24 February: I phoned in sick on Friday and decided to dispatch some emails seeking advice on what the hell to do about Marcus. Just when there seems a way out of the situation, in comes an email to flatten me. I talked to Dominic at the weekend. He feels things have gone far enough. He wants me out, or to reduce my hours so I don’t have to face Marcus and his manipulations.
Dominic feels our whole family is suffering. Our children, Eddie (9) and Chloe (6), are, according to Dominic, being neglected because of my problems at work. Dominic has just been promoted and had a good pay increase. He suggests that I go half-time. I can continue with the work I really enjoy and do an MA in psychotherapy with women. That way I can get back into practice and keep up my academic work. I agree with him that it seems like a good idea, but there is no way I want Marcus to feel that he’s beaten me. I also feel a fraud potentially doing a psychotherapy qualification when I feel so down. But at least it’s a legitimate way into therapy (you have to be in therapy to do the course). I need to consult more… but it sounds a promising compromise…
25 February: Alan is passing by and calls in for a chat. He makes me a drink and we talk. He looks upset. Then he tells me he’s got a new job. I congratulate him. He’s moving south. He is lucky the university he is moving to is a place where the dean is someone he knows and trusts. Lucky Alan. My heart sinks and then I go and teach. On my way I worry about my support ebbing. I have not seen Gail for some time and decide to try to catch her over lunch.
On my way back from teaching I spot Gail and I call to her. She looks up and smiles. I walk down for a chat, but Gail seems defensive and embarrassed. I enter her room to all the non-verbal cues that say: “Please go away…” She explains that Marcus has a meeting with her in five minutes. I interrupt: “Oh, are you having trouble with him too?” She flushes with embarrassment and then becomes some sort of advert for assertiveness: “Please, I am doing some very exciting work with Marcus and I know that you are having problems with him but I feel Marcus is taking the division in the right direction. Please let’s not fall out over this…” I am shocked by what Gail has said. I feel speechless. I suggest we speak some other time.
As I walk away from Gail’s room, I know I need advice on what to do next and what is happening to me. The last thing I want is isolation in this place. There are eight people who work in this team: me; Alan, who is leaving; Gail, who’s been a reasonable friend; and four others, with whom I have only passing contact. Then there is the vacancy. It feels like the most positive relationship I have at the moment is with the vacancy.
I will talk with people. I’m too immersed in the drama of all this. Perhaps it’s nothing to do with Marcus. Is it me? Am I lazy? Am I out of time? Are universities the best place to be as they start to strive for “business plans” and ape capitalism? I was a socialist. I believed in so much. I feel isolated and alone. I maybe need to cut my losses and get out unscathed while I can. I am so confused and that very confusion makes me angry with myself. I have invasive thoughts about whether it’s all worth a bean. I feel totally crap and out of it. I check for emails and there is one from Petra, an old, old friend.
Lovely to hear from you. I’ve often wondered how you are and I am so sorry to hear your news about your difficulties. I am a little detached from things here, lucky to have some robust research grants so the powers leave me be… but from what you have said it sounds to me like you have clear grounds for a grievance. BUT if you go ahead you have to be totally focused and geared up to it with a simple and utterly determined purpose – no frills, no fun. If you decide to stay with it and take on both your line manager and dean, it will be one hell of a battle. Decide for you. Any decision is honourable because the road can be so hard. I am not trying to put you off. Just so you can be totally forewarned, it will be an epic personal battle. Get support, not from university staff, because when the going gets tough, colleagues and fellow lecturers are a terrible bunch who suddenly become invisible when you ask them to give evidence in your favour. Your line manager and dean will spread the most malicious rumours about you. I’ve seen it before, good people just brushed off like dust. Sorry to be so pessimistic, but you really need to know the reality of what will happen… Please, above all, look after yourself. Don’t let anyone lead you on to a “crusade” against a system you will never beat. The idea about going half-time seems a good rationale. Move where you can develop your career in different ways. Stay in touch…
More advice, I remain confused. Why should I let the likes of Marcus and Helen treat me like this? But is it worth the battle? It feels terrible…
Names and other details have been changed.
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