It's my party and you'll come if I tell you

Posted: Jul 07, 2005 12:00 AM

Dear President Broad (

Last week, I went to work to examine a copy of my 2004 performance evaluation. For the first time in 12 years, my evaluation contained some negative remarks. Among those was the criticism that during the last year I did not take part in the ?ongoing life? of my department.

Although previously unfamiliar with the meaning of the phrase ?ongoing life,? I immediately suspected it was related to my unwillingness to attend the departmental parties that are occasionally held at the homes of my fellow professors.

Last September 11, I was invited to such a party at the home of my supervisor ? the same one who wrote my annual evaluation. When I told her I was unable to attend the party due to a conflict with an NRA banquet, my supervisor called it a ?fascist pig? banquet.

At the time, I assumed the ?fascist pig? remark was simply made in jest. I now recognize that I may have misjudged the situation. That recognition comes after learning that members of my department are, in fact, being evaluated on the basis of attendance at social gatherings held at the homes of their supervisors.

I made this shocking discovery when I began polling fellow faculty members to see whether others had received written remarks concerning their failure to take part in the ?ongoing life? of the department. The very first faculty member I polled reported that he was penalized on his evaluation ? not with a vague reference to ?ongoing life? but, instead, with a specific reference to his absence at a party held at the home of his supervisor.

This form of evaluation is unacceptable for a number of reasons.

For example, imagine that the one black faculty member in our department (of about eighteen full-time professors) decided not to attend parties because of the lack of racial diversity in the department. Instead of being surrounded by whites at a party (after being surrounded by whites at work all week), he decides to attend a NAACP meeting or a party at a predominantly black church. Should he then be penalized when evaluations are handed out at year?s end?

Or imagine that alcohol is served at departmental parties (they usually are), making a professor unable to attend for religious reasons. Would he not prevail in a suit charging religious discrimination if his absence was later recorded in his performance evaluation? You should immediately consult your attorneys on this one, President Broad.

Similarly, some professors might not want to attend parties at the homes of other professors who are cohabitating outside of marriage, or involved in homosexual relationships. They may have young children they do not want exposed to such lifestyles at an early age. Perhaps they should not have to spend money for a baby sitter just to keep from getting a negative performance evaluation.

Hypothetical situations aside, I have a very real reason for avoiding these kinds of gatherings. Some years ago, a fellow professor began harboring the delusion that I was trying to poison her with tear gas. Do you consider it wise to require both of us to attend the same social gatherings? Or, put another way, is it safe to combine a) a delusional faculty member, b) a person whom she thinks is trying to poison her, and c) alcohol? This is probably the easiest question I have asked so far.

Many years ago we hired a feminist professor who occasionally shared details of her sexual exploits in social situations. After a couple of drinks, she once offered me an all-to-detailed account of committing adultery and engaging in oral sex on a public beach. Should I be compelled to socialize with someone I consider to be vulgar? Is it my fault for being narrow-minded or judgmental with regard to adulterous acts in public settings?

Legal issues aside, such infinitely malleable criteria cannot pass the straight face test. The idea that a feminist department chair (who has since finished her term) would treat her party invitations like state subpoenas is both patently amusing and somewhat sad. Demanding rigid conformity by using the power of the State to manipulate the social lives of subordinates is certainly inconsistent with feminist notions of privacy, choice, and individual autonomy.

Henry Kissinger once observed that, in academic life, the politics are so petty because the stakes are so low. I would advise the UNC administration to nullify these inappropriate, immoral, and illegal evaluations. Otherwise, the stakes may soon be much higher.