Friday, August 20, 2010

Maintain Eye Contact at All Times

The academia is engulfed in bureaucracy. For every professor who teaches students and does research, there are several administrators who need to justify their ridiculously high salaries by pretending that they are doing something. They come up with series of useless activities and with convoluted justifications why those activities are crucial. Then, they search for any opportunity to attach themselves to a group of academics doing work and bother them with inept directives and advice.

Yesterday, I was present at a review committee, which was hijacked by the representatives of the university administration. For two hours, they tortured us with advice that was so inane that it bordered on offensive. Here are the instructions we received on how to talk to our colleagues at the department under review:
Listen - Learn the respondent's story
Be a good listener (Yes, it's that repetitive.)
Avoid interrupting but seek elaboration
Show interest - maintain eye contact
Maintain eye-contact with respondent - show interest in his / her story
Pay attention to body language and verbal cues
Allow the respondent time to think and process (be comfortable in silence)
Use prompts to encourage the respondent to keep talking. For example: "uh huh" or head nod, "Can you say more about that?" "How did you feel about that?"
Keep the wording clear and concise
Ask one question at a time
Take notes while still looking at the respondent (emphasis in the original)
I swear I didn't change a word. There were a lot more instructions that were pretty much the same. These instructions were handed out in writing and then delivered to us orally with a lot of elaborations normally reserved for three-year-olds on their way to visit strangers for the first time in their lives. And to add offense to injury, there were two administrators present to deliver this complex message to a group of fifteen academics.

We are days away from the beginning of the semester, so you can imagine why the scholars who were subjected to this idiocy for two hours fumed. You go to a university for over a decade, get a handful of degrees, publish a stack of articles, learn to speak several languages, read a mountain of books only to have some administrator teach you to maintain eye contact and say "uh huh." If that isn't offensive, I don't know what is.

We keep hearing that universities across the country have suffered from the recession. We are told that funding for education is being cut, while tuition is on the rise. Our research funding, our travel money, our merit pay have all been frozen for over a year. Silly stuff like new books for the library or new equipment for the computer lab has been on the backburner for months. Talented students from indigent families have lost their scholarships. In the midst of this economic devastation, the only thing that maintains a robust pace of growth is the administrators' remuneration. They keep getting paid higher salaries whether there is a recession or not. They represent a huge drain on the academic world in terms of resources, time, money, and the patience of faculty and students.

The time has come to take the academia back. We need to remember that college campuses belong to us: the teaching faculty and the students. Administrators should only be there to make our lives easier. We need to stop obeying and start resisiting. Our tolerance of their practices gives them licence to keep milking the system of higher education until there is nothing left for the process of teaching and learning. We, the academics, are all pretty smart people. Administrators, on the other hand, are failed academics who couldn't make it in research and abandoned it in order to make loads of money by abusing their colleagues. We ought to be able to figure out how to resist them.



Anonymous said...

A vampire class seems to take over any institution, if they are allowed to do so.

In the general economy, this has happened as well (useless managers and banksters).


Richard said...

Universities are the original knowledge based enterprises. Many experts in the field of knowledge based enterprises maintain that small size and flat management structures are assets in this field. If the enterprise is small the president knows all the knowledge workers and it is readily apparent who can do the work and who can’t. (Some medieval universities consisted of 100 students and faculty.)
Unfortunately, especially since WWII most U.S. universities have become ‘systems’ that consist of thousands of students, hundreds of scholars, and huge administrative staffs who function to keep the system running smoothly. The goal of the system is not to teach students, but to obtain government and private grant money, attract big name academics, and accumulate prestigious awards. The administrative staffs greatly assist in achieving these goals. Because the university systems are so large, their presidents usually have no idea of what is going on anywhere within the system. So of course the solution is to hire more administrators to monitor the system. Needless to say a smooth running system is not particularly concerned about educating the young or encouraging real scholarship.

David Gendron said...

State education should be abolished.

In Québec, many idiots want to increase tuition fees to finance this kind of rampant "bourreaucrassie" in the same state-monopoly university system. This will not work.

We have to fire the State and bringing back our own education!

Clarissa said...

You are mistaken if you think that there is less bureaucracy in the corporation-owned university. The bureaucracy in my state university is not caused by the government. It's caused by crowds of corporate managers who have infested the academia and brought their idiotic practices here.

David Gendron said...

Corporations are an extension of the State in the capitalism.

"The bureaucracy in my state university is not caused by the government. It's caused by crowds of corporate managers who have infested the academia and brought their idiotic practices here."

