When I was a graduate student I did some dumb things. Like that email complaining about an administrator that I accidentally sent to the administrator. Oops! And a couple of snotty, haughty letters about hiring issues wherein I, who had not yet stepped foot on the job market, pretended I knew what I was talking about. Cringe.
I'm embarrassed about these now and am grateful that I was in a department where such mis-steps could be forgiven. This week I have had cause to remember those dumb things in part because a group of graduate students here has been acting in a manner that I find quite appalling. (None of these graduate students, for the record, is in my own field, though the controversy is swirling around that field.)
The controversy is about changes being implemented in the rhetoric program. I have no problem with people raising concerns--and any drastic change is going to draw attention, even pushback--but the manner with which concerns have gotten raised is what really bothers me. This department prides itself on a supportive environment for graduate students; what is more, faculty political views range pretty much from liberal to radical, and many colleagues would rather have their books wither at the hands of angry peer reviews than be deemed unsympathetic to graduate students.
For my part, though, that goodwill has been eroded after the behavior I have witnessed and heard about this week. The behavior runs the gamut from bullying other graduate students who offer alternative viewpoints or--worse--reducing them to tears with facebook tirades, to circulating anonymous biased surveys, to writing nasty, disrespectful letters of protest, to undermining departmental protocols for raising concerns, to trying to pit faculty members against each other. All because of some curricular reform that is in my view much needed and still very much in the works.
Graduate students, I urge you to learn collegiality early on. You are professionals, and professionals treat each other with respect, not derisive dismissal. I am deeply saddened about the behavior around here, and in response to that behavior I maybe haven't been the model of collegiality myself, in part because I felt like some rears needed some serious kicking. While the department is fortunate to have leaders who have stepped in to clear up the confusion and paranoia, I fear lasting damage has been done, and it spreads across your ranks (the graduate ranks) like a spilled bottle of toxins.
People, it's really not worth it. Try stepping outside of your own narrow interests to see a broader institutional picture, including (gasp!) the people who take these classes. Write your dissertations, teach your classes, and work on being collegial and navigating differences with respect. It will be good practice, and your future colleagues will be grateful.