my employee keeps telling me his “expectations” of me

A reader writes:

I’m a mid-level college administrator. One of my direct reports is positioning himself to move up in a couple of years (from department member to department head). He would still report to me, but the working relationship would be a little different. I need to work closely with department heads, and it can have a major impact on my work and the organization if that relationship is toxic.

The problem is that he thinks he is a LOT smarter than me. He apparently read something about “managing up” and now he is trying to manage me. He is very, very bad at it. His attempts to manipulate me are clumsy and obvious, but he doesn’t realize that I know what he is doing (because he’s sure that he is much smarter than me). There’s also some sexism going on here (I’m female, and he seems to have problems with that sometimes) and I’m relatively new to the organization, so he doesn’t know me well. Every conversation degenerates into incredibly irritating condescension and smugness on his part. For example, he has said things like:

• “My expectation is that you will give me a hint if you think there may be a change coming up.” Me: No, not happening. I try to squelch rumors, not spread them. And if there is a change coming, your department head will know first.

• “My expectation is that you will change the meeting time.” Me: No, a meeting that involves 27 people and has been scheduled for a month will not be rescheduled just for you.

• About a minor snafu with the bookstore: “I’m sure you understand why you need to have this person fired.” Me: Let’s just talk about how we are going to handle a fairly small problem.

• About a trivial department matter that could easily have been resolved before it even got to me: “I know that you will do the right thing and bring this to the Chief Academic Officer.” (That’s the equivalent of the CEO.) Me: Here’s the solution that I see.

He always ends with a smirk and a slow nod. His body language says that he is certain he has programmed me to respond correctly.

Right now, I just smile, ignore it whenever possible, and get back to the issue at hand. Occasionally I have addressed it head on, when I need to clarify that he will definitely not be getting what he wants this time.

I want to call him on this, because it is getting very tiresome. It also sidetracks the conversation away from the important stuff we need to be discussing. And I don’t enjoy being treated with such disrespect. If he does become the department head, it will be even more important that he have some respect for my intelligence. I’m tempted to give him a book on the topic and tell him he needs to study some more before trying this again. But in calmer moments, I know that level of bluntness (sarcasm, snark, whatever you want to call it) will just embarrass him and put him on the defensive. How can I stop this behavior without doing too much damage to our work relationship? Or do I just have to put up with sentences that start, “My expectation is that you will…” forever?

(A complicating factor is that he’s popular with his colleagues, which is why he will be very seriously considered for the department head position. In academia, that decision is made by the faculty. I could potentially veto their decision, but right now I don’t have enough ammunition to go nuclear. And it would destroy my credibility with the rest of the department. That’s why I would rather figure out how to make this work if I can.)

This guy sounds incredibly obnoxious. And also, if he’s trying to manage you, he’s really bad at it.

“Managing up” doesn’t mean “pretend that you’re your boss’s manager and tell them what to do.” It means working with your boss in a way that will produce the best possible results for both of you and figuring out what is and isn’t within your sphere of control to act upon.

So he’s confused on the concept.

But you’re right that your options are complicated by what sounds like a genuine need to handle him more delicately than you ideally would.

Ideally — in a situation with politics different than this one — you’d just name what he’s doing and tell him to stop. The next time he started in with “my expectation is that you will…” you’d say, “Framing this as ‘your expectations of me’ is coming across really strangely. My job is to make the decisions on this type of thing. I will ask for your input and perspective at times, and you’re certainly welcome to ask when there’s something you’d like to see, but ultimately that’s a call I’ll make myself.”

And actually, it’s possible you could do that here too! If you feel you can, do.

Alternately, you can convey that same message without spelling it out so explicitly, simply by making it clear that you aren’t being swayed by whatever weird technique he’s attempting. For example:

Him: “My expectation is that you will give me a hint if you think there may be a change coming up.”
You: “No, that’s not something you should expect. If there is a change coming, your department head will be the first person to talk with you about it.”

Him: “My expectation is that you will change the meeting time.”
You: “No, I’m not going to reschedule this meeting since it involves so many other people and has been on calendars for a while.”

Him: “I’m sure you understand why you need to have this person fired.”
You: “I don’t agree that’s warranted here. This is a small problem, and I will handle it directly with Jane.”

Him: “I know that you will do the right thing and bring this to the Chief Academic Officer.”
You: “No. (The Chief Academic Officer) and I are in agreement that I’ll handle this type of issue. What I will do is…”

Another option is to have a natural reaction to his “my expectation is…” language, meaning that you let yourself seem visibly surprised. For example, when he said his expectation was that you’d change a meeting time, you could say, “I’m surprised you expect that, given how many other people the meeting involves. Can you clarify for me why you’d expect that?” or “That’s landing with me quite strangely! Can you explain what you mean?”

There’s a pretty good chance this if you repeat this a few times, he’ll feel awkward enough that he’ll stop doing it — and ideally may even realize that he can’t push you around.

In a normal work situation — read: not academia — I’d also say to loop your own boss in on what’s going on, given the likelihood of promotion for this guy. Someone above you needs to hear, a minimum, that he has problems respecting women’s authority. But academia is full of weird politics that I don’t have any expertise in, so I can’t tell you if that makes sense to do here or not — but at least consider it as an option.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 545 comments… read them below }

  1. KatieKate*

    The description of this guy is making me physically recoil. No advice OP, just commiseration.

        1. AnnaBananna*

          Exactly. This guy simply cannot be a leader if this is the way he actually communicates to people. It’s curious, though. It’s almost like he’s trying to speak in homage to Alison-speak but getting it exactly incorrect.

          OP, other ways to defer these communications: say the exact opposite. So if he says ‘its my understanding that…’ you respond with ‘your understanding of the situation is incorrect and here’s why’, or ‘my expecation is…’ and you rebutt with ‘your expectation is incorrect and here’s why’. Not only does this show him that his instincts are wildly offbase, but there’s more of an opportunity for him to grow – but only if he can actually absorb what you’re explaining.

          That smirk, though. I wouldn’t have the patience for that. So, stop smiling when you’re explaining things to him. Stop softening yourself. He clearly doesn’t respect your authority so stop giving him cushions with your responses. And get your department chair in the loop. In fact, start documenting on him because I have a feeling this will get worse before it gets better. Also, start networking amongst the department way more so you’re not as vulnerable as you currently are. Start volunteering for projects that give you access to more folks that you can leverage later.

          I’d love an update on this one! :)

          1. Shay*

            AnnaBanana nails it and I also suggest that you closely observe how this person interacts with other women … above him, equal to him, and below him in the chain of command. It may help if you identify others on the receiving end of this guy’s rude behavior because down the line (when he’s under consideration for promotion) you may be able to push-back collectively with a ‘group’ of bad experiences. Good luck and please send an update.

      1. Nea*

        Yes, he is grating, offensive, and sexist, and yes, if OP brings it up as an attitude problem I can see where the faculty may consider it just a personal issue.

        But I can’t help but wonder – will the faculty consider him popular enough that they’ll allow a Department Head to reschedule large meetings at the last minute? Popular enough to fire employees over minor, fixable issues? Popular enough for the CAO to have to drop their own job to take a personal interest every time the Dept. Head comes whining to them rather than fix a problem himself?

        There are work issues well beyond his patronizing OP that can reasonably discuss with the faculty right this very minute. And then if they are receptive, it’s the perfect time for OP to add “Oh, and then there’s his rotten sexist attitude towards management…”

        1. Alli525*

          There’s virtually no way that he’s this condescending to his SUPERIOR and isn’t at least as condescending to the people who report to him. I bet quite a few of the women on his team are desperately hoping he doesn’t become department head. It’s not a personal issue in the sense that OP is the only person on the receiving end of his bad behavior, it’s a personal issue in the sense that he, personally, is the issue.

          1. Zephy*

            It’s not a personal issue in the sense that OP is the only person on the receiving end of his bad behavior, it’s a personal issue in the sense that he, personally, is the issue.

            Well said. This guy sounds awful to be around, OP. Sorry you have to deal with it.

            1. Impy*

              Does she ‘have to deal with it’? He reports to her. Politics aside he’s a damn subordinate.

              1. oes*

                Academia just doesn’t work that way. Hierarchies between faculty and staff (administrators) are really separate.

          2. Nea*

            it’s a personal issue in the sense that he, personally, is the issue

            I adore this phrasing. What I don’t adore is how many situations where I’m going to find it applicable to repeat it.

          3. Yorick*

            Yeah, OP should talk to the women in the department before approving his promotion to department head. Any sexism issues are a good reason to veto his promotion even though it might be controversial with other faculty in the department.

        2. Adminx2*

          Some people are just really good at being the “nice guy” and letting other people take the fall. Notice he’s trying to get her to do all the nasty work for him. That’s why it’s call politics. We’d like to think a person like that would slip up enough to see the problems and get pulled back but personality is powerful.

          1. Cafe au Lait*

            Can you imagine if he does become department chair? The whole department will turn toxic fast because this Dude doesn’t want to do the heavy lifting of managing. He’ll expect others will do the work for him while he accepts the accolades.

            1. Anna*

              Exactly. When the OP said she doesn’t want a toxic relationship, I immediately thought, “too late!”

        3. Name Required*

          It’s academia. The answer is yes, he probably will be popular enough to do those things if he can get away with them now. The exhausting emotional shenanigans tolerated in academia are amazing; I have no idea how they get anything done.

          1. Emily K*

            Yep. Even more than in the private sector, if you’re considered brilliant enough/publish enough/bring in enough grant money, you can pretty much have a garbage personality and still rise into positions of power and influence.

          2. Anun walks into a bar*

            OP can also work with campus-wide faculty diversity initiatives to assure that this person comes around to best practices, as this is likely profound ignorance and a lack of self-awareness that needs some attempt for getting in alignment with overall inclusive success. Let faculty diversity professionals see him as someone to work with as part of the transformation. Year one might feel like window dressing, but if he stays with it, he helps everyone, including OP and all those people who voted for him in the next position.

            And let’s remember, not everyone wants to be chair of a department, even if there is a bump in pay. There is a deep dive in dealing with humanity coming from people who believe that, since they have a PhD, all other input from others may be optional, questioned-at-the-level-of-professional-debate, disregarded, and/or mocked.

        4. Martha*

          As an academic, I’d be very surprised if this fellow is as popular as the OP thinks he is. Unless all of his colleagues are also supercilious jerks and few of his colleagues are women (which is possible).

          1. Massmatt*

            But in many places popularity among colleagues means nothing, all that matters is being liked (or like) someone at or near the top.

            Friend of mine saw even someone worse than this (all this smug sexist nonsense AND a history of sexual harassment charges) at a midwestern university. Every woman on the interviewing committee said HELL NO, yet he was hired. With full tenure! And sure enough, within a couple years the complaints and charges started, the university had to shell out enormous settlements.

    1. Claribel*

      Same! My hackles are all the way up! Alison’s suggestion to act surprised when he says “my expectation is…” might work, it might not, but hopefully it would make the OP feel better in the moment at least.

      1. Academia Is Weird*

        LW here. Thanks to everyone who commented! But yes, academia is a very weird place. Faculty are actively proud of not having people skills, which they consider “playing politics”. I think Alison is a good one, and one I will employ for sure.

      2. Camellia*

        RE: Acting surprised

        I would be concerned that he would interpret the surprise as a indicator that the OP had no idea that that was what she was supposed to do.

        1. SusanIvanova*

          Don’t use the “oh gosh, how astonishing” surprised look, use the “I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.” (Charles Babbage, on being asked whether his computing device would give a good answer when given bad input)

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Ugh, I hate this behavior in anyone, but it’s especially frustrating when it’s in academia with a dude who thinks he’s smarter than you.

      I strongly favor Alison’s asking questions approach for three reasons: The first is that if you respond with an “expectation reset,” I worry that it validates his approach by giving him a variation of what he wants and encourages him to keep doing it (i.e., for you to explain yourself and be on the defensive instead of being able to manage without his intervention). The second is that asking questions can allow you to rechannel your snark, which can be incredibly emotionally satisfying. Third, it plays into his assumptions about your competence/intelligence, and so he’s unlikely to realize you’re putting him in his place until you’ve exercised your managerial jiu-jitsu. The result is that he ends up put in his place and has no idea how he got there.

      I also like asking questions because they help highlight how inappropriate his “expectations” language is. At some point I think a direct conversation is helpful, but in the interim, a confused look paired with a kind-but-slightly-condescending, “oh, why on earth would you expect that?” may do the trick.

      1. Minocho*

        Yeah, I agree with this. I’m concerned that some of Alison’s scripts could give this guy the impression that he’s free to continue imposing his “expectations”.

        My teeth – I did not know they could grit this hard.

        1. Just J.*


          Do not justify yourself as it opens the door to allow him to keep “negotiating.” I like the first part of Alison’s scripts “No, that is not something you should expect.” “No, the meeting will not be rescheduled.”

          “No” is an answer all in and of itself.

          1. boo bot*

            Yes, I really like the phrase “that is not something you should expect” here, in particular.

            1. BettyBrant*

              Oooooooh that would be satisfying. Responding to “My expectation is…” with a firm “that is not something you should expect” and then walking away would shut that down beautifully.

            2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

              Yes – I really liked “I’m surprised you expect that” and “That is not something you expect”. Really anyway to turn his wording back around on him. I would try to do this every time. Find a way to always point out that his expectations are off base. Oh – use that “Your expectations are off base, I need to make the call on the lama sheering report, and I will base my decision off of X not Y”. Throw the word expect back at him until he stops using it.

          2. Cascadian*

            On twitter these are called flypaper trolls, as their intent is to get you stuck ‘debating’ until you’re exhausted & out of time. Then they claim a win because you failed to convince them.

            1. parsley*

              I’ve never heard this phrasing before and I instantly both love and hate it (mostly because I can think of a number of times where I’ve been stuck to the flypaper).

            1. Mookie*

              The way that you describe him as grinning leads me to believe he thinks you answer to him and enjoys throwing a spanner in the works, trying to fluster you. I suggest remaining unflappable, and regularly remind him when and where an issue is above his paygrade. “Your expectations don’t matter” can be communicated in many ways. If bluntness in this workplace is cherished as a sign of authenticity, feel free to harden as needed.

              1. Mickey Q*

                I would have no problem saying “I’m not here to satisfy your expectations. However, you are here to satisfy mine.”

          3. Blue Horizon*

            I would add that once you have told him that his expectations on a certain matter are not reasonable, you should hold him to it – i.e., it’s no longer OK to express that expectation to you as you’ve told him it’s not appropriate.

            Ultimately you may need an assertion of authority to resolve this. You’ve stated that you need a close and positive working relationship with your department heads. If you need to see certain behavior from him to achieve that, and he’s not displaying it – and isn’t changing his behavior when you call him out – then that’s a problem FOR HIM, potentially an employment problem if he takes it far enough. You do him no favors by letting him get away with it. It’s a requirement for the position and he’s not meeting it.

            “I appreciate you might feel differently about this, but this is the way I’d like it to be, and if we’re going to work effectively together then I need you to be on board and doing it the way I’ve asked you to. Can I count on you to do that?”

            I wouldn’t necessarily jump straight to this – you might want to go through an escalation process and start by explaining to him why you’re correcting him – but if he continues to behave this way, this is where you end up. If he still refuses, well, he’s effectively told you that he doesn’t intend to do his job.

        2. Autumnheart*

          Me too. This man already thinks he’s much smarter than LW. Framing these things as questions makes it sound even more like LW needs her job explained to her by her subordinate. Explaining her reasoning makes it sound like she has to justify her decisions to him.

          To think this guy is going to be rewarded for his BS by being made department head. Intolerable.

          1. juliebulie*

            For that reason, the exact words I’d use would be “I don’t know why you’d expect that.” Dismissive, and not even phrased as a question.

            Alternatively, I might reply with “MY expectation is…”

            (And in my imagination, I would say “your expectations don’t interest me.” While slapping him silly.)

            1. TL -*

              I’d use “hmm. That’s an odd expectation/I’m not sure what gave you that impression. What’s actually going to happen is [meeting continues as scheduled/your department head is going to inform you of any changes to policies/we are discussing the issue with the bookstore but certainly not going to make management suggestions to them.]”

              Too often in academia, ‘handling’ things means ignoring them instead of finding a diplomatic way to call them out and I think OP is falling into that mindset.

            2. NothingIsLittle*

              As much as I like to imagine an incredibly cold, “Do you honestly think that expectation is even remotely acceptable?” with an unimpressed deadpan and absolute silence as he digs his hole deeper, I can’t help but think it would probably be inappropriate.

              Hopefully, OP will be able to contain her well-founded aggravation! I certainly struggle to deal with the students who talk down to me, and I only manage because I tell the entire faculty that to watch for them.

              1. Working Hypothesis*

                The version I would be strongly tempted to use is, “This isn’t the first time you’ve voiced an ‘expectation’ that isn’t even remotely appropriate for someone in your position to try and impose on your superiors. I hope you’ll be able to learn how to adjust your expectations to suit your role, because right now they’re cause for serious concern about your judgment.”

                From what you say, this might not fly very well, but I admit I would probably do it anyway. This may be why I’m not very well suited to academia, but… if people there are proud of being bad with people skills, can you possible cultivate “the blunt one” as your professional persona, and make it something *you* are publicly proud of, in a similar fashion? I’ve seen that work before in environments where people seem to think that a lack of diplomacy = genius at one’s job, but don’t know how it would go over where you are in particular.

          2. Ann Perkins*

            I don’t think those sample questions make it sound like LW needs her job explained to her. A simple, “Oh, why would you think a large meeting would be rescheduled to accommodate only your schedule?” or “Why exactly are you stating what your expectations of me are? Do we need to review the org chart?” would work wonders in the guy talking himself into a hole. I do agree that the “No” answers shouldn’t have a justification to them though, which is a hard habit to break.

            1. Mimi Me*

              “Why exactly are you stating what your expectations of me are? Do we need to review the org chart?”

              Oh Ann Perkins with your smart words, you know just the things to say. This response is my favorite.

              1. Mookie*

                Agreed. “Feel free to explain your expectations to me” is a great way to get this guy to shut up.

          3. Curmudgeon in California*

            True. A woman in a dominance fight should not use questions (or vocal fry.) Statements, as flat and hard as practical, while still maintaining academic courtesy, are what is called for here.

            You are dealing with an arrogant, sexist prig here, who thinks he is your superior intellectually and socially. You need to start correcting him and collecting paper before he gets promoted and creates a hostile work environment.

        3. Jules the 3rd*

          +1 I am also concerned that the softer redirects are what OP’s been doing so far and it hasn’t changed anything.

          I have to admit, I’d lean towards an open conversation of “While you are a Very Smart Person, you don’t have visibility to all the information surrounding these issues, such as legal guidelines or [insert relevant area here]. In my position, I do get that wider view. I welcome your input, but I have to include it as one of many factors in my decisions. Telling me that you expect something just reminds me of how much you don’t see, and reduces my confidence in your proposed solutions.”

          Sometimes (just sometimes), reminding a Physics professor that he’s not a Labor Law negotiator works.

          1. Academia Is Weird*

            Letter Writer here. This sounds great. I might just write it out and use it regularly.

            1. gyrfalcon*

              Of all the proposed answers on this post and discussion, I like this one best. It gets the right balance between his autonomy as a faculty member, and your control of certain resources and actions as a dean.

              I don’t think responses that foreground that you’re his superior are that helpful, because in my experience that’s really not how the faculty/dean relationship works. When I was in faculty, the dean of faculty was in some sense my boss because he was the one who approved raises, and he was the one who could put reprimands in my file. (The faculty department chairs did not see salaries.)

              But framing our relationship as “superior/subordinate” was just wildly not in line with how the usual interactions between us operated. Not because I’m an ass like your jerkoff guy, but because those kinds of “the boss tells me what to do and I do it” expectations that hold outside of academia, just don’t hold for faculty.

          2. Chinookwind*

            I used something similar when working on a creating a program with many end users which included engineers who insisted that all the other stuff they saw should be removed because they don’t need it. I learned to repeatedly, and very politely, point out that they only work on a very small portion of our project and that the other information is highly relevant to everyone else and that, without it, what the engineers were doing would become irrelevant.

            A similar response came from higher ups who couldn’t figure out what the program had to work when disconnected from the internet. I repeatedly, and politely, had to point out that some of our users were in a cellphone/sat phone dead zone and that I didn’t care if it was only true for 2 people once a month, it was still a required feature.

            It is frustrating working with people who think that the only perspective available is their own.

          3. PJs of Steven Tyler*

            THAT is a very good way to handle someone like this – you are giving them the idea that you value them as smart people but reminding them that they can’t possibly know everything.

        4. AK*

          Yeah, I like the questions idea but agree he could spin that as “she needs me to explain things for her”. If he pulls that crap I’d switch to questions that are actually statements. “You expect I’ll reschedule a meeting that 27 people have had on their calendars for months for reasons other than a major natural disaster? That is not something you should expect.” “You expect I will fire someone over a minor error? And still be able to have that position staffed with someone trained to do those duties? That is not an expectation you should have.”

