Wednesday, November 04, 2009


If You Give a Prof a Project...

(hat-tip to Laura Numeroff's If You Give a Moose a Muffin...)

If you give a prof a project,

he'll want a course release to go with it.

If you give him the course release,

he'll want a budget.

Getting the budget will remind him that

other places are doing similar things

and he'll want to go there.

He'll ask you for more travel money.

If you give him more travel money,

he'll come back with guidelines and templates

and rubrics and technology.

He'll play with them all.

They'll remind him of nifty ideas he heard

at a conference you paid for.

He'll want to try them.

And chances are,

if you let him try them,

he'll want another course release to do it.

If you give a prof a project,

she'll want time to get it done well.

If you give her time

she'll want to purchase the items she needs to do well.

Knowing that other places are doing similar things, she'll want to go there and learn from their mistakes and successes.

Since her regular salary does not afford it, she will ask for remuneration of travel.

If you give her more travel money,

she'll come back with guidelines and templates and rubrics and technology. She will evaluate them all. And know that they are not quite right for this project that she wants to do well.

They'll remind her of nifty ideas she heard at a conference she attended.

she'll want to try them so that her project is successful.

And chances are,

if you let her try them,

she'll want more time to do it.
If you mention an idea to a Dean,
he will encourage you to do it.

And if he encourages you, you get excited about the possibility of accomplishing it.

And if you get excited, you spend time deciding what you need to do it well.

And when you know what you need, you make a proposal to the dean for some reassigned time to accomplish it.

But the dean will not give you the college isn't giving release time and he doesn't get reassigned time and thinks you should do it in all your "free time" between classes.

And he won't give you a budget for the tools or training to be successful.

Because the college has no money for this - just consultants and designers and such people.

And though you do your best given those constraints, you realize you can't accomplish your goal without support.

And when you realize that, you decide to wait or give up.

And when you give up, your dean tells you that you just don't care about the institution or the students.

And when he tells you that, you stop telling your dean any ideas.

And when you stop talking to your dean about your ideas, your dean is sure that you are lazy and don't care.
What Susan said.

And, additionally, I'm not sure why it's so offensive to ask for compensation, resources, and support for a project that is above and beyond the basics of one's workload. Nor do I understand why the work on such a "project" doesn't appear to count as work.

But then, I'm just a selfish, lazy professor. What would I know anyway?
If a dean is given a project by a vice president or a president,
chances are you'll ask faculty to do the project instead of you, because "you're busy"
when it is not their job
since their job is to teach, prepare for classes, advise students, and conduct research.

Some will complain and not do it - because it is not their job, after all
Some will complain a bit, like doing it once they get into it, and will do a good job
Many will do it and not complain and do a good job
Even though it is NOT their job.

And the dean will take the credit for it,
unless of course, administrators higher than the dean hated it
then, of course, the dean will stand aside and say
"oh, those stupid, greedy faculty who always want money for their time, effort, and time away from their duties."
Even though it was not the faculty's job in the first place.

(PS - Dean Dad -read the advice to new administrators in today's IHE -- I think you have forgotten most of it lately with your anti-faculty screeds)
It never fails to amaze me how whiny and quick-to-take-offense supposedly adult, supposedly successful people are. (And of course, when DD mentions this on the blog, all hell breaks loose).

Susan, and the always-complaining Dr. Crazy who is invariably offended by things posted here yet reads this blog so compulsively as to always be one of the first commenters: do you really think DD is saying here that it's a bad thing that a Prof, once working on a project, is coming back with new ideas and technologies and trying things and going to conferences to learn more?

Without speaking for DD, I assume the point here is that there are no simple `go take a look at this and tell me what you find' projects in academia. Things are complicated, they take time and money. Even small projects require time and money from *somewhere*, and ultimately that has to be paid for. And this, presumably, helps explain the occasional relectance of experienced administrators to take on even small projects that a novice assumes are easily accomplished and win-win.

By Odin's one seeing eye, the knee-jerk complainers who constantly comment on this blog make me dread going into the comments half the time -- which is a shame, because I often learn almost as much in the comments as I do from the posts here. I guess I need to find a greasemonkey script to killfile you constantly Horribly Offended folks in blogger comments, but in the meantime it would help me a lot if you two would Grow Frickin' Up.

Perhaps at your college, it is not common to insult the faculty this way - so I could see this from your perspective.

It is a common insult in my world.
Jon, thanks.

This isn't about insulting anybody, or assuming that people are wrong for asking what they think is appropriate.

It's about stressing how quickly a good idea can become a budgetary black hole, and about how those of us who manage budgets have to think not just about the proposal itself, but about what it's likely to lead to.

