Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Bureaucratic Life in the University--No Need to Drink the Kool-Aid

More than once, my friends and colleagues, staff and faculty, bemoan how they are treated. They are right,  but it is hard to imagine turning around an organization without leadership from the top and all the way down. So what are you to do?

1. You might be able to change things locally. Perhaps you can set up a cocoon of decency, not so much to insulate yourself from those above you, but as a way of creating a local environment that is supportive and comfortable. A small group of colleagues or students, maybe just your office where people are offered chocolates and a soft drink, maybe a monthly lunch or seminar, all under the radar but known to those in what might be called a circle of care. "Care" here is not necessarily about emotions, it may be about intellectual matters, or about a sense of proper behavior.

2. Most of the time, the institution does not really want to tell you what to do. So you need to have a sense of what you want to do, do it, and keep doing it well. See my earlier post on Doing Your Passion. What you want to do is to make sure that what matters most to you is in effect insulated from the nonsense. If necessary become one of the Stupids so that you are better insulated, and let the world go crazy. (See the post on The Stupids) Find a reference group that supports what you do. In many cases it will be outside the institution, just as most professors in research universities see themselves as part of an international research establishment in their fields. 

3. You cannot avoid the nonsense. Some of it may be managed, some avoided. You may not receive the rewards and promotions you deserve. Perhaps a new manager will come along and recognize you, but that may or may not happen. You could find another position, and surely you should keep your eyes open. Or, as I have described, "somebody up there may like you." That won't solve your problem, except for your morale. You might be able to fight it, but my experience suggests that for folks like me, that won't work.

4. In the end, what counts is what you do. And your sense of what is right and good, and what is nonsense. After 30 years at an institution, you may have gone native, and forgotten what is crucial, and why this place is under some absurd illusions. There is no need to drink the Kool-Aid. If you can recover your naive and initial sense, you need not be trapped.

No comments: