Thursday, October 22, 2009

guest blogger: "f.l.a.p.s FLOPS"

guest blogger molasses coady--captain molasses coady-- discusses the horror of his first martin singer encounter:

Until this week, I had no idea who Martin Singer was.

But in the past three days I’ve had an unexpected opportunity to get to know the newly appointed Dean of the newly created Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies at York University. The good thing is that now I know who he is. The bad thing is that I really wish I didn’t.

My first occasion to encounter him was at the annual Anthropology lecture. A distinguished guest scholar from California had been brought in to present the lecture; there was a panel of discussants; a delicious spread of meat and veggie-tofu skewers outside the lecture hall; a moving introduction to the lecturer by one of her admiring colleagues...and a kick-off speech to the whole event provided by none other than Dean Singer.

Of course, first of all we got to wait for 45 minutes in a crowded, overheated room because Dean Singer was late. When he finally arrived, the event got underway. He got up and launched into his speech, wherein he barely mentioned at all the lecture that he was introducing. Instead, he spoke about how the department was being reviewed as part of a review of the operations of the whole new faculty; how he had identified several challenges that were endemic to this department; how he knew it was going to be tough for the professors to work through those challenges but that he was willing to help them; that if they worked through those challenges, then maybe the rest of the university and the world would see the value of their department; that even though many of them were nervous about the ongoing review, they should have faith that their department head was doing a great job trying to defend them.

It was quite honestly the weirdest speech I’ve ever heard; or at least, the first time I’ve heard somebody try to introduce a lecture by insulting the audience (with the exception of the occasional bad comic...which might have been the angle he was going for). And then, to add insult to injury, he announced that he had another urgent engagement (who has an “urgent engagement” at 8:00pm on a weeknight??) and took off. Without even appreciating the lecture he was “introducing”!

I think I felt most badly for the visiting lecturer...she had to stand behind him, embarrassed, while he berated and insulted her audience. And then she had to try to make them excited about mushrooms and the nature of time.

Grudgingly, I put him out of my mind and went back to my papers. Then two days later, I received a copy of a 4-page letter he sent to professors in the new faculty. In a rambling tirade wherein he refers to himself in the third person (delusions of kinghood?), invents such phrases as “post-merger fatigue” (huh? don’t you get fatigue from things that drag on, not *new* initiatives?), says that the “over-politicization of campus” has brought down faculty morale, and refers to the university budget as a “bail-out package” (oh...didn’t realize my paycheque was actually a bail-out package from my employer...are bail-out packages taxable I wonder?), his underlying goal seems to be to create a sense of crisis. But he accomplishes a number of more subtle messaging goals as well.

First, he repeatedly emphasizes that he’s a new and externally recruited dean – a hapless victim of circumstance, if you will - who therefore bears no responsibility for the budgetary and administrative problems the faculty faces. Fair enough – but the excessive managerialism, concentration of administrative authority, exclusion of faculty/student input and marginalization of the ‘liberal arts’ are all underlying causes for those problems, and are trends which are epitomized by his very appointment. So yes, actually his presence *is* responsible for these problems.

Secondly, he reassures faculty that he’s working closely with their departmental chairs/heads, and there’s no need for them to worry because they’ll figure things out and then tell the faculty what they need to do. In other words, the era of democratic administration in universities is over and there’s no need for faculty or students to get involved in the shaping of their university. In fact they won’t provide any opportunity for them to either – that’s why they now hold ‘managerial retreats’ instead of faculty-wide meetings or collegial decision-making processes.

Finally, he proposes (or rather, imposes) a three-pronged strategy which says that solving the budget shortfall must be the first priority, but that never fear – “rebuilding full-time faculty ranks” MUST be our third-highest priority!!! Which sounds inspiring, until you realize that in a three-pronged strategy, the third-highest priority is actually the lowest priority. So let’s rephrase that: Rebuilding full-time faculty ranks MUST be our LOWEST priority! Suddenly it sounds less inspiring.

Of course, there’s plenty else in the letter, which concludes with the cliche “...Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times” (ironic, when one considers that this is the Dean which university press releases lauded as one of the foremost scholars in Chinese history...until it turned out they were wrong and he wasn’t).

In closing, three points:

1) Nice to meet you Dr. Singer, actually in retrospect no it’s not and now I’m sick of you and please go away.

2) Please stop introducing departmental lectures by insulting your audience and embarrassing the university in front of strangers and PLEASE stop referring to yourself in the third person.

3) You want to fix York’s problems? Stop holding managerial retreats, instead organize public deliberative sessions for faculty/students, and LISTEN before you “propose”. More importantly, stand up and fight for your faculty – don’t be the sort of two-faced administrator who acts like he’s just the bearer of bad news and he really wants to be your friend, while blaming you for your own problems and not being willing to put his own neck on the line to defend the principles of the university which he claims to believe in.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

excellent points and the details are more precise than elsewhere, thanks.

- Murk

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...