Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Us vs. Them

Something happened recently that made me think that it might be better not to befriend people that I work with. It also made me wish that I could get away with carrying a light saber to work, but I think that seeing me chase my colleagues across campus with it just might negatively affect my students' opinions of me.

Even though my department originally told me that I could stay in my position for up to three years, maybe even a fourth year, without having to reapply, they recently told me that due to a change in policy, I would have to reapply for my job, which included an interview with a search committee from my department.

When you're untenured like I am, you don't get a lot of say in what happens to you, but it's hard not to feel jealous (and a tad resentful) of tenured professors. They get teaching assistants to grade papers and hold office hours for them, so that the professors can focus on their research. They teach fewer, smaller classes that focus on their specializations. Untenured faculty members like me, on the other hand, end up drinking so much coffee that we end up understanding what squirrels are saying, just so we can stay awake long enough to grade a hundred papers (or more) at a time. We are expected just to squeeze in research whenever we can, and we don't get funding to go to conferences. And in academia, the best way to get ahead is to do (and publish) research.

Whenever the tenured professors shake their heads and say they're sorry about how I've been treated, I always shrug and say, "It's okay! I understand!" But my real reaction is more like this:

When I found out that they were making my class sizes significantly bigger but not paying me more, my secret reaction was like this:

But of course, I can't express how I truly feel to them. As an untenured faculty member, my status here is not secure and I can't say things like, "STOP THE MADNESS!" or "No, I don't want to bring anything to the office potluck because you don't pay me enough to bring anything other than peanut butter sandwiches. And those are all for ME."

In addition to re-applying for my current job, I also applied for a promotion, albeit for an untenured position, but still one with better pay than what I earn now. A friend of mine was on the search committee for that one.

Work Friend had been posting about the job search on Facebook recently, and they mentioned doing interviews for that promotion that I applied for. I was not called in for an interview, so that's how I knew without being told otherwise that I'd been rejected for that job.

I asked Work Friend if they were doing interviews for my current job soon, and I got an e-mail saying that they couldn't talk about it. I understood, yet I resented this person's tone, as if they assumed I was trying to get them to do something unethical. I didn't ask them why I'd been rejected for a promotion, who was being considered for the job, or how I could increase my chances of getting rehired for next year. I knew THAT would be unethical. I also wondered why, if Work Friend claimed they couldn't talk about it, it was okay for that person to post details about it on Facebook to people who weren't in our department and also make jokes about the people who were applying for the job.

I especially resented the jokes because I was one of those people. I think it's easy for tenured professors to forget about how difficult it is to be untenured and how you have to basically grovel and scrounge for work every year. It's easy to forget that not everyone has to move around from school to school every couple years. It's easy not to know what it's like to have to work two (or three) jobs. But that doesn't mean it's okay to be insensitive to what untenured teachers are going through. Not all tenured professors are like this, of course. But at that moment, it kind of felt like Work Friend was.

Although I understand that maybe I hadn't earned a promotion yet, I must admit that the whole situation did change my perspective of Work Friend a little bit. From now on, I'm not going to talk about work with this person at all; that way, I'm less likely to end up chasing them across campus with a light saber. (But if Work Friend makes fun of job applicants like me again, all bets are off.)

What about you? Do you think that making friends with colleagues who are in a position of authority over you is a good idea, or has it ever made things awkward for you?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Old Friends, Googling, and Mug Shots

Recently, I received an e-mail from an old friend from high school. I hadn't seen or spoken to her in person in almost twenty years (God, that makes me want to immediately apply anti-aging cream to my face). We'd exchanged e-mails for a while after graduation, and then we lost touch. She must have Googled my name because she sent the e-mail to my work address (there's a picture and profile of me on my school's website).

The message was brief and didn't really reveal anything about her life. Ordinarily, I would have e-mailed her back. When I joined Facebook, I received (and accepted) multiple friend requests from old high school friends and classmates, including people I barely talked to when we were teenagers. But this time, it was different.

When I didn't respond, she sent another e-mail a couple days later saying that she "wouldn't bother me anymore" but that she viewed me as one of her best friends. She also mentioned a few sad things that had happened in her life, which made me feel like she was trying to make me feel guilty for not responding.

She clearly has a selective memory in regards to our friendship. We were friends, but she spent much less time with me once she met her boyfriend, who came home from college almost every weekend to see her. I was only fifteen at the time, but even I could tell that it was unhealthy to let your life revolve around just one person. Our lives went in opposite directions after high school. While I moved away to attend college, earn my master's degree and PhD, and become a teacher, she married her boyfriend soon after high school and had children.

Why didn't I write back? I won't go into all the details, but let's just say that before I joined Facebook, I did a Google search of her and some other old friends, because I was curious about how they were doing. I found the usual information: their LinkedIn pages, wedding websites, pictures of their children, etc. When I Googled Old Friend's name, I found her mug shots (and that's right, I mean mug shots as in plural), as well as her details about her criminal record.

What I found shocked and scared me. I couldn't believe that the shy person I'd once been friends with would even be capable of committing crimes like that. She's not in prison now, though she did spend a little time in jail.

I wasn't sure about whether or not to respond to her e-mail at first. What was I supposed to say? "Hi, how are you? I mean apart from all the felonies?"

She still lives in the same town where we grew up, and most of the people there have steered clear of her, due to the damage caused by her actions. I suspected that she must be pretty lonely if she's seeking me out after all this time. But that still wasn't enough to motivate me to e-mail her back.

Another friend suggested that I send her one e-mail back and say that I didn't feel comfortable reconnecting, given her circumstances. But I thought that might hurt her feelings even more.

Part of me thinks that I should feel sorry for her, but I feel more pity for the people who she hurt. I feel angry at her for doing those things. She had all these options, and she chose the worst one. I know that I shouldn't judge her, especially since I don't know all the details of her life. But it's hard not to, given the circumstances.

What about you? Have you ever had a friend or acquaintance with a troubled past try to reconnect with you? What did you do, or what would you do?