Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Punishing Good Deeds

David Perlmutter has an advice column in The Chronicle of Higher Education. His two recent entries have appeared in a new series on Good Deeds That Are Most Punished: Teaching and Service. Consistent with the premise -- No good deed goes unpunished -- they have amusing anecdotes. Here's one from the second piece:

Beware the kamikaze assignment. For new faculty members, good service deeds that are punished can be those that turn out either to be a colossal waste of time or, worse, end up angering the colleagues who will vote on your tenure.

Take the case of the assistant professor who was hired at a small, liberal-arts college that was increasing its research aspirations. The chair flattered him, saying, "We hired you because of your productivity and research talents; you can help lead the way for the department. I'd like you to write a report for us making recommendations about changing our annual review to put a greater emphasis on research."

The assistant professor felt empowered, threw himself into the project, came back with an incisive memorandum that would help propel the department forward to greatness ... and ended up alienating every single tenured faculty member. The chair, as may happen in such cases, backflipped and disclaimed any support for the tenure tracker who had now been labeled a troublemaker.