A few days ago, I posted about Ugly Gender Politics in Academia, and the case of some MIT faculty using the alleged behavior of a senior scholar during the hiring process to publicly air their intradepartmental dirty laundry. Normal academic ugliness until the naming of the potential hire, who through no choice of her own, now has her name associated with the intradepartmental squabble, and gender politics.
Pinko Punko does a solid point-by-point walk through of the situation, but, I think, makes a misstatement about some of others who have posted on the dust-up. Namely me.
UPDATE: This issue is mentioned by Gilliard here, and others here and here. I view the assumptions of these bloggers to pile on with no evidence a little disturbing, but I think Gilliard is close to the point in a way, as I will discuss below.
Originally I was going to post as a comment over there, but the discussion has died down, so I thought I'd just post it here instead. The short version is that the article provided plenty of evidence of ugliness (taking an internal fight public) and gender politics (the kinds of accusations levelled at the senior scholar in the cited portions of the letter). In addition, my reflections about the article are mostly about my own experiences of ugly academic politics. So, here is my response.
You say "the assumptions of these bloggers to pile on with no evidence a little disturbing."
Does this mean that you don't view the actions of the letter writers as being part of ugly gender politics? Looks like plenty of evidence to me. And mostly I was commenting on my own observations of ugly intra-departmental politics (gendered or not) anyway.
To the question at hand...
The potential hire isn't really involved in the shouting, and can't be, but the background action (the intra-departmental stuff) as reported certainly is ugly and gendered. Others are using her name and gender in what, given my years in academia, I would guess is a long simmering internal conflict. As I pointed out, this to me is the "red flag" of ugly intradepartmental politics, which is as or more important than an allegedly singular, hostile senior scholar. The worst thing about it is, as a hire, unless the hiring process has been tainted in a provable way (e.g. "we don't hire preggos"), the candidate has no recourse. And given the secrecy of the academic hiring process, and the taboo of talking, anything she does only reflects badly on her, even though she had nothing to do with the ugliness or the gender politics (from what we can glean in the news article). The candidate only had the misfortune to interview somewhere with a lot of internal divisions, and colleagues who feel it's OK to drag a potential hire into their fights.
Likewise, the politics behind hiring "new threats" to old power isn't necessarily a gendered game, as I also mentioned. Especially in fractious departments, the "old bulls" want to hire people that they think will form part of their power group (leaving aside for a moment the insignificance of faculty power) or block those that won't help their cabal. Often these group divisions are by or reinforced by subfield, cliques, etc. Were the comments atrributed to the senior scholar true, they wouldn't be surprising if the candidate would have a) not been useful to enhancing his group's reputation and b) actually given visibility/praise to his opponents (who, of course, are trying to make hay out of the situation, even without the successful hire).
The ugliest thing of all is that these supposed colleagues seem to have no problem with attaching an ugly dust-up to the name of a promising young scholar, something of which all the participants should be ashamed. And all the candidate can do is ignore it, because otherwise she's forever associated with something that should never have touched her name in the first place. Few get the chance to weigh in when their personal academic business gets attached to larger fights and picked up in the media.
And on a final note, have been both the candidate and on the hiring committee multiple times, it is amazing how frequently ugliness and gender politics still rear their heads in hiring decisions. I have been told, while ona job interview, that another member of the hiring committee (not present, of course) was a drunk. I have had members of hiring committees try to suss out whether I was the suing type, in case the sexist pig of the department did or said something inappropriate during our individual meeting during the interview process. And those are some of the stories I'll repeat.
In sum, it's hard for academic politics not to be ugly. The turf is so small! And for women in science gender politics are on the front (bunsen) burner.
A small p.s. on women in science. The new Carnival of the Feminists is out, and through it, I found Science + Professor + Woman = Me. Check it out.Posted by binky at July 20, 2006 02:24 PM | TrackBack | Posted to The Academy