          Also, is this guy also a professor? You could try pretending to take these comments as a lighthearted joke and recast them as a student having out-sized expectations. “Ha, that’s like one of your students expecting to have the lecture time changed one day!” or “Good one! That’s like one of your students expecting you’ll be fired because you mumbled a little one day.” This might recast the actual power dynamic, highlight the ridiculousness of things and also treat it like you’re all on good terms and there’s no real issue here (though there is, obviously, it’s just hard to address it directly without giving him grounds for being defensive and petty about it).

        5. Oh So Very Anon*

          My bad boy response would go something like this:

          Comment: “My expectation is…”
          Response: “I won’t be doing anything with that, but thanks for sharing.”

      2. OhBehave*

        YES! Please do not explain what you will do. “What I will do…” This gives him the chance to correct you.
        This guy sounds like a peach who will go to the top of the heap.

      3. Eukomos*

        Asking questions like that can backfire with faculty specifically, though. These people’s entire jobs is to argue obscure points. They are not only able to create solidly constructed arguments in defense of weak points, they positively relish it, and they all believe they’re brilliant at it. If you say “why would you expect that” he’ll have an answer that sounds good to him, even if it sounds like word salad to you.

        1. Retired Teacher*

          I agree! Asking him questions, just gives him the floor. You don’t want a debate. A statement of fact is better than a question. I would probably say, “I’m afraid that expectation is unrealistic, ” and then say why. And keep it brief. Fewer words convey more authority, I think.

    3. Shirley Keeldar*

      Me too! I really wanted to chime in with help or at least sympathy, but all I’m really capable of expressing is “Ich–urrrr–ugh–GAAAAAAH!” Which, though sincere and heartfelt, is probably not too helpful to the OP. Sorry about that.

      1. Shirley Keeldar*

        Actually, I did come up with something that might help. Would it be helpful to play to his vanity and smugness a bit? “That’s an odd expectation from someone with your experience.” “I’m surprised that someone at your level would expect that.”

    4. MOAS*

      Ugh, same! Idk who’s worse, this guy, or the jerk who used to work here and constantly screamed at me (and my male boss), at clients, and was an all around asshat.

    5. Just Elle*

      ” His attempts to manipulate me are clumsy and obvious, but he doesn’t realize that I know what he is doing (because he’s sure that he is much smarter than me).”

      I once heard this behavior as “thinks he’s playing chess when he’s really playing checkers.” And now when people act that way toward me I chuckle quietly to myself about what an idiot they are – they don’t even know what game they’re playing. I’m not sure fighting smugness with smugness is the *best* way to manage these things, but at the very least it brings a spot of amusement to the situation.

      1. NothingIsLittle*

        “thinks he’s playing chess when he’s really playing checkers” is incredible and I definitely am going to need it where I work

        1. Academia Is Weird*

          Letter Writer here. I will also be using this to help maintain my sanity! Thanks.

    6. Effective Immediately*

      For *real*. If a junior staff member–especially with the gender dynamics in play, which are very real–said, “My expectation is that you’ll…” in this context, I think my automatic reaction would be to say, ‘Excuse me?’ and just look at him pointedly until he squirmed.

      I don’t know academia that well either, but I’d certainly be looking for someone I could flag this to ahead of his promotion.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Acronymns are tricky even for those of us who grew up speaking the language. So for benefit of our overseas readers I’ll ask! Do you mean “Pick-up Artist” ?

        1. Kittymommy*

          I thought the same (which is a fitting name for this guy) but couldn’t figure the U out either.

      1. Memyselfandi*

        Yes! No idea what it means. I used the acronym finder and the one I liked best was Probabilistic Uncertainty Analysis. If it does mean pick-up artist I don’t see the relevance either.

        1. animaniactoo*

          It is Pick Up Artist – the thing about PUA stuff is that it’s all about how you word things and what options you present to the person in front of you so that they feel pushed to go along with what you want and therefore you succeed at Picking Up women (making you an Artist at it).

          So the relevance here would be this guy thinking he is “managing up” by steering LW in the direction he wants with his “expectation”.

        2. lemon*

          I think it does stand for “pick-up artist.” There’s a whole online culture of “pick-up artists” who are essentially creepy dudes who use manipulative techniques to seduce women, and then write blogs about these techniques to convince other dudes to use them. Telling someone “I expect you to do X” sounds like it could be one of those techniques.

        3. Not your Dad's Recruiter*

          The common denominator between this guy’s behaviour ar pick-up artists is NLP – neuro-linguistic programming. I think this is what Detective was pointing to.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            Yup! Sorry, I got called away unexpectedly right after making that comment.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            There’s a great episode of Criminal Minds about it. Season… four, if I remember correctly.

              1. Chinookwind*

                Would that be the episode where the guy claimed to FBI in an attempt to pick up one of the 4 female FBI agents who were relaxing at a bar?

                1. Oh So Very Anon*

                  Oh, no. It’s the one where the guy has a business teaching other guys how to pick up women.

                2. Spreadsheets and Books*

                  No, but that’s a great scene.

                  This one was about a creepy murderer that was picking up women from bars, brutalizing them, and making them clean up their own crime scenes with bleach who was taking classes from an even creepier guy named Viper who taught pick-up artist classes. Prentiss did indeed eviscerate Viper’s weirdo persona.

        4. Artemesia*

          There is a whole industry teaching losermen to pick up women with manipulative behavior like this. You ‘neg’ them so they have to scramble to defend themselves and endear themselves to you. You keep them off balance. You pre-empt their decision making as this dude is trying to do to the OP. It is clumsy at it. This is not the way you manage up; managing up should be seamless not blaringly obvious and the core of it is making the superior’s job easier by moving in the ways you want them to move (invisibly of course).

      2. Jules Verne*

        It’s my understanding that yes, PUA stands for “Pick-up Artist”, which I associate with those gross forums where men advise other men on “negging” and other nasty behaviors to “get” women.

    2. YetAnotherUsername*

      Yes it sounds like he’s trying to AMOG her (that’s alpha Male of the group – a pua technique. Basically the idea is if you act like other people need your input then you end up being treated like the alpha. Other ways people do this is by saying things like “well done you did a really good job on that” to their superiors to make it look like their superior needs their approval.

      I’ve definitely had junior men use this on me – giving me approval or advice to make it seem to others that I want their approval or advice.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Yup! It comes across as so smarmy and icky that my brain immediately went there.

      2. Ella Bee Bee*

        Ugh, that’s so obnoxious.

        Wasn’t there once a letter here from someone saying that their employee did this? Something like he replied to her emails saying “good catch, well done” when she made edits to his work. I tried to find it but couldn’t.

      3. Anonybus*

        I’ve had this happen to me frequently enough in the past two years that I’ve begun to actively look out for it. The first few times, I was too startled and weirded out by it to react, and I think that unfortunately, it may have given the impression that the technique “worked” (Spoiler: nope.)

        I hate having to expend mental energy on this, but does anybody have any ideas on how to discourage people from trying this in the first place? Unfortunately, I get the impression that it takes very little to provoke this behavior from insecure people, so there might be nothing to be done.

  2. Moray*

    Could something like “of course you can have an opinion, but this is a situation where your input or expectation is not relevant” be appropriate?

    1. JokeyJules*

      I’d love to retort with “my expectation is that you will keep these expectations to yourself moving forward” but i am sure that’s not the most helpful route.

      1. lulu*

        I would point out how widely out of line he is by saying: that’s a very weird expectation to have! If I bothered grandboss for such minor details, he would not have time to do his actual job / there is no way we can reschedule a meeting of 27 people just for you / etc.

        1. Green great dragon*

          I’d be having whole conversations about how his expectations for How Things Work seem very out of line and some helpful suggestions for calibrating his understanding of situations.

          I’d really like to have him shadow whoever manages diaries, for example, if he expects a 27 person meeting to move for his convenience, but that’s just my happy dreams.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I wish it were possible here, but it’s difficult to deliver a line like that without backlash from the employee and his fan club. It’s a great line/approach in other contexts.

    3. S*

      I wonder if you can say “your opinion is noted” instead, that lets them know their input is valued but that it is only part of the final decision making process.

      1. Joielle*

        This is great! Or maybe “your preference is noted.” It reframes the unreasonable expectation as what it is – the guy’s opinion/preference – but is facially very polite. If he chases after OP to explain that it’s not his opinion, it’s his expectation, then she has an opening to use Alison’s script. “Hm – it’s strange that you would put it that way. My job is to make the decisions on this type of thing.” etc.

        1. W. S. Gilbert*

          In a recently re-broadcast episode of Star Trek (TOS), Spock responded to a tongue-in-cheek suggestion from Kirk with, “I shall certainly give the thought all the consideration it is due.”

          It goes without saying that Nimoy’s intonation-free delivery was perfect.

            1. Academia Is Weird*

              This makes a lot of sense, and could be implemented without too much backlash.

            2. knitcrazybooknut*

              I call that one a Law & Order “sir”. Every time Michael Moriarty or Sam Waterston calls someone “sir,” you can hear the contempt dripping off of the word and eating through the floor like acid.

      2. ChachkisGalore*

        I use this one a lot. Then I just go on and do whatever it is that I was planning to do anyway (obviously only when the opinion truly is not warranted). It’s not as emotionally satisfying in the moment, but its perfectly professional and it gives them no purchase to argue.

      3. ursula*

        I like this too! Also a gentle reminder that he is one of many people of his rank, eg, “That’s not the kind of thing that [Assistant Professors or whatever] have a veto over,” or “Unfortunately we can’t reschedule for a single person – there are simply too many [Assistant Profs or whatever] to do so, so the meeting will proceed,” or “That decision isn’t made at the faculty/department level, because you aren’t likely access to the whole picture,” or “Actually that information will flow through the department heads if necessary – it’s inefficient for me to circulate information through each individual [Assistant Prof or whatever] , that’s why we have a hierarchy.”

        Basically, unspecial him as fast as you can.

        1. ursula*

          Also I find these kinds of people pride themselves on being “in the know,” and can be put off-balance by being reminded that they don’t have all the information (or all the info that you have). Good luck OP, don’t let this guy become your missing stair!

        2. gyrfalcon*

          I think these are good because they succinctly state the structures at the university — what the faculty are responsible for vs. what the administration is responsible for — without drawing on the corporate world pattern of “because I’m your boss”, which really isn’t germane for deans handling faculty.

      4. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

        I dunno… since his “expectations” seem to make no sense, this is what he needs to hear, not that they are valued. If he thinks he’s getting somewhere, he’ll just get worse.

        1. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

          Just to clarify: I would normally go for the “your opinion is valued” approach, but this is a special case. He’s not trying to help, he’s being intentionally manipulative and dismissive, and thus needs to stumble on some strong boundaries. Telling him that his opinion is valued, or that it’s appropriate of him to have expectations of his manager, will only give him the justification he needs to escalate further.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            I feel the same way. I wouldn’t value this dude’s out-of-the-ballpark expectations and my gut reaction as I was reading it was, “Why would you expect that?” (but I like Alison’s phrasing better!). I think it’s important to note that his expectations are not reasonable and, if I’m trying to manage or develop him, to have a sit-down with him over this odd framing under the assumption that he wants to move up and will want to be a good department head, which does not include unnecessary firings, escalations, and inconveniencing 27 people for the sake of his own whims.

    4. RUKiddingMe*

      “…this is a situation where your input or expectation is not relevant.”

      I think just this part.

    5. TootsNYC*

      I think I would be so much more blunt than Alison suggests. I’d be saying things like, “It is not your place to have expectations of me.” and “I am in charge of this; if I want your input, I’ll ask it.”

      And maybe “what a weird thing to say.” And if necessary, “Do you think you’re in charge? you aren’t.”

      Maybe I’d start with, “I’ve noticed your using phrases like ‘my expectation of you is’ a lot. You should know that this is highly confrontational and condescending, and it makes you look really bad and snotty. Not a good look.”

        1. bleh*

          Alison is correct- academia does mean that bluntness is unlikely to be effective. The structure is so different – immediate superiors don’t have hiring and firing power over TT faculty – that you can’t just use your position as a lever like in private business. And the relationships last so much longer – many academics spend a whole career in one institution – that you don’t want to poison the water worse than the perpetrator already has.

          This fella is going to remain a problem sadly.

          1. The downside of academia*

            Yes, this. I have a real issue with a a mansplaining academic who is theoretically my equal but who could impede my effectiveness in my position if I was blunt or direct about his obnoxious behavior. He is not going to change. This is forever.

            1. Impy*

              That is so depressing. Why won’t they do anything? I don’t just mean for the sake of justice and parity; but for the sake of the department. This sort of behaviour poisons the well and impedes productivity. It’s what i’ll never understand about prejudice in the workplace – why prioritise a shitty male who’s making people’s lives worse over his equally productive and important colleagues? Up to and including god forbid we ask Fergus to stop fiddling his expenses or students, or ask him to treat other humans with basic respect because if we do he’ll have a tantrum and leave, and he’s so much more important than other people’s trauma. And they never stop to think about the work Jane might have produced if Fergus hadn’t blocked her academic progress because she called him on his shit one time. It’s elitist and disgusting.

  3. Fortitude Jones*

    Oh, hells no. OP, no advice here, but just wanted to commend your remarkable restraint.

    1. Alternative Person*

      Seriously OP, you are amazing.

      I would have snapped and started saying ‘My expectation is…’ back at him.

      1. Kelsi*

        Yeah, my instinctive reaction to that framing is “My expectation is that you will stop speaking to me that way immediately.” And I’m not usually a very assertive person at work. But this kind of nonsense is in the “immediately seeing red” zone for me.

      2. Isabel Kunkle*

        Seriously. “My expectation is that you will go find a wasp nest and stick your entire face in there.”

        1. Sarah M*

          Hmm. I’m thinking he should stick a different part of his anatomy in the wasp’s nest, but his face would work.

    2. Anonymous because cranky*

      Me too. I try to be pretty quiet at work, but this guy is just begging for an exchange that starts with “Bob, do you think [Institution] hires stupid people?”

      1. Academia Is Weird*

        Believe me, I have considered all of these and many more. I appreciate knowing that I’m not off base here.

        1. Lexi Lynn*

          Does he actually know that’s he lower on the food chain? Some of these guys just get stuck on female=admin. Maybe shut him up with a reintroduction. “We seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot. I’m xxx and I run yyy . I typically take input from the asst Prof on, but have final decision making.”

  4. I'm A Little Teapot*

    I’m guessing that bursting out laughing in this guy’s face isn’t a good response? Because he’s so off base that, to an outsider at least, this is hilarious.

      1. Anonnonaanon*

        Well Bob, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need…

    1. Antilles*

      Don’t be so sure that it *isn’t* a good response. I think part of the reason he keeps doing this is precisely BECAUSE OP seems to be listening to his argument, whereas if she laughed in his face and said “no, you don’t get expectations for someone more senior than you, brainiac”, he’d probably back off.

      1. Antilles*

        (That said, I understand that might not be an approach OP feels comfortable taking – partly because of academic politics and partly because the socialization/norms around women are different for men)

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Mostly because of the academic politics – if he’s promoted, he’ll be more an equal and can easily cause big problems.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I actually love the idea of laughing in his face with something like, “Oh, that was a great joke!” and walking away.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I’ve actually laughed when egotistical blowhards made outrageous requests or suggestions. The look on their face made me stop laughing and say, ‘Oh, dear, you were serious? Well, here’s why I couldn’t help but laugh…’ The explanation and holding my ground usually was enough for them to drop the subject.

        OP, I don’t pretend to understand the politics and tribalism in the academic space, but egotistical blowhards are a lot alike. When he tells you what he ‘expects’, could you laugh a little without repercussions? I feel for you, this fellow sounds tiresome.

    3. hbc*

      Count me in on thinking laughing is a good start. I’d follow it up with something like, “Look, before I can even discuss your actual request, we need to talk about how you’re making it.” And then point out how all the “my expectations” and “I know you’ll do the right thing” are not appropriate and making it hard to take his requests seriously.

      1. juliebulie*

        I think this is really good advice. He does need to learn the difference between making a request and giving an order; he needs some guidance on the proper way to do both (e.g. no passive-aggressive tactics); and he also needs a reminder as to whom he can and cannot order around.

      2. That Work from Home Life*

        This is a great approach! Treat his absurd expectations with equal absurdity.

    4. Dadolwch*

      I was visualizing when I was reading the “I expect you to…” statements that he was also waving his hands like he is performing some sad Jedi Mind Trick. Maybe OP could try a Jabba the Hut laugh and tell him his mind tricks won’t work on her. But he really just sounds like a pathetic jerk who uses his academic status to compensate for his underlying sense of entitlement. Tread carefully, OP… in my experience, people like this can be really vindictive if they think they’re being thwarted.

      1. Elitist Semicolon*

        I maaaaay have once told a colleague who had just articulated a ridiculous request, “These are not the droids you’re looking for.”

      2. Academia Is Weird*

        I think he could take vindictive to new levels, so I agree that I need to be careful here.

    5. That Would be a Good Band Name*

      Seriously the response I’d have. I do not have a good poker face so I’m pretty sure I’d just laugh in his face. Some of these are such odd “expectations” that I’d assume they couldn’t possibly be serious.

    6. CupcakeCounter*

      I cannot say it enough…the best response to this level of BS is “the Rock eyebrow” raise. I feel it is the most perfect response to nearly everything as it relays surprise, bafflement, incredulity, and the perfect amount of condescension without saying a single word.

    7. Lily*

      “why would you think that?” could be a good starter, in a curious tone. It can be followed up by “Oh, you probably didn’t realize, but there are many other people who need to go to that meeting, so moving the time wouldn’t work” – in a friendly, explaining tone, if you are very evil^^

      1. LKW*

        When someone would try this with me… not academia… I would pick the most senior person and say “Oh, do you want to call the VP of the Division and tell her that you have a conflict so she should move her schedule to accommodate yours? No? OK, just checking Feel free to send a delegate if you can’t make it to the meeting.”

  5. Jennifer*

    Man, I got mad just reading that. I HATE guys like that. He really needs a good telling off. I guess Alison’s way is the way to go considering the circumstances but I wish there was a way to firmly, but professionally, put him in his place and let him know his “expectations” are not relevant and not to bring that up to you again.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Yeah, I figure Alison’s advice is more practical than my first instinct, to have him kidnapped by bridge trolls.

      1. IwanttobeAmySantiagotoo*

        Is… that an option? *Starts internet searching for bridge troll kidnapping services*

      2. The Vulture*

        A good idea, but no doubt the bridge trolls would send him back post-haste as soon as they got a taste of his “my expectations for this kidnapping are…” a la The Ransom of Red Chief.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          “My expectations for this kidnapping are….” is one of the best phrases I have ever read on AAM.

      3. Marshbilly, not Hillbilly*

        I need bridge trolls SO BAD at my work – please give me their website! ;-)

    2. OhBehave*

      Yeah. All OP needs is to be labeled a hysterical female. Some circles in academia have not evolved.

    3. paperpusher*

      I am mad because my first thought was that OP should start preparing herself for then day when he is her manager. :( My experience is that men who enter a situation with the expectation that they will soon be in charge tend to end up there.

      I DO NOT think that the OP should give in to this guy in order to maintain a harmonious work environment, but I just feel depressed because I recognize this type and have seen them get ahead too often. Especially in female-dominated professions, where that kind of overconfidence can just stun people into submission. The fact that the OP is aware of what he’s doing and is planning to deal with it is fantastic.

      1. Massmatt*

        There was discussion upthread about this seeming very much like a Pick Up Artist technique. But the thing is that at least sometimes those techniques WORK, and there is also the likely scenario that he behaves very differently towards men that are higher on the org chart than the OP.

        It is also possible that he WAS hired with a plan to promote him after getting a certain minimum of experience. In other words, maybe there IS an “expectation” that he will be promoted, and it’s not just his. I hope hope hope that is not the case!

  6. Felix*

    It may also help to start laying the groundwork for why you may want to veto his promotion. I won’t pretend to be an expert in how to do that in this situation, but in the end it will be better to have some basis before hand rather than to surprise the faculty and have it come out of nowhere.

    1. Eve's Husband's Mustache*

      YES, THIS. My advice would be to talk to grad students in the department… particularly female grad students if he has such a clear problem with seeing women as smart…

      I was part of a cohort of grad students that effectively vetoed the promotion of a particularly noxious faculty member to the department chair position. He had a largely positive evaluation from fellow faculty (as in this case, where OP says her nemesis here is popular in his department), but received like 70% strong disapproval from grad students in the survey process. Turns out he’s good at being pleasant to people he considers his peers (at least to their face – I more than once heard him ragging on fellow prof’s research behind their backs. Just female profs, oddly enough!) but was a real pill to anybody he considered his inferior. He was a tyrant to his TAs, especially women.

      I would have GLADLY spilled to any administrator who expressed interest. As it was, the department tried to gloss it over with some half-assed “let’s just clarify what is and isn’t acceptable to expect from TAs!” measures.

      Ah well. I’m out, degree in hand, and he is NOT the department chair. I’m sure he feels deeply aggrieved.

