Thus Spake Zuska

I have an acquaintance who works in what some of you professorial types jokingly refer to as the dark side – administration. Ha ha ha. Yeah, I was an administrator in academia myself, you know, and let me tell you, you should be grateful to your administrators, if only for the fact that if they didn’t spend their days attending all those meetings, you’d have to do it yourself. Somebody’s gotta do that administrative crap while you’re out there doing the whizbang gollygee fun stuff in the labs.

My acquaintance knows both sides of the story, for she herself is a tenured full professor in the field of -ology. The type of administrative position she has now is a standard issue administrative position, and she’s got to deal with all the usual administrative stuff. She’s also, in the normal run of her daily business, got to deal with managing diversity.

Recently she reported to me the following:

I just spent half an hour talking to a male department head about one of his untenured women faculty members, who had been in to talk to me about what she perceives as unequal treatment by the head. I talked about how perceptions are important even though he feels as though he is being fair. I talked about accumulation of disadvantage. I talked about how if
they ever want to diversify their department it is important to have not just successful but
happy female and minority faculty members.

And at the end of the half hour, I think that he walked out convinced that he was right and everything was fair and hunky dory and he need only apologize for one kerfuffle that involved [one particular incident].

My work here is obviously not done, but I am not hopeful that it can be done. Worst of all, this…department head [is] a younger guy with (I think) a professional wife…the kind we hope that get it and are our allies.

FSA is not new to the business of dealing with diversity issues and trying to educate her colleagues. She is quite an expert in this area. So it’s not that she doesn’t know how to talk to people about this stuff.

It’s just that she is tired, oh so very tired, of banging her head against the giant wall built of Nice Guys Who Just Don’t Get It. The guys who listen, and then say “Okay, I’m sorry you got so upset over that.” The people who are all for including women and minorities, as long as nothing substantive about longstanding departmental culture really has to change. The folks who think that if women are not being accosted in the hallways and hit up for sexual favors in the lab, then everything must be, well, hunky dory. The scientists who think that there is absolutely nothing that social science can teach them about how to create a better, more equitable scientific culture. The Nice Guy Knuckleheads who believe with all the faith that a creationist believes in an Intelligent Designer that Science is a Meritocracy.

FSA, I feel your pain, and if I could I would go right now and puke on your Nice Guy Department Head’s shoes. But I have the feeling he’d just look up in bewilderment and say, “Now why in the world would you do that? I’m such a nice guy!”


  1. #1 D. C. Sessions
    November 10, 2009

    I find it useful to look at things from the other direction sometimes:

    If we accept the premise that science is a meritocracy, we can determine from its observable processes what “merit” is.


  2. #2 D. C. Sessions
    November 10, 2009


  3. #3 oscarzoalaster
    November 10, 2009

    Science _should_ be a meritocracy, and those folks who think that “nothing substantive about longstanding departmental culture really has to change” are impeding it becoming a meritocracy.

  4. #4 Kea
    November 10, 2009

    Sigh … so yeah. I just can’t bring myself to be ‘happy’ about those My–IsBiggerThanYours competitions over beer at the pub.

  5. #5 PeggyL
    November 11, 2009

    I can so relate to this post! FWIW, here is another report from Marc Goulden and Mary Ann Mason at Berkeley on why women leave science careers, with recommendations on what universities and federal funding agencies should be doing about it:

  6. #6 IanW
    November 11, 2009

    I’m not sure what it is you meant to demonstrate with this story. Obviously you can’t relate details for privacy reasons, but in the absence of those details, no one who isn’t familiar with what happened in that situation is in a position to determine what, if anything is amiss there, and how far amiss it might be.

    Yes, you conveyed that “FSA” is frustrated to say the least, but I’m not sure that story best illustrates why.

  7. #7 Diane G.
    November 11, 2009

    Peggy L., I’m getting “link not found…” Help?

  8. #8 Zuska
    November 12, 2009

    Peggy, is this the link you were talking about?

  9. #9 Zuska
    November 12, 2009

    That link is to a video…the page includes this link
    which is the one Peggy gave and which gives a link to the full report. I don’t know why it isn’t working. Try the video link. If neither works, try
    and choose issue 11, then “Ask the Expert: Patching America’s Leaky Pipeline in the Sciences”.

  10. #10 The Nerd
    November 28, 2009

    Sigh… yeah, I’ve encountered these sorts of nice guys too. They read things like this, and really have no clue what it’s talking about.

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