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Something that struck me today

19 November, 2009

Something that struck me today (NaNoBloPo/NaSchoWriMo 18)

One of the things that struck me today has to do with faculty privilege and how weird some of it seems to me. It’s about communicating one’s availability. I was feeling really grumpy today about people who don’t communicate or pay attention. I’m talking about basic communication, nothing really work related. Just that I have colleagues and co-workers and student workers who just don’t make sense to me. Some do. One of my colleagues never fails to pop hir head in and say hi when zie notices I’ve come in, and always says goodbye at night if zie leaves before me. Another always asks if I want the coffee left on when zie leaves, and I always know when zie is not going to be in, because zie mentions zie will be gone to a conference, for example. Some of my colleagues post their office hours clearly, and leave their doors ajar. If they are friends, we sort of know each other’s schedules, more or less. Most of the students who work for my colleagues in our building pop their heads in when arriving or leaving, even though they don’t work for me, just to say hi or bye. A couple even ask if I have work, if they have nothing assigned to them.

But then there are people who just don’t communicate. The reason I started thinking about this was that I was by myself in the building for part of the afternoon, save one student. I don’t know when the student left, but it was dark when zie did, and zie left the building door open. At night, after dark, with one female faculty member by herself in a building on the periphery of campus and adjacent to a busy road with not only lots of foot traffic, but a main thoroughfare for Dabbaville’s homeless. It annoyed me. Part of it was the apparent lack of consideration, but then I realized that my expectations of communication just don’t hold true for everybody.

This has happened before. I have a couple of friends who understand entirely when I ask them to text when they get home, if we’ve been out late, or if they have gone somewhere lonely by themselves to run, or some such thing. And we do that. They don’t laugh when I post to facebook about illness or going for a run, because they were raised to check in, or know that single people can end up in all kinds of trouble and not be missed. Friends who thought it was a little silly have become a bit more understanding after I passed out for no identifiable reason last year. But anyway, I just think it’s good to have an idea of where the people you care about are supposed to be, in case they end up somewhere else. Not everybody feels that way, and that’s fine.

That was my reaction today. I reminded myself that my colleagues don’t all have the same idea about communicating their whereabouts. And most of them are faculty. Faculty don’t have to account for their time and where they spend it, except when required to be in a certain place for a class or meeting. So why should they communicate their schedules?

And then, I realised that I just don’t buy it — or not completely. If I need to talk to Superdean, or the Provost, or the President of SLAC, I may not be able to, but someone will know where they are and when they will be available. I don’t account for every minute of the day, but I put a schedule for the week on my door, so that if people are looking for me, they can at least see if I’m definitely supposed to be somewhere else. And normally I shoot an email to folks if I’m coming in after about 10 on a non-teaching day (I like to go to the gym in the mornings sometimes, and often work till 7 ish). Hey, I’m department chair and have 25 advisees: people occasionally look for me. And if I’m home or working in a coffee shop, it’s likely I’m checking email, anyway. Why? because it seems to me that, despite the freedom we have as faculty, people still normally keep something resembling bankers’ hours, and part of the job is to be available to students and colleagues.

I’ve worked on a flex schedule before, by the way. I’ve worked jobs where I had a home office and only had to see my boss once a week. But if he was looking for me, he could usually find me, even if sometimes I was at a conference call in my pajamas. I’ve worked for places where every minute was jealously guarded as well. There’s a difference in those atmospheres. Working from home on salary feels different from punching a clock. I never felt that I was obligated to call my boss and ask him if I could go to the gym at lunch, and he didn’t care, as long as my work was done, and I returned calls and emails in a timely manner. But if I knew I’d be out of cell phone or internet range for more than a couple of hours, I’d usually let people know, because it’s best not to have customers calling the boss to complain that you didn’t pick up on the second ring.

I guess my point is that we work in a world where lots of people are accountable for their time, and there are lots of good reasons to communicate where we are, if only for simple courtesy and to make sure that, if our students need to see us, someone knows what to tell them about how to get hold of us. I’m just not sure how not having to account for one’s movements got to be a faculty privilege, nor how that privilege seems more and more to be something assumed by staff and students, as well. Seems a little weird to me.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 19 November, 2009 11:16 am

    This is an instructive post, because I think I'm one of those people who would probably really irritate you if I worked with you. Personally, I like being off the radar, so to speak. I do freelance work part-time, and I do make myself available on a reasonable basis (during business hours, I usually answer emails and texts/cell messages within a couple of hours), but I really don't like to have to tell people where I'm going. My partner has had to pester me to get me to tell him where and when I'm going running, and when I expect to be back, if I'm going by myself. I don't even like doing this very much (although I do, now, if I'm running on trails). I don't know why this is. I just feel an intense sense of being hemmed in as soon as I have to account for my movements to anyone else (this is probably why I chose to become self-employed in the first place).Having said that, I would have been very annoyed at the student that left the building open without telling you. That is just not safe.

  2. 19 November, 2009 4:54 pm

    Interesting–I think you're right. Most of my colleagues are easily track-downable by e-mail. (No one vanishes incommunicado, that is.) We have very different work lives than most people–much longer leashes than most enjoy, so to speak.As I get older, I'm starting to understand where you're coming from on being texted/phoned to know that someone got home safely. It's a privilege that people with partners or families have–that people are expecing them home–and they don't always consider what it's like not to live with other humans. (As opposed to nonhuman companions, who are wonderful but thumbless and can't dial a telephone.)

  3. 23 November, 2009 2:30 am

    I think this is a campus culture issue, and may be related to the size and function of campuses. I am someone who is usually in my office because I have a hard time working at home. That is seen as foolhardy. Successful faculty here are supposed to "protect their time," which means being available during their office hours and classes and attending required meetings but being unavailable the rest of the time. If you are on research leave or it is the summer, the assumption is that you are absolutely not reachable unless you are teaching or have a 12 month appointment. Email has changed this somewhat, in that I suspect now most people answer their messages once or twice a day, but it would be seen as unreasonable here to expect to know where anyone was except when they are someplace they are scheduled to be. I think this is the standard more than the exception at large research universities.(a/k/a VC Editor)

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