Monthly Archives: February 2013

Universities in Turmoil: The wages of the sin of CYA!

ImageI went into college administration as a virgin as far as deception and manipulation go and came out a jaded harpy. I had an outsiders viewpoint, partially fueled by ignorance, partly by my damned totally glass three-quarter filled personality. I thought if you did your job as an administrator, held meetings, started initiatives, set goals and met them, did what was good for the institution you would be fine, loved and rewarded. 

What I found in my southern Research 1 institution was Sodom and Gomorra without the fun of the sex. People were paranoid, devious, secretive and insecure. The primary goal of everyone seemed to be to get as much money and as much admiration as possible without making anyone mad or making any enemies. My first boss was a champion at this, glad handing everyone and everything, doing nothing and taking credit for the work of others, including me. 

Anyone who is over the age of 10 will tell you that accomplishing anything of worth will require making enemies. You do not do it on purpose, at least I never have, but people project their own insecurities on you and presume that you are out to get them, or make them look bad, or take something away from them. As a side note this has been fine tuned to an art form by the right wingers. “Those people are going to kill/hurt/impoverish/diminish/disarm you.”  

Cursed with my own personal version of confidence ( some would call it something else) I never understood this paranoid fear of being less than. I know exactly who and what I am, always have since I can remember. Even if I am wrong what possible difference can that make? I am the only one who has to live with me. If I am happy with me what does it matter who else is not, or why? That does not mean I do not believe in self-reflection and improvement, I do it on a daily basis, but comparing yourself to other people is a fool’s errand and trying to mold yourself to fit someone else’s idea of who or what you should be must be exhausting. But I digress.

The recent plague of incidents that have happened on our college campuses, sex scandals, racial incidents, etc., all  spring from the same cause, the propensity of Universities to run their institutions based on the Cover-Your-Ass Plan. To begin with there is a dearth of brave leadership. The habit of not pissing anyone off is exaggerated in the President or Chancellor’s office. I made a presentation last October at a large southern university, not my own campus,  and had a chance to have several chats with its Chancellor. He, like a lot of people, felt free to unburden himself to me ( I have no idea why people want to confess all to me, I am generally not that interested, but there it is) and told me that he was misunderstood. He wanted, he told me, to be a champion for social justice, but his hands were tied by the evil people in the state capital legislature. He asked me to understand  and appreciate that he had been able to come up with millions of dollars for his campus by staying in the good graces of the legislature. He used the language “making a deal with the devil.” 

I am sure that I am unaware of the rigors of being the head of a multi-million dollar venture and having the academic and economic lives of so many in my hands, but I do have to wonder if this seemingly nice, ernest man is typical of our college and university leadership. If he is,  we are doomed. Staying out of trouble should never be the goal of a leader, doing the right thing even when it is unpopular should be. in the current scheme of things this may not be possible. If you will not bend over and let me have my way with you then there is someone else eyeing your position without your scruples waiting in the wings to please. 

No, we would need a revolution to restore ethics and integrity to leadership and that is not in the best interest of those determined to do things that are wrong. These people are often in powerful positions like the legislature and crossing them leads to trouble, that thing we are all cautioned to avoid. 

But, my question is this, when does it become counterproductive to try to avoid trouble by covering things up, ignoring injustices and offenses, turning a blind eye to things you know are wrong? Being an outsider from the halls of power and privilege I cannot say. Perhaps the powerful like Joe Paterno and Jim Tressel and only get caught occasionally and our leaders are playing the odds. On my own former campus more things were covered up than poop in a ten cat litter box. At least one of them, the under reporting of sexual assault and intimidation of victims has recently hit the news waves and popped most certainly out of from under the rug, but trust me there are a lot more things, some nearly as egregious that have been swept under the rug in the interest of keeping their image clean. By the way, one of the reasons the scandal about sexual assault has come out is due to the brave actions of one of our deans who quit her job and joined in a federal suit. See what happens when you take a stand? She is being widely praised, her nasty bosses who told her to lie and cover up are probably going to be unemployed too, the difference being they may well find themselves unemployable. I know some institution  will be eager to snap her up. 

