Difficult Conversations

Handling a Break-Up

I’m the chair of a small department, and have just been informed that two of my department members, who have been married to each other for the last 15 years (one was a spousal hire, in fact, at the time of recruitment), are separating. It appears this is an acrimonious split, and to make matters worse, they research and teach in related areas. The implications for the work and/or the climate of the department are significant. Can you offer advice about how I might handle this while still respecting their privacy?  Help!

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Sink or Swim

I am a chair at an institution in distress; we are experiencing line terminations of junior faculty and other budgetary cuts. The line cuts have been particularly challenging for many reasons, not least the hope that was dangled in the announcement that the lines could be restored if other cuts seem sufficient, which has made it very hard to organize. The junior faculty, extremely creative, amazing teachers with excellent publication records, feel unsupported by senior faculty, even shunned to a certain degree, and also sometimes feel cut out of decisions. Senior faculty feel like they are uncertain what to do: they are unsure how to fight back, and are uncomfortable doing planning for next year that may likely involve planning to not have the junior faculty present. Some are themselves in fight/flight/freeze mode. The sense of “business as normal” can be excruciating when business is not, in fact, normal. How ought a chair best navigate these challenging waters?

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Disciplinary Deadlock

The disciplinary deadlock you describe makes any kind of meaningful debate within the department impossible, and you want these colleagues to help you break through it. In my experience, expecting people to rise to the occasion usually works, especially since you’ve hand-picked this group of people as less invested in these divides and focused more on problem-solving.

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