am I leading an exclusionary work clique?

A reader writes:

I’m a junior faculty member in a department of about 10 faculty, all of whom are on the tenure track. In order to create support for the amount of research and writing that is required for this, I started a small accountability/support group of four other junior faculty (including me) who all started around the same time, so we could help each other through the tenure evaluation process. Consequently, I happen to be good friends outside of the office with two of them. We’ve been to each other’s’ weddings, hang out on the weekends, visit each other’s offices often, and occasionally go to lunch during the week, etc.

Since then, we’ve hired two new faculty members. I have been a part of their training, have invited them to social functions, and told them about the group (and invited them to a meeting) as incentive for them to start their own group, but discouraged them, at least for the time being, from being in our group because they were hired two years after us, and therefore weren’t being evaluated for promotion and tenure at the same time. In fact, my department head agreed with this, saying that they needed to focus more on learning the ins and outs of the job instead of worrying about a research agenda at that point. I should also note that there are other more senior faculty who are not in this group because they’ve already gone through the tenure evaluation process themselves.

So, they’ve been here for about six months, and I have tried not to be clique-ish. I do my best to include them in certain work decisions, I treat them with the same kindness (I hope!) that I give my other colleagues, and we even see each other often at non-work social functions (e.g., dinner at someone’s house), but I don’t consider them friends outside work because I just don’t get along with them on a personal level as easily as I do with other coworkers. Regardless, one of these new faculty members has made passive-aggressive comments in department meetings, questioning our ability to do our work well and implying that we’re exclusive, but closing up when we try to get her to explain what she means. I’m afraid this will be damaging to our open, collaborative, and team-based environment.

Is it possible to be colleagues with someone, and not offend them by not being personal friends with them? Is my personal bias toward my friends affecting my workplace behavior? I am worried (annoyed, maybe) that I’ve been perceived as a “mean girl,” but more so concerned that I’m somehow affecting the group dynamic that is so important to our department. Are there other things I can do to reassure these new colleagues that I respect them as professionals, while simultaneously not having them perceive me as exclusive?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 276 comments… read them below }

  1. Nunya

    Sounds similar to some groups in my workplace. No one is actively rude, but there is definitely a noticeable difference in how ‘in’ people are treated vs. ‘out’ people, esp in water cooler conversations about shared non-work activities. OP might think she is being open and fair, but giving non-verbal cues that are less so.

      1. Sas

        Heck yes. There are only 6 people in my office, and a Manager used to offer to buy the whole office lunch (each person paid her back). Then 2 people unintentionally offended her badly and then Manager shut those 2 people out and never asked them if they wanted lunch again, while still asking everyone else. Imagine being that person. It hurts to now be excluded. Very Badly.

    1. INTP

      Yeah, this is true of most cliquish environments in my experience. There is rarely an organized and intentional effort to make specific people feel unwelcome. More often, it’s just that a subset of people in the group get along really well and want to work together more closely and be closer in general than with the rest of the group, and rationalize why they don’t need to check that impulse and make an effort to be inclusive. It’s not a big deal if there are a few little groups or pairs of people who are close, but when the dynamics work out that there’s one large clique, it creates a really uncomfortable environment for the rest.

      1. Christopher Tracy

        Yup, I’m experiencing that right now in my current division, which is why I won’t be too torn up about it when it’s time for me to move on to another one.

        1. Elizabeth West

          The entire TOWN I live in is like this. Work is a small microcosm of it.

          Though a group I sit near has included me in their work social activities, and they sometimes wait for me when all are leaving together, mostly because my team is rarely here and I’m all by myself a lot of the time. I’ve gotten friendly with two of them–I really appreciated their efforts to include me, so I got them each a scarf the last time I was in London.

  2. FreelanceVandal

    Sayre was right. “Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low.”

    FV

    1. Angela

      I work in a staff position in a university and work closely with faculty at all levels- both tenure-track and not. There are indeed some really unique-to-academia office politics that I suspect are at play here.

    2. Amadeo

      Yes. Having spent the past couple of years in a university environment as ‘support staff’ for lack of a better description (only a lowly bachelors, you see) I agree. Of all my working life some of the most ridiculous, weird and bitter pettiness goes on among the tenured learned.

    3. blackcat

      I’m mostly surprised that this department supposedly has 10 total faculty members, 7 of whom were hired in the last three years, 5 of whom were hired at once. Were the 5 a “cluster hire”? Is this a rapidly expanding department? A new department? Regardless the reason behind this age distribution, a very young department is bound to have some significant growing pains.

      Here’s a bit of context for those of you not in academia: I have spent time as a student in a 10 faculty department. At the time, 3 faculty were close to tenure (~4 years in, 2 hired at once, one a year later), 2 were recently tenured (~8-10 years in, not sure about hiring order), and the other 5 had been there for between 15 and 40 years. I think something like this is pretty typical for departments of that size. I am currently a student in a department of ~20, with 2 people currently going up for tenure, 1 recent hire who is starting his second year and 1 recent hire who was hired at the tenured level. There’s a sizable group of “young” faculty are in their late 30s-mid 40s and have been here ~10-15 years, and a lot of bearded old men. Several of those bearded old men have been working together longer than the new hire has been alive.

      Also, for the LW, it may make sense to let the new folks join that group, if for no reason other than the current tenure cohort may not all stay together. Most schools these days stop the tenure clock for things like having kids. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for 1 or 2 people in the current group to push back their tenure timeline. Do you want to boot them out of the group if that happens? If not, consider opening up the group.

  3. Shoe Ruiner

    I don’t mean to detract from the letter, but I wonder if we should stop using the term “mean girl?” I get that it’s related to the hilarious movie, but we don’t hear about “mean boys.” It seems like it could be one of those double-standards in the workplace. I think we could use a better term. What do others think?

      1. Annie Moose

        Ew.

        I particularly like how it’s apparently only women who have these problems. Men, of course, have no biases at all.

      2. Elysian

        I just came to see if anyone else noticed that – good reminder about why I try to avoid the comment section in most places on the Internet.

      3. Kyrielle

        Yeah, that right there tells me ‘mean girl’ needs to go out of the lexicon, because whether or not it’s intended as saying ‘this is a female quality, not a male quality’ – *some people read it that way* and will use it as an excuse to go down that path.

        And the comment now has replies, and they are…not taking it down. I don’t think I can look there again, it’s just gross.

            1. Callietwo

              oh shoot. I did read the column and your answer, I thought they meant another blog with comments. Feel free to delete as I’m too quick with the enter key sometimes. Thanks!

      4. SPS

        I worked as temporary staff in a university geology department decades ago with almost totally male faculty, and I have NEVER gotten over how intensely fragile, petty, and ready to take offense they all were. My favorite feud was over why some faculty members’ name labels on their departmental mail boxes were in red and other in blue. Obviously indicating unwarranted preference of some sort! Since I was the responsible party, I knew that the actual reason was that when some labels fell off and had to be replaced, there was no more red Dyno-mite tape only blue. But I never let on! Watching a bunch of tenured, middle-aged men rage about their mail cubbies like a bunch of pre-schoolers was way too entertaining. Another faculty member also resented that he was always (deliberately, maliciously) given a smudged and faint copy of meeting minutes (this was way before email) unlike certain OTHERS and he would watch me run them off the mimeograph machine and snatch his copy first and then stalk back to his office.

        1. Amadeo

          I wasn’t in the math department long enough to have too many stories, but so far my favorites have been the faculty member who insisted he was not going to sign a software license waiver thing from the university’s software licensing department (separate from the Math department, other degree tracks used the same program he wanted) because it wasn’t his job to ‘maintain’ (basically, don’t do anything illegal or stupid with the software) his computer and we, the lowly, less education peons there only to buzz around his head like annoying mosquitos, should just get out of his way so he can teach.

          Or the other fellow, who pretended not to hear me when I told him the department didn’t have the money to buy the software update he wanted. Or tried to demand software be installed on a grad student office computer that she wasn’t entitled to (all the grad students had to use the lab like every other student, not enough licenses to go around to supply every computer in the department with a piece of software). “It’s just a small program!” Yeah, but she’s not supposed to have it in her office. Nobody else does. “Just a small program!” No.

        2. Chinook

          SPS, I am evil because all I keep thinking is that you now need to buy some green Dynomite tape and start using it to label the cubbies. This should cause you endless entertainment, right?

          1. SPS

            The funny thing is that BOTH the blues and reds thought they were the less privileged group–that’s what they argued about! There were more reds than blues, so the reds thought they were the hoi polloi, and the blues the elites. The blues, on the other hand, thought they were being excluded and taken advantage of by the reds. They were ALL determined to be slighted. I really do wish I had made a green label. Just one.

    1. Jaydee

      Eh, I think we use different language to talk about exclusionary and cliquish behavior by men and women. It’s not like we hear about the “good ol’ girls club” very often. I don’t think we need to do away with gendered terms, but I think it’s worth evaluating whether it’s really necessary or helpful to use them. Sometimes using a term like “mean girl” or “good ol’ boys club” will be a very accurate and descriptive short-hand. Other times, those terms do a disservice because they add a gender component that maybe isn’t helpful.

      1. Nanani

        There IS a gender difference in those examples, because usually the “old boys club” refers to a privileged group of men who all went to the same elite school – “Old X boy” is how alumni are (or were?) referred to in the UK.

        “Mean girls” doesn’t imply power or privilege.

        1. Bwooster

          Mean girls certainly employes both social power and social privilege. No one cares if a woman sitting in the corner who talks to no one and who no one talks to is mean or not.

          1. Hrovitnir

            There is a huge difference in the scope of the power being discussed here. “Mean girls” can cover anything from high school cliques to groups of women who legitimately have more social power due to their background beyond just creating a power dynamic by their behaviour.

            However “old boys club” refers to a network of men who form networks via connections that innately means some combination of “men hiring and developing men to the exclusion of women” and “rich men hiring and developing rich men to the exclusion of less connected men and all women”.

            There is a *big* difference.

          2. sometimeswhy

            You would be surprised. I’ve been labeled standoffish, stuck up, rude, abrasive, and (yes) mean for being the quiet woman in the corner who talks to no one and who no one talks to.

    2. Jaguar

      It sounds infantalizing to me, which is both a possible negative and positive. I wouldn’t sincerely call someone a “mean girl” because, what am I, a child? But I could see myself saying something to the effect of, “she’s the local mean girl” as a way of robbing them of being taken seriously. Using it sincerely (as an adult) is really strange, though.

    3. Government Worker

      I think it can be useful, in that some of these relationship-politics questions can be affected by gender. I took it to mean that the OP worried she might be perceived as the “mean girl” stereotype by her colleague – that the colleague was reacting differently to OP as a woman than she might to the same behavior coming from a man, and consequently perceiving the OP as more exclusionary than the situation warrants.

      But I might be overthinking things.

    4. Kelly L.

      Though we do say “old boys’ network” and mean at least some of the same things (i.e. the cliquishness, with an added layer of entrenched misogyny).

    5. Engineer Girl

      I disagree. Men (in general) bully differently than women. Women (in general) like to use social exclusion as a way to bully someone.
      Mean girl is a popular term because it describes a popular dynamic.

      1. CMT

        Bullying methods absolutely do not depend on gender, and if you think you’ve seen more women exhibit one type of behavior than men, it’s because of confirmation bias.

        1. Engineer Girl

          My own experience working as a single female in a male dominated workforce tells me that he men bully differently than the women.
          Men is more about “we can’t be bothered with YOU”. It’s dismissive. Women make it much more personal (and hurtful).

          1. anonderella

            I agree to this, even if it’s only my personal experience – but it’s not, it’s legitimate research I’ve helped with in uni on communication between genders.

          2. KG, Ph.D.

            I’m also an Engineer Girl, and I’m also in a male-dominated workforce (95% male). I’ve been bullied in stereotypically female ways by men. I was sexually harassed by a male colleague in a way that was straight out of the movie Mean Girls (trying to spread rumors, making passive-aggressive comments to me, etc.). So, no, I haven’t found that “men bully differently than women” across the board, and I personally don’t find those generalizations to be particularly useful. They usually result in the conversation devolving into a long discussion about men vs. women rather than calling the behavior in question for what it is: inappropriate, unprofessional, and unnecessary.

