Friday, August 28, 2015

A conversation about breaking the current impasse in my community

In my view, both faculty and administration need to dial it down a notch and find ways to work together for our students and for the institution.  

We need to move from the blame game to taking steps toward a real conversation where criticisms and disagreements are more in the form of helping a team-mate find betters way to help the team win.  

It seems to me that the burden is on the administration to demonstrate that they aren't anti-faculty. Until they work out what it takes to be a quality university, they aren't going to be able to get there.   

There is little doubt that upper administration has been deeply hostile to faculty for a long time and that this position results in decisions that only make sense based on their shared 'common sense' suspicion that faculty are lazy and trying to get away with something.  

It is true that suffering through year after year of this type of disrespect has create a chasm between faculty and administration.  This chasm takes the form of mutual distrust, and a tendency to assume the worst and respond with 'the nuclear option' when a more measured response would work just fine.

And in a situation where there is a power imbalance it does make more sense to expect those with more power to make the first move and the larger concessions, since their greater agency makes them both more responsible for creating the problem and more influential in remedying it.

At the same time, there is nearly always some truth to both sides in a dispute.  And finding an approach that brings both sides to the table (step one) and allows for some very clear early victories of collaboration (step two) is likely the only way to start to build the trust needed for serious ongoing cooperation.  And to take these two steps we need to frame the conflict in a way that does not assume all the blame is on only one side.  

That just will not work.  

Even if it was absolutely accurate--it will not work.  And as I just noted, it is rarely accurate.

If faculty make the first move, what might that look like, because it cannot be a unilateral concession?  How would faculty get the upper administration to make the first move, and what might that look like, since it similarly is not realistic to expect it will be a unilateral concession?

Good questions.  If I said I had answers, I would be lying to you.  But these are good questions because they focus on how to get the two sides into a conversation that is structured to make it likely that they can come to a few simple agreements...and then build on that.

The president says the miscommunication was 'by design.'  If the summer long list of errors in the roll out of their plan was intentional, this suggests they do not want to improve communication with faculty because they like the 'design' of the current communication where they go around faculty.  

Also a thoughtful observation. If we pull out the productive part of this observation and leave aside the counterproductive part we have this:  the mistakes they made and admitted to focus on communication, and this can be fixed more readily if we assume that these were not intentional efforts to deceive or avoid faculty, but rather the decision to release the information in the summer was by design (for the reasons the president noted) and this does not require us to then assume a larger pattern of intentional deception.

Instead, we accept the hand they extended when they admitted to a need to improve communication.  We take 'yes' for an answer.  We agree to the importance of restructuring the conversations between administration and faculty (particularly those that constitute the strategic planning process) to ensure that the next set of decisions have been fully vetted.

Fully vetting ideas improve the quality of the ideas (and would have likely prevented the ill-informed decision to fire all employed by UA press and other mistakes made this summer).  Further, even those who disagree are less likely to see fully vetted ideas as a reason to deepen distrust and undermine the ongoing conversation.

So, how do we get to steps one and two?

There are multiple pathways.  A coalition of clergy in town or conflict management experts in the area, or both might call for an open forum structured to accomplish step one.  Cooler heads among the administration and faculty leadership groups might do the same.  The local media might either initiate the idea or publicize a call.

What might 'structured to accomplish step one' look like?

Faculty will not come to the table if it is clear that it is likely to be just another spectacle that the administration will later use to imply to larger publics that they had faculty support and a transparent process.

Administration will not come to the table if it clear that it is likely to be just an anger venting festival or if there is an expectation that they will forfeit their managerial authority to make decisions for the university.

There are multiple pathways again here.  But imagine if both sides agreed to these conditions:

We recognize that, following meaningful consultation with faculty and staff, the authority to make managerial decisions at UA is in Buchtel Hall.

We agree that this is an effort to repair the structure and processes for ongoing communication between faculty and administration and that the most productive way to focus on that objective is to put previous decisions off the agenda and focus on how to move forward.

