Monday, October 25, 2004

The New Meekness?

I broach this subject with some trepidation, because it has become a cliche that the older generation doesn't "get" the younger generation. But I've been both confused and confounded by a variety of situations at my college (and accounts from friends at other community colleges) where younger colleagues seem reluctant to assert their views in committees, department meetings, and other collegial settings.

The cases I'm thinking of do not involve wild-eyed radical off-the-wall opinions. Rather they involve not asking office support staff to make copies of course outlines for curriculum committee because it might upset the office staff. They involve attending a staff development session on doing research, but worrying that if administration found out, it would indicate you weren't really committed to teaching. They involve not posting to a department listserv so you won't be considered a whiner. They involve not expressing any strong views about your discipline or teaching until after you have tenure. They involve not proposing any changes to existing courses because you'd have to work on persuading others.

Now I'm not suggesting every younger colleague functions this way, but I've heard so many expressions of caution from a good range that I think there's something more than just a conservative wave hitting community colleges. But I haven't a clue what it might be.

So I stick my neck out here in hopes that others may have thoughts and insights that could help me understand what's going on or that I'm simply way off base.


At 8:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have seen/heard what you describe, too. I think it may be due to the job market, at least for those faculty in disciplines like English and other humanities where qualified faculty are a dime a dozen and are banging at the doors for jobs. It seems to me that those in the humanities should be those most willing to speak up; these fields are don't exist without argument and debate, and yet I find some of the meekest people to be in these areas.

I've always had a big mouth. Maybe it is because I had a shitty experience in grad school and I decided then and there that once I got a full-time job NO ONE was going to dehumanize me again. Maybe it is also that I don't have children to support and that I've always felt I could walk away from this job. For people who desperately need the income or whose heart and soul are wrapped up in it, perhaps the fear of losing it outweighs everything.

At my campus, we just got a new president. Our former president used promotion as punishment, and thus, a culture of fear was created that many faculty and staff succumbed to. "I can't say that; I'm up for promotion/tenure/sabbatical" was a common sentiment under the old regime. But our new president is very different, and I have high hopes.

At 2:04 AM, Blogger jocalo said...

Your point that our field is grounded in argument and debate, yet many in the field seem reluctant to practice what they teach, goes to the heart of my concern. I find it hard to understand how one could effectively teach students to engage in public discourse and academic discourse if you rarely practice it yourself, either in print or in departmental, collegial settings.

At 10:20 AM, Blogger Rosa G. said...

Jocalo, when did you start to notice this in your younger colleagues? Is it fairly recent? How young are these colleagues? How long have they been at your school. I know that when I was new, I ventured few opinions because I was so overwhelmed with everything that just keeping my head above water was my goal. But not giving work to the office staff seems unusual--is that behavior a trend or just from one or two newbies?

At my school, I think that it's 50/50--some new faculty speak up, others are reticent, at first.


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