Thursday, June 25, 2009

Just Let It Blow

I was reading through various blogs this morning and I clicked in on one of my favorites, h2phobic. Don't get me wrong, you're all my favorites because if you weren't I wouldn't spend time reading you. But h2phobic kind of rings some old bells in my brain because she reminds me of me when I was a few years younger.

After reading her entry this morning I started to write a note in her comment section, then changed my mind and was going to write her a personal email, then changed my mind again and decided to write my own entry regarding issues similar to hers in some ways. Like her, I'm not good at confiding things either. Comes from my stoic ScandiHOOvian background - don't ever let anyone know that you're anything but "just fine" and don't ever air your dirty laundry in public. So today you're all going to learn something about Lena that not too many people know.

My last job, before I quit working altogether, was in the Spanish Department of a local private, very prestigious Lutheran liberal arts college. I worked there for eight long years. The department consisted of 10 professors, only 2 of whom were American, the remainder being native speakers from various Spanish-speaking countries (Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador to name just a few.) I was the administrative assistant and happened to be a blue-eyed blond of Norwegian heritage.

Now you would think that a group of educated people, most of them with doctorates, would be anything but racists - WRONG!! There was a lot of political unrest within the department, and I won't go into all the details, but because I was blond, blue-eyed and Lutheran, they made my life miserable. There were constant digs and remarks and put-downs many times a day regarding my background and American philosophies. At first I thought they were just jokes, but it didn't take long before I realized that wasn't the case.

Now the Chair of the department was one of the two other Americans but was married to a Mexican National who had maintained his Mexican citizenship even though he had lived in this country for 20+ years. After being subjected to this for several years I finally got up the nerve to address the subject with her. I won't go into all the details, but the summary of her response was to just overlook it because it was a cultural thing. I should just expect it from them.

Another issue that really bothered me was how all the native speakers were allowed to get away with all kinds of things. They would schedule appointments with students and then not bother to show up. Or just not bother to show up for their classes and this possibly several times a week. Of course that left me holding the bag dealing with students who had tried numerous times to connect with their professors and were constantly stood up. But let the other American professor pull this kind of thing, or even be a few minutes late to his/her appointment with the student and they would suffer repercussions that you wouldn't believe. One of the advertising points of this college was the 100% availability of the instructors to the students. The native speakers would use and abuse all the facilities of the office - use all kinds of postage for their personal use, one of them was writing a book and used the office copy machine to make thousands of copies of his book and then charged it off to office expense. But both myself and the American prof had to pay our copy bills immediately. There were a lot of other things too, but you get the idea of the preferential treatment that went on. And every time I addressed these issues with the Chair her standard response was "We have to let them by with this because in their country that's the way things are done. It's a cultural thing."

To make matters even worse, she (the Chair) would "set up" the other American professor so that things would go wrong and then the prof could be reported. The Chair was the most underhanded, manipulative, nasty woman I have ever worked for. And as a result, after several years I began to develop anxiety issues to the point where I ended up going to a counselor. I guess you're all wondering why I didn't quit. Well, the answer to that was because I was stubborn. I wasn't going to let this witch beat me, and I thought I was going to make a difference.

After several years of this stress it started to affect my health in different ways other than just stress. Ole finally convinced me that I needed to get out of there, and fortunately we were in a financial situation where I didn't have to work. So trying to be a good and responsible employee I wrote my letter of resignation and gave a 30-day notice citing health reasons for my departure.

About two weeks before my last day I received a call from Human Resources scheduling an exit interview. They, of course, wanted details of my reasons for leaving, so I let it all out. I gave them all the awful details, right down to the nitty gritty. The director, of course, was horrified and immediately called the president of the college and I was asked to write a detailed report of all the things that I could remember that had happened over the previous years. Remember, I still had two weeks to go before I was out of there.

Well, apparently the President and the Human Resources Director confronted the Chair with this information.

To show you how coniving the Chair was, she called a department meeting under the guise of it being a going away party for me. When we all got seated around the table she presented the information that she KNEW that there were some unhappy people in the department and that SOMEONE had gone to the Human Resources department and the President and complained telling all kinds of falsehoods about her. Then she went around the table, asking every person if they had been to the Human Resources department and what for. She started with the person next to me, went around the table the opposite direction so that I would be the last one. Of course no one else had talked to the HR director but me during my exit interview and she knew this. So when she pointed her finger at me and asked me about HR it didn't matter anymore whether I liked confrontation or not. She had raised my dander with her tactics, backed me into a corner and I was coming out swinging. If you know me, you know that it takes a LOT to get me to that point. I get angry, but keep it all inside, thus the tendency toward anxiety attacks.

My response to her when she pointed her finger at me about 6 inches from my nose was to Let It Blow. By this time I didn't care who else was in the room or who else heard what I had to say. I let her have it, and then I got up, walked out of the conference room, went to my office, put my coat on and headed down the hall. The Chair stood in the office door and yelled at me "You're coming back to work tomorrow, aren't you?" My response, without turning around to even look at her, was to raise my hand in the air and raise my middle finger!! Now Folks, I just never do that sort of thing, but I sure did that day.

I had about a 20 minute drive home and when I walked in the door my phone was ringing. It was the HR director along with the President of the college on a conference line. Immediately following the confrontation in the conference room the other blond, blue-eyed American professor in the department had called the HR director to report what had happened. The HR director and the President asked me if I would be willing to allow my documentation to be used against her to get her out off her current position as chair and hopefully out of the college altogether. Of course - you're darn tootin' I would.

It took a couple of months, but she was finally removed from her position as Chair of the department, and another two years of documentation before they could finally fire her.

And I have never had another anxiety attack. I found that if I verbalize things before they get to a point where I'm so angry the anxiety attack doesn't happen. Now I try to take up the issue before it becomes a confrontational point and I can still speak in civilized tones instead of being so angry I just lose it and yell. I learned a very tough lesson under some very dire circumstances.

Love Lena


Holly said...

Given some of the things I've heard about that college (a friend of mine (also Scandahoovian) went there back in the late 80's. He never mentioned anything about racism, (was nowhere near your department) but he did have plenty of other negative things to say

Carolyn said...

Thank you, my friend. I spoke to MH this morning about the situation. She wasn't happy, but she seemed to understand. When her daughter showed up at 9am, MH took her outside and spoke to her. Then the daughter left. I'm hopeful that it will get better. Thanks again!

harrietv said...

Oh, you did the right thing. I've worked with people from other countries who have been unfailingly considerate; don't ever tell me it's a "cultural thing."

The worst was an Irish-American boss who thought women should be kept in their place and didn't understand that he'd never convince me. My loyalty was to the company, not to the individual; I just wrote it down. I have more than 12,000 words in a folder marked "deferred publication."

And I won.

Lena . . . said...

Yes, Holly, your friend was right. Because I had been there longer than 5 years my daughter was eligible for a 90% cut in tuition - at that time tuition was $20,000+ a year. There were so many ugly things that went on behind the scenes at that school that I wouldn't even allow her to apply, and 90% of $20,000 is a BIG cut!! And this school was/is supposed to be the epitome of a private, religious school. Uff da.

Kat said...

Be careful, you used this woman's name in "labels" section.

Anonymous said...

What a difference a generation or two makes in the deterioration of a good college. All it takes is people like that and an administration that ignores that behavior. I think I know which school you are mentioning, and yes, it was a good school fifty years ago when I was trying to decide where to go to college. Yes, uff da, how sad.

Susan said...

Just want you to know, I would have done the exact thing you did and the same way! Good for you!! Now you can go on with life, right?