So, in the world of higher education evidently it is widely viewed to be  preferable to pretend to be virtuous than to actually be virtuous. If you can convince people that you do not have a problem with race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, elitism or any other sin by covering up incidents and suppressing information and punishing those who do tell then you can proudly wave your banner at football games and basketball games and commencements and brandish your halo. 

Tain’t so folks. If you hide a mess it grows and maybe not today  and maybe not tomorrow, but eventually it will come out. It is preferable to stand up and say, ” I messed up, I will fix it to the best of my ability and put policies and procedures in place that will keep it from happening again,” Nobody expects perfection from any person or institution, but it would be nice to be able to expect honesty, transparency and integrity.

One of the primary villains in this scenario is the legal office on college campuses whose primary goal is to keep the university from being sued, even when they richly deserve to be. Right and wrong mean nothing to the folks in legal, not getting the institution embroiled in litigation, particularly when they know they are guilty, is their primary goal and they do not have any problem using threats and intimidation to accomplish it. 

So, my institutional leaders I have some suggestions:

1) Do what is right even if it costs you. Easy for me to say I know but nevertheless the right thing to do will serve your reputation if not your pocketbook, who knows you might start a trend. When i left my last campus I thought i was going to take an economic hit, but I could not continue to do what they were doing and call myself ethical. I actually, at least for the moment, make more money now  than I did there. I also know that the legacy I left there is widely respected and I am not sure one can put a price on that. 

2) Listen to legal with an informed ear. They  they may be leading you down a bad path to cover their own behinds. Their lens is not as broad as yours and they cannot be trusted to see the big picture.

3) Open up your information streams. While I do not suggest leading by committee he people closest to you are charged with making everything okay, so when they report to you they report that everything is okay. The people who know it is not okay and are willing to say so are probably not those you talk to on a regular basis. 

4) Lead, don’t follow. Hopefully you were chosen because you had something to offer. Don’t allow fear to incapacitate you. If you fail make it due to flawed actions, not to failure to act due to timidity. Michael Jordan is credited with a recent quote about how often he failed, Steven King had hundreds of manuscripts rejected before publication, as did JK Rowling. Failure is part of life, but being unethical, compromising when you should not and being scared of pissing people off should not be. 

5) Judge people on what they do, not what they say they do. I know there are only so many hours in the day, but you have to know what is actually happening on your campus ( see #3)

6) Insist on transparency. When I went to my former college and filled out my contact information on the system people called me warning me that I should not put my home address and cell phone number on the public directory.  I asked them why on earth I would not. I was a middle aged, plump granny, surely nobody was going to stalk me. The level of secrecy,need to duck and cover,  covert action and duplicity under the guise of privacy on that campus is scary. And people are scared. Scared of getting in trouble for telling what they know and scared of getting fired. Fear may be a great motivator, but it encourages resentment and disconnection from the common good, and it will come back and get you eventually. 

Our wonderful universities are going to find themselves in increasingly indefensible positions if they do not change what they want in a leader from person who goes along with anything to get money for his/her institution to person with integrity will not prostitute himself/herself to get pseudo success. Until that day we have to take whatever our college leaders say with more than one grain of salt. 

Look behind the curtain and see whose hand is making their mouths move. 

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Posted by on February 27, 2013 in Uncategorized


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The Challenge for American Education and Educators: Understanding race and class

imagesOkay boys and girls I have plunged back into the arena of education full force. I am serving as the director of field placement for a private university for a few months. I am not sure they realize it is for a few months, they seem to want me to learn a lot about new regulations, lead committees a lot and teach some, and they have given me a spiffy office with my name on the door, but I am retired, at least I think so. But I digress.