      1. Kiki*

        Yes! I understand why veto-ing his promotion may make your job harder later, but it might be worthwhile to do some digging and see if he’s really popular with everyone. If you suspect there’s a gendered component contributing to his terrible interactions with you, it’s probably a safe bet that he’s not being equitable in his interactions with students and TAs, who probably don’t have veto power. Obviously you don’t have any obligation to set your own career at the university on fire if that’s what veto-ing would do, but I think digging into this prick’s behavior further is worthwhile.

      2. AKchic*

        This advice here. Academia can be slow, but digging up dirt on someone doesn’t actually take a long time, especially if they have a “type”. You could get plenty of evidence supporting your reasons for not wanting him to get that promotion he thinks he’s already gotten.

      3. boo bot*

        Yes! If this is how he treats someone who is senior to him, imagine how he might be treating the people he has power over.

      4. anon this time*

        YEP. I work in academia and backroom-channeling is still often the best way to get results because of how nuts the rumor mill can be. An off-hand “oh, hmm, I think I’ve heard from a couple of his grad students that he XYZ” or “I’m sure he’s effective but his office does have a lot of turnover” is a good way to get the ball rolling.

      5. Lady Librarian*

        I would start by talking to his direct reports and having them (along with OP) document things, with dates. (Teacher trick: if you do this in Google Docs you can use Track Changes or Restore Previous Version, which are timestamped, to prove that you are adding to this over a period of time.) That way at least you have backup if you ultimately have to veto this guy. I don’t know if this is helpful but I have used those tools in Docs to catch students lying about their work, so.

        1. Eve's Husband's Mustache*

          It sounded to me like OP is administration/staff (like, an assistant dean or something) and the employee in question is faculty, based largely on this line:

          “A complicating factor is that he’s popular with his colleagues, which is why he will be very seriously considered for the department head position. In academia, that decision is made by the faculty.”

          Annoying guy is colleague to the decision-makers, and the decision-makers are faculty, ergo annoying guy = faculty

          1. another scientist*

            This detail is very central in my opinion. OP called herself an administrator, but appears to have decisionmaking power that put her above The Man of Many Expectations. Too bad that faculty of any step often perceive themselves as kings at academic institutions, to bow only to Nobel laureates. Not to excuse his behaviour, but The Man might genuinely not realize what side of the power differential he is.

      6. Exhausted Educator Was Exhausted*

        Getting grad students’ input is a great idea. They are likely to have some insights into who puts in work on behalf of students/colleagues/the department vs. who is just out to make themselves look good or otherwise be driven by their own agenda.

      7. Doodle*

        Eh, I’d say your experience was atypical. Academic institutions don’t give a rats ass about grad students’ opinions when it comes to appointments to dept head and so forth.

        What’s more likely is that this guy isn’t as unreservedly popular as you think. Guaranteed he has dept colleagues who can’t stand his arrogance — they’re professors too, and are either smarter than he is, or think they are. He’s not dept chair yet, I’d work at taking him down a peg.

    2. nonymous*

      Another way that OP can gain support is to start talking about the key skills for that position. Identify essential tasks/roles that this guy has odd “expectations” regarding and highlight the impact of those duties on overall success, whomever gets the promotion. This way OP can avoid vetoing a particular candidate while encouraging faculty to come to their own conclusions whether this guy can perform in the role. If he is really as popular/charismatic as OP thinks, they may create an admin role to handle all the stuff he can’t. Ideally the new position would report to the OP.

      After all, he’s probably too important to focus on details of interacting with the bookstore and stuff like that.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      OMG YES PLEASE PROTEST HIS PROMOTION. Don’t unleash this clown on the whole department.

      1. Autumnheart*

        And on all his female students. And on all of academia, which will only reinforce the idea that men belong in positions of power and get to decide whether women are intelligent, while assuming that men are intelligent by default. And subsequently on all of society, because everyone who goes to college will have this idea reinforced on them as students, and perpetuate sexism throughout every industry.

    4. Bagpuss*

      Yes – who makes the decision about whether he gets promoted?
      Given that you need to be able to work with department heads, presumably it is impoirtnat that they can work with you as well as vice versa – so the relationship may well be diffiicult, if not toxic, whether or not your response to his current behaviour brigns those issues out into the open earlier.

      Do you have the standing to document how he is bahving and the issues with sexism and lack of understanding of appropriate professional relationships? Or to suggest that peole who are junior to him are asked / encourae to give feedback?

      If you push back and he doesn’t like it, is there a way you can document theat so that it is on the radar of whoever makes decisions abotu department head? Is promoation to head of department something that happens purelybased on seniority, and if not, is there someone more suitable who you could encourage / coach to position themself as a better option?

    5. Michael Valentine*

      This would be best case, but I know it’d be hard if not impossible. Academia is unlike any place I’ve ever worked.

      I actually left academia due to blatant and unapologetic sexism. But I did manage to have the biggest perpetrator knocked down a bit on my way out. This wasn’t revenge, it was to get a toxic person out. He was kicked out of the department because my frank feedback was the impetus for an investigation that uncovered rampant harrassment.

      Since I was leaving I had nothing to lose, though. I think that’s what makes OP’s situation tricky since she’ll still be around. It’s unfortunate, but she’ll probably just have to figure out how to cope (it hurts me just saying that).

    6. Prof*

      It sounds like you know this already, OP, but tread lightly doing that. This behavior sounds truly obnoxious on a personal level. But if it’s really just restricted to you and to examples like these (as opposed to part of a broader pattern of disrespecting colleagues and/or students), faculty at anywhere I’ve worked would not be happy to see an otherwise strong candidate get blocked from promotion because an administrator thought his phrasing was insufficiently deferential. (Unless your place is very unlike mine, faculty 110% do not see themselves as your employees; if anything, they likely see it as your role to facilitate their work.) This would be the kind of move that would set faculty fuming about the petty machinations of administration, and it could actually be worse if you’re seen as trying to construct a case against him.

      If you have allies among the faculty, you may be able to get a discreet read on whether he has problems with others, particularly junior colleagues and students, and then you’d be justified in putting together a veto case. If not, though, your best bet is probably to stick with Alison’s advice of calmly and rationally responding to his statements, and treating this as an annoying tic stemming from a broader history of power relations in academia.

      1. Associate Prof Here*

        100% agree with this OP! Faculty are not your employees and many view admin antagonistically (sometimes justified and sometimes not). You’re also dealing with a bunch of people who all think they are the smartest. If he’s popular with his colleagues I’d encourage you to figure out what his strengths are and focus on these and try to ignore the obnoxious wording.

        1. Majnoona*

          Old professor here. Yep, I know this guy. He may seem popular but the female faculty don’t like him (are there many?). Neither do the junior faculty (they aren’t talking). I would say, shut him down but don’t veto him if he is elected department head. That’s a governance issue that will put even women who hate him on his side. Talk to the women to see if he’s a problem for them, encourage an alternate candidate if there is one. If you are an associate dean, tell your dean. A woman denied tenure may be a future lawsuit.

      2. Cobol*

        I would look at Eve’s Husband’s response for a very good counter. Faculty are just one leg of the higher end chair. You may 110% not view admin as your boss, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have that responsibility sometime. A bad department head can submarine a department, and being condescending to people you view as inferior is a great indicator.

    7. Hummus*

      One way to do that is to make sure you’re not sweeping up after his mistakes. You don’t mention any of these in the letter, so maaybe he’s great at his actual job, but I’ve always found that extra smugness comes with careless work. Obviously make sure your team output is what it needs to be, but there are ways to let people fall on their own without hurting the team. “Oh, I’m sorry Faculty, I didn’t realize Fergus never got you that information. Let me follow up.”

      1. Academia Is Weird*

        Collecting evidence is a great idea – and I’m an academic, so it comes naturally to me. And not cleaning up mistakes is also good. As long as no students are harmed, I’m okay with being honest when he screws up.

  7. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Please to God academics tell us there’s a way to report this up the food chain so that maybe JUST MAYBE he’ll get some training before being put into a position of (more) authority over grad students.

    1. antigone_ks*

      I guess it depends on the institution, but at mine he’d be able to overcome any bad reports by glad-handing the (mostly male) administration.

    2. Dr. Doll*

      Sorry….probably not. OP will have exactly zero backing from anyone here, it’s all hers to handle. Alison’s responses are perfect. No, because. No, because. No, because. But stop after because, don’t entertain questions or challenges.

      Perhaps occasionally you can begin with, “I don’t expect any objection on this.”

    3. Feather*

      I mean, at the unis I’ve attended/worked in there absolutely would be? (Actually there would be a LOT of ways to shut this guy down.) But it can depend hardcore on the culture and structure at your institution.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Unfortunately, it’s unlikely. All OP can do so far is deal with him and determine if there are ways to paper his file. Vetoing the promotion of someone who is very well-liked will almost certainly make OP’s life much harder and will cost her almost all her political capital.

      1. cactus lady*

        This isn’t necessarily true. I once had to report someone like this and they ended up geting demoted. This was at a major medical school in the US and harassment was at play (as it is here, which I would encourage OP to document/report). They ended up offering me a promotion to stay on but I went to a different department, where I learned this person was not as well-liked as I had thought. The weird politics of academia can sometimes work in your favor.

    5. Eukomos*

      Up the food chain wouldn’t really help as the departments are fairly independent bodies. Talking to the current department head before he gets the position is the best you could do. There should be an office in charge of this kind of training, but they won’t have the kind of authority a manager would have over someone in a normal business environment so it’s more of a persuasion thing than the marching orders it would be satisfying to see.

    6. The other Louis*


      I had someone try to manage up–a woman (and I’m a woman). She definitely thought she was smarter than anyone else in the room (or building, for that matter). She made the mistake of telling other employees how to get me to do what they wanted by managing up….when I was in hearing distance. I just ignored it, and she eventually quit, because her managing up was actually trying to change how the whole U works.

    7. cleo*

      No. Up the food chain probably won’t work. Back channels are the best bet. The thread above gets into details. I liked the suggestion about finding out how he treats grad students and encouraging them to share concerns now.

      1. Majnoona*

        Agree that back channels are best. Don’t bother with training. He knows he’s smarter than everyone.

  8. Czhorat*

    Is his advancement in 3 years or so a given?

    If he’s this toxic at his current level, then he *shouldn’t* move up. He’s not the kind of person who should have more authority.

  9. JW3*

    My expectation is that you understand that a meeting that involves 27 people cannot be rescheduled. My expectation is that you rearrange your schedule to attend, since it’s been on the calendar for months, or ask a colleague to take notes.

    1. designbot*

      Yep, my instinct is to bounce that language right back at him too. “And my expectation of you is that you’ll remember how many other people this involves whose schedules are more complicated than either of ours, and do what you need to make it to that meeting.” or even “No you’ve got this backwards, we’re here to talk about my expectations of you.”

      1. Normally a Lurker*

        +1000 This would be my route as well.

        It points out the absurdity of both the language and the request.

      2. TL -*

        Honestly for the schedule, if you have any busy, no-nonsense, good high level people (preferably female) in the meeting, “No, I’m certainly not changing the schedule. Sarah High Authority has no other time she could meet and she’s the determining factor here.”

        See if he takes the bait and contacts someone who has the power to shut him down.

    2. Elbe*

      I love this! Repeating “my expectation” has a hint of mockery, but not enough for him to action.

    3. AKchic*

      Yep. I would 100% be using his language and attitudes right back at him. Being a mirror to his behavior could actually show him some ugly truths about himself, or get him irritated enough to try to complain (which might very well have some adverse reactions for him).

      Document everything, regardless of what you choose to do.

    4. Kyrielle*

      Yeah, that kind of re-schedule is a nightmare that happens only if the *key people* can’t make the meeting, or an emergency occurs. (And if the “emergency” does not affect the key people or the meeting’s planned location, it’s not an emergency as far as the meeting goes.)

  10. DarthVelma*

    I don’t know if it’s feasible in your situation, but consider cutting him off completely. He has a department head. Make him follow chain of command and go through that person. It has multiple advantages – makes his manager manage his behavior, keeps him out of your hair unless the department head thinks an issue is worth discussing with you, and puts him quite firmly in his place.

    1. DarthVelma*

      Oh, and do not, under any circumstances, let this person get promoted. If he doesn’t respect a woman who is his superior, how do you think he’d treat women he has actual authority over?

    2. Academic Addie*

      Different universities are structured differently, but as faculty, the only admins I talk to regularly outside my department are my dean, and the heads of grants, purchasing and accounting. But the only one who is in my path to advancement is my dean. I’m a little surprised that there’s so much interaction happening.

      I think Allison’s scripts are quite good, but revisiting his expectations on contact at all is likely good.

  11. Lizabeth*

    My expectation is that I’d make an effort to make sure, if he doesn’t change his ways after being talked to about it, he wouldn’t be promoted to department head, non-nuclear version if at all possible.

    OP, what does your boss think of him? I’m not familiar with academia

    I’d love to hear a followup on this one.

  12. Falling Diphthong*

    It might not be bad to let him feel embarrassed. Not by going nuclear, but Alison’s scripts are good for either derailing an over-eager new underling with the bit in their teeth, or for returning the awkward to sender when he’s relying on you being a good female-presenting person and smoothing things over socially so he feels comfortable. Let him feel uncomfortable for overreaching a few times: hopefully he finds feeling uncomfortable unpleasant and seeks to not repeat the behavior.

    1. fposte*

      I agree. Not that it’s important to *make* him feel uncomfortable, but it’s not something to try to avoid, either.

    2. Goliath Corp.*

      “he’s relying on you being a good female-presenting person and smoothing things over socially so he feels comfortable”

      THIS +1000000

    3. Kiki*

      Yes, women and female-presenting folks are heavily encouraged to take in awkwardness and output social comfort and niceties. It’s okay for people who are saying and doing awkward/uncomfortable things to feel awkward and uncomfortable! That’s how they learn to stop doing those things.

      1. anon this time*

        The phrase “return awkwardness to sender” (which I assume originated with Capt. Awkward but she may have gotten it from a different source) has been so so so useful to me. Even though I knew how to do such a thing before reading that phrase, actually having “a word” for it helped cement it in my brain as an acceptable practice.

    4. Jen S. 2.0*

      Agree with this as well. Embarrassing him is not a goal to shoot for, but keeping him from feeling uncomfortable is not a necessary part of the strategy. His comfort is not the critical thing here, and a little embarrassment or discomfort will not end him.

      In fact, this situation has come about partly because he is way too comfortable smugly announcing his expectations.

    5. Elbe*

      “he’s relying on you being a good female-presenting person and smoothing things over socially so he feels comfortable”

      YES. Part of the reason that guys like this seem to lack self awareness is because they don’t the blunt, uncomfortable feedback that most people would expect in a situation like this. He thinks that he’s not being called out because a) she is too stupid (or he’s too smart) to notice what he’s doing or b) she recognizes that he is better/smarter than her and is allowing him to have influence. He’s convincing himself that he’s superior when he’s really just taking advantage of social norms.

      Making this uncomfortable FOR HIM is the only way to stop this behavior, because he clearly doesn’t care if she’s uncomfortable.

      1. Parenthetically*

        “He thinks that he’s not being called out because a) she is too stupid (or he’s too smart) to notice what he’s doing or b) she recognizes that he is better/smarter than her and is allowing him to have influence. He’s convincing himself that he’s superior when he’s really just taking advantage of social norms.”

        I could not agree with this more.

  13. Postdoc*

    I’m wondering if the problem goes further than obnoxious phrasing. Does he actually view himself as OP’s direct report or does he think she is some sort of support staff? Reporting structure for faculty can be very fuzzy and nebulous at a lot of colleges. It is also not uncommon for a dysfunctional sort of elitism to be prevalent where some faculty members seem to think that they are above anyone without a PhD (not all! But I’ve definitely seen it.). If so, it may be necessary to push back harder and make it clear that he is not in charge.

    1. Eve's Husband's Mustache*

      Good call! Yes, it’s quite possible that he takes the obnoxious-but-all-too-common professorial attitude that the purpose of the administration is to cater to the faculty – to take on all those frivolous tasks like “running a university” so that the professors can get back to the REAL work.

      1. Pescadero*

        As an employee at a major research university… it IS the purpose of the administration is to cater to the faculty – to take on all those frivolous tasks like “running a university” so that the professors, graduate students, and research scientists can get back to the REAL work.

        1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

          +1000. I wonder if OP is new to academia? I’m only a postdoc, but I was very surprised to read the way she was writing about this problem. My impression of how the university works is that departments are little democracies of micro-businesses that also happen to teach classes, and administration is basically there to smooth over any issues with students. If he has tenure, brings in a lot of funding, and is popular in the department, it’s more likely that she gets pushed out if she decides to go to war than that he gets any kind of come-uppance.

        2. Blue*

          As an administrator at a major research university myself, I would say that the role of administration is to *facilitate* the academic work being done. That is not the same thing, in my opinion. And too many faculty (the clear minority, in my experience, but still too many) forget that the work of administrators and staff is necessary for them to do their own work and therefore thinking of them as lesser is a mistake. I think it’s that attitude we’re talking about here.

        3. NothingIsLittle*

          I’m sorry, but “cater to” is absolutely the wrong language here. If I “catered to” my faculty, our budget would have run out within the first month of the semester. “Cater to” means that you don’t shut down ridiculous or out of line requests, which is absolutely not the case. I think Blue puts it much better as “facilitate,” because that captures that you’re making the faculties’ lives easier and helping them get work done, but to a reasonable degree. My job is not to be your slave just because you’re faculty and I’m staff.

          Rescheduling a meeting of 27 people because of one person’s schedule? Absolutely out of line unless the person in question is the Dean or the reason for the meeting. Firing a bookstore employee over something minor (as I understand the OP to be saying)? Not any of his business. Bringing a minor issue to the CAO? Incredibly out of line. OP’s faculty member is overstepping and it only makes the situation worse to try to excuse that behavior, because who’s the CAO going to be mad at? OP, the one who brought this minor thing to her, not the faculty member. Part of the job of an administrator is to stop things from escalating to the people in charge unless they actually need to know about them.

        4. tamarack and fireweed*

          Um, postdoc here, too (with a previous industry career, but that’s the same as in any other job, or at least very very many. It is the main, most important job of a manager to enable the professionals working in their team to have the best possible working conditions to fulfill their specialist jobs efficiently.

          It is true that a governance structure that puts faculty councils higher is very different from a for-profit C-suite. This is because of the collegial ideal behind an institution of higher learning. But it is people who behave like the OP who make visible one of the ways this governance structure not rarely turns dysfunctional. This is not to say that this happens more often in academia than elsewhere, but … each governance structure that is unhappy is so in its own particular way. Faculty still have a line manager, and there are still mechanism to enforce the rules of engagement, be their about job duties, legal obligations or conduct questions.

          It sounds to me, too as if the LW is an associate dean or dean in a teaching-oriented college (the “Chief Academic Officer” job title rings this bell for me, as is the idea that being a department head is a promotion — in more research-heavy institutions I’m used to this being less hierarchical). Maybe community college, maybe SLAC, maybe something else. And I could be totally wrong about this. So postdocs and grad students are unlikely to be available. But I also agree that if they are around, they (especially the women and URM) are likely to be unhappy too with this guy. As are junior faculty. And I also agree that going on a frontal course to prevent this guy’s advancement in the absence of widely accepted performance criteria that already dinged him is unlikely to be a good idea (which it would be in the industry). So it’s time to build relationships and alliances. To build up and float other candidates, and to listen a lot to what the other department members say.

        5. francesca*

          This is… exactly the kind of attitude that we’re talking about here, I think. University administrators are professionals in their fields just as academics are professionals in theirs. They are not just “support staff”, and they are critical to how your organisation operates. I really hope you don’t treat them in such a dismissive way in person!

    2. Properlike*

      Having dealt with this level of degreed jerk in the recent past (does add PhD after his name in all his correspondence?) I am 99% certain this is exactly what he thinks. “You are a mere administrator, while I am a PROFESSOR.” This is the kind of guy who thinks he’s in charge, who “interviews” the instructor taking over his class and then tells them “You really don’t understand what you’re doing” when it’s not up to him.

      But I digress…

      One trick we’ve used — fill in your boss on the problem (hopefully they will see how toxic this is) and the next time you meet with this jerk, leave your door open and have your boss listen in from the hallway as they’re “just passing by.” When jerk breaks in with “I expect…” let boss walk in on the pretense, handle it, then turn to jerk and say, “By the way, I overheard you saying you ‘expect’ and I want to be clear, you have no grounds for that type of request. I trust you’ll never do it again, because that’s not how we operate here. Feel free to come see me if there’s anything you don’t understand.” That way you don’t lose your power in this guy’s eyes by “tattling.”

      On the other hand, this is the type of jerk who does this only as long as he can get away with it, and the moment you personally nip it in the bud with a “No, this is not how this works,” he may likely back down.

      1. DashDash*

        I love this because, though it’s a sad reality, hearing it from another man may be what he needs to stop. He may still be sexist and a difficult human being, but as long as he gets the message that he has to stifle that in the workplace, at least your meetings will get a little less . . . frustrating.

    3. Blue*

      Yeah, I’m a little bit puzzled about the administrative structure here, and it is significant because it plays heavily into the politics of how to approach this. As a staff member who frequently has to tell faculty “no,” I have certainly run into faculty who consider me inferior because I don’t have a PhD. That attitude does change my approach a bit, but my basic strategy is the same, regardless.