Good point, but these corporate managers could not do much of their idiotic practices without the governement.

But in general, I agree, Corporations can be more bureaucratic than the State. Capitalists should remind themselves this principle, to assess the immorality of the capitalist system.

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Richard said...

If as I maintained in an earlier input, administrators and ‘administration” gained their control when universities ceased to be academic centers of excellence and became ‘systems’ for the mass production of Education (capital “E” intentional). The exponential growth of universities into systems was caused by the fraudulent, but now indelible claim that a university degree is essential to all worthwhile jobs in the 21st Century. This is of course nonsense, but is now an article of faith.
As the result, many intelligent and capable young men and women feel impelled to graduate from a university, even when academic disciplines hold no interest for them. Although university presidents from here to breakfast would deny it, universities don’t educate the young they vet them for corporate or government jobs.
Personal Note: In 1960 I graduated from UCLA with a degree in Anthropology. In 2002 I retired as principal engineer in a system engineering consulting firm. My degree was worthless except as a door opening tool and had nothing to do with my profession.
I will commit heresy here and say a university education is not for everyone or even most people. It is for that academically talented and inclined few for whom a life of scholarship is a compelling option. If universities become the elite centers for the few as they once were, administrators and all their bureaucratic paraphernalia will be recognized as useless and no longer brought into the “community of scholars.”

Izgad said...

I see a list like that and I hear "no Aspergers need apply." Almost everything on that list is something that Aspergers tend not to do very well. Can we sue the school? :p

Anonymous said...

GREAT post, Clarissa!!! And great comments!

Clarissa said...

"a university education is not for everyone or even most people. It is for that academically talented and inclined few for whom a life of scholarship is a compelling option"

-This would be true if the system of secondary education managed to transmit to the students some basic knowledge about the world. But more often than not, it doesn't. Students come to college without even the most elementary knowledge of the continents, the recent history, even the simplest facts about the world, the knowledge of any foreign language and an utter incapacity to write a sentence in their own language. At least, if they come to college, there is a chance they will learn some of these things.

The level of ignorance in this country is overwhelming. And the result of that ignorance is the stupid way people vote (or avoid voting altogether.) Let them come to college and at least learn to think a little bit.

Clarissa said...

Izgad: You're right, I kept thinking about that the entire time. The list of instructions read like a manual on how to discriminate against Asperger's

Richard said...

Well said (or least well written). Yet should our universities and college be primarily places of remedial education making up for our increasingly dysfunctional high schools?
In my lifetime I have noted the alarming rise of public ignorance in the U.S. especially in disciplines like geography and history. Far too many Americans can’t even identify with any degree of certainty the states that are contiguous to their own (and probably would not recognize the word ‘contiguous’). Far too many also have such a hazy grasp of history that they routinely conflate the Vietnam War (my war) with the Korean War or even WWII. This level of ignorance is reflected in the increasing inability of the U.S. electorate to deal with any political issue on a rational and informed basis. Perhaps at least a few years at college or university would help, but this is a band-aid and in the end will transform universities into glorified high schools.

Clarissa said...

I know exactly what you are saying, Richard. One of the most frustrating things one has to deal with is having to work as a band-aid for the grievous lack of knowledge many students bring to college. So much time is wasted in explaining to them junior high school stuff.

To give an example, I now know that I have to begin my course on Hispanic Civilization by pointing out that Brazil is not a Spanish-speaking country. And that Buenos Aires is not located in Brazil. And that Mexico is not located in South America. I'd much rather not waste time on these obvious things but I don't have much choice.

Richard said...

A course in “Hispanic Civilization”, given the importance of Latin America as a U.S. trading partner, is a practical and important subject. It is a shame you have to waste your class time on trying to bring some in your class up to speed. If Americans knew more about Hispanic Culture and Civilization we would be in a better position to build partnerships with such rapidly developing economies as those of Brazil and Chile.
In my day, incidentally, Spanish Majors as a matter of course also learned Portuguese. I would think knowledge of both languages would be indispensable to understanding Hispanic Civilization in the Americas.

NancyP said...

Clarissa, there are MANY professors who abhor listening to others, likely because listening interferes with their "God-given right" to pontificate.

Muzzles for these pontificating profs would be more humane for the non-pontificators than having to sit through the "listen....x 50" lecture, but I doubt that uni. counsel would approve such a measure.

Justin said...

Having an autism spectrum disorder (and NLD), I've become so accustomed to being reminded to make eye-contact that I consider it to be a part of most conversations.