I went to a meeting of educators last week in Columbus, all of us are involved in pre-service teacher education. I was the only raisin in the rice pudding of the thirty odd people there. Some of them were truly odd by the way, but most of them were nice. Because I was the only black person there, and new besides, the group acted rather like a herd of gazelles that had just noticed the presence of a cheetah on the horizon. They were not exactly alarmed, but they were not exactly comfortable either. Lots of glances out of the sides of folks’ eyes and smiles and nods when I turned and looked at them. I imagine they were not sure who or what I was. We did not do introductions–note to leadership, new people need to know who the heck people are and where they are from, those table tents are only visible from certain perspectives. But, I got the distinct impression this was a closed group, a clique if you will,  lots of inside jokes and comments about absent people that one would not know if one had not been a member of the club.

Several white women who came in ( there were only two white men amongst the group which might have some impact on the flagging academic fortunes of males in America) glanced at the seats next to me, which were staying vacant. Finally one woman came in , put her stuff down and then looked at me and picked up her things and came to sit next to me. Another brave soul did the same exact thing. All i could wonder was if these people were leading teacher preparation and they were so uncomfortable with a black woman in the room what kind of preparation could they possible be giving their pre-service teachers in the area of race and understanding and cross cultural experiences?

The stated purpose of the meeting  was to go over updates to edTPA the system devised by the clever folks at Stanford to make it harder for people to get a license to teach. Just what we need with an aging teaching population and changes to retirement systems that will encourage veteran teachers to hang up their chalk. That will be the topic of another blog, trust me. Anyway, evidently there were no updates for TPA so it kind of turned into a general gripe session about fees, the way educators and education are disrespected and treated and what they viewed as exclusionary practices against private colleges and universities.

It was that last subject that made me break the promise to myself to keep my mouth shut and just listen. I had sat quietly trying to get a feel for the group and their issues and learn something more about teacher preparation, which I have been away from for about ten years. I was struck first by the evident lack of political savvy and information most of them seemed to have. They did not know why these changes and regulations were happening, they reminded me of that film years ago where the coke bottle falls out of the sky on the aborigine and he has no idea what it is. They seemed equally clueless to what is happening in this country regarding education, both from the nutty right that despises book learning and the liberal left that is sure that the only reason all kids are not Rhodes Scholars is because we have not found the magic bullet to unlock their brilliance.

The assembled group began to complain about the new system called Dual Enrollment which allows high school students to take college courses. It is well funded which evidently, unlike other similar previous programs, allows the colleges involved to give a rebate ( read kick-back) to the school districts that send the kids for the classes. The issue of concern was that private colleges may not be qualified to participate. Oh the horror! That finally made me break my silence. Most educational reform, initiatives, programs and other experiments, pilot programs and voodoo pedagogy are focused on increasing academic performance and opportunities for certain groups. Most of us know that the vast majority of rich white kids are doing okay in school ( heck probably the vast majority of rich black kids are too, but we won’t go there). Certainly the Asian kids of most backgrounds are doing well. So, who is struggling? That would be almost all poor kids of any color and a depressing percentage of kids of color of any stripe. I pointed out to them that looking at ways to ameliorate ( I love that word, it just means fix, but sounds much better) the academic problems of poor and/or minority kids would not lead one to look towards a private college.  I asked them to look around the room and take note of who is at the table, e.g. nobody poor and nobody of color but me.

During their earlier discussion of standards and programs and practices I noticed neither race nor class had been mentioned when they talked about education. But race and class are important factors in education in America. The fact that most teachers are white women from the middle class who would not recognize the difference between poverty based behavior and culturally based behavior is one of the primary reasons for low performance by students of color, especially in urban settings. We are asking people raised in the Arctic Circle to go teach survival skills to people in the rain forest. I am sure everyone should know how to skin a moose, and since Sarah Palin can do it how hard could it be to learn, but living in the jungle it would not be a particularly good skill to concentrate on.

The only way you can be an effective teacher is to either have quite a bit of commonality with your students or be willing to learn enough about them to understand them. In America we have had a centuries long system that says there is nothing that people of color can teach white people. We have actually taught white people more than they have taught us, but that is not ever going to be acknowledged. The fact that virtually all slang and much of pop culture originates with people of color is ignored, along with more significant contributions. Lacking this information many a  white teacher thinks her job is to make her students of color as much like white people as possible. This applies to language, mores, ideas, heroes, culture and beliefs. When the student has trouble reconciling home and school it is home he is encouraged to discount.