            1. Purest Green

              They usually result in the conversation devolving into a long discussion about men vs. women rather than calling the behavior in question for what it is: inappropriate, unprofessional, and unnecessary.

              A round of applause for this.

          3. SarahTheEntwife

            Agree; boys and girls tend to be socialized differently and so do tend to fall into different patterns. Noticing that is only a problem if we assume all men and women will act the same, or if we only associate women with the negative parts of female socialization.

          4. Bwooster

            I also have a lot of experience in male-majority workplaces and while I saw that men bullied women differently, they bullied each other pretty much exactly the same way that women bully each other. Of course I don’t say that my observations reflect a general trend because I realize that my experience is limited as is yours.

            I certainly don’t feel I am in a position to judge which gender bullies more hurtfully.

    6. James

      We most certainly do hear about this sort of thing among men–an exclusionary click of males is often called a “good ol’ boy’s club” or “boy’s club” (I’m in the South; the former still gets a lot of use, and has some subtle yet vital distinctions from the later). I don’t think either is really gender-specific–I know of several groups of females in my company referred to as “boy’s clubs” due to their behavior.

      Part of the problem all such ideas run against is cultural inertia. Everyone knows what “mean girl” means, or can be shown via showing the movie it came from. A neologism has no such wide-spread acceptance, nor does it have such an anchor 99 times out of 100.

      Also, consider this: Outside those of us who work on constructed languages, folks generally make up terms when they believe there’s something to name. Sometimes it’s because they become aware of a new category to put known things into, other times it’s because there are new things to name. But terms don’t come into existence in a vacuum outside a very select set of conditions. Chesterton’s Fence comes into play here: Unless we’re aware of the full context of the term we’re looking to eliminate, it’s usually best to leave it as-is, because the folks who made it DO know that context, whether they realize it or not.

    7. Mazzy

      I feel like this term keeps coming up and then this same discussion happens. Can we just stop using the term or can it be changed in the letter so this discussion doesn’t keep happening? It’s a movie reference and not fodder for a sociological discussion every time it comes up in my opinion.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I’m actually going to just invoke the request in the commenting rules not to harp on people’s word usage (and if something is problematic, to flag it but not to harp on it) and thus ask that we move on from this now. Thank you.

      1. Jaguar

        Not that I agree with Sibley (I think a lot of people are over-critical self-examiners), but now you’re denying the antecedent.

        1. Granny Smith

          Denying the antecedent would be “if you don’t have to ask, then you aren’t one [i.e. a mean girl].” Alison is not denying the antecedent. She is denying the conclusion: “if you have to ask, you probably aren’t.” There is no logical fallacy here.

    1. LQ

      I often think that if you are asking, you probably aren’t. But I’m not sure you can put an automatic stamp one way or another. I know I’ve asked things like this and had people look at me like I’d sprouted an additional head because it was so clearly not me.

      1. Murphy

        Sort of like when I was about to become a mum and I was worried I’d be a bad mum and a few people told me “bad mums never worry about being bad, only the good ones do.” I try to remember that after a less-than-stellar parenting moment.

      1. KG, Ph.D.

        Conscientious people, as well as people who have anxiety about social situations! I spend far too much time worrying about mundane social interactions. I’m sure that occasionally, I really did upset or offend someone, but I’ve found that those cases are far outnumbered by the false positives.

    2. Sibley

      While there are going to be exceptions, if a person is getting some sort of feedback that they’re doing something negative, and they then ask other people if they are, the answer is probably yes.

      However, Alison, you are correct. The worst offenders are also the least likely to be doing that sort of self-reflection, and if they are they’re certainly not going to vocalize it.

    3. Roscoe

      Wow, thats kind of a jugmental way of looking at things. Just asking if its possible that people see you a certain way doesn’t mean that you are. Some people are petty and overly emotional, so its not a bad thing to ask for an outside opinion

    4. Lissa

      I don’t agree, especially when it involves a concept, like bullying/mean girls etc. that has been talked about a lot. I know a *lot* of people who worry about setting any boundaries at all because they’are afraid it’s mean/bullying, etc.

      This also implies that people aren’t “negative quality” will never question whether or not they are, which for those of us with anxiety is a particularly terrible idea. ;)

  4. LQ

    I would definitely consider how your friendships are impacting the actual work. If you have this group who are on the path and they’ve crossed step one and are onto step two and working toward step three.

    Part of the issue with this is that if before you were all reaching up when you were on step 1 to people who were past step 3 and they were helping/working with/etc and now you’re sort of the barrier between the new people who are at step 1 and since you are at step 2 and aren’t reaching back to step one to work with or help them, and the people who are past step 3 aren’t because they are helping you? That seems like an actual concern.

    If that is the case, reexamine.

    If the brand new people are getting the same support/outreach/whatever from the more senior staff that you did and you’re helping them along the way? Great. That’s fine. But if you’re sort of a barrier between those points that can be a problem.

    Try to examine things as best you can and step back. Don’t think about what you would do (you’d form your own group! clearly, but not everyone would). Think about if you are creating any barriers to work.

    If not? It might not be you.

    1. Clever Name

      Agreed. And if you really are wanting to combat the appearance of there being a clique, I’d open membership to your group to people not as far along on the path as your group currently is. There is great value in getting help from others who have gone before you, and helping to pull up the next level behind you can be incredibly rewarding.

      1. Roscoe

        I think that kind of defeats the purpose of the group though. You aren’t going to have a group for grad students in their last year whose goals are dissertations and job search pulling a group of first years in. They have completely different goals they are trying to achieve.

        1. ScarletInTheLibrary

          We did not separate groups for the first years and second years when I was in grad school and it was a win-win. The first years were able to avoid some of the mistakes, and the second years got a confidence boost because they were being mentors. We would read each other’s drafts, and I felt I benefited from this when I was a first year and a second year. And because we are in a niche field, we were colleagues in a short amount of time. Many had worked in the profession before, so the first years actually had solid career advice.

  5. INTP

    This letter is an interesting perspective because, in my experience at least, when people ARE being legitimately cliqueish, they have similar reasons to the OP. They are rarely doing it intentionally, they just like some people more than others and have more in common with some and want to be closer to those people, which is exactly how I’m reading the OP. (Not saying this to pile on the OP and bash her or anything – I’m just pointing out how these dynamics rarely arise out of malicious intent, so it’s important to be mindful of the dynamic you’re creating, which the OP is doing by writing in.)

    And in some settings that’s okay, but it sounds like it’s making some people uncomfortable in this workplace. Yes, the new faculty are free to have their own group, but it sounds like there are fewer of them and they aren’t as organized as the OP’s cohort. What about having some meetings for pre-tenure faculty in general for OP’s group and the new hires to both attend? I don’t think that these new hires need to be as close to everyone as the closest friends, but some effort to be welcoming would go a long way.

    1. Zombeyonce

      I was also thinking that having some meetings for all the people (both in the group and the new hires) could really alleviate any tension about people being excluded from OP’s support group. I think it could be a really important step to show the new people both that they are also valued as people that can offer support and ideas, and the benefits of having a support group in the first place. It doesn’t need to be all or nothing.

      Also, having a few support group meetings that the new hires are invited to attend (mainly as watchers rather than participants) could show them exactly how the meetings are structured and what people get out of them, which could encourage them to start their own group. It could be a mix of being new and being unsure about how to even go about running or participating in a meeting that’s stopping them from starting their own cohort.

  6. Temperance

    To me, it sounds like this coworker has a toxic personality. You invited her and her same-level colleague to your support group, and encouraged them to start their own. Instead, she’s acting like an oversensitive butt.

    1. Jessie

      Not really. They specifically did not invite them to their support group. They invited them to attend one meeting but chose not to extend a permanent invitation.

      1. BeezLouise

        I actually think inviting her to just one meeting is the worst part — because then it seems like they reviewed the new coworker and found her lacking.

        1. EddieSherbert

          I was thinking this too – that it might have been weird, rather than helpful, to invite her to one meeting and then say “but you can’t join the group.”

          I don’t really see the point of inviting her to one meeting. Maybe OP was trying let her know the group is a thing, give her the idea to do her own group… and maybe try to show her how to set one up? Maybe?

          But I think it would have been fine to casually throw in (or wait until asked), “btw, when you start prepping for tenure, we have a tenure-track-support-group” and leave it there.

          Too late for that now, I realize. But I can see where the coworker is coming from.

        2. Temperance

          See, I really disagree with that. I see it as helpful; LW was showing this junior colleague how her group operates, and she encouraged junior colleague to start her own. Maybe because it’s common in my industry to be invited to group meetings but not always to join the group, but I don’t see this as strange or rude.

          1. 42

            That’s how I saw it too. Like “this worked well for us when we were starting out, and here’s how we do it, maybe you’ll have the same success if you started something similar” etc. Nothing nefarious.

            1. neverjaunty

              “This worked out well for us, and we have our own group, to which you’re not invited. Good luck doing your own thing with people who aren’t us, though!”

              Nefarious, no. Jerky and cliquish? Definitely.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                Whoa, I think that’s way too harsh. The OP has explained why this makes sense in their context, her boss has agreed, and I don’t think anything warrants calling her actions jerky. It’s really normal for there to be work groups that are established for specific work reasons that don’t include everyone. It’s certainly possible that this one needs to be revisited, but I think this characterization is really unfair.

              2. KTB

                I totally disagree with that assessment. It’s not jerky and cliquish to encourage someone to start a similar cohort with their own peers. The OP clearly stated that the purpose of the group was to support colleagues at a specific point in their careers. Opening it up to everyone just because one person feels left out creates a solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist, outside of one person.

                Example: we formed study groups in my grad program. If my study group wouldn’t let someone from our 2nd year cohort (same year, same classes) join us, that would be jerky and cliquish. If we wouldn’t let someone from the first year (different year, different classes) join us, that would make sense because we aren’t even studying the same things. It doesn’t help anyone.

              3. So Very Anonymous

                Agree with neverjaunty. “Department head” =/= boss. Department head should not be weighing in on who’s in this group. Also, the department head is giving bad advice.

                A lot of us from academia are pointing out that the “work” reasons aren’t really as sound as nonacademics might think they are. I got the “we have our own group, good luck with yours!” vibe too.

              4. MashaKasha

                Yup. And let’s not forget “it worked with our group of four people, sucks for you guys that you’re only a group of two, but it is what it is! Good luck, and you two remember to stay away from the four of us.”

                1. So Very Anonymous

                  It is really boggling my mind that people are not grasping the number problem here. What if the second person (the one *not* complaining!) doesn’t want to work with the other person? Sucks for them?

                2. MashaKasha

                  That’s the message I would get if I started at a new job and was told by four of my peers, “we have a group, this is what we work on, this is when we have meetings, but you can’t join.”

              5. Rusty Shackelford

                Wait. The OP is part of a specific cohort. If the others are in their own cohort, why is it jerky and cliquish to give them an example of something that works for one cohort in hopes that they can duplicate it for their own?

                1. 42

                  I can’t figure that out either. This appears to have touched a nerve. My newfound takeaway based on the abundance of comments in this thread is that career academics are fundamentally infants who need Participation Awards and the same color tape on their freaking cubbies. Very much not what I’m used to, I suppose it would me me twitchy too.

                2. So Very Anonymous

                  Because the differences in cohorts are not as significant as they’re being made out to be.

                3. MashaKasha

                  ^This. And I’m only going by what the academic folks have stated on this thread: that two years, in the long-term perspective, is nothing, and that this difference is going to even out over the next few years due to life events.

                4. Magda

                  I think it’s because one “cohort” is four people and the other is two people, and the whole department only has ten people in all.

        3. Turtle Candle

          Yes, that I think was a misstep. I understand what the LW was trying to do (model a type of group for them to independently mimic), and I think it was most likely well-meant, but it can quite easily come across as “come admire my awesome club that you can’t join.”

          1. Magda

            I am afraid that I agree.
            I think it would have been completely different if the department weren’t so very small.
            I would feel unhappy in that coworker’s shoes. Out of ten people, four form a close-knit group that the two new hires are explicitly not invited to attend. It can be hard to feel part of the team in this scenario.