      For me, the trick is to explain the “no” in a way that makes clear why their idea is bad for THEM. Like, your expectation is that I’ll report that to the CAO? Actually, she’s made clear that this kind of thing should be resolved at the department level and would not be pleased with either of us for wasting her time on this, so, I assure you, reporting this would not be in your best interest. (Obviously, I wouldn’t word it like that, but that would be the thrust of the message.) And, critically, I follow it up with my solution and explain why it’s better for them. After a few instances, even the biggest jerks usually realize that I’m actually helping them out and tend to become less abrasive. (And, to be clear, this strategy also works well with nice, well-meaning faculty who just don’t have much experience with the administrative side, who far outnumber the jerks!)

      1. Too Old For This Nonsense*

        Alternatively: “I wouldn’t try that if I were you” can be a nice, dry put-down and re-direction. You have institutional and relationship knowledge he hasn’t.

    4. Eukomos*

      +1 This is the problem. Faculty do not view people in the administration as their bosses, they view the administration as support staff. Trying to yank his chain and remind him he’s a subordinate won’t work, because he’s convinced he isn’t and nothing will convince him he is. What OP needs to do is remind him of HER authority and amount of power in the organization. Academic administration is an ongoing series of turf wars.

    5. Elitist Semicolon*

      It also isn’t clear to me from this letter whether Mr. Great Expectations is faculty or another staff member. If it’s the former, his behavior is terrible but somewhat typical for faculty. If it’s the latter, then his behavior is even worse (to me) since one might expect another admin to understand the office heirarchies better.

      (Faculty wouldn’t be considered a direct report of an administrator and “department head” could mean “department chair” or “executive administrator” depending on the country and institution – that’s why I’m unclear on their roles here.)

  14. Matilda Jefferies*

    Fantasy response: “And my expectation is that you will STFU, but I guess neither of us is getting what we want here.”

    My likely actual response: a confused look, followed by “Okay, so as I was saying about the TPS reports…”

    Certainly in the case of something like moving the meeting time, I really would be confused about how he came up with such a ridiculous expectation, and I really wouldn’t know what to say about it. Which actually is probably the best way to go – I think if you get into any kind of discussion with him, it’s legitimizing the comment in a way it doesn’t deserve. It’s almost like if he had said his expectation was that the actual Santa Claus would be at the meeting, or that it would be held at a resort in Bali for the afternoon – clearly that is not a reasonable expectation, so why discuss it at all? Skip the “why do you feel that way” and the explanations about why it’s not going to happen, and continue as if you’re having a conversation with a reasonable person. (I mean, it’s pretty clear that you’re not actually having a conversation with a reasonable person, but on the other hand there’s nothing to be lost by behaving as if you are.) Good luck!

  15. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Whenever someone tells me a horribly offensive joke, I act very confused and ask the person to explain it to me. Really get the other person to spell it out in explicit detail. I don’t delude myself into thinking I can change the other person, but getting him/her to go into explicit detail about why something is offensive or rude forces him/her to explain the bigotry or stereotype or whatever is at the heart of the “joke.”

    The same logic applies to this guy, which is why I really like AAM’s advice in last three paragraphs. Why is that your expectation? What about the 27 other expectations regarding this meeting time? No I don’t understand why this person needs to be fired over a minor issue. Explain it to me and be specific. Why is bringing this matter to the CAO the “right thing” to do? Why do you expect me to give you a heads up over a change? Why isn’t it your expectation that you’d be alerted like everyone else? Explain to me why you hold X expectation when everyone else holds Y expectation.

    I realize he’s pretty bad at this, but my hope is he’ll come out and say, “I deserve better treatment” or “Because I’m smarter” or something like that. If he ever does that, repeat what he says back to him with a bewildered look.

      1. Autumnheart*

        No, it isn’t. This will only reinforce this guy’s impression that LW needs obvious things explained to her.

        1. smoke tree*

          Yeah, unfortunately I think this guy is entrenched enough in his thinking that he won’t be enlightened this easily. He’s looking for reasons to assume that he’s smart and women are a bunch of easily manipulated suckers.

        2. Snarkus Aurelius*

          Him: My expectation is that you will change the meeting time.

          Me: Why? That is not the expectation of the 27 other participants. Please explain to me why your lone expectation completely differs from 27 others’. Your view puts you in a very unique category all by yourself, and I’m concerned with your incorrect perception of this situation.

          She’s not getting him to explain things because she’s not comprehending them. She’s getting him to explain what this is really about, which is that he expects preferential treatment for whatever reason. Constantly asking why eventually gets to that demand, and eventually he’ll have no choice. He can either admit it, which would be awesome, or try to find some other way that isn’t horribly unprofessional and selfish, which is doubtful.

        3. tamarack and fireweed*

          Well, it depends on personalities. It’s at least worth for the LW to play this out in her head and see if he’s deluded enough to see it the way you think, or if it may trigger a backing down.

          I’ve seen both happen.

    1. Mike C.*

      I think it’s weird to allow someone the floor to expand upon their bigotry instead of directly calling it out and making sure they have no room to spread it around.

      1. VictorianCowgirl*

        Agreed. I think it’s better to call it out. “I see your dog whistle and I raise you a STFU”.
        Also agree with Autumnheart – just shut it down, don’t make it seem like you don’t get what’s going on.

      2. Delphine*

        The point isn’t to give them the floor to expand, it’s to embarrass them into silence, and it works in situations where people make offensive jokes and expect everyone to laugh along with them. Sometimes, “That’s offensive,” only gets you, “It’s just a joke, lighten up!” and suddenly you’re a stick in the mud. Whereas, saying, “Why is that funny?” usually ends with sputtering and awkwardness from them. I’m a woman of color and I find it’s really useful when I don’t want to sit around debating why something is/isn’t offensive with white people.

        1. Betty*

          I think it’s different when it’s one-on-one vs when it’s a crowd, though. Asking such “Can you explain it to me?” questions when it’s just the two of you doesn’t really offer them much scope to embarrass themselves. They clearly felt comfortable making that joke to you personally, so they’ll just end up saying “Ugh, you don’t get it”. However, asking them to explain the joke in excruciating detail to a whole room of people, many of whom have turned round to see what’s going on and weren’t even in the original joke audience, is MUCH more embarrassing as the social pressure to not dodge the questions is so Mich greater, as are the repercussions.

        2. LITJess*

          I agree that this is an effective approach to fight racist/bigoted jokes – especially if you can pull off innocent confusion (which, sadly, I totally can’t). But I do think OP’s situation is a little different. This could work or it could further entrench this guy in the idea that he’s smarter than OP, the he has/should have authority over her, and that she doesn’t understand what she’s doing.

          Basically, if your goal is reduce him to a sputtering fool, I don’t know if this tact will work with someone who has such a towering superiority complex.

      3. Parenthetically*

        Yeah, no, the reason you do it is to get them to paint themselves into a corner. This guy currently has plausible deniability, so a direct call-out is likely to result in “no no, it’s just YOUR misunderstanding, I wasn’t actually _____” or “jeez, I was just kidding around, learn to take a joke.” Pushing him to spell it out removes that cover.

      4. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        It sounds though like he’s just smart enough to not be outright sexist — he’s condescending and pompous, and he smirks a lot, but hasn’t said anything actionable from an HR standpoint and he’s left a lot of room for plausible deniability. Sometimes giving someone who just skirts the edge enough room to expand on their thoughts will provide an actionable item. He’s not going to have an epiphany, but give him enough rope and he just might hang himself with it.

        But really I think the OP should dig deeper on his behavior as soon as possible. Because if he’s treating a superior like this, imagine how he’s treating employees or female faculty who aren’t in positions of authority over him — or female students.

    2. Memyselfandi*

      Yes, I use this technique for offense jokes, too. Hadn’t thought of applying it here. I agree it is brilliant. The only pitfall that I see is that if he still does not gain any insight from the process of answering questions, he might interpret it as proof of lack of intelligence on the part of OP (she needs me to explain everything to her!), although the phrasing suggested “Explain to me why you hold X expectation when everyone else holds Y expectation” pointing out that others do not think the way he does, could avoid that.

  16. Mama Bear*

    This seems like a variant of “lead with intention” as in “I intend…” which is similarly awful.

  17. Liar Liar Pants Dracarys*

    Him: “My expectation is….”

    Her: “Stop right there. MY expectation is that you respect your supervisor starting immediately. Should you decide not to, my expectation is that you seek other employment options.”

    1. College Career Counselor*

      If he’s a faculty member and she’s an administrator, then despite the “direct report” terminology the LW uses, she likely doesn’t have firing or even disciplinary authority. If he’s NOT a faculty member, then it may be different. What is also (to my mind, anyway) odd is that if he’s a lower level staff member bucking for head of an administrative department, I’m not sure why the faculty get to decide who is the head of that particular department (unless the faculty at this university has a governance role that includes staff promotion decisions).

      Regardless, he sounds exhausting–smug and entitled. I would attempt to call him out on his language and attitude, preferably with a 3rd party in the room.

      1. Exhausted grad student*

        As a current grad student the way I read this letter is that he is an academic member of staff and is looking to be promoted to the head of an academic department (say Biology or English) and she is a relatively senior administrator in the faculty/college. To me that expains that the academic staff elect/vote on the promotion (as is often the case in senior academic positions). I

          1. Liar Liar Pants Dracarys*

            I would obviously not do well in academia (which I’ve known for a long while). I have no patience for this kind of thing and would likely lose my verbal filter real quick.

      2. So long and thanks for all the fish*

        I feel like the OP is new to academia and doesn’t understand how it works, which is why she’s using this terminology. In my reading, he’s a tenured faculty member who’s “next up” for department chair. At least in my department, nobody WANTS the promotion to department chair, even though it comes with around double pay, so in addition to pissing off every faculty member in the department by vetoing their vote, she’s going to then be stuck with someone who didn’t want the position and will probably make her life harder on purpose because they don’t want to be there. OP needs to tread super lightly here and I think Alison possibly didn’t make that clear enough, though otherwise her advice is solid.

        1. curly sue*

          I was wondering about the whole ‘aiming to be department head in three years’ thing, because it’s the same in my department. No-one actually wants the job, it’s a ‘I will, if I have to, I guess, is it really my turn?’ scenario. (We’re extremely lucky right now to have someone in the role who is both exceptional at it and actually enjoys doing it, and frankly the longer they want to stay in the position the happier everyone else is.)

        2. Academics Are Not All Alike*

          Not necessarily true! I’m an academic in a department where the role of department chair is squabbled over because people actually want it!

  18. Precious Wentletrap*

    Send him Spongebob captioned “My eXpEcTaTiOn iS ThAt yOu wIlL ChAnGe tHe mEeTiNg tImE.” Alternately, reply with “My expectation is you can pound sand.” [sliding scale of politeness on that depending on your needs]

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      This is a little off topic, but I would love an explanation for the alternating capital letters! I’m officially Old, and I don’t always understand how These Younguns use the Internet Machine. Is it just a way of adding emphasis?

      1. Precious Wentletrap*

        In this case (hah), the alternating letters are used to indicate a mocking tone of voice. Look up “mocking Spongebob” for more.

        1. Tinker*

          I’ve also seen it used for the sort of “unimaginable horrors” type tone that zalgo text (the thing where each letter is surrounded by a generally-vertical cascade of bizarre accent marks) is used for — that may be a niche thing, as I picked it up from the lettering-voice of the trolls from Stand Still Stay Silent.

          But in this context it’s definitely a mocking voice.

  19. insert pun here*

    OP, is this person faculty? If they are staff, you have more options here. If they are faculty, you need to have a 3-5 year plan on this.

    1. fposte*

      I don’t think they’re faculty–I think this is an administrative department that he’d be rising to head, rather than an academic department wherein he’d be rising to chair. Otherwise he wouldn’t be reporting to her now.

      1. insert pun here*

        I thought so as well, but the “voted on by the faculty” thing threw me. (But I’m in one of the very few corners of academia where faculty influence is slim to none.)

        1. we used to be friends, a long time ago*

          Yeah, I assumed faculty because of the vote, too. (25 years of higher ed, here.)

        2. Calacademic*

          I work in an academic department (for lack of a better term) where our department head is voted on by faculty. We are a support unit and we need to be responsive to our faculty members (in addition to our department head, we also have a faculty advisor).

          1. fposte*

            The voted on by faculty thing is fine for faculty, but I don’t know of a situation where faculty, even junior faculty, reports directly to a non-faculty mid-level administrator. So I think we’ve got a non-template situation whether he’s faculty or not, but it’s true that she has fewer options if he’s TT.

    2. Jess*

      Sounds like faculty. And in the university academic departments I’m familiar with, department head wasn’t a permanent position, but rather a role that individual faculty members might take on for, say, a 3-year term or two, with a temporary change in pay and a much-reduced teaching load. And after that, they’d often go back to teaching full-time in the department. So you have a limited number of people who can have the job in the first place (a subset of the existing faculty), some of those who aren’t interested, some of those who have already done it and don’t want to repeat, some whose colleagues don’t want them in the position for any number of reasons… and then eventually the department head swaps roles with another regular department member, and they all still have to get along. And meanwhile everyone’s in different stages of the tenure process. So yeah, complicated, and worth thinking about the 3-5 year plan.

  20. Myrin*

    This guy sounds like the most obnoxious person I’ve heard about all month.
    You have my sympathies, OP, as well as my strongest :| face.

  21. OlympiasEpiriot*

    I am so sorry.

    My only advice is a very small thing, a bit of cake decoration, in a way — please stop smiling in response to his revolting condescension. He likely is taking this as acquiescence.

      1. irene adler*

        Yes! Silence may also be construed as acquiescence.
        (My boss is like that. If he doesn’t hear “no” then he interprets all other responses -including silence-as agreement.)

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Although I guess in this instance it would be Active B*tch Face? Intentional B*tch Face?

        Anyway, I can give you lessons.

          1. Jadelyn*

            I misread that as RGB face and pictured draping my face in LED lights flashing various colors, which I imagine would be attention-getting, but perhaps not in the way I would want.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          I mean as an immediate response, not as a long-term strategy. The LW references smiling at him as her immediate response but obviously doesn’t think that’s a workable long-term strategy.

    1. Semprini!*

      You could replace smiling with a skeptical look, regardless of how you choose to proceed verbally.

      1. Sarah M*

        Yes. I’ve found the ‘Why on earth would you think *that* look’, while slightly cocking my head to one side works wonders. It’s that look you give someone when they’ve said something totally off-the-wall/random and you thought they were smart enough to know better. E.g., “Why on Earth would you think that Alice Waters (internationally famous female super chef who has literally changed the way millions of Americans eat and makes gazillions more than you ever will) would jump at the chance to man a tea cart in our faculty lounge, Dr. Condescending Chauvinist? What an *odd* thing to say.” NOT like you can’t comprehend what they are saying. Worked with the Best and the Brightest Contingent for years. This works. Godspeed.

  22. Greengirl*

    Hi! I also work in academia and there are some FUN politics. I might loop your boss into this if only to see if your boss has some good suggestions. You mentioned that you’re new to the organization so it’s possible that others have had similar issues with this employee and figured out a) how to manage him or b) are actually more in alignment with “this person should not be department head” than you think.

  23. Lupe*

    Academia poster (in the UK) here. It’s tricky, without knowing the full political situation here.

    Alison’s language is great for addressing him directly. However, the next goal is probably to torpedo his chances of promotion to department head. If he’s like this with someone above him, giving him underlings is the last thing you want to do.

    At least where I work, my direct boss would probably have a coffee with whoever is in charge of promoting him (assuming he’d end up in in a different department). Concerns would be highlighted and patronizing employee would not be promoted.

    Academia is a little sinister at times.

  24. BradC*

    Any chance this “my expectation is…” strategy is from a specific book or blog or business seminar (a quick search didn’t turn up anything relevant)? If so, maybe you can push back with “sorry, I don’t find (author’s) strategies particularly effective.”

    Sounds like this is what you are already doing, but you might have to just tune out the (admittedly very annoying) “my expectations” phrase and just deal with the content of each individual request.

    1. Lilly*

      You know, I just realized that I use the phrase quite frequently…teaching high school students. Maybe the professor is one of those obnoxious teachers (it happens in K-12 too) that speaks to everyone, including, infuriatingly, adults, like student. Yuck.

  25. A Nerd*

    OP, Why are do you have contact with this guy with any frequency? Sounds like you’re something like an AssDean and he’s a faculty member? Why is he not dealing directly with his chair? Men like this in academia are a dime a dozen – convinced of their brilliance, misogynistic, obnoxious – and there’s rarely enough weight in any admin level to do anything about it, considering the relatively extreme importance academia puts on independence and freedom. I’d just do your best to stay away from him and let his department deal with him. In fact, if they see what a tool he can be, maybe they won’t vote him into chair, or at least not while you’d still be his AssDean.

  26. Jaybeetee*

    How are there still so many dudes out there having problems with “a woman is my boss”?? Millennials are nearing age 40 now, and most of us would have had mothers in the workplace – at a bare minimum, would have *known* mothers in the workplace. Women have been a regular feature of workplaces for something like 50 years now (and it’s not like they were a non-existent presence before that) – how is this possibly still an issue? (We don’t know the age of the dude in the letter, but he sounds youngish and like he’s still progressing in his career – not like some 70 year old fossil with antiquated ideas).

    1. Kiki*

      Society still perpetuates a lot of stereotypes about women that can be absorbed subliminally. That sort of invisible influence results in a sneakier form of sexism that is still damaging to women, sometimes moreso than outright sexism. Maybe this guy is an out-and-out sexist who would actually say he believes men are smarter than women, but a lot of times sexism manifests as “men and women are equal, but there’s something about Karen, Denise, and Brie that leads me to believe Chris, Matt, and I are smarter and more qualified than them.”

      1. Tinker*

        That. And the young misogynists are listening — the nature of humans is remarkably consistent across time, and progress seems to take the form of moderating rather than eliminating the aspects of our nature that make certain pitfalls tempting.

        I used to also think that bigotry was a thing of the past and that since obviously all the remaining holdouts were decades older than me, my lifespan would likely include many fully bigot-free decades.

        Among the things that I have later found out I was wrong about, that is one of the ones I find particularly sad.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yep. Large swathes of the male-dominated areas of the internet, for instance, are disgustingly sexist.

    2. hbc*

      I don’t think it’s 50’s style “Women should only be in the workforce to bring me coffee” discrimination, just that they haven’t noticed that the Venn diagram of Superiors I Respect and Women have 0-1% overlap. It’s probably a subconscious bias that they would be surprised to find pointed out, just like the men who feel a woman is dominating a conversation between four people if she talks 15% of the time. They don’t actually think she deserves less than 25% of the speaking, but it feels like a lot more because of all kinds of societal messaging and expectations.

      1. Arielle*

        Yup. I have heard our CTO say, in a department forum, that we have “a lot” of women in high-level positions. We have one female VP and one female director in a department of 90.

      2. Close Bracket*

        And when they do notice, they will be able to rationalize why each individual woman is less deserving of respect and each individual man is more deserving, so there really is no systemic issue here.

    3. Jerk Store*

      Good replies already, and I think there’s some Other-ing, too. The LW would see a male superior as someone he feels he relates to and has something in common with, and it’s easier for him to put himself in a male superior’s shoes. He’s probably the type to refer to his “female boss” like some people say, “my Asian neighbor” when the descriptor adds nothing to the point being made.

    4. Turtlewings*

      Same! I cannot fathom it. But there are men out there that genuinely still believe a woman’s place is in the kitchen making a sandwich. I genuinely don’t know how they function in the world.

    5. LCH*

      some guy just sent a link of his blog post to my professional listserv about why women shouldn’t be in my career choice (we’re too prejudiced). so.. yes.

    6. Quinalla*

      Unconscious bias and privilege combine for some nasty results. Folks in marginalized groups absorb this stuff too (ie women are biased against women too a lot of times), no one can help absorbing it to an extent – our societies are saturated with misogyny and bigotry – but we can make ourselves aware so we can mitigate it as much as possible. And unfortunately, its not work that ever is complete, you always have to work at it.

      What’s most interesting to me about unconscious bias is that in general if you think you aren’t biased at all you are usually the most biased. So if you are questioning yourself and unsure, that’s probably a good sign!

    7. Kimmybear*

      Yes, they are still out there. Discrimination, whether based on gender, sexual orientation, national origin or age, is still quite prevalent in many workplaces.

    8. Jennifer Thneed*

      > Women have been a regular feature of workplaces for something like 50 years now

      Jaybeetee, this isn’t aimed at you specifically, but at this general idea I keep seeing around. There’s some words missing here, along the lines of “middle-class” and “white”.

      In blue-collar work, women have always been present. It’s white-collar work where women (and people of color) have broken out of service roles and into proper contributer roles during my lifetime.

  27. AnotherLibrarian*

    As someone in Academia, there are a lot of issues in play here. First off- Yes, this guy sounds awful. And wow, I would really be annoyed by him at this point. I really do like the language suggested.