That makes school an alien place for a lot of kids who do not share the race, culture and/or economic status of their teachers. And please, please do not tell me how badly paid teachers are, they are not poorly paid enough to understand the stress of kids who do not have any food unless they get free lunch and those who have to fervently hope their family has not been evicted from yet another apartment while they are at school. They are badly paid compared to other professions and should all get raises, but they are not in any danger of starvation. The average teacher salary in Ohio in 2011 was $57,000. And I know that teachers work long hours ( especially elementary and English teachers) but they still work 183-186 days a year folks. That averages out to over $300 a day. Are they worth more than that? Many of them yes, absolutely, but the bottom line is that many of them, due to their lack of understanding or knowledge of other cultures or economic groups are not exactly doing the very best job.

The reason is simple, the cure is difficult. White people are not raised or trained to think about race and culture. Many of them think they should be “color blind.” So  they institute policies, pedagogies and procedures that would work for people like them and blame the students who do not respond for their lack of academic achievement. A discussion of pedagogy without a discussion of race and class is an exercise in futility.

So I will finish out my months laboring in the fields of academe and continue to hold up my flag of caution about trying to do things that depend on one size fits all and yet only really fits some and go home and play in my garden soil and comfort myself with the fact that I told them……even if they would not listen.

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Posted by on February 12, 2013 in Uncategorized


Adventures in College Diversity:An American Tragedy


Boys and girls I am going to tell you a story, it could be construed as a tale of sound and fury signifying nothing, but I hope not. The names have not been changed to protect the innocent,but to protect me from lawsuits. This is a woeful tale, told only from my point of view, I have needed to tell it for a looooooong time and now I can.Let’s pretend it is a Fairy Tale, a Morality Play, something that might have happened, could have happened and should not have happened if it did! 🙂 Here is my novella!

In 2003 I left a job as an assistant history professor to take a job as a director  at a southern Research 1 institution. In the 9.5 years I was there I developed several educational initiatives from classes ( Diversity 101 and 201) to symposia, to a diversity summit. I also consulted when someone made a mess in their unit by saying or doing something offensive, sometimes egregiously offensive. What I did not do, could not do, can never do,  is change the basic way diversity was approached, managed and evaluated on that campus.

In the 9.5 years I worked there I never had a supervisor that understood diversity work, at least not as I understand it, as activism, advocacy, instruction and assessment. They did not have a grasp of anything except not making anyone mad and not causing any waves that might jeopardize their healthy pay checks. Now, I am not going to be too critical because they all made either twice or almost three times as much as I did. If they had offered me that kind of money  who knows, I might have become one of the master’s tools myself. I cannot say I do not have a price, I can only say nobody has ever come close to making me an offer that would permit me to put my own enrichment above the social justice health of the campus or society.

So, the office operated like this, one other director ran programs for students, I ran programs for everyone, ones that I thought up, staffed with no money and oversaw. I am not sure what the head of the group did. In the 9.5 years I was there I would say that I was directly asked to do something by a supervisor fewer than ten times, and two of those times were requests to put out fires in departments where something offensive had taken place.

In other words, had I chosen to do so I could have run a small business, played video games, worked from home or simply vegetated for eight hours a day. I was recruited to the university to do a diversity assessment, neither of the professional staff at the time had any kind of assessment or research or academic background. I did what I was asked, pulled together a 35 person Task Force, ran every meeting , met with every sub-committee and then saw my supervisor take credit for it all and receive an award for the good work. My name was not mentioned at the awards ceremony.