    2. INTP

      While I think the coworker’s communication skills absolutely need to improve, I wouldn’t call her toxic. She walked into an environment where all the coworkers that are closest to her in age (presumably – I could be wrong there) and work experience are being friends with each other and uninterested in being her friend, are holding work-related support groups that they are explicitly banning her from because she is new, etc. – but they have a rationale for all of it to make her feel unreasonable for being hurt. She has the other new hire, but it’s hard to create a support group out of two people, especially if they don’t click super well. I can absolutely see how it would be a very difficult and even toxic environment for the coworker socially, yet hard to voice specific complaints without feeling as though she is being petty and ridiculous. Feeling hurt yet stifled from expressing that leads to lashing out behavior.

      1. Temperance

        I think that she is being petty and ridiculous, though, and the lashing out isn’t exactly helping her befriend everyone. I realize that LW is the one who wrote in, and that you can’t make other people act right, but I think the problem lies within the person complaining. I noticed that there is no mention of the other junior colleague whining, or about the two folks who aren’t BFFs outside of work.

        I don’t have experience in academia, but from what I know, there are many different spots along the tenure path, so it makes sense for these colleagues to work together while not including others that are at a different place.

      2. animaniactoo

        Not everyone – OP says 3 out of the 5 people in the tenure group are closer friends. It’s not the whole group. No idea what individual relationships others may be interested in, just what OP is interested in with these particular co-workers.

  7. Jessie

    Having a good reason for keeping your group exclusive doesn’t prevent it from hurting someone. Even if they know that reason. It can feel like an excuse to exclude them, rather than a necessary exclusion.

    I’ll give you an example where I was on the other end. I’ve been in my current job for about a year, but there haven’t been a lot of new hires since me. A few nights ago I was working on something late and I noticed that almost all the other women in my department were gathering around, waiting to go out to drinks together. This had clearly been organized in advance and was not impromptu. As much as I tried not to, I felt really really hurt when I realized I was the only woman (except for an older colleague who happened to be out of town) that had not been invited to this girls’ night. As it turned out, the reason for the get-together was that a former employee (who I didn’t know personally) was in town and getting together for drinks whenever she was in town was a tradition this group had started long before I started working there.

    This story had a happy end because, on their way out, one of them must have noticed because they came back to invite me out with them. I went, and it was a lot a fun.

    1. Kore

      Yeah, I’ve had that happen at work too – where I notice a good number of people in my team going out for drinks as a preplanned thing but I wasn’t invited. It REALLY sucks and hurts – I know that you can’t really help forming individual friendships, but to be the one person excluded is a really unpleasant thing.

      1. Jessie

        Exactly. I think the numbers really affect the dynamic. In my situation, you could look at it as “six coworkers out of fifty went out for drinks together” – no big deal at all. Or you could look it as “all of the women except one went out for drinks together” – kind of a big deal.

        In this case, it’s the same thing. “Five colleagues have a pre-Tenure group that sometimes includes non-work social gatherings” – no big deal. “Five out of seven pre-Tenure colleagues have a group that the other two aren’t invited to” – not so good.

        It seems to me that whether something is unreasonably exclusionary is more about who is left out … rather than who is included.

          1. Jessie

            But that’s what I’m saying. If you only look at the whole group (the group of 10) then 5/10 doesn’t look like a big deal. You could just as easily say 5/500 faculty on the whole campus.

            But when thinking about it in terms of it’s five out of the seven of the non-tenured faculty in that group, that starts to become a big deal.

    2. BananaPants

      In my case, the men in my group go out to lunch every Friday. I’ve worked with these guys for 10+ years, but on Fridays it’s always the guys – the women in the group are left out. I don’t even think it would occur to them to ask if any of us wanted to go.

      1. DoDah

        I worked for a male VP who took the guys out to lunch every Friday. Someone bitched and he started taking the women out on a separate day. Interestingly–the women’s lunch was a full on ‘account review’ but at the guy’s lunch they just talked about sports.

        1. Temperance

          I’m glad that someone complained, because crap like that is how the OBC flourishes.

          Although I have to say … it sounds like the women were punished for speaking up.

          1. DoDah

            Oh–we absolutely were punished—said the one of the women who was subjected to one of the more scathing reviews. I’m 100% sure he thought it was me who complained—but it was one of my team colleagues.

      2. Roscoe

        I don’t know, I don’t see that as that big a deal. Are you the only woman there? If you are, yeah, I can see that being an issue. If not, maybe they just all get along better. How many are there that are going out vs how many are being left behind? I have like 2 work friends. Both are guys (as am I). Its not like we are excluding anyone, we just go to lunch together. If all the women in your group went, would that be a problem?

        1. BananaPants

          Until around 3 months ago I was the only woman in the group. My group has doubled in the last 3 months with all but two of the new hires being women. The two “new” guys have been invited to join them for Friday lunches and none of the women have been.

          1. BananaPants

            And to clarify, prior to the group’s expansion it was all of the men in the group going out together while I was left behind.

          2. Roscoe

            Ok, well that is an issue then. Like my department is even guys and girls, and all the girls are good friends. I wouldn’t find them rude for hanging out without me. But if I was the only other team member, then yeah, I could see how that would feel really bad.

              1. Roscoe

                That was a pointless comment. If I want someone to police my words, I’ll ask for it. Are you commenting to everyone else who has used the term mean girl? What about the poster named EngineerGirl? Or is it just me because you have nothing better to do with your time?

  8. animaniactoo

    OP, the strongest argument that you have on your side here is actually that you have a group of 5 as your tenure support group, but are only 3 of them are at this deeper level of friendship. I think the first place I’d check in is with the other 2, and see if there’s anything going unvoiced that could use airing.

    However, the weakest argument that you have on your side here is that you say those 2 deeper friendships *consequently* sprang out of that support group. While to a certain extent it’s natural to form bonds more easily with those who are relatively in the same place in life that we are, and it’s natural to really only become close with relatively few people that we meet (and therefore 20% of the staff is perfectly within the range of normal), on the other hand – what is there about the senior members that you haven’t looked for or developed stronger friendships there?

    Don’t get me wrong – it’s entirely possible and normal that none of them just happen to be your cup of tea outside of pleasant acquaintances. But, it’s also worth looking at if you’ve focused your relationships around what’s going on in your life right then, and that being your primary bonding. It’s worth looking at that because it’s easy to miss really satisfying and deep relationships that connect across spaces, over other things. And it’s very very common for friendships whose main ground is being at the same place in life and liking the same stuff to fall away as people move into different places.

    Sometimes, that’s just the way it is, but sometimes it’s also because people don’t know how to sustain those friendships where people are in different places, but still interesting thoughtful caring people who can be a blessing to have in one’s life. For their knowledge of you, for having had some different experiences that give them some different outlooks, for having learned things on their different track you might want to know about and having a friend willing to share non-judgmentally with you if you take 5 or 10 years longer to arrive at that point, etc. So… this is just to say… it’s worth taking a deeper look at how you bond with people and why, even when you’re making every effort to be inclusive.

    1. animaniactoo

      To clarify – having a friend who knows you and has 10 years worth of experience in what you’re now just learning can be awesome in their ability to say “you hate X, so doing Y will probably annoy you, but this is what you really need to focus on there and it will probably be easier for you if you use this method instead of that one, because it’s better suited to how you think.”

  9. themmases

    I’m confused by the rationale for not including the new faculty members in the OP’s group. I’d think the group would be helpful for new faculty members precisely because it would now contain people a year or two ahead of them. If the new faculty members aren’t supposed to be actively engaged in this process yet, then it’s a perfect time to invite them, keep the group discussions focused on the more senior cohort’s issues, and let the new faculty members listen and learn if they want without pressure to actively contribute to the group.

    It sounds like the OP’s cohort has 4-5 people and this new cohort has only 2. It’s going to be difficult for them to ever have a truly active and helpful group if everyone is rigid about only including those who started in the exact same year. It seems more helpful to all involved, and to the overall atmosphere of the department, to have a bigger group with people at various points on the tenure track who can help each other. Such a group has more of a chance of surviving long-term and benefiting the department, rather than just the OP and their own cohort. (There are probably enlightened self interest reasons for the OP to do it this way, too, if they are seeking tenure.)

    1. So Very Anonymous

      You beat me — I was coming here to say something similar.

      OP, you say that you’re close friends with two members of your own group, which leaves two others who you’re not so close to, right? There’s a world of difference between a five-person group, where you might not be best buds with everyone, and a two-person group, where there’s no buffer at all if you don’t like each other. Unless they’re interested in/willing to reach out to other departments (I personally couldn’t have survived finishing my dissertation while teaching full-time without my BFF, also finishing, who was in a different department), you’re kind of signaling that they are stuck with each other if they want support. I can certainly think of people I could have worked with as part of a somewhat larger group, but would not have wanted to be in a one-on-one pairing with.

      Also, regardless of what your department head is saying about not wanting them to focus on their research agenda, someone on the tenure-track can’t ever really fully back-burner a research agenda. Can people at an earlier stage really not benefit from the experience of those who’ve been at that earlier stage — like, how did you balance learning the ins and outs of the job without losing touch with your research entirely?

      Agree that limiting people’s support by cohort seems awfully rigid, and like something that should be left in grad school (not that it isn’t limiting/rigid in grad school as well).

      1. Yup

        Exactly, SVA — my mouth gaped at the idea of the Chair dismissing the new hires’ research progress for 1-2 years. That’s the opposite of how it should pan out. Wut??

        1. EB

          Seriously, what kind of advice is that? The first couple of years is when you begin to really focus and develop the research agenda, not when you put it on the back burner.

          1. Yup

            I think this is the kind of Chair who’s either thoroughly misguided (got tenure in ’87) or just really doesn’t want to get involved, which is also really problematic.

            But more than anything, I’m skeptical, bc as many of us are pointing out, the advice makes absolutely no sense. Did the Chair perhaps say that 1st yr TT have other things on their plate, like adjusting and writing courses? If so, ≠ “don’t touch your research.” Very, very different.

            1. So Very Anonymous

              I had a School of Evil Bees experience where I was strongly discouraged from doing research — I was NTT and the intent was plainly to make sure that I knew I was never leaving that job. I knew someone who was TT and got similar advice — they were in an absolute panic because they KNEW (correctly) that they needed to publish, whether it was to get tenure or to get to another job where they wouldn’t be trying to work around lousy advice.

    2. INTP

      I think the members of the current group, frankly, are thinking about what benefits they could derive from allowing the new members in, and not thinking from a perspective of how to make the whole team strongest. They don’t think the new members have anything to offer them to assist them in achieving tenure, and they don’t want to expand the scope of the group to focus on other things.

      I think your point about the numbers here is also very important. You’ve got half the department in one clique, having work-related meetings they are excluding everyone else from. There are only two people in the lower levels, not enough to really form a support group. And then you have 3-4 others that are tenured and just way above the new hires’ heads. Of course it’s going to feel like an unwelcoming environment for the new hires, I don’t think you can really argue that they shouldn’t feel affected by this. The question is whether the OP and her cohort are obligated to maybe do things they don’t feel like doing, like allow the new hires to come to some support group meetings, for the good of the team, or if the onus is on the new hires to just deal with the environment. And this would be a no-brainer in a corporate environment but I know academia can be a bit more individualist.

      1. CMT

        Yeah, while I was reading the letter I was thinking that it would be awfully hard to form a “group” of two people.

      2. hbc

        I would say they’re not obligated to do anything, but they better realize that the consequence is almost certainly going to be that they’re considered exclusionary. Because they are excluding people, justified or not. Either the cohesion of the larger group or the focus of the support group is going to have to be sacrificed, and OP (and group) gets to choose.

    3. Callie

      Exactly! I’m the only new faculty member in my department, but not only in my *department*, but the entire *college* (my university has 4 colleges). I don’t have anyone to make a group like this *with*. There’s a new-faculty thing for the entire university, but as none of them are in my college, they don’t know any of the college-level particulars and so it’s different. I’d feel really excluded if there was a group of other not-yet-tenured faculty in my department who were leaving me out.

    4. LadyKelvin

      I don’t know, if you are a year or two away from going up for tenure, you are going to be doing and preparing very different things than faculty who are in their first year. At the end of your tenure run you are giving external talks at various places, preparing your tenure packet, finishing publishing the last paper or two you will be submitting in your tenure packet, and potentially graduating your first students. As a first year faculty, you are getting your research group up and running, applying for initial funding, looking for students, preparing for your classes, etc. While it might be useful for the new faculty to join the group and use the older faculty as mentors, I’d be willing to bet that the older faculty probably feel like they don’t have time to do that kind of mentoring (plus it’d be better if their mentors were post-tenure). So I don’t blame them at all for not wanting the new faculty to join their group, they’d probably get a lot less out of it because they would be discussing topics that are no longer applicable leaving less time for things that concern them.

