Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Holy hell

I am being accused of harassment. The accuser says s/he is taking the case to my Dean.

I am horrified. Horrified.

The issue in question is an email I sent last night to a staff member. It was an email of complaint. I think you can imagine that my idea of a complaint is not exactly a nasty screed. I even apologized for adding to the chorus of complaints I know this person is currently facing. I just felt a situation had carried on far too long, and it was unacceptable, and I wanted to register my dismay at the situation.

I should add that this staff person is not an administrative assistant nor in any kind of subordinate role relative to me.

Now the staff person has sent me a reply saying this constitutes harassment and s/he is getting the Dean involved.

I'm so freaked out I don't know what to do. I don't know whether to reply, or to just sit tight, or to contact my union. I guess replying is not a good thing to do, though my instinct is to send an email explaining that I intended a complaint, not harassment.



plam said...

I would first read the equity office's harassment report and then not worry about it until you hear more about it. (It doesn't seem like anyone actually gets disciplined under the harassment policy at your campus).

If the complainant seemed like a reasonable person, then I might try to communicate with the complainant; I think that can help sometimes, despite the common attitude of not talking to complainants. But I wouldn't do that in this case, because it seems like you could only make things worse.

It also seems like it would actually be handled at department chair level, not at the dean's level. You might want to email your chair as a heads-up. (And keep everything!)

It sounds pretty horrible, but I'm pretty sure nothing will come out of it.

K said...

Document everything; print-out all correspondence so that you can show a record of what has happened, if indeed this person tries to go further with the matter. Let your union rep and chair know what's going on. If you are the chair, let your dean know, so s/he is not blindsided by the bookstore person. Hang onto everything you've received and sent. Likely things will smooth over, but if the bookstore person is really unreasonable, you'll need to be able to CYA with all of the evidence you have.

Earnest English said...

I think the attitude to take is clear astonishment and professional concern here, for strategic reasons if nothing else. I would definitely let your chair know, maybe even forwarding him/her the email in question, as well as email a mentor (if this is not the chair) so you can honestly go over the email with someone and find out if someone else thinks that your email was offensive. I'd take this all as a learning experience and be very upfront about it -- so that people in power can see that you're not trying to hide it, but feel that this is a clear misunderstanding.

Perhaps you'll find out that this person is the local nutjob who complains about everyone, or maybe there is something about the culture in that part of the campus that is really touchy about some specific thing right now. In any case, look concerned and even if people think there is something awful in there, you'll likely not have any problems. It's the people who hide and look guilty that they come down on. This is a misunderstanding, or, at worst, an honest mistake that won't happen again.

Good luck. What a pain in the butt! As if things aren't hard enough already!


Maggie said...

What they said, but especially earnest english. Go to your department chair with all correspondence in hand; he or she will know what to do (or at least whom to contact, what procedures to follow) in order to keep this all on the up and up.

In general, I wouldn't freak out too thoroughly at this point. At some places, grievances are quite common (my school is not one of them, but I have friends at places where people file grievances all the freaking time).

Hilaire said...

Thanks, all - I did indeed print out all correspondence related to this issue immediately. You need to understand that this very, very seriously impairing my ability to do my job and my students' ability to do theirs. The particulars are completely outlandish and unacceptable.

I phoned my union. Both told me to sit tight and see what happened. The Faculty Association will send a rep to be with me at every point and advocate for me if it gets taken up the chain.

I went to my Chair and he said, "I feel your pain." He offered me strong support, in the event that it actually does get taken up as a formal complaint.

EE, I've read the email in question to one person and she thought it was absolutely ludicrous that it could be considered harassment. She confirmed my astonishment. I wish I could show you folks - it's pretty freaking benign.

My feeling now is that s/he is trying to scare me. I don't know if s/he'll actually follow through. I would *think* I have a pretty airtight case.

It's still freaky, though - it makes me feel very jumpy.

Thank you for your support!

Susan said...

Glad you have all this support. In the meantime, in addition to everything else, try to remember why various things are *support* functions. THey support the teaching work. That's their job. Really. And it's not snotty to ask them to do it.

Good luck! Sometimes nutcases are nutcases, you know!

m(mmm) said...

holy hell is right. It seems like you did all the right things in the wake of this. I'm hoping for a quick and painless resolution.

medieval woman said...

Oh dear god - how many more insane things can happen there? Nutters one and all.

It sounds like you're doing absolutely everything right and like you've got a lot of support on this issue, which is great.

One more thing I would think of - if indeed this person turns out to have a history of filing bogus complaints to Deans or if they don't even go through with it (i.e., it was just a stupid scare tactic), then they should be reprimanded for this (and of course not by you). But this is seriously detrimental to the culture on that campus - and if this person is in a liason position (which it sounds like they are - the bookstore?), then this shit cannot stand. Making unwarranted or frivolous threats to faculty members or to anyone for that matter puts the entire legitimate grievance process into jeopardy. It's like crying wolf, the bastard!

Keep us posted and hang in there - TD sends a hug as well.

heu mihi said...

Oh gosh, I'm so sorry. Sounds like you're doing the right things, though. What a ridiculous thing to do! I sincerely hope that it all just blows over (at least for *you*; MW is right that this person will need to be taken to task by someone should s/he be bluffing).

Psychgrad said...

Oh jeez. I don't think I can say anything here that wouldn't be redundant with what the others said. It sounds like you're doing all of the right things and although it is stressful, you have people in your department who support you. I suspect that this isn't an isolated incident and that there would more incidents of unusual behaviour with this woman.

khora said...

Good frickin' grief. What more must you bear?