    As for speaking to someone about his promotion, that’s a lot more nuanced, because politics in academics are… bananas at the best of times. So, a few things to think about- Are you both Faculty? Both Staff? Does he have tenure? Do you have tenure? Are you close to your boss? Do you trust your boss? Is your campus one of those places where there’s a huge staff/faculty divide? Does he bring in oodles of grant money and therefore is untouchable? Only you know the answers to these things OP. And just writing them out makes me annoyed, because none of them should matter, but they all do.

    Assuming you trust your boss (and you want to spend the political points and you have them to spend), you might want to broach it with them in a vague way and see how it seems to flow. I have known people in academics who were seen by outsiders as “unimportant”, but were the secret rulers of their schools- often staff folks who had been there for 20 years and had the ear of the high ranking admin and could move mountains. It’s up to you if you think there’s a way to take this on without burning bridges. This guy sounds awful enough that it might be worth the risk.

    1. dear liza dear liza*

      Another academic librarian chiming in to say, all of this. And is it a sign I’ve been in higher ed too long when my second thought (the first being, “what a tool”), was “at least he’s not sexually harassing students or covering up harassment.” But even then! I’d try to find a verbal smackdown of the Dude, wtf, variety.

  28. antigone_ks*

    OP, you say he’s popular with other faculty in his department. Does that include the female faculty? Have you observed him treating his female colleagues in similar ways? If so, that might be a way to build at least a small anti-This Dude coalition when the time comes to replace the department head. It’s tricky, because you can’t just walk into their offices and be like “this jerk, amiright?”

    If you don’t observe him being patronizing and sexist with female instructors/professors/administration, that speaks to a different problem – he views you as an underling instead of a colleague. That will cause problems for the whole department as well, because he’s not likely to treat admin assistants, grad students, etc, much better when he’s in a position of power over them, and that can cause your department to develop a bad reputation, see grad students move elsewhere, maybe even see pushback among the staff, etc.

    1. NerdyLibraryClerk*

      Yeah, I’m trying to imagine how he could be popular with the faculty when he’s this awful. Are they all men? I just…usually when someone is this much of an ass, they don’t confine it to one relationship. What about people he already has power over, as someone else asked – students, support staff, whoever? Are they all hoping he’ll fall into a Sarlacc pit, but haven’t complained because they don’t believe anyone will do anything? (Or, worse, they have complained, just not to the letter writer and nothing was done.)

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Never underestimate the ability of a manipulator to be charming to the people they have identified as their cover.

        Also, many academic departments are heavily male, so yeah, he might have just confined it to this relationship.

  29. Marmaduke*

    Does this man have any authority over students, or other employees? If so, are there systems that can be put in place to monitor signs of discrimination against women in those groups? He may be a very fair and empowering boss/professor, but the information presented here suggests otherwise.

    1. Elbe*

      Agreed. If this is how he treats his female boss, how would he treat women he actually has power over? This guy sounds like bad news.

  30. BeeGee*

    Woof. This reminds me of when my SO was junior faculty at a university, and the politics are unreal! The new dean liked to wield their power to obnoxiously push around my SO and his boss (a well-respected and tenured professor) just to remind everyone that they were boss. Faculty in the same department would form cliques to push agendas. Faculty from around the university would pout and grandstand to try halt new programs and redirect funds to them, despite it not even being possible for their department to obtain the funds because the funds were coming from a single wealthy donor who specifically wanted the funds to go to the new program. *Sigh* the pettiness is real in academia, and sadly, this LW situation seems like part of the norm based on what I know.

  31. Not So Little My*

    Please find someone with authority who you can tell that he’s doing this and can advocate for your POV when he comes up for promotion. Are there any women in faculty or upper administration who would be able to hear this and understand that it isn’t right?

  32. ExAdministrator*

    I’m not sure how your Institution handles it, but in the institution I used to work at, the appointment committee for department heads consisted of more than just faculty from the department, but also at least one member of Administration staff and a representative from the grad students and the undergrad students. The voice of the Administration staff held a fair bit of sway, as we were the people who had the best sense of how well particular candidates would be able to handle the significant amount of administration, paperwork, and red tape that a department head must deal with. It may be worth it to get a sense of what this person is like within their own Department, and how the admin Staff feel about dealing with them.

  33. AJ*

    I would be inclined to go with Alison’s last strategy and ask him about his language use, something like ‘When you say ‘My expectation is …’, what exactly do you mean by this, because, frankly, it sounds a bit royal, and it seems a more logical expectation that the [meeting will not be moved, etc.]’ or something on those lines, and see if he does not stop using this annoying phrase.

    1. Elbe*

      “… it sounds a bit royal…”
      I love this phrase!

      I agree that she should point out his extremely clumsy wording. A little chuckle and “what self-help book did you get that out of?” could do wonders.

      1. Former Young Lady*

        This, this! “This is a weird habit I’d really like you to work on. Do you realize you start a lot of your upward communication with ‘my expectation is’? I’m not sure where you learned that, but it’s inappropriate coming from a direct report. If you’re just trying to sound more businesslike in your communication, I can point you to some training/resources for that.”

    2. Cheesehead*

      Yes, I would call out the wording too! Like just saying “Your expectation?” (enunciated very slowly) and look at him with a confused look on your face. Bonus points, OP if you can raise one eyebrow and stare him down. Let it hang out there for a bit and let him talk next.

      The other thing I thought of was more informal, but blunt. “Dude, what’s up with this ‘my expectation’ stuff that you’ve been throwing out lately? That’s a really strange way to phrase things, and certainly not a very collaborative way to talk to someone, especially your boss. If you want to make a request to see if I’d be willing to handle something a certain way, fine, but that’s not the way to do it. If you have a suggestion, great, I’ll certainly hear you out. But lose the condescending wording, because it really doesn’t have a place here.”

      1. Academia Is Weird*

        He uses it so often that I’m positive he read it somewhere. But I can’t find it.

        1. Serin*

          There was a blog on Medium about it. I don’t want to put a link and get trapped in the spam filter, but if you’ll go to Medium and search for “Manager’s First Rule: My Expectation Is…” you’ll find it.

          Of course, the blog was written about people who were managers — people who needed to communicate with real authority, not people who needed to create the appearance of authority where there was none!

        2. Working Hypothesis*

          LW, now that Observer has pointed you at the article, can you use that in talking to him? As in, “Donald, I hear you trying to set expectations a lot. I’ve read that article too; about expectations and course corrections. But I’m afraid you’ve misunderstood it. Course corrections are for managers to give to their reports — not for reports to give to their managers.”

          1. Anonybus*

            Yes! I think even if he denies that he knows what you’re talking about, just pointing out that you’re aware that this exists as a deliberate communication strategy out in the world might make this less rewarding for him.

  34. no, the other Laura*

    1) You have the patience of a saint. I just want to get that out there, because I would have been done with this crap and told him to put his coffee mug in a box within weeks. You can’t respect your boss for whatever reason (whether sexism or some more mundane “boss is dumb as a box of rocks” type reason)? That’s fine, I’ve been in that situation, and the solution is to GTFO.

    2) If you can, I still like Alison’s recommendation to name the behavior and call it out as “I don’t know why you’d expect that, cause it’s not going to happen,” followed by immediate feedback about MY expectations for communication.

    3) For people who are not able to handle small problems or whatever, my immediate question is always “what have you tried so far? Are you looking for guidance regarding which path is correct, or did you try things that didn’t work, or what?” In other words I will HELP junior employees, I will coach them and provide them with resources to solve their own problems, but when it’s things like you describe, small issues he should be able to handle, I also remind them that this sort of thing is a basic component of their job they should learn to do pronto because managers are busy people.

    4) When it’s “hey you should totally fire someone” for something not a big deal, we have a long talk about Judgment Calls and Consequences and Foresight and how the whole progressive discipline thing works in this organization and how we determine what is firing-worthy and what is not and Risk Analysis. If this seems an entirely novel idea to them, then in industrial organizations generally I can say to them, “yeah, these are things managers have to be very aware of, it’s why management is really a big change in skillsets…” but academia is. Ahem. very different indeed. So.

  35. Too immature to manage*

    I wonder if a tone of surprise and slight condescension would work with him, as if he is a dog that has just done a magic trick (thank you Captain Awkward).
    Him: My expectation is that you will do what I want.
    You: Huh, that is certainly an idea (said in the tone I use when my child expects ice cream for dinner), but I am going to handle it. (‘don’t worry your pretty little head over this’ is left unspoken but strongly implied).
    It might make him very angry and bring his misogyny to the fore, but that may be useful if witnessed.

  36. Essess*

    My immediate response would you “Your expectation is incorrect” each time he does that. Call him right out on the wording. By ignoring that phrasing and just telling him why you can’t/won’t do what he expects it turns this into a conversation that sounds like excuses about why you can’t meet his expectations, rather than shutting down the statement of an expectation in the first place.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      I like this, or even “your expectation is irrelevant.” Because you can “expect” it all you want, but we’re still not changing the meeting time for you, Sunshine.

      1. Jen S. 2.0*

        I prefer the “irrelevant” phrasing. His expectation might indeed sometimes end up being correct, but that’s just an irritating coincidence.

        1. pcake*

          I actually prefer “Your expectation is incorrect” said in a matter of fact tone. It feels a little less insulting to me than “irrelevant”, and while it would be momentarily VERY satisfying to insult him, in jobs politics are often in play.

    2. SarahKay*

      My immediate response was “Why would you expect that?” Ideally I’d manage to say it in a polite tone rather than a tone that came with the subtext of “you patronising idiot” which is what I’d be thinking.

    3. Betty*

      I’d go with “your expectation is inappropriate”. Inappropriate for your role, for my role, for the situation at hand… And I feel like it’s both weighty and dismissive at the same time.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        I like ‘inappropriate’ best of the options here. Weightier than ‘incorrect’ but more polite than ‘irrelevant’.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          So do I, because the issue isn’t whether or not his expectation happens to accord with the way she’s decided to handle things. It’s that he thinks he gets to set expectations at all, and he doesn’t. It’s the fact that he’s trying to set ANY expectations of his boss that’s inappropriate.

          Because of that, instead of “your expectations are inappropriate,” I might go further, to “Your attempts to set expectations for your manager are inappropriate.” But that may be more blunt than academic politics allows LW to be.

      2. SarahTheEntwife*

        Oo, I like that. His expectations are technically relevant — in that they need to be set appropriately for him to do his job.

    4. ket*

      Another option: just start your response with a dismissive, “That’s unfortunate. We’ll be….”

  37. Malty*

    Whenever I mention this site I feel a bit ashamed that my industry, (retail), is outside the ‘norm’ of workplace, well, norms, but man I forgot about academia. Good luck OP, this situation sucks and in an ideal world you’d be able to tell hi m that your expectation is that he stop sucking

  38. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    What an absolute turd. I hope you can find a way to get him reined in, OP, and I’ll join the chorus of those hoping for a future update!

  39. LibbyG*

    Hmm. I’m an academic (and currently a dept chair) and I can see why a direct smackdown, though amply warranted, may not get the result you want.

    But I think you can respond by first, stop smiling at him, and second, wielding the depersonal language of bureaucracy. Like, him, “I expect
    that … [slow nod].” You: [Serious look, exhale through your nose.] “I’m surprised to hear you say that. You know that’s not how it works. Deans work with department heads on that.”

    Some academic administrators are really highly suggestible, and maybe your warm, positive demeanor (and gender) gives him the idea that that’s the case with you. You can’t make him respect you; but you can insist on behavior that enables you to fulfill your role.

    BTW: Rock on! I think Dean is the hardest role on campus these days!

    1. Academia Is Weird*

      “I think Dean is the hardest role on campus these days!”
      I’ve never met you, but I now consider you an amazing internet friend!

    2. University staff*

      “Wielding the depersonal language of bureaucracy” …*chef’s kiss* to this phrasing. Bureaucracy can be incredibly frustrating, but there are also ways to use it to your advantage when people are being terrible.

      I work on the staff side in higher ed so defer to the academics on how to deal with this guy, but I do like the idea of trying to get him to say these kinds of things in front of a group. And thinking long-term about this guy and the sexist culture in general.

      Over the past few years, I have slowly built up a network of allies at work who I can turn to regarding issues of sexism and racism. There’s a serial sexual harasser at the university, and we continue to work every angle we can to pressure leaders to hold him accountable. It’s ridiculous that we’ve had to complain to so many people over a period of YEARS just to NOT BE HARASSED, but I do think our efforts will pay off eventually. So keep fighting the good fight!

    3. tamarack and fireweed*

      +1 Good advice!

      This, and the “wield your own authority” thing. Mild humor is much better than direct smack-downs, as direct power struggles won’t work.

  40. Hiring Mgr*

    If nothing else can you at least say something like “why do you keep saying ‘My Expectation is..’? Can we please have a normal conversation if you have something to bring up?”

    1. Moray*

      Yep–there are obviously deeper respect issues, but things might be helped just by saying “using ‘my expectation is’ is a communication style many people don’t really like. Can you try to use more collaborative language?”

      1. Former Young Lady*

        It’s definitely a certain kind of pretentious, pseudo-business jargon some junior workers adopt when they’re trying to prove they’re too good for junior roles. It tends to have the opposite effect of what they intend; the kindest word I can think of is “precocious.”

        Still, OP’s diplomacy can’t come at the expense of effectiveness. Asking for “collaborative language” would send a strong message to a self-aware person, but I worry that this guy would miss the point: “She thinks I’m her peer!” That could stoke his righteous indignation and perpetuate his delusions of grandeur, all at once.

        1. Moray*

          That’s a very good point. It would be great if there was a way to put the kibosh on the phrasing, though; the sexist, egotistical motivation is terrible, but a bigger issue to address. It should be a simpler, more immediate goal to just get him to stop effing using those idiotic words, but you’re right, it could backfire.

          1. Former Young Lady*

            Absolutely! Gotta triage treating the symptom AND the underlying cause.

            Sadly, those who are capable of nuance will use it to save face for all involved; the bull-in-a-china-shop types will inevitably mistake our tact for deference.

    2. LadyGray*

      I’d be tempted to look the son-of-a-gun dead in the eye and say “I expect you’re going to be disappointed.”

  41. animaniactoo*

    Hmmm – for an overall approach, how would this work for you?

    “I’ve noticed that when you bring something to my attention, you also tell me what your expectation is for what I should do about it. Is there a reason that you do that?”

    and then let him reply whatever he wants to and that gives you the opening to say: “Okay, I understand that*. But going forward I’d like you to bring these to me as more of a question, since I am the person who needs to decide how to handle them and generally it’s not just a formality where there’s a set answer and I just need to sign off on it.”

    Once that’s had a moment or two to set in, and whatever other back and forth, you can move back to the collaborative vibe while reinforcing your authority/knowledge/experience and by giving him some room to keep having an opinion – just not so definitively as he’s been doing. “If you’d like to suggest a course of action as part of building your own decision-making, I’m open to that and to discussing why I think it is or isn’t a good decision.”, putting you firmly in a higher seat with an offer of mentor-type skills building.

    Note that you won’t always discuss EVERY decision and you’ll need to make sure that you don’t answer sometimes and be clear that you don’t have the time to discuss it right now, please just do X and you can talk it through with him later. Because what you would need to head off is the idea that he makes a suggestion and you are always answerable to him to defend it before anything can happen – which would put him back in the driver’s seat in his head.

    *Or delicately nitpick apart whatever misguided thought process he has if you think it’s worthwhile or necessary rather than just asking him to change what he’s doing. Talk about how it affects the environment in general and how it reflects on each of them to be doing what he’s been doing – as a matter of looking out for him to come off better and be better at navigating the politics of stuff even though he is already popular. He may blow that off and think you’re a clueless dweeb – but that’s not as important as the rest of it, taking stuff as a matter of course on your end, that you’re making a reasonable request and calmly explaining why in a friendly manner, making it harder to disagree or continue his current path without being tipping his hand and being obvious about how clueless he thinks you are – if that is his takeaway. Might not be. Might be salvageable and just needs to be re-routed into thinking differently and life will be fine.

  42. Ned*

    If he’s really as awful as you seem to think, how is it he’s popular enough with colleagues that you believe he’ll be promoted on the timeline suggested? Do you not get along with your other colleagues?

    1. Elbe*

      My guess is that he doesn’t treat his other (male) colleagues the way that he treats the LW. This behavior indicates a complete lack of respect. He’s probably different around people he does respect.

    2. Jen S. 2.0*

      This. He likely sucks up beautifully to men in charge, and there likely are more of them, so the men in power are in an echo chamber of love for him. Then he’s just condescending enough to women in charge that it’s usually hard to pinpoint, plus there are fewer of the women in power, so they don’t get heard in the echo chamber.

      Then, he’s a deep-fried jerk to anyone below him on the totem pole, but they have no power.

      1. Academic Addie*

        This is a really nice summary of this dynamic. It is regrettably common in the academy.

      2. Jen S. 2.0*

        Oh, I forgot: when many of the men in charge catch an occasional glimpse of his deep-fried jerkosity to people below him with no power, it’s considered a good dose of assertiveness and strength and a firm hand, all of which are great for a department head.

        (Meanwhile, in a woman, it likely would be considered being a royal biznatch.)

        1. Former Young Lady*

          You have nutshelled this whole dynamic so perfectly. Women who stand up to catty guys need to be “approachable,” no matter who has seniority. The cattiness from the guys is somehow “leadership potential.”

          I have seen one such guy eventually hoist by his own petard. His attitude meant that everyone else was doing some measure of his work for him; the promotions and raises continued for years while he took credit for it all. Finally, though, someone at the top connected the dots, and he was declared to have made himself redundant and promptly RIFed.

        2. Jen S. 2.0*

          Oh, one more snippet of this dynamic:

          Not all, but a non-zero number of the men in the echo chamber are, shall we say, in some degree of conscious or unconscious agreement with his chauvinistic feelings, so they overlook it when that piece of his thought process rears its head. They love him all the more because he’s one of them.

          1. Exhausted Educator Was Exhausted*

            Jen S. 2.0, I suspect that this is exactly the dynamic that’s going on here.

      3. Old Millenial*

        Yup. I have experienced this many times.

        Jerky sexist jerk wad is super cruel to new women. But I’in private, and never in writing, but is a brown nosing wonder boy to the good old boys. Plus they usually golf with one of the highest ups there.

    3. Kate R*

      As a college administrator, the OP likely works with members of various departments, but not in the same capacity that the a professor (which I’m assuming the problem employee is) would work with other members of that department. So, while they all work for the same institution and are technically colleagues, they aren’t colleagues in the sense that she’s working with all of them closely day-to-day. The colleagues that seem to like the problem employee just get to see a different side of him than OP is seeing. I don’t think that says anything about her relationship with other members of that department. Also, I feel like the weirdness of academia that Alison mentions is letting things slide that wouldn’t go over at other work places, meaning treating someone differently because of gender (like OP mentions) or race aren’t called out like they should be. When I was a postdoc, my adviser had a reputation for being difficult with anyone in a “does paperwork” type of job (meaning the travel office or funding or something similar). More than once I had someone in those offices say to me, “You work for [adviser], what’s THAT like?” And actually, she was great to me. We had a totally different relationship than she had with those offices. It’s just that because academia is so hierarchical, it can be really hard to call out the bad behavior of someone more senior than you.

    4. Ama*

      There are unfortunately a lot of people working in academia who treat academic colleagues wonderfully well but treat anyone they see as “less important” (administrative staff and students) like crap. It’s also the case that for things like department head, many faculty vote for the person who has the best academic credentials or has been in the department the longest instead of the person who might actually be the most capable at the administrative side of things.

      1. Jen S. 2.0*

        Or, as also happens in many garden-variety non-academia workplaces, a person who is good at the work moved upward, but they turn out not to be good at managing the people to do the work.

        That’s not necessarily this guy, but it still happens. For a variety of reasons, plenty of people get moved to management despite having no management skills.

  43. Elbe*

    Just reading this letter made so repulsed by this guy! There’s a certain type of profound annoyance I feel when people who are clumsy think that they’re smooth, people who are not that bright think that they’re intelligent, and people who are transparent think that they’re being manipulative. There’s probably a word for it in German.

    As irritating as this guy is, the bottom line here is that he’s making himself completely ridiculous. I think that the LW should make a point to spell out why he’s wrong about certain things, so that there’s no way that he can misconstrue it as him getting his way. The LW should call out his unrealistic “expectations”, and if she can do it in a way that implies that she’s laughing at him on the inside, that would be amazing.

    1. workerbee2*

      What you’re describing is a lack of self-awareness… arrogant obliviousness, maybe? You’re right – the German language probably has a great word for that.

      What I find especially hilarious is that he’s so lacking in awareness that he seems to think that he’s getting his way despite lack of supporting evidence. I agree that LW’s first step should be to disabuse him of the notion that he’s gaining any purchase with these shenanigans.

      1. Broomhilde*

        Actually, there is a German word for it. Several, if you’d like.

        His behaviour is ‘borniert’ – it means that somebody is annoyingly conceited

        If he were slightly bored, he would be ‘blasiert’. There’s also one of my favourites: ‘süffisant’, which basically means it’s smug as hell, but he’s amused by it.

