him that Smartie has pretty much insisted I write a newsletter article for her. I tell him that my time would be better served continuing with my project list instead of writing about it, and that I would much prefer to write that sort of article for our department’s newsletter. After all, why wouldn’t we want to publicize our accomplishments in our own newsletter? (I’m learning that departmental newsletters are a big thing at this school.) Motorhead sees the logic in this, and since he doesn’t much like Smartie anyway, he lets me off the hook. “Don’t worry,” he tells me, “I’ll just add some of stuff that you’ve done onto the article I’m writing for her.” Gotta love it.
You know what they say: politics in academia is particularly vicious because the stakes are so low.
Hadn’t heard that one before… these past few months being the first time I’ve worked in academia. It’s totally true!
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