Churning & Burning of Junior Faculty

As I’ve said before, my department at MRU is into churning & burning junior faculty – bring ’em in, use ’em up, toss ’em out. It’s a clinical dept, these folks are MD’s and so they can get another (often better job). Also, its worth pointing out that as is true at other Med Schools, tenure is a joke – they can take away your salary, just not your title.

In general, the jr faculty get treated dreadfully here. Department service is a real concern (to the admin) for promotion and salary. Because we’re clinical, weekend call is an ongoing struggle – young parents don’t like giving up their weekends, and older faculty are of the “I did it without complaining and so should you”. When people leave, re-hiring takes quite a while, and we are perennially short staffed for coverage. Jr faculty are pressured to give up their protected time for “the good of the department”. Promised financial support reduced, with crocodile smiles and insincere concern.

I saw this happen to three different women, two women of color, over the last five -six years. The chair didn’t want to fire them, it would look bad for him, so he just made it so miserable that they would leave. They were fighters and there responses not always appropriate, just like the chair – this side of actionable. Nothing that anyone could point to and say “this crosses a line”. Of course, the chair never perceived his actions in this light, but he went to the dean to register complaints about “uncollegial behavior”. This meant that when the faculty went up the line with their problems, they were already perceived as problematic, and got little sympathy.

A few months ago, I went to the Dean to talk about these problems in my department: the high turnover rate, the isolation of faculty of color, etc. What I heard back was that these were difficult faculty to start with. I knew what was meant, but was dumbfounded with this response. So, I organized my case, and went back and went through these cases in detail with the Dean of Faculty (in charge of promotions, appointments, etc – the one my chair complained to). Yes, I said, these faculty did things that were not in their best interest, they did not always behavior perfectly.  Nothing excuses this behavior, and now they are gone. What worries me, I said, was that there is an ongoing pattern. These people came to MRU with high hopes, loyalty and commitment, and it got stripped away. I don’t want this happening in the future. The Chair has some strong biases, and he does things that elicits this behavior in faculty he did not like. It’s going to happen again. I think each of these people would have behaved differently in a different environment.

The response at this point was simple: yes, you are right. We all know that your chair is a dickwad (not quite the word the dean used). But, this process/style/strategy has a name, burning and churning, and “has been approved at levels higher than me”. Your dept isn’t the worst. It’s considered a reasonable budget strategy to keep costs down by not having to promote MD’s (who get a sizable financial bump when they are promoted). I was shocked. It’s one thing to know that the administration is venal. Its another to have them admit it, ok it, and move on. (with plausible deniability of course)

My level of depression is huge.  This post by Amanda Blum about Adria Richards seems to be of the same flavor. lf you missed it – see good pieces on Adria Richards & PyCon here and here. Richards may have behaved poorly, but what has happened in her past? Why do these situations arise at all?

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5 thoughts on “Churning & Burning of Junior Faculty

  1. So now whenever someone interviews for a junior faculty position you explain that there’s an informal policy of pushing them out? Or they ask the dean what happened to the last few faculty and the dean explains that they were all troublemakers? At what point do they stop signing up?

  2. Wow. I never thought of it this way but now I can see it’s happening where I am too. Churning and burning is a great financial strategy but it sucks butt when you are the one getting burned out. I can see that is probably the path I am currently on. Yay me….. This sucks.

  3. Pingback: When you see a fork in the road, grab it and stab someone | Mistress of the Animals

  4. Pingback: Moving Up and Moving On | Mistress of the Animals

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