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I have been working as a postdoc for nearly a year. In recent months, the university is working to upgrade office and common spaces within my particular building. Some professors wanted a "Faculty Club" which is something like a common space for interaction between scientists to share ideas and discuss problems. However, in the last faculty meeting some professors stated that this should be a space "only" for them and postdocs would not be allowed there, not even to use the coffee maker.

Now I live in a country (Chile) where there is a social rising with people demanding for equality and to stop discrimination between different social classess. In this context, the universities have a role to be an example and to educate people according to the social demands.

However, I see the same discrimination within the university, when you have professors that does not want to share spaces with postdocs like we were second class citizens. I understand that professors and postdocs have different needs in term of office spaces, but I don't think that in the middle of the 21st century you should start to ban people to use certain spaces just because they are "less" than you.

Is this common in academia?

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    This is more of a rant than a question. – Buffy Nov 29 '19 at 13:05
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    Professors have a need to discuss "privileged" information such as grades which postdocs may not have the right to, so separate spaces are a reasonable necessity - and not a social slur... – Solar Mike Nov 29 '19 at 13:16
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    @SolarMike: From the question, it does not sound like they want to discuss grades. Then they would not ask for a social space but for a room which they can book whenever they want. (And I would hope meeting rooms exist in every university.) Moreover, the idea that every prof is allowed to listen to the grades of every student while postdocs are not allowed is somehow strange. – user115896 Nov 29 '19 at 13:28
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    Chile. Solar Mike: if they want privacy, that´s what the office if for or the meeting room. – Carolina Alvarez Nov 29 '19 at 13:38
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    There are other possible reasons for their request. The regular faculty have made a commitment to the institution that post-docs have not. They might want to have discussions among themselves relating to the health and future of the institution that others, even post-docs, should not be privy to. – Buffy Nov 29 '19 at 15:57
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You ask if this is common in academia. In all universities I've been in (only Europe), I've never seen something like this. Common rooms where usually for every employee of the respective department (administrative staff included).

Solar Mike mentions in the comments "Professors have a need to discuss "privileged" information such as grades which postdocs may not have the right to, so separate spaces are a reasonable necessity - and not a social slur...". That professors need to discuss privileged information is true -- but I usually saw a simple solution for that: People were allowed to book rooms for meetings and then only invited people were allowed to enter. This also takes care of the fact that sometimes privileged information needs to be discussed only by some professors (not every professor who drops in), sometimes between professors and postdocs (or between postdocs or phd students). If your professors' argument is also that they need to discuss privileged information, you might want to suggest this possibility.

However, I suggest you to choose your battles wisely. Academia is a very hierarchical world -- it can be dangerous to start a battle about minor issues (as long as you are not a tenured professors). Especially if your faculty wants to have a faculty only room (i.e. they themselves are no advocates of "flat hierarchies"), it may be dangerous to suggest too many revolutionary battles. If equality is really so important for you, try to find a professor who advocates for you.

(Depending on how your institution is, you might also want to fight for a "non-professor only" room.)

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  • Your "simple solution" adds a step and a complication, perhaps a wait. It may not be their simple solution. – Buffy Nov 29 '19 at 14:05
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    But I agree on choosing your battles. I find the professor's desire neither good nor evil, but it is a trivial matter being overblown here. But it also depends on the actual working relationship between the regular faculty and the post-docs. If the faculty are "supervisors" of the postdocs, such a common space seems more natural, even needed. – Buffy Nov 29 '19 at 14:08
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    @Buffy: Maybe I'm missing something because I'm lacking US perspective, so would you mind sharing if you ever had of felt to need a room where faculty could drop in for discussing postdocs (or phd students, for that matter)? – user115896 Nov 29 '19 at 14:30
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    Change the parameters a bit. Suppose the question were about TAs rather than post-docs? Neither of us know the parameters here. Nor the scope and scale. Nor the kinds of things that post-docs might want to discus that are of no interest to the regular faculty. Vice versa, also. – Buffy Nov 29 '19 at 14:33
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    @Buffy: again, if it was about TAs: either private with my (say, 5) close collegues, scheduled with the whole faculty (or a significant part of them) or completely open such that every employee (including them) could listen. In no case the request would be "a common space for interaction between scientists to share ideas and discuss problems" (which are the parameters from the question). But from your reaction, I have the feeling that my answer is European-based and the US reaction is different. Maybe you could write your answer based on that? I'd be interested! – user115896 Nov 29 '19 at 14:40
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I don't see the issue. You claim it's elitism, but it may simply be practical: A place for the permanent employees of the department. It's not a secret that the permanent employees have a bigger stake in the long-term working of such a space than temporary postdocs, graduate students, or undergraduates. I would gladly leave my professional books in a lounge for professors without worrying that they disappear; I wouldn't in a room that's shared with everyone else around who's going to be gone again in a year and may not feel the same level of responsibility than the ones who will be my colleagues for the next ten years. I would also gladly have a $1,000 coffee machine and pay my fraction of the purchase price and monthly coffee bill for it, divided by all faculty of the department; I suspect such an arrangement would not work if done in a shared space.

I suspect that postdocs would gladly be accepted if a guest of a faculty member, but maybe not by themselves. In the end, I just don't see why anyone should get all bent out of shape over the issue.

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    The discussion about coffee machines has been moved to chat. Please read this faq before posting another comment. – cag51 Nov 30 '19 at 7:38
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Staff hierarchy is established with reasons, as too class distinctions. Professors have earned their places in the hierarchy and won them hard by their years of disciplines, contributions, sacrifices, etc. They were once postdocs starting at the bottom, before they climbed up the academic career ladder. Of course, professors deserve exclusive spaces for themselves, and some postdocs respecting hierarchy understand that and resist qualms. It is like this: in this world, you pay your way in life, start from the bottom and climb upwards on the career ladder. If you encounter class discriminations, let go of the resentment and cultivate a thick skin. In time, you will smash all biases and prove your worth.

If anyone disagrees with me, feel free to delete my comment.

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    I disagree with you, but I would hate to see your answer deleted, as it is a "don't do that" example. – user4052054 Nov 30 '19 at 0:09
  • @user4052054 Opinionated youths don't agree with hierarchies & class distinctions and wise seniors believe in them. You disagree because you take everything in life for granted and take everybody at face value. Let decades roll on, while you go through life of struggles, chaos, hostilities, etc - and you suffer setbacks, get taken advantage of, be unthanked and spat at by the entitled. Finally, you will realise not everybody can be equal in your own world and not everybody deserves your equal treatments. You will get there when you are a senior. Your opinions will change. – Rita Geraghty Nov 30 '19 at 1:47
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    Well, at some point someone has to break the cycle. – user4052054 Nov 30 '19 at 2:06
  • Good luck at that, but I am Doubting Thomas, not Pollyanna. I think it is not possible. – Rita Geraghty Nov 30 '19 at 3:49

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