      1. Ultraviolet

        I agree with this assessment. If the group included the two new hires, the group would become less beneficial for the current members. I’m torn on whether it would be best to include them anyway though, given how much it sucks to be excluded and also how much more pleasant it would be in the long run to have good relationships and less divisiveness in the department. Maybe they could invite the new faculty to the group but continue to devote a large part of their meetings/activities to stuff that’s meant to help the more advanced pre-tenured faculty. The new hires would still be interested in hearing that.

        1. Rusty Shackelford

          This. If the focus of the group becomes supporting the new hires, it becomes less beneficial for the existing members of the group. It would be better to add something supportive that includes the new people rather than usurp the existing group.

      2. themmases

        I don’t think this is responsive to what I said.

        I suggested that the OP open the group and let the newer members listen in to get an idea of what their more senior colleagues are doing, and that it might not be burdensome because they aren’t actively developing their research yet. I haven’t noticed anyone in this thread suggest that the OP actively mentor new faculty members; I certainly didn’t. The point is that junior people could be helped even just by passively observing the process. There is a lot of daylight between letting people attend some meetings and agreeing to be their mentor.

        The OP is the leader of this group. Just as they don’t have to change the focus of the group by including a different audience, they don’t have to change it by altering the agenda or adding mentorship! The difference is that the former actively excludes people who might benefit from membership, and the latter passively excludes anyone who doesn’t find the group relevant. And it ignores the fact that the OP’s colleagues have limited opportunities to ever start a similar group of their own.

        Whether two years actually makes a big difference will depend on the norms of the OP’s department and field. There are other academics in this thread who seem to think two years is nothing. In any case it’s not a good look to create a valuable professional development resource and then exclude the people who are newest and need it most– especially if the line just happens to coincide with whom the OP does and doesn’t like. They should be going out of their way to avoid that impression.

      3. Yup

        But the OP is not at that stage — the groups are, respectively, 1st year and 3rd year TT. Plus the steps are the same.
        As for this: “they’d probably get a lot less out of it because they would be discussing topics that are no longer applicable leaving less time for things that concern them.” — Not necessarily true — someone could have been hired from another institution after 2 years, etc. But more than that, not a great sentiment: I keep wondering why the existence of this group even came to light. If OP’s reasoning aligns with yours, then the group could have remained a private matter. But to have the Chair way in to exclude the new hires — yeah, not great.

      4. sarah

        I have to agree with this. Asking people just about to go up for tenure to sidetrack their tenure support group in order to mentor new faculty just seems a bit…off? Where are the senior faculty in all of this? I feel like they should be taking on the mentorship role here, with the expectation that this cohort will do more of that after tenure. As for the two new faculty members, I realize they did not write in for advice, but I’d suggest forming a group with new people in a related department. I’m writing this as a new faculty member myself — there is one other new person in my department, and we are planning to join up with a faculty member in a related department who is the only new person in his field to form a research support group. Yes, it takes a little extra effort than just joining a preexisting group (one does not exist in our case) but ultimately I think it will be very useful to do this with people who are actually at our level. Obviously this does not preclude ever receiving support/mentorship from more senior folks both within and without our department! And I doubt that the LW is saying “NEVER TALK TO ME OR ASK ME FOR ADVICE” but rather that this one specific thing is working well as it is and makes the most sense to leave that way.

    5. MentalEngineer

      Some of this has been implicit in other people’s comments, but I think a lot of the difficulty you’re seeing might be down to time pressure. (Assuming your cohort gets tenure) the two people behind you have basically a couple of years to build some social and professional ties with you before you vanish into the tenured ether and leave them with only each other to talk to about these issues. No wonder they think it’s important to get in with your cohort now – it is! If they let things crystallize as they are, they’ll find themselves largely isolated for the rest of their careers. Just how bad that might be will vary depending on how collaborative your field is, how much publication pressure there is, how arcane your institution’s tenure process is, and so on, but it could be really damaging for them to not get the kind of support your cohort’s getting.

      Side note: you don’t mention whether there’s more hiring planned or taking place. (Depressing but unsurprising that everyone here is assuming there won’t be.) Your current position might make more sense if you knew that there are going to be two or three more hires next year. Then there’d be the prospect of all that “second wave” having a separate group that’s large enough to be useful. You should probably still let the new people into your group until that happens, though.

    6. FCJ

      I agree. I’m a PhD student, which isn’t the same as tenure track, but it’s similar in the sense of heavy research and a checklist of things to get done, and it seems only natural to me that a group like this would include everyone undergoing the process so that the people farther along can offer their insight to the ones in the more beginning stages. In my department we talk about whether it’s worth it to take the $2000 language exam prep class (OMG yes), what to expect from exams, what are normal responses to the work, all kinds of things that we wouldn’t be able to tell each other if we were in the exact same point in the process. And if part of what the OP’s group is doing is offering feedback and support on each other’s research, that’s even more reason to include the newer faculty members. Presumably they were hired at least in part for their research, so even if they don’t have the same amount of experience, or should be focusing more on their teaching than their own research, it’s unfair to assume that they would have nothing offer.

      Also, looking at it from a longer view, what happens in 5-10 years when they all have tenure, but they all went through their process in little exclusive groups? Opening up the group now will help create a stronger department down the road.

      1. themmases

        I am a PhD student too and I agree. People in my department don’t cluster in strict cohorts like high school students… As others have noted elsewhere the clock could pause for some group members. Would they be kicked out then to make sure the group is maximally convenient for those who stayed on the prescribed timeline?

        It is so helpful to people who are junior in a program or profession to just observe what is going on with people a few years ahead of us. That doesn’t mean everyone in every meeting you sit in on is your mentor now! I also find the attitude of some posters very weird, that anything less than 100% focus on your problem makes a group less useful. Teaching others helps you learn. And few research activities are so neat and tidy that year 1 is always the same across studies, year 2 is always the same and totally distinct from year 1, etc.

        1. Roscoe

          That logic can be true. But not in all situations. It sounds like, while it may be nice, it isn’t the point of why that group was created. So if the group is willing to kind of change the focus a bit, then great. But I also think you want buy in from the entire group for that. Its just that there are sometimes where it makes sense for everyone to be include, and sometimes when that isn’t as useful.

      2. Temperance

        On the flipside, though, the group was created to help this cohort get through the process together. Helping newbies wasn’t part of the scope, and frankly, that can take a ton of time and effort and it sounds like it would dilute their mission.

        1. Yup

          But this just isn’t how academia works (replying to Roscoe here too). Everyone goes through the same process – being tenure – and completes the same stages. The process is formal, but any advice or coaching for it is highly informal, except for 1-2 reviews. It functions on mentorship. It is well-understood that “helping newbies” is *always* part of how a department functions, esp. a small one.

          And there’s no such thing as going through tenure “together:” faculty are evaluated on their individual dossiers. That they all worked in a group doesn’t enter to it at all.

          Finally, as for mission: faculty teach. They mentor. They research, too. But this isn’t a case of formal mentoring or diluting a mission. Collegiality and fit will absolutely come up for OP and her peers at tenure time. The clique isn’t a positive on that point.

      3. Sparrow

        Totally agree with your first and last paragraphs! I kind of wonder if part of the reason OP’s cohort gets along so well is *because* they shared these experiences. It sounds like OP is in a field where research is largely a solitary endeavor, and I think that makes building community based on common experience even more valuable. Getting to take on this process with a strong cohort was a stroke of luck for OP, and I think that it would be kind of them to share that luck by including the newbies more. It might make sense for the original group to meet on their own, too, but letting the new folks witness the challenges of the process and how their peers deal with said challenges is only going to benefit the department in the long run.

        And not to be a doomsayer, but I feel like unaddressed resentment from this kind of cliquishness can ultimately cause toxic divisions within a dept. (which is absurd, but as someone who witnessed unbelievable pettiness between camps of tenured 60-somethings who had worked together for 30 years and hated each other for almost as long, I feel it’s worth considering.)

    7. Yup

      Academic here, and have to say that I was immediately struck by your reasoning about the new TT faculty NOT belonging in *your* group. Honestly, it doesn’t make sense to me.

      As you know, tenure is a process. Your new colleagues will be going through exactly the same steps as you (plural) are now. So maybe you have a two-year lead in manuscript revision — does that really matter? I’d argue, resoundingly, no. They too have to revise, publish, teach, apply for grants. I fail to discern how doing those things two years earlier or later makes a difference. IN FACT, your excluding them from the group means they don’t have the benefit of your experience in all of these areas – if that’s not a personal cliquey exclusion, then it certainly is a professional one. This isn’t about friendship – it’s about opportunity, professionally-speaking.

      To expand on the second point: As you know, mentorship really matters in academia. You and your colleagues have two years’ knowledge navigating departmental politics / culture; navigating the college / university and internal processes, *on top of* going through the steps of preparing for tenure. By closing the group but advising them to start their own, you’re fairly much closing off that mentorship to them. Sure, they can have a writing group – but they’re less likely to learn about helpful strategies, balancing research and teaching, dealing with the students at your particular institution, etc etc. Because that’s also how the group functions, I’d wager: as a space of support and advice and informal peer review.

      From the outside, I really do see your junior colleague’s point of view. Passive-agressive comments aren’t great, but I too would be befuddled to encounter that level of gate-keeping, and worried about what it meant for my own progress in the department. Tenure is murky enough as is – why put up more barriers?

      You’re lucky to have found friends and colleagues with whom you work well. But you’re conflating friendship and professional development with this group (have the writing group be informal, if it’s about getting along – no one needed to know about it). Remember that in a department of 10, finding mentors and connections is going to be that much harder than in a dept of 30. Remember also how it feels to be first year T-T. I can’t see how the gatekeeping is benefiting people beyond your own group, and yes, it does seem cliquey.

      1. Yup

        One other note on re-reading your letter, to answer your specific questions.

        You ask if it’s “possible to be colleagues with someone, and not offend them by not being personal friends with them” – I don’t think that’s what your colleagues are upset about. It’s one thing to be friends with certain people; everyone has affinities with some ppl and not others. That’s imperceptible, mostly, if it isn’t also mapped onto a professional exclusion, as it is here. This really isn’t about friendship, but about being told they can’t join the group – which, by your admission, is based on professional grounds, not personal ones. Conflating the two doesn’t work. Be friends with whom you like; be professionally courteous and inclusive, too.

        Second, you ask: “Are there other things I can do to reassure these new colleagues that I respect them as professionals, while simultaneously not having them perceive me as exclusive?”
        Look, you can’t control how they perceive you, and I wonder why you’re so eager to do so. I’d argue it’s because of this contradiction, which sits at the heart of your letter: you say your colleagues’ attitude is “damaging to our open, collaborative, and team-based environment.” But your closed group is, *by definition* and in practice, not those things. That’s the paradox, and it doesn’t disappear by virtue of efforts to get your colleagues to think about you differently. It goes away when the group you want to keep closed stops damaging the open environment you say you value.
        Really, your colleagues aren’t the problem here, necessarily. The set-up is.

    8. Person of Interest

      Yeah, the comments in this thread are along the lines of what I was thinking. It seems like the OP’s group is using personal relationship issues to make a determination about maintaining a professional group. Why not open it up, and maybe you’ll get some new benefits that you didn’t think of from having newer members involved, or perhaps the newer folks will decide on their own that they need their own group (rather than you deciding that for them).

  10. Train

    I’m not faculty (and therefore not working towards tenure) but there are some very similar dynamics in my office at a university. OP, after new faculty settle into the basics of their job, how much would it slow your professional progress to expand your networking group to include them? Could they learn from seeing how you navigate your slightly higher position on the tenure track? Would they have valuable “outside” perspective to offer? Could you have a joint meeting every other time and restrict the other half of your meetings to your own cohort? You don’t have to include them, I get that–but sometimes perceptions are worth a lot. You might be worried about losing more than you’d really lose by expanding your circle. (Are you worried about losing the fun social aspect of your work together, since new members would naturally disrupt that closeness a bit?)