An idea that can seem great in itself, can look much worse when placed in the context of the other ideas whose resources it would consume. A manager who doesn't anticipate a certain amount of fiscal snowballing is falling down on the job.

In terms of hair triggers, I'll just note that I'm tired of them, too. When folks overreact with such haste and venom, it makes it that much harder to tell the truth.
I am one of anonymous commenters -- and again Dean Dad -- look at your tone and words - -WOW.

May Dean's pet projects assigned to faculty instead of to the Dean who should do it him/herself become "can become a FACULTY time and effort black hole" especially when Dean's are as appreciative (please see my sarcasm) as you seem to be of their efforts. If you don't want to know what we think (and that includes that your pet project is work and we need time to do it well -- which I presume is why you passed it off in the first place, because you didn't think YOU had the time to do it well) -- then don't ask FOR HELP.

Where I come from -- I teach myself, my kids, and my students that oh, it is POLITE to thank people who have done your job for you or aided you - not to kick them in the teeth.

Why on earth would any faculty member want to help you out when you feel this way and treat them this way?

Tough budgets -- too bad. Step into the classroom for more time and feel the anxious students, the faculty who are furloughed when contracts don't allow for it, and so on.

Life's tough. If you cannot do your job -- then perhaps it's time to move on.
First, my apologies if I flew off the handle. I didn't think that I did, and I actually wasn't "horribly offended" or anything. I just responded to what I saw written, which ultimately, didn't reveal what Jon intuited in his comment nor what DD confirmed in his comment back.

Like Susan, I think that part of the issue is the institutional context that each of us brings as baggage to blogs. My baggage is that I'm sick of doing a ton of work without compensation and support. And I'm sick of being guilt-tripped when I ask for resources that I need to do my job properly. It may not be fair that I bring that baggage with me, though I don't think that I'm alone in doing so.

So, I don't think I need to grow up, thanks, and I don't think that I always complain, or even that I comment over here very frequently - maybe one comment every week or two? I comment early because I read blogs when I wake up. And yes, I read DD regularly because I find his blog interesting. Sorry if that comes off as "compulsive."

At any rate, again, sorry if I was out of line in my comment. I thought I was just responding to what was written.
My eyebrows went up - I read it as insulting, too, and I'm not even faculty. I'm glad to see that's not DD's intent but I don't think that other people who read it that way are so very out of line.

But what this entire exchange really shows is the utter insanity of some of the expectations in academia. It costs money to do things, people! Where in the business world would workers be asked to take on innovative projects without being given the material resources, training, and time they need to do them? I mean, I suppose it could happen -- there are asshole bosses everywhere -- but then nobody would be particularly surprised when the project failed, and everyone would know the boss was an asshole.

Academia is not all that different and special. It still costs money to do things. It's just somehow we have allowed state legislatures &c to be convinced otherwise.
Gah, my previous comment is poorly worded and could easily be misinterpreted, sorry. Dean Dad, I am not calling you an asshole. I'm just trying to say that the expectation that academics - either administrators or faculty - should be able to produce something with nothing is kind of messed up.
I'm not often offended by DD posts, but I got a little irritated by the attitude behind this.

On the other hand, I do see a reward system at work in my own CC that pretty much requires payment for everything beyond basic classroom and office hours time. I'm not sure that's healthy -- but, when you have faculty teaching 5/5 with (as I have this semester) 240 students in a discipline like philosophy --I see the demand for compensation as reasonable in a lot of ways. If I'm going to take a significant amount of time to do a project right -- that time will come from the very limited amount of free time, so I should be compensated for that.

The fact of the matter is that if big projects didn't require some kind of compensation / cost, those big projects would multiply quicker than tribbles...

Until the last paragraph of your comment I enjoyed this thread. I thought you and Susan were making much-needed light banter about a controversial subject.

But then...what's up with the "venom" insult--I thought Susan's retort was witty and dead on. Why do you accuse people of being awful for doing exactly what you just did yourself in your orginal post? And when you say "it's hard to tell the truth..." are you saying that she's not? If so, where is the lie? Now that I've read your comment I realize you were just whining instead.
I'm one of DD's defenders, and he really does seem like a good guy to me, but there does seem to have been a shift in tone lately to more us-vs-them ism.

I figure it's The Permanent Budget Crisis. But I just wanted to say. The blog's kind of moved from "This is a tough job and there's a lot to talk about" to "Oh God make everyone else please stop hitting me with sticks."
Being on a budgetary committee where we had to decide who got course releases and travel money--and I AM faculty member--I can understand what DD might be saying. It's maddening to know that I need to teaching my 4/4 (or often 5/4) load while producing research and finishing projects while someone else who teaches 4/4 and is never asked to do more, asks for course release fund to do the same job everyone else is. When the college has no money to give.