  44. Heidi*

    Ugh. This guy. I’m sure this is not the only thing that he does that’s bonkers, but if the “my expectation” thing is out of especially grating to you, you could push back on that specifically. “You might want to rethink the the “my expectation…” phrasing. The tone you use when you say it comes across as pompous, condescending, self-aggrandizing, disrespectful, and out-of-touch coming from a more junior to more senior staff member.” You don’t need to use all the adjectives; these are just examples. If you think getting him to use the “my expectation” thing even 50% less will make you even 10% less aggravated on a daily basis, it’s worth going for it. However, if you know that you’d still be equally annoyed with him even he stopped using it entirely, then don’t harp on this and focus on more substantive problems relating to his work.

  45. Drew*

    I am lucky enough to live in the South and have the perfect response in my working vocabulary: “Bless your heart.” (Note to non-American readers: this phrase is usually said with sickening levels of treacle and means something a lot closer to “screw you, buddy” than what it actually says.)

    1. Murphy*

      Haha, that would be good here.

      I haven’t been in the south long enough to feel comfortable using it myself, but long enough to appreciate a well-placed “Bless your heart.”

    2. Moray*

      There’s an facial expression equivalent, which is a sort of saccharine sneer-smile and a little nod, with the kind of overly-patient “okay” or “mmhmm” you would give a child. That’s the “bless your heart” on my stretch of the east coast.

    3. Environmental Compliance*

      The Midwesterner in me enjoys a very flat “mmm. lovely/fascinating.” with eyebrows raised.

      1. Isabel Kunkle*

        The one I picked up from my mom’s Boston-adjacent side: “God love you…” with the implication being that He’s (they’re Catholic) the only one that can manage it.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          I grew up Catholic, have lived in Massachusetts foreverrrr, and somehow managed to miss that one! Thanks!

    4. Jules the 3rd*

      One of my favorite terms ever, but not going to work well with this variety of misogyny / entitlement.

    5. Jennifer Thneed*


      Yesterday I got to explain this one to my boss. He’s from Portugal, and has been in the US for his entire adult life (at least 25 years), but I think all of it in California. He was leaving work to have dinner with his MIL and said “Bless her heart” and I sort of snickered. I knew he meant it literally, but since I’m known on my team as a language-use junkie, I made sure he knew how it would be heard in the southeast so he didn’t make that mistake.

  46. Lilysparrow*

    Or could you say, “that is not a reasonable expectation. There is already a structure/protocol in place to deal with this. If you aren’t familiar with the existing policies and procedures, you should get familiar with them and base your expectations accordingly.”

  47. Lady Jay*

    In a normal work situation — read: not academia — I’d also say to loop your own boss in on what’s going on, given the likelihood of promotion for this guy. Someone above you needs to hear, a minimum, that he has problems respecting women’s authority. But academia is full of weird politics that I don’t have any expertise in, so I can’t tell you if that makes sense to do here or not — but at least consider it as an option.

    Person in academia here. How much your boss/people above you are interested in what’s going on depends (like in non-academic settings) a lot on what institution you’re in and what role(s) you have. If the dude is faculty AND in a conservative institution/discipline (science or business), you’re probably limited in how much the boss is able to do; the problem is less that the boss (department head?) doesn’t care (though sometimes they don’t) but more than faculty especially consider themselves pretty independent and tend to resist actually being told what to do or criticized for things that are not related to their research/teaching.

    That said, if you’re in a “woke” discipline (my own discipline tends to be pretty aware of gender/race/class dynamics, though we’re not always great at translating that into action) or institution (in California?), or if you’re in admin, which works more like a non-academic workplace, your boss will probably want to know and/or have more impact.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve sometimes “claimed” authority structures that don’t really exist for the sake of gaining a little more backing. E.g. in my current role, I don’t really have a “boss” per se, but I throw the word “boss” around to refer to the people in charge of the larger program I work in, as a kind of authority signaling. If we ever sat down and tried to figure out the “power” these people have over me, there would be a lot of awkwardness, but talking about my “boss” as a shorthand for signaling that I have backup within the system, it works okay. So there are informal, back channel ways to claim authority too.

  48. Saby*

    potential script to supervisor/other: “I’ve noticed that Buddy Over There regularly comes to me with expectations that are out of line with the way we do things, so I’m concerned about his potential promotion. He doesn’t seem to quite get some of the administrative details.”

    or, to Buddy Over Here: “That’s a strange expectation to have. In fact I’ve noticed that many of your expectations are off from how we do things. Since I know you’re interested in advancement, I’m going to recommend to your supervisor that you go for [most boring HR or training session you can think of].”

    1. Saby*

      I know OP is relatively new and this guy is popular which makes it hard to share her feelings of grossness, but one way to deal with this might be through intentional misunderstanding/amusement. “Oh did you hear what X said? About moving the meeting to suit his schedule? What a jokester, hahaha. Always livens things up.” “Oh, that’s like the joke X made about firing the bookstore person! What a funny guy.” People can read between the lines a bit there…

  49. SigneL*

    “My expectation is that you will change the meeting time.” I will not change the meeting time. I wouldn’t ask “why would you expect that?” or even say, “I am unable to change the meeting time.” Just: I will not change the meeting time.

    1. Dust Bunny*


      Do not engage this guy. I know it feels like you need to argue this down, but one of the ways people like this “win” is that they tire you out and talk you in circles. Respond absolutely as little as possible and do not accommodate his absurd expectations.

  50. EmKay*

    “My expectation is that you will stop trying to make me manage your expectations and do it your own damn self.”

    1. EmKay*

      Or, if I really wanted to be pissy about it…

      Him: “My expectation is that you will give me a hint if you think there may be a change coming up.”
      You: “Nah.”
      Him: “My expectation is that you will change the meeting time.”
      You: “Nah.”
      Him: “I’m sure you understand why you need to have this person fired.”
      You: “Nah.”
      Him: “I know that you will do the right thing and bring this to the Chief Academic Officer.”
      You: “Nah.”

  51. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

    I’ve never been able to figure out what “managing up” is supposed to be, but I’m pretty sure what this guy is doing isn’t it.

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      Generally, “managing up” = helping your manager figure out why the thing you want them to do is actually in their/the company’s best interests, so that they make the decision which works for everybody. It definitely does NOT involve setting expectations for your manager, telling your manager what to do, or demanding decisions which are decidedly *not* in the best interests of manager or company.

  52. MrBubblesHR*

    Urgh. I had an employee like this. A young (30yo) high-potential employee, she was *incredibly* intelligent, unbelievable manipulative, and was resistant to authority to the point of barely veiled contempt.

    After multiple instances of projects being done differently from my instructions and a lot of passive aggressive behaviour directed at me in front of the team (including her reports), I had conversations with her first addressing the instances and later highlighting the pattern. She would have an earnestly delivered justification for every piece of the pattern and then – somehow – we’d always circle back to her clarifying her expectations of her manager, and (ever so subtly) where I fell short. Her ‘managing up’ was so calculated and so insidious that I could barely articulate a point to completion (and comprehension on her end) as she RAN CIRCLES around me in the conversation and I would somehow end up committing to improving certain things in my management or the department’s operating environment (!) . I would leave meetings with her wondering if I was heavy-handed, doubting my managerial aptitude, and frustrated at my inability to make my expectations clear. She would wear a poker face during the meeting and would always leave smiling to herself (I’d later realise she was smirking). She had my boss wrapped around her little finger (she was initially standoffish/all-business with him and later – after I first addressed her issues with her – she quite impressively (!) became ridiculously charismatic and hilarious in her interactions with him) and had so thoroughly gaslit me that I was worried that discussing her conduct with him would expose my inept management.

    If only I could have seen something like this post back then.

    1. MrBubblesHR*

      Fortunately, there was a deserved ending. My successor was a no-nonsense lady and came in well-briefed (by myself). Intelligenta resigned out of frustration half a year later when her shenanigans hit a brick wall.

  53. smoke tree*

    If this is an attempt at manipulation, it’s a very odd one. Does he think that after he says this stuff, you’ll immediately forget he said it and assume a tiny god of bureaucracy has whispered it in your ear? Has he seen Inception one too many times?

  54. Megasaurusus*

    Gah. I too work in academia and used to have to work with faculty. I often joke that the best part of my position now is that I no longer have to work with faculty, but I’m not really joking. My sympathies!

    There is a lot of good advice here, and a lot of well-meaning advice of people who don’t work in academia and don’t know that the normal work world rules are inverted, disproportional and fun-house mirror distorted in our world. But if the only mirror you have is a fun-house mirror, you eventually learn how to read it.

    I liked one of the first suggestions about surveying grad students – not just for this professor, but for all professors advancing within a department. There are a myriad of academic scandals that could have been avoided by listening to students. Students have the perspective of the lowest in the academic hierarchy and how they are treated says a lot about the professor. Is there a way to bring student evaluation into the hiring process, pitching it as a way to avoid scandal and as a CYA measure should scandal occur? However, it is also possible he’s a great well-beloved teacher, and just a jerk to his colleagues.

    Some others mentioned you should lay the groundwork to keep him from being promoted. Within reason there is sense in that, but it obviously could go too far and I would avoid that strategy and rather find a candidate who you think would be a better fit for the role and begin to mentor them, or connect them with mentors and feedback to prepare them to take that role when the time comes. Best of luck!

    1. cleo*

      Too true about the fun house mirror of academia.

      Speaking of mentoring the LW could talk to her mentors or seek out mentors about how to deal with obnoxious guy. I’m thinking of this a strategic move. The people she talks to may not have any useful advice but at least they’ll know about how obnoxious guy treats LW. I’d especially look for faculty to talk with or staff with lots of clout.

    2. Exhausted Educator Was Exhausted*

      Exactly. Any response to this dude that has any whiff of pulling rank or otherwise “managing” him as one would in another workplace, or trying to “win” a given conversation, seems like it will backfire in the sense of turning a semi-covert pissing contest into an overt one. That’s not the battle to fight. You have the authority you have, and if he takes his little verbal jabs at you or tries to turn you into his administrative errand-runner, (try to adopt the mindset that) it’s mildly interesting/baffling but irrelevant. Don’t take his bait. Work/Keep on developing good working relationships with your boss (dean or CAO?) and the current chair of Dudebro’s dept and hopefully work around Dudebro to cultivate a much better candidate for chair.

  55. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    Fistbump of solidarity, OP. I’ve had to cope with faculty like this for quite a while. Two things:

    1. Don’t go the snark route. It just reiterates his idea that you’re immature and need to be instructed. Rather, when he gives you an expectation, I’d respond with, “No, that’s not professional. What we will do is… ” in the most matter-of-fact tone as possible, and ignore any reaction.

    2. While I HAAAAATE having to manipulate situations, I”m sure you can get this guy into a room with a bunch of other people whose judgment he respects (maybe some of those other faculty, another department head, a Dean, whatever), where they can observe this behavior themselves. If he has any brain at all, he’ll see the way they treat you and note that it’s a lot different, and more respectful, than the way he treats you. If he’s totally oblivious due to his own fabulousness, hopefully he’ll give you an “expectation” in front of these people. In my experience, as soon as they see it for themselves, at least one or two of them will look at him like he’s from Mars and says, “What?” and a look of shock will cross his face when he finally realizes that not everybody agrees with him, including people he knows and trusts. Even if he doesn’t ultimately change his behavior (ref: oblivion due to fabulousness), it worth it just to see that face.

    1. Academia Is Weird*

      I know you’re right about the snark. I need to keep that part inside my head, for sure. Getting some other people in the room is brilliant.

  56. Lisa*

    Another option is to have a natural reaction to his “my expectation is…” language, meaning that you let yourself seem visibly surprised. For example, when he said his expectation was that you’d change a meeting time, you could say, “I’m surprised you expect that, given how many other people the meeting involves. Can you clarify for me why you’d expect that?” or “That’s landing with me quite strangely! Can you explain what you mean?”

    To me, this seems like an open invitation for, for lack of a better term, mansplaining. You’ve already identified that there is some sexism that may be happening and that he doesn’t respect your intelligence. I think asking for clarification will simply cement this idea that you don’t know what you’re doing. In any logical scenario, the questions Alison posited would make him realize his error and be embarrassed by his assumptions, but given the description, I don’t think that will happen.

  57. C Average*

    I would have a hard time restraining myself from asking, “Why do you keep using that ‘my expectations are . . . ‘ phrase?” in the same bemused and slightly condescending tone that Inigo Montoya uses to tell Vizzini, “You keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    This whole letter makes me think of a plaque my sister has that says, “May God grant me the self-confidence of a mediocre white dude.”

  58. Eukomos*

    Ah, the joys of dealing with tenured faculty, especially when you are mere “staff.” Mere staff meaning everyone in the administration below the Chancellor. They do very firmly believe they’re higher up in the hierarchy than basically everyone else at the university, and any attempt to push back on that conviction just convinces them that you don’t understand the hierarchy. Especially since this guy is plumping for department head; not only do the other faculty like him for that job, him wanting it means they don’t have to do it, so if you attempt to thwart that promotion they will be very pissed unless there’s someone else in the department volunteering. And even if there is, that person’s partisans will like you but his will hate you.

    I’d vote for Alison’s second recommendation. Hold dead firm on the practicalities of your authority. Faculty try to manipulate other people based on that sense of hierarchy, so if you are not intimidated by their status and are willing to repeat “no, no, no” then he’ll discover he has less ammo than he thinks he does. Enough frustration in the attempt to control you may lead him to take out his controlling instincts on some other poor sucker. But you may want to make sure to cover your butt here, they have been known to try and work around and undermine people who won’t do what they want. Tell other people in your office what’s going on, and if you get the opportunity to casually mention it to other people in his department (framed as a funny story until they show signs of also knowing he’s a sexist dolt) it would probably be useful.

    It would be nice if we could hash out our difficulties with faculty like frank adults instead of maneuvering around each other like we’re stuck in some hellacious combination of congress and middle school, but in my experience the sense of hierarchy has poisoned the well too thoroughly to make that feasible in most cases.

    1. Exhausted Educator Was Exhausted*

      Academia as “some hellacious combination of congress and middle school” — lolololol!!

  59. Me*

    +1000 for the tactic of responding to his “expectations” with a blunt :that’s not an expectation you should have/how it is/etc followed by “the situation is this”.

    Every time. Shut him down.

  60. CupcakeCounter*

    Major “ick” vibes going on here given the gender dynamics and the smirk the OP described.

  61. Carlie*

    I love the “What self-help book did you get that phrasing from?” retort if you can’t get him to stop politely, because it hits right in the professorial gut. No academic wants to be called out on being obviously derivative of someone else’s idea.

    I agree not to ask him to explain himself. That’s giving him an opening into pontificating lecture territory. Just shut it down. And even if you have an open door policy, you can redirect him back to go to his chair instead (when appropriate). Ask what he wants to talk about before he starts in, and if it’s better sent to the chair, stop the conversation.

    You can also turn this into you being the explainer. “I know that’s what you want, but I also know you want to move into administration in the future, yes? So it would do you a lot of good to start looking at things more broadly because you won’t be a successful chair if you can’t work within the bigger picture.”

    1. animaniactoo*

      If explaining gets into pontificating lecture territory, that can be solved by holding up a hand and saying “Okay, I’ve got the gist, I don’t need more” and then immediately explaining why he’s wrong. It’s a complete and utter rejection of the dynamic that he is informing rather than explaining to a superior who is then going to authoritative with him about what he has said and done.

      Any additional argument back from him gets “I understand that you disagree but this is not up for discussion.”

    2. Alex the Alchemist*

      I agree with redirecting him to his chair, because he needs to have SEVERAL seats. *bah-dum-tss*

  62. Trek*

    My thought is if he wants the meeting rescheduled he needs to send that in an email. If he’s unwilling to email his request than the request does not exist. That way you create a paper trail of his ridiculous requests.

    Next conversation with him would cut him off every time he started a conversation with his expectations. “I find the use of that phrase redundant and tedious. It’s like beginning an ending a statement with ‘My opinion.’ Everyone already knows that what you are stating is your opinion without adding that preface. Therefore your requests do not need to be framed as requests each time. Just ask ‘Can we reschedule the meeting?’ or state ‘I need the meeting rescheduled.’

    Outside of academia I would actually do a few exercises with such an obnoxious individual and make them practice stating their request without the ‘My expectation is..’

    Also don’t underestimate documenting and making sure relevant parties are aware that he cannot work with women even those with authority. How does he treat women who are not senior to him? I would think it’s worse then how is treating you. That may be the way to get rid of this individual without you being solely responsible for him going.

  63. LizardOfOdds*

    Geez. My natural response would probably be something along the lines of, “I’m sorry, I must have misheard you — it sounds like you’re trying to give me a directive. Can you rephrase?”

  64. hbc*

    “If he does become the department head, it will be even more important that he have some respect for my intelligence.” You cannot get him to respect your intelligence–that simply isn’t in your control. But you *can* insist on him not *showing* disrespect and not behaving like a condescending jerkwad to you.

    “How can I stop this behavior without doing too much damage to our work relationship?” The relationship is already damaged, if he gets to condescend without consequence, so I would say your goal should not be to make this guy happy with whatever changes you make but to move the needle towards more professional interactions.

    That aside, you need to do two things. 1) Start calling him on these in the moment. “Please don’t tell me what I ‘need’ to do.” “Your expectations are off, I would never move a meeting for the convenience of one person at such short notice.” “I’m in this position because the CAO trusts me to make calls like these, so no, bringing it to him is a non-starter.”

    2) Start laying the groundwork so that your eventual veto (assuming he doesn’t shape up) doesn’t use up all your capital. Academia might have its quirks, but if you start telling your boss or peers or relevant others in his circle about some of this stuff, opinion should shift against him. “Dude tried to get me to use my clout to fire a bookstore clerk because of a simple order mixup!” “FYI, Boss, Dude explicitly asked me to slip him private information. I said no, but something we might want to keep an eye on.” “Dude has been telling me his expectations for me, that’s weird, right?” You have a couple years to work this, so it doesn’t have to be a blitz campaign, but just finding conversational openings.

    1. Academia Is Weird*

      You are making a very important distinction here. All I can control is his behavior, not his thoughts or attitudes.

  65. Snark*

    Academic politics are weird, but I think it would be entirely possible to have a more global, not in-the-moment discussion with this guy along the lines of, “I’ve noticed that you tend to phrase requests of me not as such but as things you expect of me, as if you are empowered to directively expect outcomes of me. It lands weirdly condescending and disrespectful. Considering that you report to me and not the other way around, that’s obviously not the tone I’d like to have in our working relationship and I need you to curtail the use of that wording and tone immediately. Also, moving forward, I need you to not arrogate to yourself decisionmaking that happens on my level, such as hiring and firing, or elevating issues to the CAO. That’s not your job or your concern; I am always receptive to issues, but I will decide how best to act on them from my end. “

    1. gyrfalcon*

      No. This can work in normal corporate world with bosses and subordinates. But it is wholly inappropriate in the context that OP has clarified this is: she is something like a dean, and he is faculty. He really isn’t her “direct report” in the normal way we think of authority flowing in the corporate world. Anything trying to pull rank on him will backfire badly. Other suggestions have been made which are much more cognizant of how academia works.

      1. Snark*

        Then change that wording, but otherwise? I’ve worked in academia. The general atmosphere of social awkwardness and dysfunction aside, if she’s a dean, she can absolutely tell him she doesn’t want his condescending “expectations” to be a part of their working relationship.

        The goal needs to be to introduce and normalize typical professional norms to academia, not to continue to operate academia in its weirdly unprofessional and bizarre current practices.

  66. N.K.Dover*

    Perhaps a quiet response of, “I’m pleased that instead of espousing this theory to others, you discussed it with me first. I can see that you have thought about this, but I must look at things from the perspective of management and how it impacts multiple people and the company at large rather than an egocentric perspective. As you grow into your position you will understand this better also.”

    1. gyrfalcon*

      Ixnay on “as you grow into your position…”. Despite OP muddying the water by calling the guy her direct report, this is in academia. She is something like a dean (exact titles may vary), he is faculty. Anything with a whiff of superior instructing subordinate will backfire badly. He may technically be her direct report (e.g. she approves raises), but in terms of the normal hierarchy that bosses can use against their direct reports, none of that is in play here.

  67. Liz T*

    I like the surprise angle, but with the politics I’d maybe go more innocent. “Oh no! That’s definitely not the expectation here. Who gave you that impression?” Like the false expectation is a problem for this dude that you’d like to help him solve.

    1. Me*

      I’m usually a fan of this type of response, but I think with this type of a guy, it gives him a continued platform for explaining/pushing his view. I think for his type the first part is fine but I wouldn’t give him any inkling of a question that implies its a discussion.

  68. Another Manic Monday*

    I do “manage up” in my two-man team. I do several of the administrative tasks for my boss so he concentrate more important things.

    Technically it his responsibility to do those administrative tasks, but I’m better at doing them so I have “liberated” him from those task. It’s more efficient doing things my way and it also makes his work easier as he can concentrate on what’s really important instead of being slowed down by tedious administrative tasks. Our team outperform the other 15 teams in the office and it’s not even close.

    Yes, I “manage up” but I make my boss look like a superstar by doing do.