    I think it’s also worth being mindful of the fact that their two-person “network” is smaller than yours and might seem less appealing to them. They might be hoping for a broader circle of perspectives than just the one other person (particularly if the two of them don’t really click).

    1. Yup

      >> how much would it slow your professional progress to expand your networking group to include them?
      This — I don’t see how it could. Everyone’s working on their individual research anyway. There’s no group deliverable that’s at risk of being delayed here.

  11. periwinkle

    Try again to encourage the new faculty members to work together as a cohort. Perhaps it would help if they allied with other new faculty members in related programs in order to boost their number and vary their perspectives (and, if necessarily, find some more complementary personalities for developing friendships). Different programs likely have different expectations but at least they can collaborate on the universal stuff (universities policies, the frustration of getting publication credits, etc.). It might even be to their advantage in the long run to get that broader perspective from the beginning.

  12. Bob

    I was in a study group once that was sort of like OP’s situation. We were studying for a big certification exam that typically takes about a year to prepare for. At about the 50% point, we had a new employee ask to join the group. We discussed it and ultimately said no because, while it could have been very beneficial for her, the rest of the group did not want to spend time reviewing materiel we already covered in great detail. She wasn’t too pleased but we did give her all of our study material and offered to discuss any specific sections if she got stuck.

    1. Miss Elaine E

      I wonder if the new person could have helped by quizzing the other members, proofreading papers etc. She could have picked up the knowledge while also providing some valuable service.

      1. Roscoe

        I think that just defeats the purpose. It may give new person great experience, but if the rest of the group decides its not beneficial, then why do it?

        1. Miss Elaine E

          But my point was the newer person would be benefitting the others by helping them to prepare for the certification — quizzing them, proofreading papers etc. Because the newer person would probably at least have some of the specialized knowledge, he or she could be of more help than a spouse, parent etc.

    2. the gold digger

      Was there a reason she couldn’t jump in and join you guys where you were? I don’t have all the details, but based on what you wrote, I would have told her that sure, she can come to the meetings, but we were not going to back up and catch her up. (OT: That is my general meeting philosophy – why should the people who were on time be punished to accommodate the people who are late?)

      1. Christopher Tracy

        This is how it is at my job. My company has group study classes every summer/fall and winter for professional designation courses, and employees are free to join in the middle of the course term if they want to – they’ll just be on their own for the chapters they missed. It doesn’t negatively impact any of the people who have been in the class from the beginning.

      2. Yup

        Okay, here’s the thing that maybe doesn’t translate for those unfamiliar with academia: there’s nothing to catch up on. Really. It’s not at all like studying for an exam. It’s individuals working on their stuff, but in the same space (more or less – a simplistic description). Like authors writing their own novels, and getting together once a month to discuss how many chapters they’ve written.

        So the “on time” and “late” people …. just doesn’t apply.

  13. Mike

    The OP is also missing an opportunity to provide service to the department/university/field/etc. That is a key component of the tenure track. Imagine if this sort of new faculty group becomes institutionalized and continues for years after the OP gets tenure, that would have a lasting impact on the department by helping new faculty get up to speed faster. That would be a great accomplishment to have on your tenure package (or promotion package for full professor in a few years).

    1. Dr. Doll

      It would be a good accomplishment in your package if you backed it up with a $3 million grant from NSF to support under-represented faculty in STEM. Otherwise people will wonder why you spent time on “service.” I’m partly joking but not entirely…depending upon your institution.

      (Don’t get me wrong, I think this is *great* and the OP’s department seems like a darn good one. Just don’t expect to be officially thanked or get credit, generally, for spearheading this kind of collegial help and support.)

  14. Ask a Manager Post author

    Is no one willing to consider that if they’re only hearing this from one person and that one person is someone who’s shown herself to have pretty questionable judgment, it’s possible that there’s actually nothing to it? There’s possible that there’s plenty to it, of course, but it’s interesting to me that people are assuming it’s definitely true.

    1. AD

      Possibly because a lot of folks have experienced what it feels like to have an “exclusionary group” in the workplace, and are channeling that experience. I confess, I’ve felt it too.

      1. BeezLouise

        Definitely agree, AD. And I wonder if it doesn’t necessarily matter if there’s nothing to it. The perception of having an exclusionary clique is enough to cause problems and deep resentment that can spill over into these working relationships for years.

    2. LQ

      Eh, I don’t know that I assume it is definitely true. I do think it is worth stepping back to look at the way the situation with excluding new people is handled because intentionally excluding new people seems problematic (yes, I get that there are reasons, but it is still worth considering, will that always be true, at some point will you want to say make changes, just going NOT ALLOWED seems eyebrow raising enough to step back and make sure that the decisions all make sense).

      Even if it isn’t true at all, it is always worth considering if exclusionary things are valuable. Sometimes you look at them and decide YUP! This is what we need. But if it’s been a year since they’ve been hired, maybe time to reconsider.

      If there is actual any substance to the rest? I really don’t know.

    3. animaniactoo

      I dunno. I thought I was pretty clear that I thought it was possible there was nothing to it, but that it was worth checking for potential things that a reasonable person could miss because it involves thinking about relationships in a more complex way that people often don’t. My general impression was that other posts were raising possibilities in the same sort of way.

    4. Ask a Manager Post author

      Ah, instead of saying “people are assuming it’s definitely true,” I should have said “people are assuming she definitely should change things.” But I’m also just skimming and may have missed nuance.

    5. Trout 'Waver

      If the letter writer was describing interactions in a for-profit company, I think the response would be different. Tenure-track faculty are a notoriously clique-y group.

    6. Question For My Husband

      I agree! I’m surprised by the tenor of the comments here. It feels like folks are being way too quick to assume that 1) the OP is behaving in a cliquish manner and 2) that behaving that way is inherently problematic.

      1. TL -

        I think it’s the academia aspect – academia is its own beast and this type of thing definitely happens and is extremely exclusionary.

      2. Amy G. Golly

        Same! I’ve been on both sides of this divide: both being excluded and accused of being exclusive. I didn’t particularly enjoy either situation, but I recognize that it’s something that happens, and can’t always be avoided. As long as the LW is making a good faith effort to be kind and develop collegial work relationships with the new faculty, I don’t think they’re on the hook for including the new coworkers in the support group.

          1. Ultraviolet

            Yeah, I’m not totally clear on the headcount here. OP says there are 10 tenure-track faculty, and the way that term is generally used it would include the already-tenured faculty. So I think there are four tenured faculty, four not-yet-tenured faculty in OP’s group (including OP), and the two new hires. And I totally agree there’s just no way tenured faculty would feel excluded from the tenure-prep group. So for whatever it’s worth, I think it’s correct that only two people could be feeling excluded.

            1. Ultraviolet

              Whoops, OP said four OTHER faculty are in her group, so it would be the five people in the group, three tenured faculty, and the two new ones.

    7. Master Bean Counter

      My thoughts are that the complainer is making snarky passive-aggressive comments about how she isn’t getting included in EVERY thing. And if she isn’t included in everything, then she’s going to ruin it for everybody. I think there is a bully in this situation, and it’s not the OP.
      The OP is not this persons boss. By reaching out to include them at all, she is being kind.
      The way to get included in anything is not to stomp your feet and act out about how it’s terrible how you aren’t part of something and then say if you are part of that something you must not be doing your work right anyway.
      The way to get included is to be nice and ask questions. Offer up an invitation yourself. Don’t pout and declare it unfair, because after that it never will be fair. Nobody wants to hang out with the squeaky wheel.

    8. Yup

      If I may, Alison, I think knowing the culture and process of academia makes a very big difference here — such as understanding what it means or *doesn’t mean* to have new faculty in an informal group. Those with more background have a better lens to assess whether the OP’s concerns makes sense or not.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        But there are others from academia here saying it’s not a concern. So is it not possible that some pockets of academia do work the way the OP has described and that some other academics here are also agreeing with?

        I think it’s likely that context really, really matters with this — and the OP is the one who knows her context the best out of all of us.

        1. Yup

          As far as I can see, the majority of academics here agree that the exclusionary politics are problematic. Perhaps I’ve missed some posts, but the academic process is fairly uniform (tenure-track faculty have a six-year journey to tenure, steps are the same, etc) and I’ve noted more agreement than not.

    9. Dot Warner

      Honestly, I can see a little of both. Yes, the OP’s colleague has been extremely annoying with their passive-aggressive comments and especially when they complained about the OP’s behavior but refused to explain what’s wrong or how the OP can do differently. However, the OP hasn’t exactly covered herself in glory either. She invites the two newbies to one meeting and then effectively tells them, “go have fun by yourselves, the big kids are doing our own thing over here.” It’s not exactly “stay away from us” but it’s definitely not welcoming or friendly, and the new hires might even be worried that the OP and her group will have an advantage over them at tenure review. (I realize that right now the OP and her cohort are scheduled for tenure review at a different time than the newbies, but as someone upthread pointed out, that could change if one of the OP’s cohort has a baby or needs a leave of absence.)

      tl;dr: Just because OP’s colleague is a pain in the butt, it doesn’t mean they don’t have a point.

  15. Old Grumpy Guy

    I am in academia and each discipline/college/etc. has it’s own politics. However, I caution you that you are making an “enemy” for no good reason here. You should be inclusive for the sake of being inclusive anyway, but even if that’s not enough of a reason, you are definitely setting yourself up for problems later down the line in what is a quirky and narrow line of work.

    Being 2 years in may seem like a world of difference at this stage on the tenure process, but in the grand scheme of the academic life, it is NOTHING. You are peers and colleagues. It is common in many disciplines for junior faculty to wind up in other colleges or universities later down the line and then have hiring power over you in the future. It is common for junior faculty to not hit the promotion or tenure milestones in exact lock-step with one another from when they started (due to research aspects out of their control; family/medical leave, etc.). Your current colleagues are future peers working on committees together, working for journals, running conferences, and so on. In ten years, no one is going to care that you started 2 years earlier. However, your junior colleague will remember that you were unkind and unwilling to mentor someone else because you were too focused on your own careers and that of your friends.

    Last, your department head may think he is doing the new hires a favor by saying that they should focus on getting acclimated. In reality, this is often bad advice. Department heads and deans may think they are helping new hires that they shelter or protect from having to dive right into building a research agenda or strong relationships with a network of potential collaborators. Due to publication creep in many fields and academic politics, though, they are often too far removed from promotion and tenure themselves to really understand just how important it is to hit the ground running.

    1. So Very Anonymous

      +1 re the bad advice from the department head. I was giving that serious sideeye. Anyone on the tenure track these days needs to know that they cannot entirely back-burner the research agenda.

      1. ket

        Yep. A good thing to check out is Robert Boice’s work on “quick-start” faculty. Faculty who ignore research for 2 year to “get used to” teaching fail to get tenure at a higher rate than faculty who start with a balance right away.

        That said, I think the new people should be looking for a new-faculty-only cross-department writing group.

        1. So Very Anonymous

          Yep, I agree with this. If OP really wants to keep the group closed, this is what the new people should be doing. In the long run it can be a really good thing to have friends/allies/colleagues in other departments, anyway.

    2. Dr. Doll

      Yes, I’m astonished at the advice by the department chair. In most departments, jumping on a research agenda immediately is the much better route to success!

      If at all possible, OP, I think it would be better to include people rather than not include them. This also helps keep up the critical mass and energy of the group when people have to stop out for a while (for whatever reason).

      1. So Very Anonymous

        I would also be extremely concerned (and somewhat grumpy!) if I were new tenure-track faculty and the department head was justifying me being excluded from a tenure support group because “I didn’t need to worry about a research agenda.” Yikes.

    3. MashaKasha

      Thank you, I was hoping that a seasoned academia member would contribute to this thread. Personally, when I read OP’s letter and mentally put myself in this situation, I thought I’d be beyond happy and content for my coworkers to form a clique and leave my interactions with them as strictly work-related, 9-to-5 ones. I don’t want to be buddies with my coworkers, I think it’s a situation fraught with danger; neither I don’t want work to spill into my free time and to be stuck seeing the same faces and discussing the same office issues on evenings on weekends. But, I’m a corporate employee. There is a world of difference. There is also a much higher turnover. I had an academic SO for a couple of years, and from what I observed, at his school at least, no one ever changes jobs. People join the faculty in their late 20s-early 30s and normally stay till they retire; *especially* if they get tenure. In that school’s case, they also have no life outside of their work, in that, their friends and their colleagues are all the same people; of their leisure activities, half are events hosted by, or related to, the college; the other half are events that they attend as a group with their friends/colleagues. They barely even know anyone in their town who does not teach, or at a bare minimum, work, at their college. To be excluded in this situation would make one’s life a pretty lonely existence! Admittedly, I don’t know if OP’s school is like that, but I think you’re right on target when you say that OP will be working with those two people for many many years. It’s not like my work environment, where if you don’t get along with someone, you just wait it out and in a couple of years, either you change jobs or that person does.

