Strawman Arguments

This is very weird article. I have never experienced or heard of a college where service and teaching assignments are made by the administration. I have always chosen my service obligations myself.

The only recommendations I have received (and only from colleagues, never from the admin) are along the lines of “remember you need at least two more leadership-role assignments at the college level before you go up for Full.” I can’t even begin to imagine a context in which the Dean or the Provost or anybody, really, would give me “service requirements with an expectation of empathy.” We don’t have separate service reqs for different gender groups. I’m guessing that would be very illegal.

As for teaching, I can’t begin to imagine a situation either where an administrator would tell me “you will teach a course on female literature because you are a woman.” The administration has zero input into which courses we teach. It’s all controlled internally by the department. I have been a professor for 10 years, and no administrator ever expressed any wishes or expectations about my service or teaching at all. Neither the administrators nor I seem to think it’s any of their business.

It’s like the author of this article inhabits a different planet. And so do the colleagues who are busily reposting this link on social media.

21 thoughts on “Strawman Arguments”

  1. Let’s have a heterosexual white male teach a course whose title is explicitly about race and/or gender. I’m sure that will go over really well.

    As to committee service, the only thing that gets people more upset than “We assigned this person to such-and-such committee because it’s important to have diversity” is “We didn’t take diversity into account when making committee assignments.”

    There’s no way to win with these people.


  2. It has been my experience that women and black people are pressured into taking on more service roles than anyone else so that there will be diverse representation on this or that committee. This in turn has led to some of them not getting tenure because they had too much of their time taken up by the service assignments. It has led some who did get tenure not being promoted to the rank of Professor for the same reason; the assignments became much more onerous once they had been promoted to Associate Professor. The way they were confronted was something like: “The Faculty Bylaws require that this committee have at least two women and at least one minority person. There is no one but you who can fill this seat.”

    Off topic “…require that this committee have…” is a beautiful example showing that the present subjunctive in English is not dead!


  3. I think it shows that you are a very lucky person! Even in my part of STEM where the department and faculty are around 25% female there is a LOT of being co-opted onto committees or into roles partly because of my gender (despite an excellent gender balance in the lowest levels of researcher, teaching fellow (fixed term contract) and lecturer (junior faculty member) there are only 3 female people in the upper two levels (Reader and Professor) and we get a lot of “well we need diversity and otherwise we’ll need to ask a teaching fellow and that could be really bad for their career development…” kind of language. You probably have the mental health and self-possession to resist that, but as someone who was once a very put upon lecturer (never was a teaching fellow praise be) I do feel a certain obligation to not impose on them unduly and they DO need female people at these meetings. Part of the very put upon was that I started at the same time as two male colleagues, and we were all given “starter” service roles – I got the pastoral one, they both got more academic ones, and my first couple of years were NOT made easier by dealing with students with self-harm, alcohol abuse, family disintegration and unintended pregnancy type situations rather than doing assessment matrix paperwork (and it was ESPECIALLY dumb as one of the male colleagues had a long history of youth work and church work, and actually WANTED pastoral roles, and I’m Not Good At People but boy do I enjoy curriculum mapping, but we’re both sure the decision was made due to unconscious gender bias – and now we’d push back on it but then we were all “we finally got a foothold on the faculty ladder and we’re on probation so we’d better not argue” plus, you know, 20 years ago academia in the UK didn’t really admit these things were issues, it was all LOOK we have ONE WOMAN PROFESSOR aren’t we EQUAL!)

    Other kinds of representation are so far less of an issue, but our department has exactly one non-European-racially person and they are mixed-race and not immediately visually obviously non-European; they tell me gender seems to trump race in these situations, but think that is because other departments in the faculty have more non-western-European (male) academics (and many more non-European-ancestry students – we have less than 10% non-UK-Caucasian students in my department and most of them are Europeans, whereas other disciplines have many more students from overseas) who share the burden of that kind of diversity-representation. We don’t YET have much in the way of pressure over sexuality representation among academics (though I’m sure that’s coming), and disability is largely ignored as a diversity issue (and probably because getting people to actually agree to be that sort of representation is a lot more charged in academe, especially around invisible or variable disabilities). We do sometimes have discussions about class, as most of our students are first generation to university and we’re located in a region which is generally highly economically deprived, and I occasionally get collared by that because I’m also first-generation, but I mostly escape it because I don’t have a strong regional accent and I went (with a full government bursary! Because I am old and it used to be an option!) to a grammar school so I “pass” as a higher class origin than I have.

    It’s a real dilemma. But colleagues in the faculty of arts and languages don’t feel it as much, from talking to them, because the gender balance is differently skewed and perhaps because their internal politics are over different issues.