We agree that the administration will not unveil or implement any new program, process, or policy or alter employment beyond the usual annual patterns for the coming academic year that they did not explain in detail during this open forum, providing faculty and staff with the time and information needed to fully vet the idea and respond thoughtfully.

These three principles might be enough to get the parties to the table.  Each gives up a little and the following structure is one way to enact these:

Day One in All Day September Meeting:  Administration presents detailed information on all their plans for the coming year.  

Day Two in All Day October Meeting: Under the leadership of the AAUP and Faculty Senate the faculty and staff will present a detailed response to each idea.

That's it?  We get to respond to their ideas?  Can we inject new ideas?  Can we reject ideas?  Are we done at that point?

Yes.  In responding to the ideas put on the table we do cede the power of framing the conversation, but a powerful and data-driven response that persuasively demonstrates an idea will not work (or will work better if done this way) is one way to reframe the conversation within these constraints.  

No, we would not be done.  This would become an annual institutionalized forum. Remember this is just step one and two.  If these work, and we see we actually can work together, then we might expand it to include a Spring meeting to discuss mid-course adjustments.  We might come to agreements on what data IR should collect and use this one set of data to measure the success of this or that proposed change.  We might grow into a community be enacting the life of a community together.

Lots of ways this could fall apart.  More ways to fall apart than to succeed it seems.

Agreed.  It is not easy to transform conflict and it is a lot more difficult with decades of ever-deepening distrust corroding the relationships needed to achieve agreements.  But it is worth the effort.  It is always worth the effort.

Let me remind readers (that is funny, because I am pretty certain I have no readers, but write this blog anyway as a place to clear my head that does not create a gap between my private and my public self), so let me remind readers that my blog is about making connections, it is about raw ideas and drafts and works-in-progress.  I do not review or copy edit beyond looking back as I am going to avoid embarrassing errors.  So, this is just my thinking on a topic I care about, today, unfiltered and open to criticism.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Consider these...

This twitter exchange really caught my attention as a very short text that helps us understand a lot.

And this seems like a no-brainer until we consider who benefits most from not even considering this idea...who benefits most from an electorate so frustrated that they throw their hands up as they disengage?

Instead we get far too much of this confusion by design (perhaps suggesting that the ignorance in the first image did not just happen)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

There's always next year
As the MLB season grinds to a halt for the Red Sox it is time to look to next year.  I am optimistic if our new management team can keep the talented young core together with some minor adjustments.

Yes, minor.

The young talent we are seeing at the end of the season is really coming together.This should be our starting lineup next year:

JB Jr in left, Betts in center, Castillo in right
Holt at third, Bogaerts at SS, Pedroia at 2nd, Shaw at first
Swihart and Vazquez behind the plate & Ramirez as DH

We should run with six starting pitchers trying not to name any one the 'Ace'
Bucholz, Owens, Rodriguez, Kelly, Porcello, Miley

S. Wright, Workman, Barnes, Ogando, Machi, Tazawa, Uehara

This means we have gotten rid of Sandoval and Papi gets his 500 this year and retires.

I like this team.

Other than above, I would consider the following: packaging Sandoval (and Ramirez if needed) with Porcello and or Kelly to get an established #1 starter who is durable.  That would be good.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Trump Mania
Decades-long economic decline of a hegemonic power, mostly ravaging the standard of living for what was once the world's largest middle class, while shamefully enriching the top 1%.

Plus demographic changes making the grade school platitudes about being a nation of immigrants ever more real, right before our eyes.

Add to this a long tradition as an anti-intellectual political culture and we have an army of angry white men, amplified by the Fox News echo chamber to scream like brownshirts driven by misdirected resentment and distorted nostalgia...

 ...and the table is set for Trump Mania.  It did not just happen.

The fact that much of the anger is understandable (since the economic and decline are real) makes the voices only more rabid in their confidence that they are correct.  That they are the victims.

So, we have a rich white man fanning these flames with anti-pc, anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-minority sound bites designed as applause lines.