      1. MashaKasha

        Weird grammar in a sentence about work buddies above, forgot to go back and correct, my apologies.

    4. Dot Warner

      That’s a very good point. The toes you step on today may be connected to the posterior you have to kiss tomorrow.

  16. Miss Elaine E

    I stated upthread in response to another commenter’s situation, but thinking about it, it applies in the OPs situation as well. Couldn’t a new person who is earlier on in the tenure process provide some valuable help: Quizzing other members, checking their papers for technical errors/lack of clarity etc. While not at the other members’ level of expertise, it seems they would be educated enough to help in some respects.

    I’m not in academia so I’m not familiar with the tenure process, but I’m a firm believer in paying it forward if possible. It also seems helping the less-experienced members would developing teaching/mentoring skills.

    And yes, the OP’s situation does smack of being exclusionary, albeit not intentionally so.

    1. Jaguar

      I’m hesitant to comment because I have zero experience or interest in the academic workplace, but the idea that it’s not intentionally exclusionary seems plainly false. OP said they were not allowing them in because they were two years junior and also the OP doesn’t enjoy their company. That sounds pretty far down the path of intentional exclusion to me.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        She said she excluded them for work reasons, not personality reasons. The not enjoying their company was the reason she hasn’t hung out with them socially. So, two different things.

      2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

        Well, she says they were not allowing them in because her group has a specific purpose — supporting folks at who are at similar places in the tenure process. Yes, it is by definition exclusionary. But I would argue (strongly) that things (projects, groups, meetings, conversations, whatever) that are exclusionary are not inherently problematic. I can think of a bunch of examples off the top of my head, as I’m sure others can:

        – At a staff development conference focused on diversity and inclusion that I ran, we invited folks to participate in identity-based conversation groups about racism at our workplace.
        – At a startup at which I worked, four of us who “inaugurated” a role and started at the same time created an informal support/idea-sharing group (perhaps similar to the OP’s group). As new people were added to the role we invited them to join, but we very explicitly excluded the folks a level up in the hierarchy from us.
        – My current organization holds a monthly meeting for all staff who supervise others, for learning and troubleshooting.
        – I’m good friends with one of my colleagues, who is in the same type of role as me and has the same manager as me. We have lunch together once a month and talk about everything ranging from work venting to talking about our families and pets and everything else.
        – Six people from my organization went to a training on a particular facilitation pedagogy. We meet occasionally to practice the facilitation tools we learned.

        … etc.

          1. Yup

            Yes. But the reasons for this particular exclusion don’t hold up very well (there’s no catching up, no quizzing, no chapters they haven’t read, etc etc), and esp. in a 10-person dept, there’s no way for it to come across as anything other than exclusionary.

        1. Jaguar

          I wasn’t making a value judgement on being exclusionary. I’m just pointing out that, going by what the OP wrote, it’s not accidental.

    2. CG

      Not really…. often these types of groups form organically as described and our temporary in nature. The tenure process is more about documenting/proving your value plus how well you can navigate the inane process. At my university your portfolio has different structural requirements for each year (year 1 is a scholarship agenda, year 2 is a brief review thingy, year 3 is a mid-cycle big deal portfolio, etc.) so the groups tend to focus on meeting the structure requirements and how best to document things. It wouldn’t really benefit the more senior members of the group to have another junior member because they are working on year 3 not year 1 structure etc…

      1. LQ

        This is the thing I think is really interesting. Are the senior members of the group and their value the one ones who matter? I can think of times my boss or boss’s boss or whatever invited me to something and I was told explicitly I was just there to observe and learn. Did anyone else in the room benefit from me being there that day? No. But in 2 weeks or 2 years or 20 years I might. There are meetings I went to that I know it will come in handy that I learned things from but I’m not actually applying to my work that I went to over a decade ago.

        Maybe it is good that academia is exclusionary and structured like this, but I know that I’d really want to be in that room, even if I was just quiet and listening. And then in 2 years someone else can be listening to me with the skills I’ve learned 2 years before.

        1. CG

          I can definitely see that and I imagine the more junior faculty member would totally learn something. But academia is different in some ways from a typical work place, and tenure at some places is a competition (you may be ranked based on your department peers, there may not be enough money for multiple ppl, etc.) so I can also see how it makes sense to limit the group and it may not be functioning similar to other professional development opportunities.

          1. Yup

            You’re evaluated based on your own work in teaching and (less so) service / collegiality. In the scholarly sense, evaluated with your peers in the discipline at large, meaning well beyond institutional bounds — not directly with your peers in the department, who are in different sub-fields. Tenure is not a competition with your departmental colleagues in vying for funding.

    3. Miss Elaine E

      I see by the comments that followed my post that I worded it wrong when I said “not intentionally so.” What I meant was “but not intending to be hurtful.”

  17. 30ish

    I’m in academia and it seems normal to me that some people will build collaborative relationships with each other, while others do not. It’s also important to remember that faculty members are not co-workers in the usual sense. They don’t really build a team. No faculty member has an obligation to support others (beyond work for the department done in committees etc.), although it’s nice and often very useful to do so. Therefore I generally wouldn’t feel bad about collaborating with some colleagues but not with others.

    That said, the problem is the extent of structure in this group (regular meetings etc.) that gives it a more official character – it also seems to have been officially sanctioned in some sense if the department head is now commenting on who should be in the group. At that point, it’s quite understandable that people will feel excluded when they’re not part of it.

    A possible solution might be to go “fully official” with this group and stop viewing it as a personal project. Get support from the dean, start calling it the “junior faculty work in progress group” or something, let everyone who is junior faculty join, and officially take on the leadership of the group – or, if preferable, let someone else take over that role. At the same time, you could move part of your closer collaboration with your work friends into a more informal space – basically stop talking about it to those you’re not collaborating with closely.

    1. cataloger

      We have something like this; it’s basically an untenured faculty support group. New faculty hires are added automatically, and one untenured faculty member runs the group, organizing and running monthly meetings, answering questions, etc. It’s a little strange when you’re brand new and the other people seem so much further along in their research, but it’s helpful to see what that research looks like, and what you should be aiming for at that stage. Then after a while, you’re the expert and you’re helping all the new folks with their files! Also, it’s kind of funny to be unceremoniously kicked off the mailing list when you get tenure.

      I am closer to some of my colleagues that were in the group at the same time as I was, and that seems hard to avoid; a small group of us met regularly for years, and went through some stressful times together. Though I wasn’t as close to the folks close to tenure as I started, or to the new faculty as I was close to tenure, I think we still learned from each other, so it was helpful to have that continuous group.

      1. 30ish

        I think it’s great to have a group like this that continues existing, even when the original founders are not part of it anymore. It’s probably not what OP intended, but given that it is already semi-official, why not do that? OP might get some more acknowledgment for the service she’s performing if she becomes the official leader, or she could decide to let someone else take over the responsibility for it.

        I really think the issue is that it started out as “her group” – as long as it’s her group and she’s the one who is keeping it going, I get why she wants to control who’s in it. But once you involve higher-ups it’s really difficult to argue that it’s a purely private initiative.

        I actually have a similar thing now that I think of it – a colleague and I started a mentoring group for female students. And we are deliberately keeping it a low-key, personal initiative so that we don’t have to justify to the department what activities we’re planning, who we’re mentoring etc. If we developed the project more and got the department involved in an official function, then we would have to start being accountable for all these aspects, we would likely get complaints from male students for being excluded and so on. So sometimes it’s a good idea to keep a low profile with stuff like that.

  18. Tomato Frog

    I’m really leery of criticism that labels some group of friends “a clique”. I started at my workplace, there was a group of about four or five women who ate lunch together and were friends outside of work (this was out of an office of about ten to twelve people). They abided by the basic rules of etiquette: they didn’t discuss social activities in front of people who weren’t included, they invited new people to join them at lunch, they made sure others were invited to work-related events when they were in charge of them, and they were ethical — they didn’t seem to favor each other over more qualified people in work situations. None of them is a manager so there’s no power issues.

    And even so I’ve heard two different people call them a clique and another person call them the in-group. But I’m not really sure what more they could do to make other people not feel excluded — except perhaps not be friends, and not eat lunch together.

    Alison’s advice is good, and it’s good to check yourself, but I’m not really seeing anything in OP’s letter that indicates that the jerk-person is reacting to anything but their own insecurities and innate jerkiness. Just because someone feels bad, doesn’t mean someone else is doing something wrong. Hell, sometimes I was vaguely jealous of the above-mentioned group that ate lunch together even though I deliberately excluded myself from the group because I didn’t want to hang out with coworkers that much!

    1. HeyNonnyNonny

      Yes to this!

      I worked with a friend (we were friends before working in the same office) and one of the coworkers complained that the two of us always took breaks together, no matter that we were generally pleasant, kept our conversations appropriate at work, and didn’t get any work benefits from knowing each other. Long story short, we were ordered by management to stop taking breaks together and include others. Nothing like mandated friendships to kill morale.

      1. Tomato Frog

        Long story short, we were ordered by management to stop taking breaks together and include others.

        Oh my God. That would send me into a rage spiral.

      2. Christopher Tracy

        Your management team crossed the line. They can’t dictate friendships in the workplace – that’s insane.

    2. Roscoe

      Yes. You articulated something I’ve always had an issue. There is this weird societal thing where if there is a group of close people, than they are a “clique” and that is BAD. But its not. You bond with some people. You enjoy some people’s company. You shouldn’t have to invite every co-worker to eat lunch or do things. Nor should you feel guilty about hanging out with each other outside of work. In my experience it tends to be people who have some weird childhood baggage about not being popular, and they apply it to the work place.

      1. MashaKasha

        IME, work cliques do exist. And I’ve worked in IT my whole life, i.e. where 99 people out of a hundred have some or other “childhood baggage about not being popular”; that’s just what we are. I’ve been “in” and “outside of” cliques. I’ve been accused of being part of a clique (though that tended to happen in online communities, not at work.) I’ve been to work lunches where all the lunch group would do was discuss, and gossip about, everyone who wasn’t present at the lunch. I’ve seen, on multiple occasions, one member of an office “group of close people” make FB posts about a coworker who couldn’t see their page, and the rest of the “close people” like it. This is human nature, not at its best mind you, but human nature nonetheless. It’s what people do. It’s what they’re comfortable with. It’s what gives them validation and self-esteem boosts, being in a group that shares inside history and is by definition better than all those weird outsiders. And it’s actually probably the people who weren’t popular enough as kids, in their opinion, who do it the most as adults; at least from what I’ve seen.

        I admit I have also seen people truly bond and form real close friendships, that continued long after they both left the workplace where they’d met. But the workplaces where I observed that were, ironically, rather clique-free. Don’t know why that is.

      2. Rusty Shackelford

        I was accused of being part of a clique that consisted of the two other people in my office who had the same job. And the person we were allegedly leaving out (according to the boss) was someone who did a different job, and happened to be the boss’s pet (I wish I could call her protege, but she had no chance of moving up, so she could only be a pet). So yeah, I tend to side-eye accusations of cliquishness by people who can’t tell the difference between a clique and a team.

  19. MegaMoose, Esq.

    Not having any experience with academia, I’m not sure I feel comfortable commenting directly. However, I would like to note that the stock photo on NYMag strikes me as especially goofy this week. Is that a front desk? Does that mean the two dudes in the foreground are standing in the reception area? Then why do they look like they’re doing Serious Business Things? Also, who holds a pen like that? And could her hair possibly look more “windswept”? Is there even any hair left for the other side of her head? How old is that computer – I definitely see floppy drives? Is that the boot menu?

