Monday, May 5, 2014

Bureaucratic Functionaries

In a university, where the values of rationality and fairness and integrity are built into the notion of what you ought to be doing, many of us are bureaucratic functionaries. Our relationship to our students, colleagues, faculty, and deans and administration are mediated by the need to appear rational, fair, and trustworthy--so it is crucial that what we do be Teflon. At the same time, we might be generous and fair, and sometimes that actually happens. But keep in mind that the other person may well be out to kills us, whatever we do.

1. If you have a problem with a dean or ..., you must realize that they--as such functionaries--are constrained by what their superiors believe and by their role and loyalty to the institution. You would not buy a used car from a dean, since their role is likely to be champions of their units, much as the dealer is a champion of their used cars--for this observation you could have won a Nobel prize and be married to a Federal Reserve Chairman.
a. Hence, deans and chairs of departments should never say that you are too old and ought to retire, or perhaps you should attend more to your children and not worry about tenure (I wonder what they told Judith Shklar, the political theorist at Harvard.), ...  They have to be careful not to use terms that are conventionally used to describe underrepresented minorities when negative notions are being bruited about. There was a time when the chair of Berkeley's physics department could say that since they already had one Jew in the department, they could not consider Richard Feynman for an appointment. No longer. Sometimes they might refer to someone not fitting in, or being too aggressive ...
b. If there is a contentious issue, keep memos of your interactions, share them with the persons involved, etc. If there was a conversation where someone said something obviously outrageous and there is no other person present, you might write, "although you told me to go home and attend to my dogs and elderly parents, and stop trying to do research or at least not push for a regular appointment in our department, I know that you did not mean that and you were concerned about how to make it possible for me to make a stronger contribution."
c. If your paramour needs a job, try to have them get a job in another department and then there will be a time when you can reciprocate that favor.

2. Keep records, time, date, copies of email, memos of conversations. If you go to see someone and expect just them being there but they have another person there in what would seem to be a witness role, take out your cellphone and suggest that it would be best to record the conversation. If they say no, then suggest that you postpone the meeting until you bring your own witness or counsel. If  they then bring their own or university counsel, that's fine.

3. If you are accused of violating regulations, of whatever sort, and the consequences may be substantial, make sure you hear out the full accusation before responding--you do not need to give your accuser bits and pieces with which to harm you. It is worth it to have the advice of legal counsel since often the request would involve their violating Constitutional protections. Your counsel might suggest to them that they surely do not want to violate those protections.

4. Email accusations, or telephone accusations, especially if imprudent, outrageous, or tricks to trap you, should be listened to, and then responded to at your convenience. In particular, there is no reason to agree with the premises of the accuser, and no reason to ever get into a pissing war with them. Stay cool, be factual, never give them what they are looking for.

5. If you are in trouble, get help from counsel immediately. Bureaucracies have rules, and they have to be followed, especially by your superiors.

6. Don't leave behind stuff you would not wish to be public--on your computer, in your files, in your emails. If need be, regularly wipe your discs clean--not a bad idea in general--saving what is most important. Email is likely on university files for years, so you may need another account at gmail or whatever, if you believe that is secure.

7. Rarely, but actually, you may well receive the kindness of bureaucratic functionaries. They may be acting our of personal integrity, or perhaps to avoid their own liabilities. Be grateful, thank them profusely, but do not believe they are safe for you.

8. You will encounter what is manifestly corrupt behavior, unfair judgments, and unbelievable canards. Keep your diary, but in general focus on what you are doing. I am not counseling passive resistance. Rather, pick battles that matter, and where you have a chance of coming out OK.  Of course, if you discover such behavior, judgments, and canards on the part of those you are in charge of you may have little choice but to report such.

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