Friday, April 13, 2007

The Chronicle Nails One

It was bound to happen sooner or later. The Chronicle actually nailed one. This piece, by a dean at a Midwestern university, is spot-on. I actually laughed out loud reading parts of it.

The essential truth of it is that educated people with advanced degrees often can’t tell the difference between ‘having input’ and ‘making the actual decision.’ As the author puts it,

I have heard that identical sentiment expressed about almost every conceivable type of academic search. But the sentiment is based on the mistaken belief that a committee -- or an entire department or college -- selects (in effect, "elects" by popular vote) a new hire.


I’ve had variations on that conversation when it comes to promotion, hiring, and even student grade appeals. Some students seem to believe that an appeal isn’t over until the grade is changed; when the appeal loses, they don’t quite get it. So I get to walk them through Procedures 101.

Similarly, any time a faculty committee’s recommendation isn’t enacted immediately and precisely, the accusations of corruption fly. Never mind that the accusations are internally inconsistent – “shared governance doesn’t mean shared with the likes of you” is too obviously self-defeating for anyone to actually say directly. But the assumption is still there.

If a process is actually a process, then any reasonable person has to be open to the possibility that he could have input, and still lose. That’s not impossible. In other contexts, it’s almost insultingly obvious. But somehow, in higher ed, some very sharp people just can’t, or won’t, connect the dots. Losing isn’t proof that your input was disregarded. It may well have been taken seriously. It just didn’t win.

Sorry to keep harping on this. It’s been a draining week. I’ll try for something cheerier next time out.