Each instance both reflects and reinforces the incivility of our political discourse and the fact that this incivility further disempowers the already power-poor by distracting and distorting their voices.

Each instance mobilizes these angry white men to embrace their own incivility and reinforces their already deluded tendency to see the insults they love to casually toss around in place of analysis as 'just common sense,' under assault by some nameless pc police.

Most of them are criminals, or terrorists, or feminazis after all.  Despite the fact that the facts do not support these claims, as Mother Jones noted "everyone is uncomfortable being told something they are used to doing is now considered insulting."

It is uncomfortable and Trump Mania promises to remove that discomfort, freeing us all to insult at will...without regard to data or, more importantly, with no effort to even try to find ways to respect fellow citizens also struggling with the consequences of an unequally distributed economic and political decline.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Consider this...
Politicians get a bad rap.
The Sherrod Browns do not deserve it, but many do.
Opportunists profiteering to assassinate democracy.

We can be right...or we can be in relationships.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

If teachers were treated like athletes
Key & Peele make us laugh and get us to think about our upside-down priorities.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Our Right to Be Offended?
This letter to the editor appeared in the Akron Beacon Journal today.
“I thank Summa for standing up and being heard about a dress code. I think it is a wonderful idea.It is not a new one; when I went to school, a store or church, we were told by our parents what to wear and how to act with respect for our elders, parents, mentors and teachers. 
Summa is doing that, and I am proud to be in the SummaCare program.I am a senior citizen and read Bob Dyer’s column in Sunday’s paper. I usually agree with him, but not on this one (“Dress code at Summa has people questioning adequacy”). Pink hair, tattoos and piercings might make others happy, but I am within my rights to be offended seeing all this. 
Those with pink hair, tattoos and piercings do want people to look at what they have done to their bodies, or they would not have done it. They will cause people to look at them. Frankly, this scares the pants off their elders, but maybe they don’t care about parents, grandparents and greatgrandparents. 
We are another generation, but we also have earned respect and have worked hard and paid our bills and taxes.So many I see who have defiled their bodies don’t have money to pay rent, buy groceries or take care of their children, but can dye hair, get tattoos and smoke or do drugs. (I know, I have been a landlord.) I thank Summa and hope other businesses will follow its high standards. 
We do not have a legal right to be offended, but clearly many choose to frame their own tendency to be offended by others unlike themselves in terms of a ‘right,’ and that is disturbing.  It offends me.  But rather than focus on my hurt feelings, let’s consider this.

When we see conflicts as competing perspectives, we are less likely to leap to being offended, much less to a right to be offended and to have our offendedness reflected in policy.

Let’s assume the letter writer is a much-beloved grandmother who harbors zero ill-will toward anyone she actually meets in her life.  When I do this, I am able to sympathize with her fear of the unfamiliar and the very high value she places on respect for authority and civility. I even understand her nostalgic approach to civility, hitching it to codes of conduct she associates with her childhood in the 1940s or 50s.

Understanding this makes me reconsider being offended.  Instead, I like her and applaud her letter, her choice to make her voice heard, and would love a chance to chat with her on a porch somewhere. 

Instead of describing how offensive I found her letter initially, I would want to talk with her about her cousin Fred (the one with the tattoos he got after the war, who worked for years as an honest cop) or Mary from her parish who was the first person she ever knew to have two earrings in each ear, quite the scandal at the time, but really stepped up to help her out when her husband was sick that time.

When we can separate potential friends from the abstract fear mongering pedaled by Fox News, too many pastors and politicians (think Trump at the moment), it is more likely we can have a conversation about difference where it is not conflated with threat.

Neither this letter writer nor I have a right to be offended.  In fact, the tendency to frame our disagreements this way amplifies the social space between us, making us appear more different and more scary. 

If we instead start with ‘that seems like a good or bad idea’ and then discuss the many ways that idea might impact real people we know, we are more likely to see, and make salient, our shared humanity and build bridges, even if we continue to disagree on the quality of any particular policy decision, like a dress code in this case.

On the other hand, she usually agrees with Bob Dyer and that really offends me....