(Dis)engagement

Back in 2013, my campus got a new University President. The previous president had been in his position for 19 years, and by the time he stepped down, there were significant problems with morale campus wide. So the new president started doing an annual climate survey, with questions about various levels of leadership – immediate supervisor, dean, provost, president – as well as general campus questions. It’s called Engage West, because we’re U of West GA, and because the goal is to have engaged employees. They define “engaged” employees as those who are relatively satisfied with their jobs here, as well as engaged in their field. So, a professor who is publishing like crazy and super active in professional organizations, so that they can beef up their CV to get a job elsewhere, is not counted as engaged here.

They send out the survey in Jan or Feb, then we get the results at the beginning of the summer. The first round was 2014, so we’re dealing with our fourth set of results. Results are “rolled out” for the campus level, the college or division level, and then the department level. (Our library is structurally considered a college.) Once the results are rolled out, the unit is supposed to meet to discuss them and develop an action plan to address issues related to any low-scoring areas. So, for example, if a department has a low score on “The pace in my department allows for high quality work,” discuss what can be done to address that – which may include cutting back services, requesting funding for additional positions, finding ways to do things more efficiently, etc.

Over the years, the averages for the library as a whole have trended upward. On the other hand, my department’s ratings of our immediate supervisor (dept head) have gone down every year. In 2014, our score for “I have confidence in the abilities of my immediate supervisor” was 4.4 out of 5. Not too shabby and above the campus average by 0.3 points. This year, the score on that question was 2.8, again out of 5. The year-to-year declines were smaller, but that score has declined consistently for three years now.

We’ve tried several things over the years. In 2015, we had a counselor from the Employee Assistance Program come in to mediate some meetings. In 2016, we had a dean from a different college come in to facilitate the meeting in which we discussed the results and made an action plan. We’ve also had our Associate Dean come to several meetings in which we discussed workloads and possible changes to our reference services. Unfortunately, those meetings highlighted (instead of helping to fix) some of the problems with our department head – before, she often presented things as mandates from the administration, but the administration is relying on our expertise to make recommendations they can support. So this department head was playing both sides: she told the administration what ideas she came up with, they said “sounds great!”, so she presented her idea to us as the thing the deans want us to do, as though they would not even consider other ideas we might prefer (or at least want to discuss). Having this clarity about how the library deans thought we should be operating – with a strong focus on faculty governance instead of top-down orders – left me feeling even more manipulated, and less respected, by this middle manager.

Anyway, this year campus has a new Ombuds, and she is now trying to mediate this mess. We scheduled the department “roll out” for July 17. The week before that, the Ombuds tried to contact everyone in the department to have a one-on-one conversation to get input before the group meeting. After talking with the Dean and Associate Dean about it, I decided not to attend the department meeting, so didn’t chat with the Ombuds before it. Instead, I set a meeting with her for Friday the 21st.

I spent two hours in her office going over the history of what has happened, and why I don’t see any way that anything can get better as long as this department head is in a position of authority. Honestly, I’m not sure this department is salvageable, even if the department head were demoted tomorrow and someone new brought in, because putting up with this level of toxicity for so long has had a significant effect on how we all interact. But it would be worth trying again if that were to happen. What I’m really hoping for is a complete reorganization that flattens out the hierarchy. We’re not that big that we really need middle managers and a structure that gets in the way of being responsive to changing needs.

Until something big changes, though, I don’t see the point of going through the same motions over and over and hoping for a different outcome this time.

Today, the department is meeting with the Ombuds while the department head is out of town. The plan is to discuss the feedback the Ombuds plans to share about why we rated the supervisor so low, without identifying who said what. I really like everyone else in this department, and enjoy working with them when we can do so without the departmental drama getting in the way. So I’m planning to go today.

But I think this is likely to be my last department meeting. Unless the campus administration decides to actually take some action to back up their nice talk about this Engage West stuff, I need to shift my focus to doing the things that will look good on my CV, instead of losing days, and sometimes weeks, to this bullshit.