Friday, September 25, 2009

Why Wasn't I Notified?

I'm playing another round of every manager's favorite game, "why wasn't I notified?"

Last Spring we put out calls for proposals for how best to spend our stimulus money. We had all-campus meetings (with strong attendance and led by the President), emails, online discussion, and smaller group meetings. We had forms, procedures, and deadlines. Some folks did what we hoped they would do: they thought about the ground rules and their own situations, and they put in proposals for consideration. The committee that did the considering was composed of administrators, staff, and faculty, and the faculty volunteered as a result of several all-campus emails. Some of the proposals were accepted, including several from faculty, and are hitting the ground now. (The accounting processes for stimulus money here are particularly byzantine, which explains the lag.)

So yesterday I get copied on an indignant group email, in which a voluble (and tenured) professor is Shocked and Appalled that money is being spent on a particular project without faculty input. Why, this is an outrage! This is just typical of The Administration's poor communication, and lack of respect for the faculty!


It would be one thing if he were merely wrong. In response I pointed out that, in fact, the faculty had been consulted repeatedly -- almost naggingly -- and that the project that set him off was, in fact, from the faculty. If it were merely his mistake, it wouldn't bother me much. Hey, we all make mistakes. It happens.

What makes it so tiresome and frustrating is the waving of the bloody shirt. The email was copied to all and sundry, and written in High Indignation. It was clearly intended to be a salvo in a political battle; the truth-content, if any, is beside the point. (Had he been concerned with truth, he could have started with an individual message.) Refuting the specifics doesn't do much to wash away the bitter aftertaste, which was clearly the point.

I've seen this morality play before, in enough contexts and enough times, that I'm already bored before the end of the first act.

In a perfect world, of course, the next move would be for him to say something like "whoops. My bad. Sorry 'bout that." But I know better than to expect that. Instead, he'll shift the argument. Instead of "I wasn't told," which is demonstrably false, it will become "I blew it off at the time, and that's your fault." He won't put it that way -- it's not terribly plausible when stated so baldly -- so I expect it will be wrapped in something like "wasn't made clear" or "you know we don't read emails" or "we're much too busy to be bothered." It's a fine line between 'bothered' and 'consulted.'

The real subtext, of course, is "at the time, I didn't think you meant it." Now he's annoyed at, well, truth. We said it was true at the time. He didn't believe it, and that has to be someone's fault.

It's still only September...