      1. My department (humanities) is 2/3 men and most I have worked in have been. Teaching and service assignments come from administrators outside field. Service one might undertake voluntarily (because it is needed or interesting) is not recognized.


        1. We are very fortunate that we have retained all the control over teaching and service (and obviously research, too), and now that we are unionized, they will never wrestle control away from that.

          There are still attempts to manipulate like “hey, who wants to teach a course in summer for no pay as an act of free will?” And I’m like “ha ha very funny.”


  4. At my institution, teaching and service assignments are a negotiation. However, many people do not realise that this is the case, or, when they do, do not feel comfortable pushing back to say what they want. I don’t have this problem, so when I am asked to serve on a committee, hiring panel, etc., if I do not want to do it I say ‘sorry, not for me’ and move on with my day. I suspect I am in a minority. Likewise, when we get our draft teaching plan for the coming year, I am happy to write to our director of teaching to say ‘you have me down for X, but I don’t want to teach that. How about Y instead?’. For the most part, we make our own reading lists with no input or oversight, so it isn’t a big deal. I am also in a Humanities department. We are more women than men, in terms of staff. However, as you move to more senior levels, the ratio flips, and so senior women do tend to be asked to do more. I am myself mid-level at this stage, but as a woman of colour receive more frequent requests for serve on committees than many of my colleagues. Again, I’m very happy to just say no thanks and leave it at that if it isn’t something I actually want to do. I don’t see ensuring that committees meet diversity quotas as either my responsibility or my problem.


    1. I agree. I choose my assignments and if it’s something I don’t want to do, good luck trying to make me do it. I was brought up by extremely controlling parents, so my training in resisting pressure is extremely sophisticated. 🙂 I’ve had such major guilt-tripping unleashed against me throughout my life, so anything that a colleague might attempt is child’s play.


    2. I agree about it not being MY problem to make sure diversity quotas are met, but having seen first hand the effects of no diversity – e.g. the time the department spent a lot of money on a piece of equipment where the operator needed to be able to reach two different switches at once, and no-one under five foot eight could make the stretch, which meant all the women who actually needed to use it couldn’t, and they’d not thought to even ask about it. Or the research microscopes where the bit that holds the slide and needs to stick out sometimes is at breast-height for the user, and so anyone with a larger chest has to contort themselves in order to use the darn things, whereas EVERY OTHER OPTION has a different layout which makes this a non-problem. The committee all attended physical demos and tests of both these items, and none of them even thought about short people (or arthritic people!)/people with breasts because none of them were any of those things and they didn’t think.

      And then there are the little things like the time the building committee decided to refurbish the toilets half way up the stairs (as in, on a tiny half landing which is 14 steps up from the ground floor and 13 steps down from the first floor) to make them wheelchair accessible. When the lift is in a different part of the corridor and takes users from ground to first floor and back again with no stops at tiny half landings, and the toilets on ground floor have not been adapted and on first floor are, you guessed it, up four stairs with no stair lift. So we have an accessible toilet… if your wheelchair can climb stairs. Otherwise wheelchair users get to go to another building to pee etc. And those access issues also matter for people on crutches etc. (pretty common as our undergraduate population includes a sizable minority of Sporty Types so there’s always someone who broke something complicated doing ultimate sport-balling) since standard cubicles are kind of tiny.

      So I do feel it is a LITTLE BIT my problem because I am a bit more aware of issues as a busty and impaired-joint-possessing female person (I’m quite tall but my closest collaborator is female and 4 foot 11 tall, and my current grad students are a perfectly healthy maybe-100lb-soaking-wet minute person who makes me feel like a giant and a six foot four male who used to be the local equivalent of a lumberjack professionally who towers in all directions and can barely fit his knees into a lecture room seat, so I’m kind of aware of the range of body morphs!). And I’m sure there are many other intellectual aspects to the whole thing which my being on a committee would also affect… (I was told on one committee that it’s less fun since I joined because they feel they can “no longer make the obvious jokes” because I have “a bad sense of humour” which suggests to me that there are things that used to go on that shouldn’t have (I have a terrible, scientists pun-heavy nerdy sense of humour, but I am known to look blankly confused and demand explanations of “jokes” about women, people of other races, people with mental health issues and so on, which clearly is “bad”).


          1. Can’t wait for the nation to unite over this.

            ‘It’s time to put our differences aside and support our president’.


            1. Honestly, I’d unite with anybody to see the US withdraw the fuck away from Syria already. Enough of this. Enough of holding Syrians hostage to everybody’s sick ambitions.


              1. Like

              2. And how about the argument that “if we withdraw it will be a victory for Putin”? Who the fuck cares? Let him have his victory and stick it up his.


  5. Relax! The “war” that Trump “started” tonight is already over.

    Only lasted a couple of hours, and the Russians didn’t shoot off anything but their mouths.


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