So, I was learning quickly that doing good work did not necessarily mean getting credit for it. Oh, my supervisor gave me plenty of kudos in private and postured that ” people do not give you the credit you deserve.” Neither did the supervisor. Being a native North Carolinian of the ilk that I am naming Arciest Nativa it was probably not something one could help. These are black people who have internalized the idea that black people are inferior to white people. Their habits include talking nastily about white people when there are no white people present and pulling their forelock and saying yessir boss and fawning on white folks when then are present. They are eternally grateful to be allowed the crumbs from their masters’ table and would die rather than rock the boat they are so comfy in despite the fact it is based on classism and racism. I am always reminded when confronted with Arciests that all slave revolts were betrayed by other slaves.  Oddly enough most white people are not fond of them, or better put they are fond of them but do not respect them. It is better to be respected than liked, although generally the two are not exclusive if you are among decent people. In their true nature I do not think Arciest like white people, they fear them , but they do not like them. Several times I was confronted with the idea that perhaps I was too fond of them, some of my colleagues seem to not understand that I like all kinds of people and advocate for all kinds.

. After I finished the Task Force work and the following Diversity Plan Committee ( I got smart and insisted that I be named co-chair publicly on this one) , my boss had nothing for me to do. I often wondered why they had not hired me as a consultant for the task, but who knows how the minds work or people like that.

So, I had to find myself something to do. I joined committees, work groups, started initiatives and generally made my mark on the campus. Yet, when my boss decided to move on  having  been basically found out to be wanting, was I promoted? Nope, my colleague, with less education, less experience, less intelligence ( okay that was not nice but it is true) and certainly less judgement ( this person later used racial slurs against two of our students) was promoted. Why?The individual had friends in high places, that is why. Being in a band with upper level administration counted for more than my degrees and experience. So much for integrity and reward for initiative, it was evidently better to have a friend who could do something for you.

Anyway, with my new boss things got a bit worse. Instead of the office having no real leadership, no mission, no strategic plan and no benchmarks for performance we now had none of the above and someone who was delusional enough to believe they had been sent there to rule the world. My doorway was soon filled with irate people from all over campus who mainly asked ” what is wrong with ______?” I had to shrug and tell them that I had no nickel in that dime, they would have to go elsewhere with their complaints.

Fast forward, Boss 1 is gone, Boss 2 is replaced by Boss 3, a person who came in and gave me great hope, which was quickly dashed when it became clear the person was a clone of Boss 1 without that one’s savvy at staying on the good side of the right people. This one was an Arciest, but did not return phone calls or emails and was never on time for anything. Boss 3 seemed to view the job as ceremonial, only requiring infrequent public appearances.

So, my friends, I had to go. My new boss made it clear she did not want me there, it quickly became apparent she was afraid of me and I found out later she probably needed to be. As long as I was there she would be in my shadow, not because of my brilliance but because of her deficiencies. We chatted, I told her I would be glad to retire. One boss who is a disappointment, okay, two, not good, three, no way. I packed my grip and came back North.

The state of diversity offices in most majority white institutions today is pitiful . People are hired based on their promise to do nothing or to pretend to do something but change nothing. Do not take my word for it. Do your own research. Ask to see the strategic plan of the diversity office. Ask what the budget is for the office, ask to see the benchmarks required of the office, what it does and why it does it and what are its results. Ask about what assessment has been done on its programs. There are a few exceptions that are bravely led and actually accomplish something, but they are rare as hen’s teeth. In my opinion the new methodology is to hire someone at a big title and big salary to manage diversity, give them no power and no benchmarks which permits them to throw up your hands and say ” see we are committed to diversity, look how much we are spending, it is not our fault nothing is changing.”

The administrations of many white institutions of higher learning seem to find great comfort in incompetent blacks. It not only reinforces their stereotypes it allows them to relax and be confident that nothing will change. Of course, I am not sure if the blacks are actually incompetent or just sell outs!

I have said it before and I will say it again, in the words of the great Audre Lorde, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” As it currently stands the master’s house is only suited to the master’s kind. I am saddened that diversity is either moribund or regressing, but It is no longer my business. I am going back to teaching where you can make a difference a few students at a time. I have lots of disciples out there and I am ready to make a few more!

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Posted by on February 5, 2013 in Uncategorized