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How do you handle administrators with chronic bad attitudes?

Graduate Students

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1philosojerk
Oct 24, 2007, 12:18pm Top

I started adjuncting about a year ago. My first experience teaching at a community college was just awful - the administration was disorganized, no one seemed at all interested in the students, and most of all, the administrators seemed to me to be both infernally lazy, and in chronic need of an attitude adjustment.

This semester, I've moved over to a different, better-funded, community college system. Things are marginally better organized, and at least the department I'm working in seems to actually care about the education the students are getting. But, yet again, I seem to be constantly running into the brick wall that is an administrator with an absolutely shitty attitude. The problem is, I have to deal with this person constantly in order to get room keys, fill in drop forms, get students to do their instructor evals, etc. I am SO SICK of the attitude coming across in her emails, but I'm not at all sure what I can do about it. Every time I construct an email which tries to politely ask her to show me a little respect, I end up deleting it because I figure it's more likely to just make things worse than make things better.

I'm at a complete loss, because I actually want to continue teaching at this institution, but I honestly don't have the kind of personality that can let someone be so utterly horrible to me without at some point actually saying something about it. Anyone have any advice about how to deal with this?

2MissTrudy
Oct 24, 2007, 12:30pm Top

We've had people like this in our faculties and it seems to be--at least at the state university where I was teaching at the time--that staff can often be a hassle to fire due to union membership, so the heads of departments pretty much do nothing about it. It is made even worse by the fact that a lot of junior administrative staff consider adjuncts as less powerful/influential than associate/tenured professors, so they feel they can get away with being crappy to them. I think a good book to read in this case is Dostoevsky's "Notes From the Underground", which shows how oppressed people who suffer, expand their pain to others by being cruel to them ... in the case of this short novel, I seem to recall that it was a bureaucrat, an office clerk or something, the one engaging in mean behavior... and it shows how suffering and poverty can make people act in ugly ways towards others ... okay, so what I am saying is that this staff person is possibly one of these petty bureaucrats... and hard as it may seem, you might want to just keep your cool and not let it get to you. Secondly, I would speak to her very kindly, but not submissively, some day, sort of "I seem to always catch you on a bad day, and I know one cannot gauge tones of voice properly via email and that you're probably overwhelmed with work, but I was just wondering, is everything okay or have I done something to offend you? If so, I'd like to clear the air and make sure that I apologize if I did. Or am I imagining it?" It might or might not work, but at least you are being more pro-active about it and showing this person that you will respond maturely--but not react angrily--to his/her behavior. On the other hand, maybe she does have a shitty life and you constantly catch her on a bad day and she will tone down her behavior with you. Who knows? Sadly all these things go back to leadership and if the heads of departments don't set the tone, very little can be done on a structural basis. It is all left to day-to-day interactions between individuals.

3philosojerk
Oct 24, 2007, 9:08pm Top

Thanks for the reply, MissTrudy. Sometimes I wonder if it's not something along the lines of what you suggest. I definitely agree that adjuncts seem to be treated as "less than faculty" wherever they happen to be, and it kind of bites. I just know myself and my sometimes inability to bite my tongue. The last thing I want is to further complicate things by saying something to this woman that I'll regret later on. I think the tactic you suggest is probably the one I'm going to have to take, though.

In the meantime, I apparently need to read Notes from the Underground, sounds like it might be a story I can relate to a bit.

4rsterling
Oct 27, 2007, 11:32am Top

First rule of any office job (or any job that involves an office): make friends with the administrative staff. That goes for students, adjuncts, assistant professors and everyone else.

Keep in mind that these staff are probably treated with disrespect on a regular basis. I'd be disgruntled too.

5djsanders
Oct 27, 2007, 12:13pm Top

When I was on full-time teaching staff for a university, I dealt with the same issues. Certain administrators had a reputation for being...less than friendly. For these people and ANY administative people I needed to work with, I made certain that I went to their offices, got to know them, ask about their spouse, children, nephews, dogs, whatever seemed to be the thing they most liked to talk about.

I would also make it point to ask about how things were for them and their job, and acknowledge how stressful their job must be (whether I thought they had a right to gripe or not!). Stuff like: it must be busy now, have things slowed down for you guys yet, I don't know how you guys do it, this place would shut down without you guys, etc.

I have to say that this extra effort made my life so much easier. My boss couldn't get anything done without a struggle because she routinely treated the administrative staff like they were "lower than her." These same people would go out of their way to help me out.

For this person you are dealing with now... My suggestion would be that the next time you need to contact her, stop by her office. Make an excuse that you were already in that building and figured you would stop by rather than call or e-mail. Check out what pictures she has in frames by her desk, and ask about them. Make some acknowledgment of how crazy and difficult her job must be having to deal with keys, forms, evals, and everything else.

I hope that helps.

6philosojerk
Oct 29, 2007, 11:25pm Top

Practically, I think all this is great advice. It is nice when people take an active interest in whatever matters to you.

Morally, I'm disgusted. Even if some employees/adjuncts/profs/whatever treat these people with disrespect, I'm not one of them. I have a really hard time accepting the idea that I should have to kiss someone's ass to get them to show me some respect, just because someone else was disrespectful to them.

I guess this is my downfall, because while I understand the practical wisdom of what is being offered here (and to be fair, that's what I asked for), I feel like we are swinging too far the other way... people in this position are treated badly, therefore we ought to put them on a pedestal? How about instead, we just treat them like we treat everyone else, and expect the same level of respect from someone as they show to us? No college administrator has EVER asked me how my dissertation work is going, or whether I have kids or how they are (since I don't have a desk to show photos on, I must not have a life to ask about?). I'm ranting, I know, but I hate the implicit double standard. I just think you should take your anger out at the person who earned it, not the frazzled adjunct who asks you a simple freaking question.

*sigh* In the end, I know that the advice from djsanders is precisely the right thing to do, and sounds very much like the approach that I've taken, but the fact that this is the case is what is aggravating me. People anymore are such jerks, and I hate that I have to go out of my way just to stay in the good graces of someone who doesn't deserve it and has arbitrary power over me due only to the fact of bureaucracy.

7nmelcher
Nov 3, 2007, 6:20pm Top

If I was to broach the subject, I wouldn't do it over email, especially if you see this person often enough to do it in-person.

What, specifically, is this person doing that is so frustrating? If it's simply their attitude, it may be a matter of personality and nothing you say is going to change that.

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