Field of Science

A rotten apple in every faculty?

My colleagues and I just met to consider the tenure and promotion of a junior member of our faculty. She presented a well-balanced and well-documented package of accomplishments that made this one of the easiest decisions we have encountered in recent years. With virtually no discussion we voted umpteen to 1 in favor of her tenure and promotion by a secret ballot. Yes, that was umpteen to 1. One no vote. One person thinks an outstanding junior member of our department should be dismissed. Oh, they knew the vote would be overwhelming positive so this was nothing but a personal statement.

Does every faculty have to contain at least one jerk who gets their jollies out of being an a$$? Could there be any more cowardly act than to hide behind a secret vote? What sort of inadequacies prompt such actions? And what do they think it accomplishes? What did their protest vote really mean since no one has any idea whatever it is?

Well, it let us know that there is at least one person among us that you would not and should not trust with confidential information. It lets you know that at least one of us is in not fully rationale and socially mature enough to be treated as an adult. It lets you know that someone is being eaten away by an ethical and intellectual rot that cannot help but damage themselves, a skulking, nasty, venomous sort of rot that leaves your core black, a real rotten apple. And you have to watch and make certain that such apples don't spread their rot to any others. Unfortunately you just don't know which one.

This demonstrates the down side of secret ballots; it lets cowards hide. Someone without any guts dislikes our junior colleague, and maybe the whole department, and they wanted to send a message. Quite a few years ago, a now retired colleague routinely voted against virtually all tenure and promotion decisions, but at least he had the decency to say, "They don't measure up to my impossibly high, arbitrary standards." Of course setting the bar so high no one can clear it, including himself, and withholding his approval of anyone who was not a member of the national academy of science, demonstrates a certain tenuous hold on reality. But at least you knew his reason.

The actual list of potential bad apples is not as long or as extensive as one might expect. You see after my afore mentioned colleague retired this sort of thing stopped happening. In the interim we have tenured and promoted only a few people, and now a bad apple appears. I've worked with some of my colleagues over 30 years, and while all are not necessarily charming, I know of what stuff they are made. None of us liked the way many senior faculty used, abused, the tenure process to bully junior faculty. We changed the department's climate, but apparently one of my newer colleagues did not learn that lesson. How very unfortunate! It hurts to know the department made at least one mistake in deciding tenure. And without doubt such people never get better, they only get worse as the perceived slights and injuries mount up and the rot continues to grow.

I shall tell my young, newly tenured colleague to use the freedom of tenure well because it comes with responsibilities too. One of which is that you deal with your colleagues honestly and forthrightly.

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