4.3.05

PROCESS, NUANCE, FAILURE. Newmark's Door picks up a message to National Review's Jay Nordlinger drawing a contrast between the people who Get Things Done and the people who like to show off how clever they are.
[Harvard president and economist Larry] Summers is quintessentially an MIT man (of the post-WWII, pre-1980s MIT, after which things changed). This means he focuses at work on solving complex real-world problems in a limited time with available resources. People who are good at this (they can be engineers or scientists) are both extremely creative and completely realistic. They clarify problems, re-framing them in new ways as necessary, aiming for the best solution possible under the circumstances, recognizing that a better one might come along in the future. They have little interest in or patience with talk for talk's sake, talk that isn't relevant to actions, talk focused primarily on establishing the speaker's self-image and status, and they pretty much tune it out. Since this way of thinking and acting isn't part of the, shall we say, skill set of most of Harvard's Arts and Sciences faculty, they haven't a clue where Summers is coming from. So they assimilate his actions into a more-familiar-to-them model of corporate management and complain about his predilection for "hierarchical decision making" and lack of "collegiality." They focus on process (an essentially bureaucratic perspective, though they have more self-flattering language for it) while Summers focuses on interactions and information that produce solutions to problems.
Milt's File finds a K. C. Johnson post at Inside Higher Education that makes the same point.
Many aspects of this case, of course, are peculiar to Harvard: questions about Summers' efforts to expand the Allston section of the campus; a feeling among many professors that the president has not treated them with appropriate respect; a belief that Summers uses an overly centralized approach in running the university. At Tuesday's faculty meeting, Caroline Hoxby, an economics professor, observed that concern over Summers' management style, not a battle of "right versus left" about political correctness, accounted for the faculty uprising.
The linked post, also on Inside Higher Education, has more.
Lawrence H. Summers, Harvard's embattled president, apologized to faculty members Tuesday not only for his comments about women and science, but for a management style that many have said is too domineering.
There is more to this story than meets the eye. Many faculty members take faculty governance seriously and view attempts by department chairmen, deans, presidents and trustees to expand their powers as actions to be viewed with the most serious, and with the most skeptical attentions. It is also true that many faculty members become involved in faculty governance out of a lack of other things to do, a phenomenon that I have encountered frequently here. It is no accident that many of those individuals are of the age group that Vice President Agnew once referred to as "nattering nabobs of negativism." Many such individuals would rather dither over process and posture, which might be fine if one is conferring honorary degrees or matching donations to naming rights, but it's darned annoying when promotions, tenure, or curriculum are at stake. Yadda yadda yadda ...

But these are the people who become individuals that prevent productive work from being done, and the administrative proliferation in response to assorted "crises" that John in the Shadow of Mt. Hollywood correctly predicts (based on my experience) provides additional opportunities for the vicars of vacillation (another great Agnew reference to that age group) to interfere with the productive work.

Somewhere in my cruising through the posts on tenure I found a post suggesting that some senior academics continue to be helpful by serving on committees. Can't provide a link, sorry, but have to use a pet engineering expression to reply to that: Up. To. A. Point.

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