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 storyI 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.
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)
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.