Monday, October 5, 2009

The Disillusioned Colleague

Everybody in the academic world knows somebody like this. The disillusioned colleague, who at some time had hopes and dreams, was driven and enthusiastic. But those times are long gone. Today, the disillusioned colleague spends his time letting the new faculty know that their hopes will be dashed, their initiative will be unwelcome, and their dreams will turn to dust. "You wait and see," she croaks cynically every time a colleague shows any kind of enthusiasm for the job, "I used to be like you, and just look where I am now." 

The disillusioned colleague keeps teaching the same courses for years (if not decades). He hasn't published a new piece of scholarship for God knows how long. Years ago, he managed to squeeze out the requisite number of articles and got tenure. Now, he has no reason to try engaging in any kind of research any more. He got some grants in the past but never completed the projects the grants were given for. So now he dislikes anybody who applies for grants and tells them in excruciating detail why their research plans are bound to fail. "With our workload," he says, "it's ridiculous to expect that anybody would be able to do any scholarship." It is never clear what this colleague's huge workload is, since he never teaches anything new and has never ever been seen by anybody with a book. When the disillusioned colleague sees you coming out of the library, he scoffs: "You still have time to read? I have no idea where you find the energy for that."

There are two topics, however, that bring a light to the disillusioned colleague's face and makes her wildly enthusiastic: complaining about the students and complaining about money. The students are bad. If you say something good about your students, the disillusioned colleague rushes to enumerate all of the bad reviews she ever got from her students (and there are many). "You can't trust a student," she reports happily. "They are all lazy. The new generation isn't nearly as hardworking as we used to be."

The disillusioned colleague loves talking about money. There never is enough money and the colleague persecutes everyone in the department with questions: "Is that a new skirt? Where do you get the money to buy new clothes, I wonder. Are you going anywhere on vacation? Who is paying for it?" The disillusioned colleague knows what everyone else in the department is making and is firmly opposed to merit-based salaries.

There are people like that in almost every department. Everybody can't wait to see them retire. But as soon as one of the disillusioned, washed-out academics retires, a new one reaches the point of disillusionment and the nightmare begins all over again. Of course, if this person has tenure (or, even worse, is some esteemed colleague's spouse) there is no getting rid of them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So where in this is the mention of the successful researcher, loved teacher, grant-winner, well-published academic who has had a gutful of the toxic bureacratic and illiterate garbage spewing from administrations and managers these days? I am disillusioned with this - but i do not fit your profile of 'the loser' at all. Identified in the top 10 of 100 academics in my faculty i am ready to leave because of the nonsense which envelops my job now.