  20. hbc

    “Is it possible to be colleagues with someone, and not offend them by not being personal friends with them?” I find this question from OP to be very strange. Why assume it’s about being friends when there’s a professional group that they’re excluded from? There’s more reason to believe the complainer is upset about the 5+2 colleague dynamic and not the 3+4 (or 3+1+1+1+1) friendship dynamic.

    Now, there might be an internal logic to that exclusion, but that doesn’t mean it’s doing more good than harm. I’d think really hard about what the “rules” are for this group and what would happen in other situations. If one person has to take a semester absence, are they booted from the group? Even if it’s one of the close friends? (Be honest.) If someone gets told they’ll need an extra year towards tenure, same deal? Is that person stuck with no support group because no one is at that exact level?

    The group made sense when it was formed, but things in the department have changed. I’d do some careful thinking about what the legacy of this is going to be. Are you the People Who Started in 2013 and Stayed on Track for Tenure Support Group, or the Junior Faculty Support Group (which can maybe alternate meeting as a big group and meeting with sub groups)? Maybe the latter is slightly less effective with a narrow focus, but career-wise and department-cohesion-wise, it really seems like the wiser choice.

    1. So Very Anonymous

      Yes! Or maybe there’s Junior Faculty Support Group, more formally defined, and then there are less formally sanctioned gatherings with Original Group Because We Like Each Other?

    2. Yup

      Yes, making this about “friendship” when it’s really a professional issue obscures the fact that the new hires may have good reason for dismay at the arrangement — and my eyebrows shot up at the Chair sanctioning it.

      1. MashaKasha

        Agree. The new hire said it explicitly that she considers this a professional issue, based on the work-related comments she’d made in work meetings. To the best of our knowledge, she has not complained about not being personal friends with OP and OP’s same-year colleagues outside of work – for all we know, she doesn’t care if she is or isn’t.

  21. Another Academic Librarian

    OP, I’m a junior faculty member on the tenure track, so trust me when I say I hear you. I have two colleagues on the same clock, and we routinely trade emails or get together in person to do roughly what your group does. That’s been very useful, and I understand why you would want to prioritize relationships with others at the same point in the process.

    But, that said, it is common and, I think, valuable, for junior faculty support groups to have people on different clocks. New faculty should be thinking about their research agenda from day one. They should be exposed to others who have clearly defined research agendas and have published, who can share tips and frustrations and cfps. They should see a half-finished manuscript and read peer reviewer comments and hear about the conferences their slightly more senior peers are attending. So far, one of the single most helpful things for me has been having a colleague who was three years ahead of me on the tenure track; by watching her hit the milestones, I learned a lot and was able to better gauge where I needed to be at any point.

    I don’t think you’re obligated to invite your newer colleagues to your support group, although I do think it would be beneficial to you and to them… but if you are not prepared to include new members, you should definitely keep the group out of the workplace. Don’t tell new hires about it, and don’t ask your department head whether someone should or should not join. Something like this needs to be strictly informal and invite-only or strictly formal and open to anyone who would benefit.

    1. TL -

      And also, OP, if you and junior member both get tenure, you’re going to be stuck working with them for a long, long time. Even if you can see no immediate benefit to including them in the group, if they are generally a reasonable person but are stuck on this one aspect – well, this is the basis of what could be a 20-30+ yr colleague relationship. Think carefully about how you want to develop that relationship – if they are often an unreasonable person and seem terrible to work with, maybe you do want to start a pattern of keeping space from them. But if they’re not, maybe you want to start thinking about how to lay the basis for a solid long-term relationship.

    2. Bibliovore

      This. We have a tenure track group with members on different clocks. This started with my cohort and only one person up before me. Although it is great that your cohort has bonded, it seems exclusionary not to include the new hires. Although I don’t have much in common with someone with very little publishing experience, I can be of service to those submitting peer-reviewed articles or trying to get a conference paper accepted.
      I meet informally with those close to my clock as a subset of the big group. Lunch, coffee, writing sessions.
      It also seems unfair to place blame on the new hire for “passive-aggressive” communication. As the new hire she doesn’t have any choice. To be collegial she cannot say “well that isn’t fair” You may eventually be on her peer review committee. She does need mentoring. She will lose her job if she doesn’t get tenure. The department chair’s advice is idiotic. The tenure dossier clock starts now. There is no time to coast.

    3. Yup

      Thank you. If the joining requirement is that rigid, make it private and friend-based. I don’t quite get how this became a departmental issue – seems very fraught.

  22. Roscoe

    What I find interesting about this question is that the OP went out of their way to organize something for people in the same track. Its not a work sponsored thing. So I don’t feel that the OP owes it to the new people to get them up to speed. They just aren’t at the same place in their careers, so it doesn’t make sense. The co-workers seem to be a bit too sensitive about this. Sometimes everyone can’t do everything. In this case, OP invited them to see how the meetings run, and encouraged them to create their own similar group. There is nothing wrong with that. There is also nothing wrong with becoming good friends with a couple of people in that group.

    It always amazes me how people expect everyone to be included in everything.

    1. Jessie

      I think the point isn’t whether or not it’s work-appropriate to exclude them (it’s totally appropriate) but whether or not it comes across as being a jerk … which I think it does (for the record, I don’t think the OP is a jerk.)

        1. Jessie

          I think that’s part of what makes it such a good discussion. That everyone perceives the situation a different way. It’s a pretty good suggestion that many reasonable people would perceive the same situation differently in real life as well.

        2. AMT

          My thoughts were the same. Maybe it’s different in academia, but I don’t think it’s jerky to set up a support group for people at the same point in their careers, or to hang out with some people after work but not others. That’s incredibly normal workplace behavior. Reaching out to new coworkers and fostering a collegial atmosphere doesn’t mean socializing with absolutely everyone all the time, nor does it mean bending over backwards to include people who respond to perceived slights with rudeness and hostility.

          1. Bibliovore

            I don’t think OP is a jerk. OP asked the question. She does not want to open her group to recent hires. Her chair says she doesn’t have to. She is feeling uncomfortable that the new hire feels excluded and made public comments. Given that she is on tenure track and under enormous pressure to produce, it is understandable that she would not want the added responsibility to mentor the next generation.

            Yet. “one of these new faculty members has made passive-aggressive comments in department meetings, questioning our ability to do our work well and implying that we’re exclusive, but closing up when we try to get her to explain what she means. I’m afraid this will be damaging to our open, collaborative, and team-based environment.”

            Is it the new hire “damaging …open, collaborative, team-based environment?” Excluding a member of the team from a professional development opportunity that also is a bonding experience can be damaging to the team.

            Perhaps OP can see including the two newcomers as an opportunity to demonstrate leadership. Founding a tenure track group that continues to support faculty after her own needs are met is a worthy accomplishment to be noted in the service portion of her dossier.

            1. MashaKasha

              Yes, this comment was probably the only thing in the letter that really, really, really bothered me. It reads to me like, nothing bad has happened to the environment yet, but, if something does, that’ll be the new hire’s fault.

              Besides, how can a closed group be an open environment?

  23. Roscoe

    What I’m wondering now is whether people’s negative opinions on this are based on the context that the new people are more like a “disadvantaged group” in this setting. I don’t think if you had 3 new people start together, and they became a “clique” and bonded and hung out outside of work, that people would have the same issues as when the more experienced people do the same thing. I think it may be similar to how the appearance is a bit different if a bunch of women go to lunch and don’t invite the guys than if a bunch of guys go to lunch and don’t invite women.

    1. Jaguar

      Since it’s a professional development thing (and I’m fuzzy on the details here), it seems to me like the OP is pulling the ladder up after her. But I really don’t know anything about how academia works, so this is speaking only in the absolute broadest sense.

      1. LadyKelvin

        I didn’t understand it as a professional development thing, more like a commiserate with people who are doing the same thing as me at this time thing. Its really common in PhD programs, because each cohort is going through the same milestones at roughly the same time (comps, quals, proposal, etc) then you basically have a support group of those people where you can talk about what’s happening, where you are, have writing sessions if applicable, talk about questions you have and see if anyone else has the same problems. It’s not like they are getting outside information from another faculty mentor which is giving them a leg-up towards tenure. Tenure isn’t as much competition for a promotion with your colleagues, its race to the finish and meet all the requirements and it doesn’t matter what other people are doing (to a certain extent). I wouldn’t call it exclusionary, because the nature of the beast is that the junior faculty aren’t going to be able to participate in those same discussions because they aren’t in the same place. So I don’t think OP should open up the group to them, she has already gone a long way to make them feel included, showed them what they were doing and encouraged them to start their own, etc. I’d say continue to be nice and invite the junior employees to lunch, happy hours, and social events but don’t feel bad about not including them in your group. If it gets too bad, I’d just take the group underground and stop talking about it with your colleagues at all. They can’t complain about something they don’t know is happening.

        1. Ultraviolet

          I think the issue of whether people here see the group as a professional development resource vs a group of friendly colleagues accounts for a lot of the difference in opinion. (And the more you see it as a resource to which one’s access depends on how much OP likes you personally, the more likely you are to see it in terms of withheld advantage, as Roscoe observes.)

        2. Yup

          It is 100% a professional development thing, especially at the point when the group entry is regulated by the Chair (which is… very surprising).

  24. Bwooster

    You know what struck me as odd? That OP seems to be carrying on as if she is the sole arbiter of who does and does not join her group. What is up with that? Have other members expressed a preference? How are their relationship with new joiners?

    She invites people to meetings, she discourages them from joining, she consults the supervisor, she decides everything? Are other members subject to the same passive aggressive remarks? If not, then without question, there is something inappropriate going on with the OP.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Jeez, you all are a tough crowd. I would really think twice before sending in a letter here if I was reading these comments. Who wants to be put on the defensive about stuff like this?

      The OP is talking about her own actions because she is the one writing to me. She doesn’t indicate anywhere that all the decisions are hers.

      1. Mookie

        I disagree. She’s saying “I” and “me” all over her letter and personalizing her dislike of both new hires:

        I have been a part of their training, have invited them to social functions, and told them about the group (and invited them to a meeting) as incentive for them to start their own group, but discouraged them, at least for the time being, from being in our group because they were hired two years after us, and therefore weren’t being evaluated for promotion and tenure at the same time. […]
        I have tried not to be clique-ish. I do my best to include them in certain work decisions, I treat them with the same kindness (I hope!) that I give my other colleagues, and we even see each other often at non-work social functions (e.g., dinner at someone’s house), but I don’t consider them friends outside work because I just don’t get along with them on a personal level as easily as I do with other coworkers. […]
        Is my personal bias toward my friends affecting my workplace behavior? I am worried (annoyed, maybe) that I’ve been perceived as a “mean girl,” but more so concerned that I’m somehow affecting the group dynamic that is so important to our department.

        Unless you edited this in some way, everything the OP is writing indicates that these decisions are hers. She makes a point out of saying that she started the group in the first place and that she is now discouraging the two hires from trying to join. Am I missing something?

        1. Temperance

          It sounds to me like she was responsible for a good portion of their training, and was trying to do a nice thing that apparently blew up in her face.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              The OP says directly that she has, and we should take her word for that. It’s entirely possible that she’s in a particular context that’s different from what you’re picturing.

              1. Yup

                Indeed, I’m curious about what that context might be, as it doesn’t compute on its face, and it’s hard to imagine an academic environment in which junior faculty “train” others, and in what process.
                Perhaps OP can clarify if she joins the comments.

                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  I can’t imagine a letter-writer being excited to join a comment section where people are accusing her of things like this.

                  I also can’t imagine anyone else wanting to submit a letter after reading these comments, which is making me pretty frustrated. There’s a way to give people advice and input without questioning their honesty or putting them on the defensive.

              2. 30ish

                “Training” could refer to introducing them to the way things work in the department. When you join a new department, there are lots of things you don’t know – how is it decided who will teach what, what formalities do you need to pay attention to with teaching and grading, rules for how to request money for for activities, any specific software they may need to use for teaching, any grant opportunities at the university and so on. I had to find out about all of that through informal channels – the only training offered was on a very general level for all the university’s new hires – but it would make a lot of sense for this to be done in a more structured way.

                1. Yup

                  Yes, it’s possible that that’s what OP meant, though it’s unusual for faculty to do this, esp. in a formal way. It’s really the Chair’s role, as well as that of the departmental assistant + departmental or institutional faculty handbook.