  69. GlassShark*

    I love the idea of using the word “expect” whenever he does. “No, that’s not something you should expect”, “not sure why you would expect something like that” , “that’s an odd expectation to have considering….”. Might not (probably won’t) stop him from being a sexist jerk, but hopefully he’ll get the hint and stop using that annoying phrase!

  70. Dasein9*

    I’ve worked with this guy. If you ask him to explain, he will relish the opportunity to break down the reasoning into its smallest components (while committing glaring fallacies he doesn’t notice.) He will make a very detailed case for why the bookstore employee (who probably has no power at all) is not only a terrible employee but also a human being of questionable morals, needs to be fired. He’ll write up a 25-page defense of his position and submit it to the bookstore manager and the Dean.

    It will be fun for him.

    He is not interested in being a valued colleague. He is interested in being right and in others seeing that he is right.

    Reduce contact as much as you can and try to ensure there is always a witness to your conversations.

  71. 2horseygirls*

    Higher ed is such a weird little microcosm of people who would wither and die in the real world.

    Full disclosure: I went from normal corporate jobs to higher ed for 7.5 years (1.5 years in an academic division, which is a completely different, Alice in Wonderland-esque world-within-a-world) back to the outside, real-world workforce.

    I feel for OP tremendously. Lots of really solid advice here.

    FWIW, this guy is not an outlier in academia.

    Example: Male Dean was one of two deans left after two other deans (one of which was my former Witchboss) left at the same time. Divisions were reshuffled, and Witchboss’ EA (truly the sweetest kindest smartest EA I have ever worked with) ended up under Male Dean, fortunately in a building at the opposite end of campus. However, in the first faculty meeting of the new combined division, Male Dean absolutely hounded her in front of all the faculty, and said she was still reporting back to Witchboss’ (who had moved clear across the state to another institution, and could care less about where she had been), which led to EA getting literally backed into a corner by rabid faculty who had previously sung “Ding dong the Witch is dead” *in the hall outside her office while she was in it* when Witchboss announced her departure.


    Fortunately, another non-rabid faculty member waded in and intervened on EA’s behalf, and reported Male Dean to the VP of Academic Affairs, and he was formally reprimanded.

    I had already been terminated by Witchboss, but had I been there, I would not have hesitated to remind Male Dean that he used to practically skip arm in arm with Witchboss’ down the halls, so pretending like he did not know or like her was a wee bit of revisionist history, to say the least.

  72. CynicallySweet*

    DEAR LORD! I know rationally that laughing in his face and saying “why do you think I care about your expectation” isn’t appropriate…but I wish it was!

  73. Noah*

    I think it would be helpful if OP stopped thinking of this as the guy trying to “manage up.” First of all, I don’t see how thinking of it that way is helpful because it’s not his intention that matters; it’s his conduct. Second, I think it’s fairly likely that this is not what he is doing. In my experience, this is just how people who think they are important act (because it is how people who are actually important get to act, but the good ones usually don’t, except when they really need to). So, if you try nipping “managing up” in the bud, you’ll get nowhere because that’s not what he’s doing.

  74. XF1013*

    It sounds like he’s assuming some degree of authority as department head already. He knows that he’s on track to get the promotion, and that OP cannot block him without seriously damaging her own standing. So what does he have to lose by acting this way? I commiserate, OP.

    Under very different circumstances, I would appreciate clear statements of expectations. People can be such poor communicators sometimes, mincing their words and being ambiguous, instead of just coming out and saying what they mean or want. It would be nice if people verified that you’re on the same page by saying “I expect this outcome” and asking you to confirm. But that’s not what this guy is doing, alas.

  75. NW Mossy*

    If ever there were a moment for the impenetrably cheerful no, this is it. Michelle Obama’s a good model for the tone here – a note of warmth underlaid with self-assured authority and confidence.

    “Oh, no, we’re definitely not rescheduling that meeting for one person’s conflict! Will you be changing your schedule to make it or appointing someone else to go for you?”

    “Oh, no, it’s not reasonable to fire someone over something so small – that’s easily resolved with some feedback.”

    “Oh, no, I’m not taking this to the CAO – she’s got a lot on her plate already and we’re agreed this is better handled at my level.”

    Addressing the pattern is a bit trickier because you don’t have the same toolkit as a manager outside of academia would, but perhaps this: “I’ve observed recently that when you encounter a problem, you expect me to adopt solutions that suit you but don’t make sense for others involved, like pulling in the CAO on small issues or firing someone over a minor snafu. As a pattern, it comes off as you running over others’ interests and not respecting their right to make decisions that are in their scope to make. Changing your approach to be explicitly receptive to other people’s authority and input will help you significantly in getting that department head role I know you’re interested in.”

    1. 2horseygirls*

      NWMossy, I have copied your last paragraph into a document I have saved as “Things I wish I thought of in the moment” — LOVE that wording!

      1. Academia Is Weird*

        This is great. If nothing else, showing him that this is not in his best interests might slow him down.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          I also love this wording, but I have one possible change to suggest: “and not respecting their right to make decisions that are properly theirs to make and not yours.”

          Putting the “AND NOT YOURS” in explicit terms, I think, is really important here. This is probably the least snarky possible place to put it.

        2. Dr. Anonymous*

          I would add that he might be better served by taking a more collegial tone, and “collegial” is such an academic buzzword he ought to eat it up. You can probably point to people of power on your campus he admires who are never heard to speak the way that he does. Deans of Academic Affairs and college presidents go out of their way to sound very collaborative.

          I mean, I really want to just laugh in his face, but correcting his requests with reality and letting him know his tone does not serve him and does not make him look good is more likely to yield some external change. Can’t do a thing about the state of his greasy little soul.

  76. Observer*

    OP, is it possible that you can let people know about this behavior? Not the fact that he’s rude and disrespectful to you, but that he’s disrespectful of the the time, authority and resources of others in the department.

    He’s really expecting you to inconvenience 27 people for his convenience? He’s really trying to get someone else’s staff fired over a minor issue? He’s really trying to pull the CAO into a minor issue? When you present it that way, some of the people who thinks he’s ok are going to see it differently because it has the potential to affect THEM.

  77. MicroManagered*

    No, that’s not something you should expect.

    Make every response you possibly can start with this exact phrasing.

  78. TotesMaGoats*

    You’ve just painted a picture of every horrible faculty member I’ve ever had to manage. My thoughts and prayers are with you. It was eye opening to me that in this role I actually out rank department chairs. I’m not power hungry and I’ve only had to override them a couple times but you might want to confirm with your boss the full scope of your role. And since I rank chairs, I certainly rank faculty. I’m normally super bright and helpful but it’s a nice thing to have in my back pocket.

    And I would tell your boss. This is not good behavior at all.

  79. C Average*

    In my fantasy version of this scenario, LW (played by Anne Hathaway) has just accepted a job offer at her institution’s arch rival school, for a lot more money.

    She is being replaced by a very well-qualified woman (played by Kirsten Dunst) who’s an acquaintance of hers and has a stellar reputation in academia; she’s kind of a rock star in her field and is a very big get for the school.

    Rockstar Newbie emails LW to ask whether the rumors she’s heard about Assclown Dude (played by Crisp Rat, er, Chris Pratt) are true. Is he really kind of . . . difficult? Does he really have problems reporting to a woman? Should she be worried about the upcoming department head replacement process.

    LW, who’s been scrupulously professional to date, has no fucks left to give. She writes a scathing description of his pathetically transparent rookie attempts to manage up, speculating about which self-help book he got them out of. She noted that he needs special handling because he’s a bit of a snowflake and frankly not that bright. She writes nothing that isn’t true, and she’s unsparing.

    You guessed it: the email gets sent to Assclown Guy by accident, and he gets to marinate in scalding-hot shame for a few days. He considers ratting her out, but that would mean showing the email to other people–and what if they agree with her?

    Hence begins his voyage of self-discovery and self-improvement, which culminates in him realizing he only pursued a Ph.D to please his emotionally distant father, and he really never liked academia. Chastened, he contacts LW to thank you for inadvertently showing him the truth, and he heads out west to pursue his adolescent dream of becoming a raft guide.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Hello, I am interested in your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

  80. Carlie*

    Slight insert – I’d like to request that we not talk about academia as being not the “real world” or not “normal”. It’s a real job, with real working hours, a real paycheck, and real co-workers, and real outcomes. It’s a major, often primary, employer and economic driver in its city, its county, sometimes its entire state. Yes, it has its own norms and practices that you have to get used to when you go in that may be different than what you’ve experienced before. So does a corporate environment, and a tiny family-run business, and a nonprofit, and government work, and subcontractor work, and freelancer work, and union jobs, and non-union jobs, and jobs where you are expected to engage in a complex recurring tea-provisioning ritual. Heck, even within the same basic field, a Wall Street legal firm is going to have completely different workplace norms than your friendly neighborhood title lawyer’s office. It’s not “not real” just because it’s different than what you’re used to. I read about all kinds of practices and workplace cultures on this site alone that would never fly in academia but are apparently the norm in other fields. Writing it off as a weird environment isn’t helpful to solving problems for the people who work in it. Thanks.

    1. Observer*

      Yeas. It is TOTALLY real.

      But, no, it is NOT “normal” in the sense that it is in lime with most employment situations. Education (not just higher ed) is less that 3% of employment.

    2. 2horseygirls*

      You make several valid points.

      However, I know of no other place on earth where, “upon completion of 15 credit hours of pre-approved course work” indefinitely, you can get paid $200,000+ to teach ceramics at a community college, so I am going to stand by my statement that academia is a completely different world.

      1. Prof-elsie*

        Nobody has ever been paid $200,000 to teach ceramics at a community college. The pay is far more likely to be $2200 per course per semester for that community college ceramics instructor.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yeah, seriously! I’m really not sure where you’d get such a bizarrely inflated idea of what community college faculty make – Fox News?

    3. Majnoona*

      Oh, I like this so much. I think part of the problem is that because people went to college, they think (without really thinking about it) they know what college is about. You see this in the way professors are depicted on TV. I saw a show where a professor was talking about transferring to another university. No, that’s not how it works. There has to be a job opening. You have to apply for it, interview (today, for a TT position, against incredible odds), and get it. Working at a university is completely different than attending one. It’s a job.

      1. Infrequent Commenter*

        Yes, completely agree. My students have no idea how much time goes into prep and grading. (And I scaffold assignments and use rubrics.) They don’t realize that I try to model and coach them into following professional norms even when I tell them directly that one of the goals of the course is to teach them soft skills that will help them in the workplace (and yes, the syllabus spells out these soft skills!).

        Occasionally some will ask what my job is like, and they are almost always surprised.

    4. Heyima*

      Thank you for making this point. Perhaps the commenters who thoughtlessly perpetuate this phrase might take a moment consider that it is one of the reasons students are so resistant to our attempts to guide them towards professional behaviour (a recurring complaint about young grads, especially on this site).

      1. Observer*

        Except that we also hear TONS of stories of the really bad advice these young people get from their colleges. The norms really are different.

        1. Heyima*

          It’s true that a lot of “get a load of this nonsense” stories are reported. The key word here is *reported*. These are the outlier cases that catch people’s interest. I’m talking about students actively dismissing (to my face or via email) mundane professional advice like:

          1) if you have encountered a problem that means you won’t meet a mutually agreed-upon deadline, call or send an email.
          2) no-show, no-call = no job
          3) read the instructions first

          Hardly controversial stuff.

  81. Artemesia*

    I think the OP has a managing up challenge here. If I were her I would be thinking about strategies for derailing this guy’s ambition to be chair without leaving fingerprints. If he is sexist which it appears he is; if he is inconsiderate of other people’s time which it appears he is, then how to you reduce the likelihood of his selection. It is helpful if there is another good candidate. I have managed this with the barbed agreement e.g. ‘Yes Fergus has a lot of offer in that role; I am little concerned about his habit of strangling ducks and wonder if that might be a problem going forward.’ where strangling ducks is ‘he seems to always have a lot of trouble dealing with women in authority — he has a habit of claiming the work of women on his team as his own — we seem to be getting negative feedback from our women students’ — something the department cares about. You are ‘concerned’ and you pick something the superior cares about as an aside from your general agreement that he is making a reasonable choice.

    1. Carlie*

      I really hope the duck is a Richard Russo reference! Academia literature is quite the genre. OP, it might at least lift your spirits to read some novels along those lines if you haven’t already. No real tips, but it might make you feel better.
      Some classics to start: Straight Man by Richard Russo; Moo by Jane Smiley; Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher.

  82. Snowy*

    “Ross, we need to make something abundantly clear here. You do not set expectations of me. I set expectations of *you.* You need to stop trying to ‘manage me up,’ and start focusing on increasing your professionalism, and continuing to be a team player. If you do not, or cannot, we will need to have a discussion.

    “Are we clear?”

    1. Snowy*

      I can’t edit, but make that, “…and start focusing on maintaining a higher level of professionalism than I am currently seeing.”

      1. Violette*

        This absolutely will not fly in academia, and will earn LW the enmity of every member of the faculty, even all the professors who loathe this guy as much as the LW does.

        This arrogant jerkwad has almost certainly tenure (or else he wouldn’t be eligible for department head), and LW can’t get rid of him unless he molests a student, or embezzles or plagiarizes on a grand scale. Not only is this script arrogant, the threat is empty.

        This is terrible advice.

  83. MMB*

    OP, it sounds like you’ve been fairly firm and direct in your responses and it just hasn’t worked. I think documenting the behavior and making sure others are aware of it is important at this point. Sometimes it works, sometimes no one listens until there’s a crisis, but you’ll be on record and preventive CYA is important.

    I’d be screwed in this situation, because I’d probably just look at him and say “Yeaaaaah. No.” Then again sometimes people just need a good yeaaaaah, no to help them see how ridiculous they’re being and get their head out of their a$$.

    Best of luck. We’re all rooting for you.

  84. Tertia*

    Given that he’s deriving his satisfaction from flaunting his alleged superior intellect, it might be effective to respond to his bad suggestions as if they stem from correctable gaps in his institutional knowledge. For example:

    Him: “My expectation is that you will give me a hint if you think there may be a change coming up.”
    You: “The Dean’s office* will always convey information through the appropriate channels. So if this happens, we will notify the department heads.”

    Him: “My expectation is that you will change the meeting time.”
    You: “No, it’s inappropriate to disrupt everyone’s schedule at this point.”

    Him: “I’m sure you understand why you need to have this person fired.”
    You: “I think you’re confused about how to handle a problem of this size. Our office is perfectly capable of resolving it with the bookstore directly.”

    Him: “I know that you will do the right thing and bring this to the Chief Academic Officer.”
    You: “No, an issue like this should be handled by the department. You might be misreading the policy.” (If he’s being particularly dickish, you can add, “We can schedule a separate appointment if you want to walk through how the process works in general.”)

    Turning the interactions into lessons for him instead of for you makes the whole thing much less rewarding for him. Yes, he’ll resent it, but he resents you already. This will at least reduce his incentive to waste your time.

    *I’m assuming you’re an associate dean. Change language as needed.

  85. Foisted on his own petard*

    There are already so many good comments and suggestions because *everybody* hates This Guy.

    I wonder if it would be possible to stop protecting him so much? And let him suffer the consequences of his bad ideas? For instance, instead of telling him why its a bad idea to reschedule a meeting for 27 people (which should be obvious), what if you actually contacted the head of the meeting and said “This Guy told me that he “expected” the meeting to be rescheduled. I explained to him that this was not possible. But I wanted to check with you?” Or if he wants to complain to the Dean about a minor issue – why not tell him to go ahead and do it and bother that person himself? Maybe everyone else needs to see him acting as he really does.

    Otherwise I agree with the comments that I bet he pulls this with other women or people he perceives as inferior. You need to start banding together and passing along your impressions to people who might have to power to stop him from being promoted.

    One thing I like about your post is that your examples are really clear and not subjective. It wasnt just his tone (which I am sure is obnoxious) but expectations that meetings will be arranged to his schedule, or that people will be fired for minor matters. This suggests he doesn’t understand the fundamentals of how things work and thats a bad recipe for leadership.

  86. CM*

    I’ve dealt with something similar. My approach tends to be very direct and matter-of-fact, so here’s what I would say:

    “My expectation is blah blah blah”
    – “No. That’s not correct. [Explain what is correct]”
    – “I understand your position on this. I’m going to make this decision based on [x, y, and z].”

    I would also say, “I’d like to talk to you about your communication style. I’ve heard you say a number of times that your expectation is that I’ll make a certain decision. My decisions are based on input from stakeholders, research, and other considerations, but they are not based on your expectations. So going forward, I’d like you to continue giving input on issues that are relevant to your work, backed up by your research and subject matter-knowledge, but not your expectations about what I will do.”

  87. KK*

    I agree w/ Alison’s advice for the most part however I wouldn’t give him as much as an explanation as she has suggested.

    If someone who rolls up to me let me know endlessly what their expectations of me were, I would probably stop them in their tracks with ‘Funny, for someone who reports to me, I’m not sure you should have ANY expectations of your needs towards me.” Especially on the topics the OP has mentioned. Spin on my heel and walk away.

  88. Magda*

    I think the appropriate response to this kind of behavior depends very strongly on the exact reporting structure. I am in academia myself and I don’t really understand the situation here – if he is faculty, is he your report?, as in, you give him direction and set expectations for him? or do you mean that he is junior to you and has to work with you but reports to someone else?

    I ask this because if he is truly your report in the usual sense of the word then responding to him the way you would to a peer is going to undermine your authority and increase his expectations.

    If the reporting structure is more fuzzy and you do not have the standing to admonish him directly, I’d say things like “That is not a realistic expectation. This is not typically something that [his position] is involved with/has input into.” or “That won’t be possible. The meeting schedule is final and in fact has been changed at [more senior person]’s request. So, I’d signal “I am senior to you”.

    I would absolutely not ask him to clarify his expectations and not smile and nod.

  89. Academia Is Weird*

    Thanks to all of you for the wide range of great responses. The reason I asked Alison about this is because as a long-time lurker on this site, I know that she and the commenters here are insightful and fierce. I have some new strategies to employ and will keep moving forward with this situation.

    1. cleo*

      Good luck. I hope it goes well.

      And your question and this thread made me realize how much I’ve internalized academia even though I no longer work in higher ed. I immediately went to thinking about how to cultivate allies and work your back channel connections. It honestly didn’t occur to me that in some places you could just talk to your boss about this and be confident it’d be solved.

  90. StaceyIzMe*

    “Thank you for sharing.” Seriously, you can get all kinds of mileage out of this. Cold dead stare.
    Or light tone. Or neutral tone. Works for all of them, as needed. It also gets you out of justify/ argue/ defend/ explain. You kind of gray-rock whatever he says and then communicate whatever you need to without bothering to wrangle his maverick pronouncements into some semblance of order. That should be HIS job.

    1. Lilly*

      Or a curt, “noted” might do the trick if he doesn’t push back after you’ve initially refused whatever nonsense he is spewing.
      I use it in varying degrees of coldness w/ my students when I want to politely acknowledge that I heard them and communicate that they are out of bounds.

  91. GrooveBat*

    Ugh ugh ugh.
    I had a direct report like this. She wasn’t as blatant as OP’s employee, which made it all the more difficult to address. Every conversation, every email, every *sentence* carried just the tiniest whiff of imperiousness, with the subtext, “I know I have to report to you right now, but really you should be reporting to me and I’m going to make sure you know it.” But I could never point out any one specific phrase or statement to correct her on; it was just her overall attitude toward me, as well as toward her peers, that rubbed everyone the wrong way. I always thought she must have read some career advice book that instructed her to “behave for the role you want, not the role you have” because that was exactly how she carried herself.
    She ended up getting double-promoted to a senior leadership role (but to another department so thank goodness I don’t have to roll up to her), so whatever it was she was doing I guess it worked.

  92. JSPA*

    Oh, this is much simpler, because he does not deserve having reality spelled out for him, in detail, each time.

    “What a strange expectation.”

    repeat as needed.

    If you need to change it up, or if he pushes back”

    “I do hope that’s a figure of speech, as someone expecting preferential treatment would be setting themselves up for a series of disappointments.”

  93. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    Him: yammer yammer my expectation…

    You: well your expectation would be wrong.

    what an asshat.

  94. Camellia*

    RE: Acting surprised

    I would be concerned that he would interpret the surprise as a indicator that the OP had no idea that that was what she was supposed to do.

  95. DinoGirl*

    Coming from higher ad administration, part of why the politics are strange is because people tolerate nonsense like this. Alison is giving great advice- address this, don’t accept it.

  96. Kat in VA*

    I’m simultaneously having a hard time wrapping my head around this and then guiltily realizing that I may do something similar, except I say things like, “You absolutely cannot say you will f***ing kill John Jones with your bare hands if he doesn’t make his quota this quarter in a staff meeting, even if you’re joking” or “You need to not bite /this guy’s/ head off when he comes to you with this problem, hear him out, don’t be a mean dad, it’s a real issue.”

    The difference is my boss actually realizes, understands, and appreciates that sometimes he needs to be managed up (I refer to it as Teaching Him How To Human which he thinks is hilarious). However, if there’s something that he and I utterly disagree on, obviously his word is the final one. He’s the boss.

