Sunday, May 22, 2011


The school where I work is no different than many other organizations around the country right now in that we are also feeling the financial pinch from our depressed economy. Layoffs have been happening periodically for months now. Why the administration has decided to drag it out and shroud it all in mystery is beyond me, and I am too far down the totem pole to change any of it. One of the ongoing frustrations with these layoffs and all the restructuring around here is that our HR department wields an immense amount of power. Rather than serving as advisers to our ideas and reacting to our needs, they control who stays, who goes, who gets what job and what pay. These decisions are made independently of anyone else, from what I have witnessed. All employees are at the mercy of the whims of HR, which makes them not only an intimidating presence on campus, but also a frustratingly clueless and cowardly one. This is wholly different than any HR department I have ever worked with in any other job. This is a school that is run by an HR department. Which makes no sense, really, if you think about it.

About 2 weeks ago, I met with my temporary dean (you may recall that my former dean quit a couple months back to be closer to her son in Atlanta) to discuss ongoing issues with The Gorilla, my professionally inept and socially sub-normal coworker. Due to my interim status as one of his supervisors, I have been lucky enough to get going on a mission to rid the staff of his presence, which has proven to be quite a morale-lowering experience. Part of this mission involved working with New Girl (the Gorilla's immediate and unfortunate supervisor) to reorganize the reporting structure at the library. According to our plan, we have determined a way to eliminate his position and shift others around to better suit the needs of the library. We even found ways to eliminate most of our part-time positions, which are currently held by students (who could easily find other jobs in restaurants or what have you). She and I were very proud of ourselves and brought this new idea to our temporary dean. She also seemed to really like it, as she has agreed with us from day one the The Gorilla has got to go. She said she would talk to HR about this plan and get back to us. She seemed confident that this would be a great plan and HR would go for it.

So when I went into her office, after she called a meeting with me to discuss things related to HR issues, I have to admit, I was kind of excited. After almost a year of The Gorilla, she was finally going to inform me with some pleasurable news of his impending departure. "The good news is," she started, "we are eliminating his position on June 6th." I silently turned several mental cartwheels, and had a quick parade in my brain, complete with confetti and handfuls of candy being thrown to little children, before snapping back to reality. The good news is? Oh no. That means....there is....oh no.

"The bad news is, they are eliminating your interim position, and so in this new plan..." she pulled out a new reporting structure tree for me to view. "You will go back to your old position. There won't be anyone in charge of the library until you get a new dean."

Seriously? This is so lame. I worked my butt off for this promotion! And now you are taking it away??

I asked if I had done something wrong or if I was not doing a good job (this was a rhetorical question, because I have actually been given a lot of positive feedback from both below and above me). She said no, not at all. She gave me some b.s. explanation which really doesn't add up. You see, our school has several campuses. Each campus has a Head Librarian for that campus. That is the promotion I received (temporarily). The Head Librarians are supervised by a dean, who oversees big picture planning and advocates for all of the libraries to upper administration. Since all deans are located in Savannah, their argument is that when we get a new dean, they can be both the Head Librarian and the dean for all campuses. Not only is this not what a dean does (at any school), it is too much for one person to manage. My former dean should know, because she had to do it for a year or so.

So much for their promise to me that my promotion was only interim because they didn't want to make any major personnel changes until we get a new dean. I am not quite sure how I feel about continuing to work for a place that breaks its word to its employees.

The problem with this plan is that we don't have a new dean yet. Nor will we have one any time soon, if they keep bringing in the same awful candidates they have been parading around for the last 3 months. So on June 6th (D-Day, ironically enough), no one will be in charge of my campus's library. There will be a group of department heads, who I assume will have to meet all the time to make decisions. (There are actually a plethora of logistical problems with this plan, and I won't bore you with details. Trust me, this is not going to be a smooth operation -- I am not just saying this because it is my promotion that is being eliminated. This is simply a stupid idea, put together by people who obviously have no idea how a library, let alone our library, works.)

Unfortunately for me and my coworkers, this was not the only change to the reporting structure. I was not the only person getting screwed over. New Girl would be losing The Gorilla, which was great. But she would be gaining the supervision for THREE other departments. Yes, I said three. I would like to mention that she was hired to be a one-person department and not supervise anyone. So this was most definitely not what she moved across the country for. I would also like to add that she does not have the experience or knowledge to supervise some of these departments very well. (Don't get me wrong, she is a rockstar librarian, but there are some library jobs that require an extremely specialized set of skills, and if you don't have them, you may as well be a baseball player trying to conduct an orchestra -- no offense to baseball players.) And it's not just that. The job she was hired for is plenty for one person to do, and she is doing it so well, and now she won't have time to do it very much. This will affect all of us.