                  Even so, it’s a little disingenuous for the OP to put “new hire training” (such as it may exist) on par with a closed tenure-support group. The knowledge, experience, and accessibility of information for the processes of booking a smart classroom versus passing your third-year review are nothing alike.

                  This isn’t a criticism of you, 30ish, but rather a questioning of OP’s justifications of her collegiality and collaborative transparency.

                2. 30ish

                  @Yup: I didn’t read the “I have been part of their training” as a justification, it may have just been added by OP for context,so that we know the extent of her interactions with the newcomers. As for how likely it is that junior faculty would train other new faculty, I think this can vary a lot between departments. It’s probably more likely in a smaller department. In any case, the training point is a minor part of what OP wrote. Whether she trained them or not, the question about the support group remains the seame.

        2. Amy G. Golly

          The only bolded section that even hints at the LW making decisions on behalf of the group is this one:

          discouraged them, at least for the time being, from being in our group because they were hired two years after us, and therefore weren’t being evaluated for promotion and tenure at the same time.

          And even in that case, it doesn’t necessarily mean the rest of the group wasn’t in agreement; I read it as the LW owning her part in the decision. All of the rest could be read just as Alison suggested: the LW is talking about her own actions, because she’s the one writing the letter. What would it sound like if she said “we try to be friendly”, “we invite them to social functions”, “we’re affecting the group dynamic”? That would definitely indicate some sort of hivemind controlling the office social politics.

          1. Ultraviolet

            Agreed. Also if OP is acting as leader of this group, is that so bad? Sometimes these things don’t get (or stay) rolling without someone taking charge and making decisions. I think OP’s “mak[ing] a point out of saying” that they started the group is meant to suggest that they are leading it, actually. Now you could argue that the group leader should solicit more opinions from the other members on things like this, even if it has the potential to take the group in a direction the founder doesn’t like. But I get the sense that that is not quite the criticism OP is getting.

            1. Roscoe

              Totally agree. Sometimes when you start a group, you are the de facto leader of that group. And depending on the group, sometimes you have to just make a unilateral decision as opposed to soliciting opinions.

    2. Alienor

      Well, she’s the one who started the group and apparently leads it (which isn’t a bad thing…you need a leader if you’re ever going to get anything done) so it makes sense that she would be the one to invite people to meetings and consult with the supervisor. Beyond that, for all we know she’s polled the other members and they’ve all agreed that this is the direction they want to go in. She may just be catching the heat because she’s the most visible.

  25. Polka Dot Bird

    I’m curious about the passive-aggressive comments at meetings – how does her supervisor react? Meetings can be fraught from a group-dynamics perspective because people don’t like losing face at them, so I think this behaviour needs to be addressed *outside* of the meeting. Perhaps making some time with her, away from the meeting, and discussing her grievances would allow you to clear the air?

    I also think it would help if you make it clear that raising things in a meeting and refusing to discuss them is not acceptable, and from then on refuse to get drawn into those discussions at meetings. Perhaps her supervisor should be involved? Or perhaps just waiting it out while being friendly will sort it out over time.

    Other things, like involving her in decisions or social events, are good ideas and I think you’re on the right track there. Can you invite her along to interesting meetings or events, so she feels like you’re helping boost her career? (No idea if that’s feasible for you.) Is there some kind of whole-of-department thing you could all do as a group so she feels included that way? A different whole-non-tenured activity you could do? Interesting talks in your field you could attend (in person or as a virtual group), or a kind of book club where all the non-tenured people read a paper and discuss?

    1. Cassie

      It’s academia – there are no real supervisors. The department head is just the administrative lead of the group (“first among equals”, so to speak). I’ve sat in on faculty meetings before and faculty will make comments. Sometimes someone else will respond, other times the comment just hangs out there in the air until the chair moves onto the next agenda item.

      1. Kelly L.

        Or you argue about the same things for two years’ worth of meetings not that I know anything about that nope.

        1. Old Grumpy Guy

          If you table something, it means you get to argue about it next time! Better to send it to committee first, though, so the people who actually do the work can do more work on it only to get shot down by those who haven’t even read the proposal and then have people argue and table again next time…repeat..not that I know anything about it.

          I wasn’t always old or grumpy, and my stories about academia, especially faculty meetings, drive my friends in the corporate world insane.

  26. Lissa

    I am really always torn about these situations. I’ve been on both sides of this issue, having been excluded and bullied in grade school and having been part of a gaming group with a huge case of Geek Social Fallacies in my early 20s. I don’t think there’s always a good answer. At the end of the day, some people we click with and some people we don’t. I think it’s important in a work context to try to be helpful to new people, but at the same time, if I enjoy spending time with Alice but not Hannah, at what point are Hannah’s hurt feelings my doing something wrong?

    Personally I see bullying/cliquish/mean girl as stuff like, oh, posting nasty comments about non in-group people on Facebook, or pointedly talking about the fun time they had with everyone but them. I think it can get a bit silly when people talk like every friend-group is a clique.

    On the other hand, it’s work, so I think it does do to be a bit more conscientious, but I think it’s pretty well covered above what that might look like in many possible situations…

  27. AusAcademic

    One argument in favour of being inclusive in this situation is that building relationships with the new hires could be important sooner than you think. Yes, you may be two more years out – but publication processes are unpredictable and a lot of luck is involved (at least in my field). There’s every chance someone two years behind can leapfrog you and potentially have a stronger case for tenure than you at the point you submit. Given a little flexibility in the timing of tenure application and throw in an extension on health/parental grounds and you may be going up after one of your new colleagues. They will likely have some input – and if they are a star, this could weight heavily. Or perhaps their advisor will write one of your tenure letters or referee one of your papers. Or you’ll just miss tenure and be under consideration for a position in a department with one of the newer hire’s grad school friends – who will reach out and ask what you’re like as a colleague.

    Second, when you are in a small academic department, you have enormous power to shape the culture you get to work in – being more inclusive might make your department a whole lot more pleasant to be around, making for fun times for all, and also easier hiring of great candidates in future.

    1. Cassie

      I agree about the leapfrog possibility. I can’t remember what our university’s timeline is for assistant to associate (5 years?) and from associate to full (5 or 6 years?), but there are 2 associate professors are still associates after 10+ years. Meanwhile, a bunch of new hires have joined them in the associate level, and a few have become full professors (those full professors have full voting rights, so they’re now voting on merit/promotion cases of people who technically started before them but are behind on the progress scale).

      Also, faculty can be very petty. Tenured faculty wouldn’t care to join the OP’s group (as they wouldn’t need it), but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have their own opinion about it. In academia, I don’t even think it matters if there are cliques – it’s not like a traditional office workplace where it might (hopefully) be discouraged and create negative impressions. Still, negative impressions – especially when it’s your coworkers who are deciding whether to approve your promotion case – are not a good thing.

      We have about 45 faculty in our dept – some faculty bond based on research area. Others bond because of office location and/or age groups (particularly for the newer faculty, who tend to have children in the same age range). There’s obviously nothing wrong with being closer to some coworkers than others, or even to have meetings to strategize and discuss. Like a study group, right? I’m a little confused about this though: “I do my best to include them in certain work decisions”. Is the group making work decisions that are somehow impacting those new faculty members? So it’s not a like a study group, but a service committee?

      1. Yup

        Yeah, a few things here don’t make sense: the “training” and “work decisions.” Either this is a department and institution far outside the norm, with enviable shared governance, or the OP is using these factors to justify her stance – which I’d argue aren’t relevant.

        1. So Very Anonymous

          I have been wondering if OP was sort of translating from academic language into more neutral workplace terms to make their question more accessible to a more broadly based workplace blog? I know I’ve done that when I’ve drafted imaginary “what would AaM say?” letters in my head.

        2. Bibliovore

          I was wondering about “training” I am trying to imagine at what point I was trained. Perhaps how to submit expenses? How to look up a per diem for conferences? Where to go to for a parking permit?

          1. Yup

            But… was that really training, or a handout or conversation with the departmental office manager? And I’ve heard of it as a faculty’s responsibility, ever. Maybe So Very Anonymous is right about the “translation.”

            I’m also curious whether the same question was submitted to the CHE forums (a more logical audience) and if so, what response it garnered. Questions for the ages.

            1. Bibliovore

              I hadn’t seen it on the CHE forums. On the other hand, I did think about that the CHE forums. That one can participate in a tenure class/online support. Of course the CHE forums certainly give one an overwhelming sense of gratitude for even being tt.

              1. So Very Anonymous

                I’ve been wondering if the question was submitted here specifically to get a more explicitly nonacademic take, actually. CHE seems like a more logical audience, but if the OP is looking for support re being colleagues without being friends, this is a logical site for that specific need. That’s a pretty common stance here, and sometimes academics blend work/friendships more intensely (or not!) than people outside of academia do.

        3. Another Academic Librarian

          Also possible: library faculty! We are strange animals–same requirements for tenure as teaching faculty, but much different day-to-day expectations.

          1. Bibliovore

            I must admit the lack of traffic for this academic subset of CHE was discouraging when I first started reading the forums. We are on “the track” yet not part of faculty considerations. This falls in the category of “don’t get me started”

    2. Tuxedo Cat

      I agree with this, particularly the part that the new folks might get ahead of the letter writer. In my field, a major grant could do that. As someone who is more junior at my institution, I have some important contacts that have been useful for more senior folks.

      Not saying this is a reason to be friends with these people outside of work, but there could be benefits that these newer faculty bring to the table.

  28. Bibliovore

    Alison, I certainly have been enjoying this thread. Especially since I filed my tenure dossier a week ago and am finally breathing. I think some background information is needed for the non-academics. My experience more closely aligns with commenter Yup.
    To be hired now into a tenure track position is an amazing, incredible hard-won accomplishment. The tenure track person now has six years to prove their worth to the institution. Everything they do will be observed and scrutinized. They must be exemplary teachers, they must produce research and publish, they must give university, national, and international service. (often on their own time and dime) They must be recognized in their field. During their review period they are on probation with yearly reviews and can be let go if seen as a “bad fit.” Oh, and they can’t make waves. Academic freedom is for those already with tenure.
    The work considered for one’s dossier is above and beyond their classroom practice of creating curriculum, grading papers, thesis advising, grant writing, mentoring, and oh, yeah, teaching. In their sixth year, they go up for tenure. Failure to achieve tenure is the loss of the position. Yes fired. No severance. Very little recourse. One can fail their tenure bid without knowing why. There is no rule book- x number of articles, one book, one international speaking invitation, groundbreaking research, outstanding student evals.

    That said- I agree that OP has the right and needs to continue to connect with the cohort that is on the same clock as she is. Especially in the milestone years of 3rd and 6th. The Professor is In is a terrific guide to how to protect your time “on the track.”
    It is also important to understand that having a group that supports all of the tenure track faculty is a win. The people on the same clock with gravitate to each other.
    I also agree with the concept of affinity groups. We have the right to congregate and form relationships as we wish. Because these can be seen as exclusionary, it is important to recognize and evaluate if the exclusion is necessary to achieve the goals of the group.

    1. Yup

      Congrats, Bibliovore! Hope you fly through the process!

      Thanks for the explanations about academia – as much as I usually agree with Alison that we take the OP at their word and that they best know their situation, it was eye-opening to read this knowing the context and noticing that the OP’s reasoning just… doesn’t add up. In this case, I couldn’t take OP at their word that there was no way to include new hires, nor can I agree with her dismay that those new hires are upset about it. This is case where I can’t see that “the exclusion is necessary to achieve the goals of the group.”

      Lastly: I’d like to point out for non-academic readers that “fit” and “collegiality” matter hugely in faculty hiring and tenure decisions. If for no other reason than this, OP, reconsider your decision. Just because the new hires won’t be voting on your case doesn’t mean your senior colleagues won’t hear about this matter or have an opinion about it. I really do understand that, as someone else wisely said above, the group was inclusive when it formed. But it isn’t now. Please consider that.

      1. Ultraviolet

        But you’ve pointed out multiple facts of this situation that aren’t familiar to you. It seems unreasonable to me that you’re still confident that you know the OP’s context well. Academia’s not a monolith. And I am 100% agreed with Alison’s points about how treating letter writers this way discourages people from writing in.

        1. Bibliovore

          I too agree with taking the letter writer at their word. I appreciate the diversity of work situations that are discussed as well as management/worker context.

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