October 14, 2006

PAPER TOPIC: Discuss the Esoteric Dynamics of a Private Institution of Higher Ed. Compare to Real Life.

Who Dares Question a King?

You know, in the academia we often have discussions about egalitarianism, meritocracy, open dialogue, personal responsibility, and policies to benefit the greatest number of people possible. This kind of talk is mostly confined to the classroom though. In the realm of bureaucracy however there's a different universe. It's ..scientifically proven that people who hold PhDs and other fancy titles are not necessarily bright nor have they accepted the ideals for which a higher education institution supposedly stands. I've witnessed bickering and pettiness among adults that, in another setting, would (and should) have resulted in a good spanking.

I've come to the conclusion that the common attitude prevailing in this country also prevails in many of its sub-sections and institutions. Things can deteriorate further within an organization where there's little public scrutiny and the "trustees" are not to be trusted to promote the public good. Add to this a generous amount of arrogance coming from persons with pompous titles of various importance and you have a fine mess!

Now you may ask, why should a private institution promote the public good? That would depend on the reasons it was established. If it claims it wants to promote knowledge, education and ..democracy [at least by giving an opportunity to the masses to improve their lot], then it should do just that! Otherwise, if its main focus is profit, then, at the very least, it should be honest and not try to deceive the public with fanfare and empty rhetoric. Profit and contributing to the public good, I know, are not mutually exclusive ideas, but, honestly, when push comes to shove we know which way the scale tilts. Often the intentions may be good and honorable but the actions are misguided--usually by incompetent people, I mean, the "in" crowd! Above all, the first priority of any bureaucracy (and the powers that be) is to perpetuate itself. Ass-comfort must be maintained at all costs. Royal bottoms should feel no pain a theory I read somewhere purports.

There is a small but very powerful class of power brokers in this country. I'd add to this class those persons who have managed to skim from the system while they only deserve a treatment of ..tar & feathers at best. Even though there isn't an explicit conspiracy (for the most part), there is an implicit understanding among the members of the elite that the wealthy should get more because they deserve it! Another characteristic I've observed is that performance is not the ultimate criterion in being successful or even desirable as a top executive. Those who fail (while being paid very generously) just circulate in the top echelons of corporate America. The trick is to have enough people (also very well paid) as "trustees," members of executive boards, etc. In other words, the performers and the judges interchange their roles--you serve on my board of directors (and you give me the maximum benefits) and I'll serve on yours and return the favor!

My point is that I don't like people who say one thing but mean something else, or when they beat around the bush instead of giving a serious straight answer to a serious question. Let me construct a totally hypothetical model to serve as a paradigm for my assertions.

For example, an executive-- who asks for drastic cuts and is confronted by allegations "passing the buck" and getting a disproportionate bonus--may create a distraction: he can scream, jump up and down while categorically denying he/she got a salary raise between 18-20% because they "only" got a ..17.72% increase. You see, you can be accurate and totally miss the point! Further, what's good about having leaders (with all the benefits of power they enjoy) but without having any consequences for their actions? What's the cost of failure for the leader? Sure, nobody is perfect, but the good has to be substantially more than the bad in order to receive a positive evaluation. I reckon that an executive who leads an organization into the brink of bankruptcy does not deserve to double his compensation in four years. Am I asking too much? I'm open to amending my views if anyone will explain to me the un-avoidable circumstances that resulted in this dire predicament. Not holding my breath until then though.

Leaders are necessary. But leadership has to be exercised for a purpose--promoting the commonwealth is a good one. The retort, "I feel your pain," isn't very comforting to me personally--it doesn't really take the edge off my discomfort. If you ask me to sacrifice, to tighten my belt, while your policies produce much unnecessary grief and suffering, then I don't want you to feel my pain but rather I want you to feel some pain on your own! Show me that you care by cutting your huge (say, $700,000 a year as a nice round figure) salary in half!

I'd continue my debate with this imaginary leader with some very pointed criticism while making sure I'd use means to trigger strong emotional reactions. On one hand, the leader and his cohorts may realize the excessiveness of their take from the largesse [admittedly, this would be a futile effort to shame them]. One the other hand, however, I'd hope to excite and even enrage the majority of the multitude and prompt them to action.Something like when the French people stormed Bastille. If the starving French could refuse Marie Antoinette's offer, "let them eat cake," we could refuse the pitiful orts given to us today and demand a proper nutrition, for us, for the students, and for the proper survival of our beloved institution.

Most employees received a few dollars (say, $ 7 a week!) on average, so, Sire, why did you accept 700 % more than the peons' pay increase? You, Sir, can comfortably live on half of your salary. We could not. Those who got an increase this year will barely keep up with inflation. The Board of Directors has failed to hold you accountable, so I don't think these trustees are able or willing to explain the necessity of your high rewards. Yet, you have the power to refuse your raise; you can even adjust it downwards so your compensation will reflect some of the pains. That would be a great act of leadership and personal responsibility.

I think I'd ask him to get me something reasonable so I could further validate the excellent points I'm making here. I'd ask the said leader, "could you please buy me a few DVDs and some other instructional material to be used in my classes? There's no budget for them and I can't afford to buy them on my own. My salary is very low and I got no raise this year. Thank you." He would most likely respond affirmatively--if for nothing else but to show he's benevolent (and a couple hundred dollars would be spare change to him anyway).

In summation, examining the esoteric dynamics of a private institution--especially one where reason and higher ideals are on the menu--can be a very educating experience indeed. But caution should be exercised too, because looking closely at and being part of a debate, it may bring to light some inconvenient truths. This process of illuminating the structural recesses of an organization (even a hypothetical one) may lead to the conclusion that ..shades are necessary! Not for the brightness of our future in this imaginary institution but for covering our bloodshot eyes--a result of high blood pressure and lack of sleep. You see, life in the academia frequently produces these symptoms. I haven't found the best remedy yet. I'm experimenting with a variety of actions and substances. Feel free to contribute your ideas in the Comments section. Thank you for reading my paper; I apologize for making it a bit too convoluted but unlike the bureaucrat's ass that needs plush cushions, I just needed to barely cover mine.


Anonymous said...

I didn't know what to make of this piece, until I was clued in... Very entertaining though. Can you write something similar about another situation I'm familiar with?...

You know, with all the fancy clothes and jewelry the royals literally stunk!

PS>I'll call you to arrange a talk about the illuminating effects of life in the academia.

Lisa said...

Given the opportunity, most people with power will do what royals did -- build castles, literal and metaphorical, to insulate them from the consequences of their actions.

The rest of us, meanwhile, cannot insulate ourselves from the consequences of our own actions, and increasingly we can't insulate ourselves from the consequences of their actions, either.