Before all of this happened, we actually needed to hire 3 more librarians to be fully staffed. With their new structure, we will actually have 3 fewer librarians. We are essentially down 6 people. The whole library just got screwed. They can give me all their b.s. explanations, but I know it's really because of money and a lack of any attempt to understand how libraries work or what we need. With their new plan (which was nothing like the one New Girl and I created), they don't have to fill any of our vacancies except the dean's. They are combining and squishing so many things around, the currently vacant positions are going to be absorbed by others. They are going to be paying New Girl more, but at what cost? I will probably not be so lucky. I will get a bonus for the few months that I was in my promoted status, so that is cool. My office will also be free of The Gorilla, which is even better, actually.

This has felt comparable to grief for me. First, there was shock. They're not really doing this. That is crazy! They were just kicking this around as an idea. Then, sadness. Getting rid of The Gorilla is great, but this is going to lower our morale even more. I really like my new job, and I am going to miss it. The next day, I was seething with anger. They broke their promise to me! They took something away from me that I worked really hard for! And I'm good at it! They have no idea what they are doing and don't seem to care how this affects others! Late last week, I reached the negotiation stage. I can convince them that this won't work. I just have to prove it! But after my request to meet with my temporary dean was not acknowledged, reality set in. This is going to happen whether I like it or not. Nothing I can do or say will change it.

The thing that makes me the saddest is that now, there is nowhere for me to move up here. There is no Head Librarian position anymore. They are requiring the new dean to have a PhD (which is absurd, because very VERY few library deans have PhDs -- only library deans at major universities have them, and most of the other deans and faculty at this school do not have PhDs-- some don't even have masters degrees.) I am stuck being the head of my department. That's it. That's the end of the line for me. This school doesn't seem to care if I would like to advance my career here or if I get burned out. That is what upsets me about this the most. I think I could really make great things happen here. So do my coworkers. So do faculty I have talked to. But HR and upper administration don't seem to value that. They just want me to go back to being in charge of the busiest department in the library, where I will get burned out quickly. This promotion was really the only thing keeping me here. I have no choice but to begin looking for a new job elsewhere.

New Girl and I have been talking to and emailing our old boss about all of this. She is furious with our HR department and cannot believe what they are doing to us. She thinks they have wanted to do something like this for a long time and are taking advantage of us because we don't have a leader right now. We have no one to defend us to HR or upper administration.

Only one thing can save me. My old boss. The dean who left. She hates her new job and wants to come back and be our dean again. She even wrote a letter to our president to make her intentions formal and clear. The President and the other higher ups adore my old boss, and would like her to come back. But there are some negotiations they will have to work out. My old boss wants to stay in Atlanta. They will want her here in Savannah. Right now, they told her that if they don't find a new dean in the next couple of months, they will have her come back. If she gets to come back, but gets to stay in Atlanta, she will immediately advocate for me to get my promotion back -- permanently. Actually, knowing how much she likes me, she will advocate for me to get it back no matter where she is.

I wonder if I will still be here then.


Smug said...

Dang! This all really sucks! Getting rid of the Gorilla will be great, but if everyone is still misrable whats the point?

I hope that things start getting better soon! I hope your old boss comes back or you find another position with another library!

Good Luck and so happy to hear from you!!

teahouse said...

OMG, what a bureaucratic nightmare. My dad was a professor at a university, and I used to hear these horrible stories of the politics and backstabbing that go on in those institutions. I've always sworn I'd rather be a hapless lawyer at the sharkiesst of sharky law firms than work in academia.

I think things will work out fine in the end - it's just getting through from now until then that will be tough. Hang in there!

SJP said...

VB- I was totally bummed to read this post!! I know how it can be when you feel like there's no upward movement and you excel at your job and everyone knows it but all you get is recognition and praise. Which is nice, but show me the money and show me the promotion!! I was in a similar situation and I found a new job! I've been there 4 months and I don't want to imply this will happen to everyone but I LOVE it there! Hopefully I'm not still in the honeymoon phase, but I absolutely love my new job. I rock at what I do, and it's just been a great experience for me. I hope either things work out here or you have a similar situation when you move on more opportunities that you deserve!