Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Myth of the Meritocracy redux: No need to Lean In or Stop being bossy or empower white women and minorities.

we can do itReading the newspaper this morning about women and the word bossy and the need to “lean in’, it struck me once again how clueless American society is about privilege, sexism and racism. We do not need to develop women leaders. Women are natural leaders. Instead of conducting seminars for women in how to become a leader we need to break down the barriers that keep women from being leaders, the good old boy network. Sexism and racism are two sides of the same coin.White women do not rise as easily or as often as men into leadership positions because they lack intelligence, education and skill. They do not rise into leadership positions because they are blocked by men, or sadly sometimes other women, who do not want them there. The same is true of blacks and other minorities. It is not lack of education, intelligence or leadership skills, it is being blocked by people who do not want them there. In the black race we have people who are F&Os ( First and Onlies) and BBs (Black Blockers). They think as long as they are the only blacks in power they can pretend to speak for all blacks, be the resident expert and reap the benefits. Unfortunately, a large number of these people have no allegiance to anything but self-promotion, not to social justice or their race or anyone else’s. They say what their masters want them to say about their constituents, Nobody wants to hear bad news, even if it is the truth.

I have worked at four colleges and one public schools system in my career. I have spoken or consulted or given workshops at a dozen other universities and colleges.  None of the leadership positions at these educational institutions was held by the smartest, most charismatic or best leaders. The positions were held by people who were bland enough not to cause controversy and who knew the right people, or knew people who knew the right people.

At one point in American history Horatio Alger’s story may have been accurate. It no longer is. I live in a small town ( around 28,000) and the area has been targeted in the past as so typical that we sometimes get products to try, presuming if it will play in Xenia it will play in suburbs and country towns everywhere. Our minority population is almost exactly that of the country. We are, in oh so many ways, average. I have seen over the past forty or so decades so many people do well that have no skill, no education and no charisma. What do they have? They know the people who own things or control things. Our police force and fire department have few if any minorities or white women, certainly none in leadership positions . Why? Because no white women or minorities want to work in the fire or police department?Nope, because the fire and police departments have always been controlled by white men and white men hire white men.

It is so frightening to Americans to see the truth that they go to any kind of lengths to deny it. ” Well they did not have any white women or minorities apply.” Why not do you suppose? This is the old canard that shifts the responsibility to be inclusive onto the people you are excluding. Nice trick.  Or, ” “There were no qualified white women or minorities for the position.” Really, I want you , each and every one of you dear readers to send me a message if every white man you know has been great at his job.  How many times are the qualifying requirements even adhered to? At every institution I know of and that is not a small number, the person hired often bears little resemblance to the job description/requirements. Institutions and businesses engage in qualification gerrymandering on a regular basis if they have someone they want to give the job to.

Yet, all over America we have constant conferences, initiatives, workshops, symposia and publication about empowering white women and minorities. Programs for minority males are springing up on white campuses like mushrooms after a shower. Virtually none of them are based on research, but on what people think is true, and almost every one of them concentrates on what is wrong with the black male rather than what is wrong with higher ed that it is such a bleak place for black men. An equal or even larger number of programs for women are on campuses. Although they tend to veer away with what is wrong with women, at least recently, they still concentrate too much on what the woman must do rather than what society must do to stop impeding their progress. I received a message this morning from a former student who is now an administrator at a Research 1 university. He sent me a description of a new program they are starting that enables conversations between women students on how to succeed. Note there is no mention of how the system is stacked against them and how they can change that, no, this is all about learning to “play the game” even though the other team has 10 players to your five and get 5 points for each goal they score where you get 1. It reminds me of slave days when some black overseers tried to convince their fellow slaves that the way to success was to do as they were told and smile about it, not to fight for their freedom.

If I could draw I would produce a cartoon that showed white women and minorities being loaded down with advice and “shoulds” and strategies to enable them to climb while the stairs in front of them are blocked with bias and prejudice and ignorance and stereotypes, all protecting the status quo.

If there are no, or only token,  white women in leadership positions in an institution, business,  or government agency it is because they have been kept from the positions unfairly. If there are no minorities in leadership positions, ditto. The only other explanation is that white folks or men or white men are simply better.

I I have never had a boss that was excellent at his job. I have never had a boss as smart as I am, something each and every one of them told me themselves at one point or another.  I have had clever bosses, self-promoting bosses and bosses who were smart enough to hire people to make them look good, but is that what we are encouraging by all these seminars? ” Listen, you do not have to be smart, or ethical, or have great leadership skills. You have to be able to dodge standing up for anything that might be controversial , whether it is right or not, or moral while pretending to be a champion for good, you have to keep the people above you happy and trouble free and you have to hire good people to do the work and generate the ideas you can then take credit for. Most of all you must be committed to protecting the status quo at all costs. ” America is in trouble. We are picking our leaders based, not on traditional leadership skills of vision, honesty, intelligence, ethics, hard work, innovation and charisma, but on the ability to pretend to lead and yet protect the status quo. We are discouraging individuality, courage and honesty. These are disadvantages for women who tend to speak up when they see things that are unjust.

I will close with this suggestion for your own research. How many of you have always had a boss who is smarter than you or better  than everyone else at what you are trying to accomplish? How many of you have not known someone else at work who could have done it better but was not given the chance?

See what I mean? We don’t need to lean in, we need to throw out the good old boy network and watch what happens.