Times are tough and at some colleges, it's devastatingly tough. Everyone needs to step up and realize that. It's not about us vs them, it's about the simply fact that money isn't always there and sometimes some faculty miss that, and get upset when their faculty peers have to ask them to do more with less. We all are.
We online faculty members often remind our students: "be careful what you write and how you write it."

Here's why, in my opinion, DD's post was reasonably taken to be offensive. It riffs off of "give him an inch and he'll take a mile." Faculty members are portrayed here, quite clearly, as wanting more than what they need, or have a reasonable expectation for, and that the dean is always "giving", the generous one, the all knowing parent who really should keep his/her children in check: "....if you give her money" and "...if you let her try them." This clearly portrays the dean as generous and patient parent figure and the prof as ever wanting and demanding child, caught up in impractical enthusiasm for improvement, who really ought to be reigned in.

By the way, just because one doesn't intend to be insulting doesn't mean one isn't actually being insulting.
The blog's kind of moved from "This is a tough job and there's a lot to talk about" to "Oh God make everyone else please stop hitting me with sticks."

So it's not just me, then? I'm sensing the approach of burnout here via the Permanent Budget Crisis. I hope it doesn't go that far, as I've found this blog fascinating over the last few years.
I like Dean Dad, too, and I'm a thirty-plus-year Union Guy.

But, DD, I sure didn't see any "venom" in Susan's parody of your post.

What offended me in your ditty was "They'll remind him of nifty ideas he heard/At a conference you paid for." YOU didn't pay for the conference, taxpayers did. It's not YOUR money. It's exactly this mind set that ticks faculty members off.

So lighten up just a tad, and let's remember that much of the time--most of the time, even--faculty and administration have a huge set of common interests. Our differences should be relatively minor.

In terms of hair triggers, I'll just note that I'm tired of them, too.

Me too, DD.

Why, if someone who has tenure or belongs to a union doesn't do what an administrator wants, some people go on and on about how tenure and unions are Bad Things, and will lead to the Downfall of American Education.
I was up in a rural hospital this week where a lab manager told me, "I used to be mad at my former boss before I took this job. Now I'm starting to understand why she did some of the things she did." Talk about quote of the day!

This is about wanting to encourage people but knowing that there are unintended consequences lurking around every corner - like the books it is based on (When You Give a Cat a Cupcake, and When You Give a Mouse a Cookie). There is no malice or blame in the original text, only a rueful cataloging of all the consequences of trying to give someone something they want. I've read those originals and I laughed when I saw this. Are we going to get an illustrated version? =)
Ivory, you've missed the point. "There is no malice or blame ..." It is not malicious but patronizing and insulting. There's a difference. And, to repeat, I'm sure DD was not intending to be patronizing and insulting. But that just maybe part of the problem; doesn't even see it. Other than pointing out, as I did, how the language reveals the patronizing demeanor of the author (and transmitter?), I'm not sure how to convince him that, as most others (including non-faculty members and those sympathetic with him) have seen pretty clearly, the little ditty deserved a bit of a venomy response from faculty members.
If you give a dean a blog

He will write about the things important to him

Resources, unions, faculty, process

Which will be important to other people

but in different ways and for different reasons

And they will read his writing

When they read his work, they will recontextualize his thoughts

Apply them to other conversations

Misunderstand or react, comment

And he will learn from that

And avoid blow-ups in real life meetings

And think and learn and write more

And we will all learn from that writing

And the comments the writing elicits

And we will all have a chance to see things from other perspectives

If you give a dean a blog
Ivory --


Well, I just thought your post was clever and funny, and that it showed the challenges of this work. Just as I thought Susan's response was a bit of good-natured chiding.
Coming a little late to the game, but I always thought these stories started with "If You Give a Pig a Pancake".

I thought your post was fun and had a heard of truthfulness. I see a number of tasks that, if they were to be done well, would require at least one course reduction here or there. But we don't have enough faculty hours anymore to offer the programs that we have, so who's going to come up with that course reduction.

I'll take that pancake or that muffin, anyway, of course, if you're offering. (Just a little bitter here because I've been working for almost a decade to get a course reduction attached to a position I've held without any remuneration and it's finally going to happen as I step down for hopefully the last time. Yeah, that's right: this pig got someone ELSE the pancake!)
I, for one, thought it was a hilarious post, and I didn't think of it as an anti-faculty screed, but only as an observation about how it goes with resources.
But isn't the real question that follows from DD's post simply: Was it worth it?

Sometimes, the answer is yes. So you continue to give a prof a the right situation.
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