    This dude is already acting like he’s your boss (and if that has been said ad nauseam, apologies, I’m still reading comments) and this needs to be nipped in the bud, clearly. Allison’s scripts are spot on with how direct and forthright they are, with no equivocation. You don’t need to justify yourself or take his advice just Because He Said So. (Dang, the arrogance!)

    If I said one of the things I mentioned above to my boss and he indicated he was displeased with what/how I said it, I would work on changing it immediately. There’s trust, there’s partnership, and then there’s thinking you have way more power/control/influence/authority than you do. I think your guy falls squarely in that last category.

    (Note: I do NOT talk to the boss like that in public, in front of his reports, or his superiors. This is strictly closed-doors, on the phone, over text discussion. Publicly, we are very professional…probably me more than he but that’s just the way things roll with BossMan.)

  97. Batgirl*

    Did anyone else read the title, intro and then immediately go: ‘Sexism? Does the LW know this is sexism?’ Skim, skim.. ‘Oh OK, she knows.’
    Depressingly familiar.

  98. Mellow*

    My one quibble with Alison’s advice is here:

    Him: “I know that you will do the right thing and bring this to the Chief Academic Officer.”
    You: “No. (The Chief Academic Officer) and I are in agreement that I’ll handle this type of issue. What I will do is…”

    Since he is just a department member, I don’t see his boss owing him an explanation for what she’ll do. It invites disagreement to which he is not entitled except to himself.

  99. Nicole*

    I really like Alison’s last idea. Make him explain why he has the expectations he does—either he’ll realize how stupid he sounds as he’s speaking, or it’ll give you the opportunity to break him down when you explain why his ideas are bad.

    I’m really concerned with the thought of him being promoted if he’s sexist. I would focus on knocking your own work out of the park so when the time comes that you need to veto his promotion, it won’t be career suicide for you.

    Good luck, OP. I really hope we get an update to this, and that it’s a good one.

  100. Jeff*

    Ugh… even as a dude working in academia [admittedly, just a lowly grad student until a chronic medical condition forced me to stop working entirely, for now] I’ve known far too many dudes who treat everyone like that [whether they were conscious of it or not], and are especially worse with women in academic spaces.

    I’m honestly not sure whether the knowingly awful ones or unknowingly awful ones were worse to deal with. With the ones who owned that they were miserable [and misogynistic] jerks, you could basically just write them off as “Ugh… -that- guy. I don’t know why Prof. Z keeps him on staff at all, tbh. Yeah, just avoid him. If you absolutely must deal with him, go in with X, who knows how to handle him.”

    But the ones who were seemingly just dense? They were less straightforward. Sometimes, maybe, just -maybe- there was someone on friendly enough terms with them that could pull them aside, sit them down and go, “Look, dude, maybe this isn’t registering with you, but you’re coming off as awful because of ____. You seriously need to re-calibrate your social and emotional intelligence if you think these are acceptable behaviours.” Maybe they were just bad a reading the room and honestly receptive to stark feedback like that. I’ve known some who took that kind of feedback well, and wholeheartedly appreciated it. A lot of times, they had honestly gotten way too many free passes on things like that because “they were smart boys who didn’t need to worry about that stuff” or other similar bad justifications for not teaching them good emotional intelligence things [Heck, I’d even lump myself in that category. While I’d like to think I was just dense and hopefully not odious, spending a lot of time learning for myself how better to parse my own emotional health, and also developing that malnourished social intelligence, has helped me IMMENSELY as an adult, and that unruly, sullen teenage me would have probably loved to have had some of the insight I now have instead of trying to shut out all emotions and be a cold, stoic robot-like being].

    But on the flipside, I’ve also known some who doubled-down and got wicked-defensive and entitled about the way they acted. The whole “It’s just how I am”, “I don’t mean to offend”, “It’s their fault for getting emotional about ___”, “I didn’t mean for it to come off that way”, etc., etc., etc. parade of excuses for why their behaviour was not bad, actually. Looking for ways to justify why they were the way they were, did things the way they did, and weren’t going to change, instead of looking for ways to improve, become more tactful, and start paying better attention to social cues being given off in response to things they were saying and doing.

    Now, of that group, I can honestly see some of them just really being that thick and not getting why this was a stupid, pointless hill to die on, because of a technicality they thought they had to argue about. But there’s another, more insidious type of person. I won’t say that I know/knew anyone for sure to be this kind of person, but I don’t doubt that they exist. The kind of person who pretends to be dense and clueless about social cues, but uses that as a cover to be knowingly awful – whether as a way to belittle or diminish the contributions of female colleagues, or knowingly push/violate boundaries, then try to deflect and minimize the awfulness of their action by saying they didn’t know.

    As someone who has difficulty being confrontational in-person in general, my want to draw attention to all of these sorts of bad behaviour to help colleagues is and was ever at-odds with my want to curl up into my anxious, introverted ball of non-interaction with the world. Thus, my urge to help [without overstepping] is ever at tension with my urge to withdraw. If ever I’ve found something to pull me out of my self-isolating tendencies, it’s not wanting to abandon someone to a bad situation.

    So, I guess the best advice I’ve seen for stuff like that would be to play dumb and make the person expressly spell out whatever they’re trying to imply. Make them squirm and/or lay bare whatever inappropriate thing they were joking around about in plain terms. If they have any sense of shame, they’ll be forced to realize how not-cool what they were saying was. If they lack shame, they’ll put it out there in plain enough language that there can be no ambiguity and room to wriggle out of what they were saying if confronted about it, or if it’s brought to someone with authority to force them to knock it off.

  101. Boobookitty*

    OMG this reminds me of my business partner. She learned about a technique to get people to do things from a book called something like “Make Anyone Do Anything You Want” (pretty sure that’s not the real title). It involves communicating in a way where you’re saying basically that, by the person you’re asking doing what you want, they will feel it shows them in a way they want to be seen.

    Because she thinks people all want to be seen as “open”, she begins every sentence where she’s going to ask people to do something they probably don’t want to do with “Would you be open to … ?” (e.g. “Would you be open to scrubbing the toilet?”) Every. Single. Time. She doesn’t use it when she knows it something you’ll want to do. Then she’ll begin by saying something normal like “Hey, could you do do that thing?”

    We are all on to her. And as soon as the words “Would you be open to…?” come out of her mouth we’re all cringing to hear what crappy thing she’ll ask us to do.

  102. Kicking It*

    Reading all of the comments on this post is making me depressed, especially because so many people who apparently work in academia have the attitude, “This stuff just happens here” along with a fair dose of the attitude that OP just needs to deal with it. “As long as he’s not doing it to someone else.” I can guarantee that the OP is not the only one he’s doing this to, or will do this to. She may be the most senior, or the most visible, etc., person that he is doing this to, but people (men) who behave in this way do it because of the power dynamic, and will absolutely do it as often as they can get away with it. It may actually be a backhanded compliment–he is threatened enough by OP’s position/authority/demeanor/what-have-you that he has identified that he needs to assert dominance over you. He may not bother with people whom he considers permanently lesser than himself, which also accounts for the fact that he isn’t widely known for this behavior. But he’s decided that he needs to take you down a peg or two so that you’re not a threat.

    I have some advice for the OP, but first, a plea to the various academics reading this and nodding: Please think about the people that your silence on this subject is affecting. His female students, female grad students, adjuncts, and even junior faculty members. Do you really want to be in the position of seeming to justify this behavior? If you are now in a position of some authority, please consider using it to make it clear that this behavior is not appropriate and will not be tolerated in academia any more than it is properly tolerated anywhere else.

    OP, many people have already advocated for a nuanced, softer approach, and I admit that I am partial to the flat statement, “That’s inappropriate,” repeated as necessary. It may be that will give you the best mileage. But I also recommend that you think about your tolerance to shut this behavior down more actively. That is the way I have always handled it as a student and a grad student, with some very brilliant but wildly misogynistic faculty members who couldn’t countenance the idea of a woman being as smart as they were and keeping up with them. I discovered that if I didn’t go toe-to-toe and argue with them for as long as it took, that they would dismiss me without a second thought. I earned a seat at some very challenging tables that way–but at the same time discovered that their inner dialogue didn’t necessarily change to “Women are smart and capable and take no bullshit too” but rather “Kicking It is smart and an exception–don’t mess with her.” Ultimately, that was the only change that was within my power to make at the time, and so I settled for it, even as I knew it was still unfair.

    Someone else argued that you can’t change someone else’s behavior, but you can, if you choose, make sure that they don’t point that behavior toward you. It may be worth it to you to also become known as the “don’t mess with her” person. Every university has a few of these, often in an understated role, but their reputation precedes them. There is a social cost to doing so in some cases, so you should consider that as well. But at the end of the day, if it’s truly worth it to you to make sure that Professor Whoever knows that it’s not worth it to get on your bad side, before he has the chance to become a department chair, then you should consider shooting him down as often and as bluntly as it takes for him to get the message. At the same time, gather your allies as others have recommended. I wish you good luck.

  103. CM*

    OP, after reading some of the comments from academics, I think what you have to do is gear up for a cat-and-dog relationship with this guy that’s probably going to continue as long as you both work there. So, rather than focusing on trying to make him stop acting like a dick, find a way to subtly be a dick back to him that makes you feel like the interaction is more sporting rather than one where he acts like a child and you act like an adult (which is taxing).

    The kind of relationship you’re shooting for isn’t “This dude and I are able to work together like mature adults and have respectful conversations” so much as “This dude and I low-key don’t like each other, and our conversations area really prickly on both sides, and everyone knows that, but they also know we won’t do something seriously aggressive to each other.”

    I honestly think that if you let go of the part of this where you’re trying to be mature or trying to be liked, and you just fully accept that the two of you are going to swipe at each other the whole time you’re having a conversation, it will lift some of the burden and make this less oppressive. (And it’s fun to take a swipe at someone you don’t like — that’s just the truth).

  104. Tan*

    I would firstly advise HR of the situation as it sounds like this guy is trouble waiting to happen once he has any female reports or students. Next I would suggest stop giving him explanations unless he pushes for one (nicely). I suspect that is why he grins like the Cheshire cat. He doesn’t really ask a question and yet you always feel the need to justify your decisions to him. Make him ask. Examples of how I would guess this could go in future:

    “My expectation is that you will give me a hint if you think there may be a change coming up.” You: “Your expectation is wrong”. He would probably then ask “Why”, then you explain: “If there is a change coming, your department head will let know first. If indeed you need to know.”

    “My expectation is that you will change the meeting time.” You: “No, the meeting time is fixed.” Him “why”. You “27 people are involved and it has been scheduled for a month. It will not be rescheduled just for you.”

    About a minor snafu with the bookstore: “I’m sure you understand why you need to have this person fired.” You: “No”. Him: “why”. You “This is a personnel issue. You are not a member of HR or management, so I cannot discuss the mater further until those people in charge have decided a course of action.”

    About a trivial department matter that could easily have been resolved before it even got to me: “I know that you will do the right thing and bring this to the Chief Academic Officer.” You: “Maybe, but probably not” etc etc

  105. Anonymous Professor*

    I am a professor, and I am confused about what is going on in this letter.

    If this person is a professor, he is not anyone’s “direct report.” Professors get evaluated for promotion at several points throughout their career, but how they meet the requirements for promotion is up to them. As a faculty member, I decide what research questions I want to answer, how I want to answer those questions, who I am going to hire into my lab, how I am going to teach my classes, and so on. If someone treated me like their “direct report,” that person would look very strange, like they didn’t understand the environment that they were in.

    Above, I mentioned being evaluated for promotion. Becoming a department chair is not a promotion, in the sense that no one wants that job. People become professors because they want to teach and/or do research, which is not what a department chair does. Being a department chair is seen as a necessary evil to make sure the department keeps running. So I want to echo what was said above about how bad of an idea it is to try to block someone from having this position for the reasons you outline here. My guess is that would be interpreted as “I am going to prevent this person from doing labor no one else wants to do, and force someone else to do that labor, because I am annoyed by a verbal tic that this person has.” I agree with you that the behavior is problematic, but if you try to block this person’s promotion, my strong suspicion is that you and not he will be seen as the problem. For that reason, I would strongly suggest that you adopt some of the softer approaches that others are recommending and not respond in a way that could be seen as rude or too direct. Academia is very indirect in some ways, and so the indirect language sounds direct (in the sense that people understand what you mean), and direct language (or direct action, like giving him a book to read, which can come across as “I am giving you, a professor, homework – and am therefore treating you like a student”) sounds too aggressive.

    I don’t know how administrative units work, so if this person is an administrator and so are you, this may be less relevant. Though, I would probably still use the softer approaches because you all would still be in academia, and the stuff I said above about the indirect culture would still apply.

    One last point: It sounds incredibly strange to me to hear someone in an academic context use words like “direct report.” You mentioned that you were new to this organization, and I’m wondering if that means you previously worked at a different college/university, or whether this is your first academic position. This sounds to me a little bit like a situation that occurs when institutions hire people from outside academia to be administrators. I interviewed at one such school where the dean kept asking me about my “deliverables” and talking about “quarterly check-ins,” which is not language that happens in universities. I did not take that job, in part because I did not want someone to have any power over my outcomes if they did not understand academic culture. If you are in such a position, I would strongly recommend observing academic norms for a while before trying to make any changes, and perhaps trying to more actively learn such norms as well (several books describe academic culture for people who are starting their first positions, and people at your institution may be happy to grab coffee and chat about the culture at that particular institution, etc.). I hope this doesn’t sound harsh – I’m not trying to be, just thinking that impression management is very important in order to succeed in academia, and if your colleagues feel that you aren’t acting within the norms they are used to, that isn’t good for your own career.

    1. Anonymous Professor*

      Sorry to double-comment, but it just struck me that my last paragraph could be part of what is going on for this dude. Like, if he perceives that you aren’t familiar with the norms of the institution, he could be trying to communicate those norms by talking about his expectations. That would be completely consistent with academic culture as I understand it, with the thought process being something like “this person seems to think that I report to her and seems a bit confused about how this instutition works, but I don’t want to be rude by flat-out telling her that she’s wrong, so I’m going to use softer language to communicate that her behavior is not consistent with how things usually work here.” I am not saying that his understanding of the culture is accurate, or that things actually work the way he thinks they do or wants them to, but I could totally see this kind of thought process happening and that helps me understand some of this behavior. If that’s actually what is happening, the “why do you have these expectations” questions could be incredibly helpful because they will get him to explicitly say what he thinks the norms are. And if he says something that doesn’t match your understanding of the norm, you could reference other parts of the culture that seem to contradict what he’s saying. Like, “Oh, hmmm. I’ve actually observed that people respond really negatively to rescheduling meetings. In the past when people have had conflicts, they have Skyped in or gotten notes from someone later. We’d be happy to arrange for you to join us electronically if you like that option best.” There’s a bunch of softness in this response, but it gets you one of the outcomes you want (not to reschedule the meeting) while also communicating that you understand what the norms are, which could get you the other outcome you want (less of him telling you his expectations).

      1. STEMProfessor*

        I think there is a lot of wisdom in Anonymous Professor’s comment. I get why most people are hating on the Problem Guy, but there are a number of red flags suggesting that OP doesn’t understand her institution.

        I am a female tenured professor at a large research university. OP left out that kind of information: are OP and Problem Guy both faculty, does anyone have tenure, what kind of institution, is it public or private, etc? All of these are important factors. For example, at a small liberal arts college (SLAC), the organizational hierarchy is very flat and approaching a Provost (I assume that is the equivalent of a CAO?) might be quite normal. Maybe the bookstore issue is part of a longer term pattern (although I think advocating for firing people is usually a sign of a Raging Jerk).

        Some other things… in my department, the Department Chair is a faculty member. There is also a top staff member with the title of Department Administrator, who manages other staff (like people who handle grants management or student enrollment). OP called Problem Guy a department member … I don’t know what that is and it’s not a term in regular use. I also don’t recognize department head as a typical title.

        As Anonymous Professor noted, the position of Department Chair is not a promotion: it’s a three-year term that is considered necessary service/drudgery that takes faculty away from what they really want to do, which is research. There is a lot of turnover in the Department Chair position and people are generally relieved when their term ends. It’s not really worth trying to block someone from that role: it would cause a lot of grief over a short-term appointment. On the other hand, the position of Department Administrator turns over much less frequently. So this is why understanding which track Problem Guy is in, faculty or staff, is important.

        If OP left out all of this key information to stay anonymous, that’s one thing. But if OP left it out because she didn’t understand that this information is relevant, then maybe OP needs to form “let’s grab coffee” type relationships with people who have spent more years at their institution to try to understand it better from the inside.

        More generally for the commenters, I also dislike this “academia is weird” stuff. Academia is a system with its own norms.

        And the norms make perfect sense when you understand that individual faculty aren’t employees in any traditional sense. I operate very independently. I write grants by myself to fund my research and those grants are based on my ideas. I then recruit and pay people to work on my research projects funded by those grants (undergrads, PhD students, and postdocs). Because the university also takes money from my grants (overhead), I contribute as much to the university financially as I take in the form of salary. And, as is very common in research universities, the university actually only pays me part of my salary! I pay three months of my salary off of my grants.

        The way the university bureaucracy functions further reinforces that faculty are different. For example, no one pays attention to my hours and I don’t have sick or vacation days. I don’t need permission to travel, like to attend a conference or give a seminar at another university.

        My Department Chair is not my boss (and my Chair would never call me his employee!). The same is true of my relationship with people at the Dean/Provost level. I’ve also been at my institution long enough to have known these people before they took on these titles. Again, that could be why going to the CAO wouldn’t actually be as weird as it might seem on its face.

        Finally, I 100% believe OP when she says this guy is treating her in a gendered way. Alison has given good advice on how to shift the tenor of their communications. It will be helpful as there will be other times in OP’s career she will deal with people who chafe at female authority. But don’t try to intervene in this guy’s career trajectory, especially if he is faculty and she is not.

        1. Well I used to be a farmer and I made a living fine*

          I didn’t get the sense that she doesn’t understand her role/the institution; to me it read like she was aiming to translate academic structures to a broader audience, to elicit feedback from a broader range of commenters on this site. I agree that the details aren’t completely clear in the OP, but the LW has clarified the situation a few times in the comments, and it’s evident that she is experienced in how these structures work, but is seeking advice on this specific tricky situation.

    2. CM*

      The OP says in the very first sentence that they are an administrator, and in the next sentence that the person is the OP’s direct report. It’s very odd that you suggest that (1) the OP is incorrect that her direct report is, in fact, her direct report, (2) either of them are professors, or (3) the OP does not understand institutional norms. There is no evidence of any of this in the letter — in fact, #1 and #2 are directly contradicted in the letter.

      Your comment seems equally as condescending as the OP’s direct report telling her what his expectations are.

  106. Professor Ronny*

    Ex department chair for nine years and current chair of the faculty council here. How you handle one-on-one interactions with this person is less important than making sure he does not end up in a position of authority as an ill equipped department chair can do a ton of damage to a department that can take literally years to repair.

    If it comes down to using your authority to stop him becoming chair or letting him do the damage, I would stop him. But, I expect that some quiet conversations with a few of the more reasonable senior faculty would most likely stop his consideration for the position.

  107. ENFP in Texas*

    Him: “My expectation is that you will give me a hint if you think there may be a change coming up.”

    Me: “Prepare to be disappointed.”

    Where do people get the gall to think they tell their boss how things are going to happen? I hope the OP provides an update.

    I like Alison’s scripts. I hope the OP doesn’t feel the need to couch them in any sort of feel-good language like “I’m sorry, but I’m not going to reschedule this meeting since it involves so many other people and has been on calendars for a while.”

    His requests are out of bounds, so there is no need to apologize for declining them.

  108. Sirah*

    I want a follow-up on this more than I want to win the lottery, and I’m dead broke right now.
    LW, if you’re reading this, don’t leave us hanging!

  109. WakeRed*

    You can’t change people’s behavior and if you’re not his superior, he has no incentive to be a great colleague to you, but modeling appropriate behavior might hopefully have some effect on how he approaches you most of the time. Hey, maybe by year 3 he will have developed into a colleague that’s only objectionable/condescending every other week (which is pretty good by my standards!). We can all use professional deveopment and while this guy shoulnds particularly terrible (get used to working with women in academia, bub!!!), he can grow in theory. It’s just a matter of setting boundaries and seeing what he does.

  110. Bonnie A Sawyer*

    First off , start by telling him – “Please do not express your “expectations” of me, instead simply ask your question and I will answer. ” He sounds like the most pompous, condescending, irritant of an employee. I would start by asking him to stop with the “My expectations” crap. Thank you for posting, I never had to deal with such a blatant snob employee. You have made me realize, once again, that -yes, it could be worse.

  111. prof_smartypants*

    Next time he does this, interrupt him (men love that) and say, “I’m so glad you brought this up – let’s sit down and talk about expectations.” Set an alarm on your phone for the amount of time you think you’ll need. Then, don’t let him interrupt you as you talk about your expectations of HIM and what those expectations would be if he were to be department chair. Have a list prepared. If he tries to interrupt, don’t let him. When your alarm goes off, apologize that you don’t have more time because you have a meeting off campus and walk quickly away saying something like, “Great talk! I’m so glad we cleared these things up. Bye”

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