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Posted by on March 20, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Laboring in the Fields: Teaching at an HBCU

indexI began my higher education teaching career at a PWI ( Predominantly White Institution). I had, however, graduated from an HBCU. My HBCU education was first rate, my professors did research, they published, they insisted we become scholars and facilitated us doing so. I taught my first high school course using a book co-authored by my college history professor and my mentor, Dr. Wilhelmina Robinson. About the time of my senior year the brain drain began. PWIs came calling, offering more money and resources and luring away many of the best and brightest. HBCUS have not been the same.

My experiences at the first PWI, a small, regional college, did not seem that drastically different from my HBCU career. The classes were about the same size, there were far fewer black professors, of course, a bane that plagues all institutions of higher learning since they are, regardless of what they say, convinced that black people are dumber than white people and therefore scholarship is not their bailiwick, but other than that it did not seem that different at all.

I was also adjuncting at a small liberal arts college at the same time. I taught at my main campus on MWF and the other college on Saturdays. One day I received a frantic phone call from my alma mater, the HBCU. They had, they told me, students piling up in a discipline because they did not have anyone to teach two classes. The Multicultural Classroom and Educational Research Foundations. I had to they informed me, as my duty as an an alumna come over and teach these two classes so these poor children who needed the courses could graduate. I explained that I had two jobs and was not really sure I could do three, but they promised to schedule the classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays any time I wanted them scheduled. How could I refuse?

So, I went over and received my books and asked about the master syllabus. That request was met with some puzzlement and I eventually figured out that there was no master syllabus. Because this was in the late 1990s before the state decided to take over education and write rules and requirements that have nothing to do with teaching or teachers, this was not the catastrophe it would be now. I did, after all, have the books.  So I set to work designing my syllabi.

I was given a very nice office, no computer, but a phone, desk and bookcase and welcomed to the faculty by virtually everyone. So far so good. The first sign that something might be a wee bit different came when I was informed that the bookstore would not have our books in until about 4-6 weeks into the  semester. I was perplexed needless to say and asked why not. I was told there had been some financial difficulties paying the suppliers the year before and that they were, therefore, demanding payment before shipment. The university would not have the money to pay until the students’ financial aid arrived, so the delay was inevitable.

Being a good sport I simply said that I would teach from handouts. This was met with some hilarity by the regular faculty. They informed me that the copier and copier supplies like paper and toner were quite often unavailable. Fortunately for me and  my students I was able to get permission from one of my PWI institutions, another state school, to make my copies. After the discussion on books and supplies a steady stream of permanent faculty dropped by my office to tell me that I was not in Kansas anymore, that teaching at an HBCU meant doing without, making do, figuring out resources on your own. Almost all of them finished with a version of ” Don’t break your neck, the students aren’t used to to much and don’t expect much from the students.”

I was horrified. We were teaching teachers to teach. And the main theme of the faculty was don’t try too hard? I found the students delightful. My classes were extraordinarily large because the two required for graduation classes had not been taught for several years. None of the predictions of my colleagues, disrespect, disinterest, absenteeism, sloth, or anything else they claimed the students were prone to proved to be true. I felt so sorry for the students that they had to be exposed to such rank incompetence and disinterest. That experience was ended when I left the state to work at another PWI.

Fast forward twenty years. I retired from the other PWI and returned home. I informed the folks at my three former institutions in the Miami Valley that I was back and available to adjunct. One of the PWIs jumped on me right away and I filled in with them for a semester as an adjunct and as a full time interim director. We fell out when they had three faculty openings and hired three white people. Their student body is about 42% of color and the only people of color in the department are the two custodians. Needless to say we did not part company amicably.

The phone finally rang from the HBCU in early December. They wanted me to teach two classes in January. One a capstone course in social studies education and The Multicultural Classroom. I went over, met with the Dean, met with Chair, agreed to teach and off we were to go. i was a bit nonplussed by the fact that the semester started in a little less than a month and I had very little time to prepare. I was promised that all would be explained and outlined at a meeting in mid-December. The date for the meeting came and I had heard nothing. So I called. I was told, ” Oh, sorry, the meeting has been delayed until January 7.” I asked about a master syllabus knowing from my administrative stint at the other PWI that the Ohio Board of Education and Board of Regents and Legislature are competing to see who can enact the most draconian and ridiculous standards and that I needed to know what kind of knowledge the students needed to come out of these courses with for licensure. I was promised that the syllabi would be emailed to me.

Christmas came and went.  i heard nothing. I decided they had decided not to hire me. I do have a reputation as a bit of a perfectionist and they may have decided, i thought, that they did not want to put up with my persnickitiness. But, no. I called and was told the meeting had been postponed again to January 10th at 4:00. The semester started on January 13th. So, I popped over to campus at 3:45 hopeful and waited with several other adjuncts until 4:15 when the harried chair came in an announced she was cancelling the meeting because she had not had time to prepare our packets.

She promised us, however, that she would email them to us, along with our syllabi before the weekend was over. That was two months ago, the email never came.

I did, however, manage to shake loose a book from them and ran home to start preparing at least the beginning of a syllabus since my first class was on Monday.

This far into the semester I find, once again, the students are respectful, engaged, intelligent,funny and hard working almost without exception. There are so many barriers to their success erected by the staff and faculty that I think they are resigned to the fact that they are going to have to either find one of the rare gems on the faculty or staff or both that care and work hard and go the extra mile or that they are going to have to fend for themselves.

I have to wonder how many young people at colleges across our fair land, especially at HBCUs have a similar experience. Not only is a mind a terrible thing to waste so is the opportunity to have a regular college experience where people understand the students are the reason they are there, not something to be avoided, dismissed and ignored.

The administration was probably right in their reluctance to hire me, I do not fit.

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Posted by on March 13, 2014 in Uncategorized