Thursday, April 05, 2012
Thoughts I Can't Shake
The Girl: “If you dug a tunnel to China, would the hole in the earth make a whistling sound as the earth turned?”
I first saw this piece a week or two ago, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since. It argues that certain jobs, such as management, call on skills that are remarkably hard to discern from the outside. Therefore in filling those jobs, employers tend to fall back on experience as a criterion, since it’s easier to see and quantify. As a result, the piece argues, experience is overrated (and overcompensated), and capable-but-unproven people often don’t get the chance to prove themselves in the first place.
There’s some truth to that, though I’d add that experience doesn’t only reveal underlying strengths; it also develops them, at least to a point. If that sounds sketchy when applied to administration, think of it as applied to teaching; most teachers don’t do the best work of their career in the first class they ever taught. It takes a little while to get the hang of it. The benefits of experience aren’t necessarily linear -- I tend to think they’re frontloaded, with diminishing returns beyond a certain point -- but they aren’t zero, either.
But you can only develop those strengths by getting the opportunity in the first place. And that’s where I foresee administrative hiring in higher ed getting even harder in the next several years.
‘Tis Spring, which means it’s ceremony season, which means it’s time for the ritual butchering of the last names.
Anyone who has had to read long lists of unfamiliar student names knows the drill. And no matter how many safeguards we build in, someone always winds up wincing in pain as the speaker turns three syllables into five, or leaves off a hyphenation, or gets stuck, starts again, gets stuck again, laughs, and generally calls attention to himself.
Even knowing how words are usually pronounced doesn’t necessarily help. I used to live in a part of the country where Indian names were common, so I learned to pronounce names like “Sapana.” (It’s pronounced “Suppna.”) I surprised many a Sapana by getting that right.
Now I’m in an area with lots of French last names. Some have adopted English pronunciations and some haven’t. Quick: does “DuBois” rhyme with “Francois” or “Rejoice”? (Answer: yes.) And I still haven’t mastered “Nguyen.”
The only helpful hint I can offer is to commit to one pronunciation, no matter how wrong, and just do it. The start-stop-start-stop-start thing is worse than just a straight-up error. And just accept the fact that no matter how hard you try, someone out there will think you’re an idiot.
Program Note: Since my publisher has started using phrases like “it sure would be a shame...,” I’ll be away from the blog next week, trying to make the manuscript look like I meant that all along. I’ll resume posting for Monday, April 16.
Because, we all know, that if you were underpaid in your last job, your new employer clearly can't give you a big raise (too much risk). Yet, if you were slightly overpaid, it is perfectly ok to pay you a bit more (your past employer vetted you somehow via salary).
Somehow past salary becomes a risk management tool, but I fail to see how it's actually tied to risk of hire.
On names-We still talk about my high school graduation ceremony where one students had 15 (yes, for real)names that were all read. And the reader BUTCHERED every last one. It was hysterical. And that was more than a decade ago. He was a good sport about it. I have a fairly difficult first name which they announcer got right at my undergrad ceremony because my mother was right next to her ready to hand me my diploma. She was the registrar. And you didn't mess with God or her children. :)
Dean Dad: Nguyen = NuWin with the stress on "Win" (or anyway that's what it sounds like to my ears)
And yes, please, consider hiring for HE admin positions outside of the traditional "experiential" pool of deanlets & dept heads! Lots of non-tenure faculty out there with the ability, desire, and disposition, but no way to get into the existing experience pipeline.
Good luck on the book project!
My undergrad had us each write our names out phonetically on notecards which we then handed to the name reader. That worked pretty well, at least in my case.
Yes, I'd want you to get them right, too.
Pronunciation of Nguyen might vary just because of the accent of the owner of the name. My most recent example was born here and says his name without the intonation that native speakers have.
I'd describe it as between Nwin or Nwen, said sort of like like Gwen.
What I find difficult is that I know enough about several languages to pronounce the names correct, but it is impossible to know if the family has Americanized their name (like mine did). French (like your example) and slavic names are the biggest puzzlers in my experience.
But who are we to complain? We have names like Des Plaines, Illinois: the s is voiced in the city name and silent in the state name! Welcome to the melting pot.
As someone with a difficult to pronounce name, I honestly don't care if it is mispronounced at convocations or other one-off events (and it always is!). It only bothers me if someone who I am interacting with regularly is never able to catch on and get it right.
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I've been following your musings for a little while now and I genuinely love reading it!
Have a great day,