Saturday, April 2, 2011

New President Interview -- Part 4

Part four of an imaginary interview with the newly appointed president of the College.   Note this is just for your information and amusement. Any connection to a real college president is strictly coincidental. 

Q>  Many years ago you wrote an article on education by example. Do you still believe in that theory of education and if so how does this relate to your management style?
A> When I was in my early years of teaching I was the librarian, assistant principal and a classroom teacher.  My mentor, the schools principal, taught the faculty to teach not just with our words, but with our actions.  The prime example was do not shout at the students when you want them to be quiet.  Talk softly and get them pay attention.  Yelling louder than the students teaches them to yell louder and louder. If talking softly does not work, quietly walk over to them and talk to them directly or lightly tap them on the shoulder.  I learned quickly not to yell or get upset.  I learned to wait.  I learned to repeat instructions such as “please sit down.”  I learned to treat the student with respect.  Results were not immediate.  Students seemed to get trained by parents that being loud or threatening punishment was the way to prove one is right.  It took a long time to train them that the principal was right.
When my children were in elementary school I went to a school assembly.  Students from each grade made a presentation of songs or short plays.  It took concentration to understand the youngest students.  The teachers tried to tell the students in the audience to keep quiet.  They did so by yelling at them.  In another area teachers were congregating and talking about non-school matters so loudly they could be heard many rows away.  I discussed this behavior with the principal because the teachers were not setting a good example.  The principal agreed to speak with the teachers since it was not my job to teach them how to behave.  I did speak to my children about the incident and encouraged them to act properly even when the teachers were not.
Unless someone’s life is in danger or there is another kind of urgent situation I do not yell at people.  I try to set a good example by my actions and make sure my actions agree with my words, I try to retain control by showing calmness.
When I was a school principal one of my tasks was to check all teacher materials before reproduction for students.  I believed that students should not be given materials with mistakes.  I corrected typos and informational errors.  Most teachers thanked me and were glad I helped.  Some teachers thought I was picky about all the grammatical errors that I found.  I reminded them about how we teach with our example.  How can we teach them to write carefully when the teachers have mistakes in the handouts?  Teachers made mistakes in the use of punctuation, spelling and capitalization as well as fact.   One teacher tried to promote the school musical to parents.  The handout misspelled the name of the production and did not tell details about the time and place of the performance. The piece missed my quality control and teacher sent it out without showing to anyone.  The piece reflected badly on the teacher and the school.
Since I want my children and students to learn, I set an example for them.  I attend regular classes, write papers, and discuss ideas with them.  I expect the faculty and staff of a learning institution to always be learning.  I am going to encourage staff development, attendance at professional conferences, participation in professional organizations, and writing of articles.  While, we don’t have the same kinds of research that would be present at a research university, we do have to encourage everyone to learn new ideas and share them.  There will be no requirement for publication, however, we will encourage faculty to publish and when they do we will publicize the fact.  
I would like everyone to create a personal learning program.  It could be as modest as regular reading of newspapers or magazines or as complex as completing a scholarly book.  My personal learning program includes attending at least three regular classes a week, reading scholarly and professional literature, and writing articles.  One recent area of study was copyright law and its history. Some day perhaps we can have a lunch and learn program? This would a series of informal discussions on current topics such as ethics, customer relations, communications, or other issues that foster a give and take.  The sessions would be more focused than ad hoc lunch conversations and less formal than a class.
We must teach both with both words and actions.  That is teaching by example.
Q>  When you were a student at Morningside University there was a lot of campus unrest.  Some students occupied the president’s office.  How did this affect you and what was your role in the campus unrest?
A> When I was in high school and I already accepted to the University I had to travel to Morningside City for a youth conference.  Since the conference was near the Morningside campus I wanted to visit and see where I would be going to school.  When I was already on the airplane someone told be that the campus was closed.  I was able to only see the outer walls of the campus.  I took pictures and this became the basis of a short story.   I was not happy.
University administration building during a calmer time
The following spring when I was a student, there was again campus unrest.  Classes were cancelled and I tried to protest the cessation of learning. I went to college to learn, not protest against the university.  At another time I did go with a group of students to Washington, DC to lobby Congress and I did march outside the UN for causes I believed in.  My picture was in the newspaper during one protest.  I was never arrested and I did not miss class for my activities.   During a strike by employees of a nursing home, I went to help the residents.  That was an act that needed to be done to save their lives.    We were not strike breakers.
This is another era.  Students today are not as active in politics as during that period.  This is both good and bad.  I would like to see students who care about making the world a better place.  I would never want them to see the College as an adversary and occupy the campus in protest.  The actions of the students at Morningside University and other universities at that time were wrong, but their goals were lofty.
The goals of education include teaching students to be members of society, their communities and how to strive to make this a better world.  The starting point of change should be communications, not protests.
Q> You have no significant experience in academic administration. What would you say to critics who question your ability to judge things like tenure?
A> It's a big advantage to have been a faculty member and librarian for several universities.  As a librarian I had contact with students from all levels and faculty from all levels.  As a professor of online courses I essentially started a community of learning that lasted only a semester.  I had to manage all the learning activities. Part of teaching future librarians is teaching the techniques and skills needed for management.  Every class had a management skills component.
Tenure decision activity is a small part of the job of the president. I have no doubt with the help of others we can make the right decisions about tenure.  By the time the tenure decision reaches my office, others will have vetted and examined the case.  I will be the final judge, but others will make sure that only the best candidates even reach my desk.
Hiring and firing is always a joint decision.  I hope that collectively we can make the right decisions for the College and the individuals.
Q> What are some of the challenges facing you and the College in this upcoming year?
A> I'm spending a considerable amount of time listening - to faculty, students, staff, alumni, and other friends of the college. I have a deep respect for the strengths that already exist here.  I hope to synthesize a shared vision of where the College sees itself currently and where we need to go.  We need to encourage excellence in administration and academics in the College.
We have to learn to respect the learning of the past and discover ways to avoid the mistakes of those who came before us.  Growth comes from a synthesis of great ideas of the past with a vision for the future.
Diversity is everyone's responsibility.  We reflect the full range of citizens in our city. We will need to share ideas and be thoughtful about the way we can approach all the implications of a diverse population. We need to respect each other for the power of our intellect, not ethic background or the color of one’s skin.
Q> How does one balance arts and sciences in society?
A> It's important for students and later citizens to understand the value, the power, the usefulness and the appropriateness of the scientific method.  Everyone is a scientist when they realize actions have repeatable consequences.  If one sees a fire, it is always hot. If one steps on the floor, you feet will not fall through.  Daily life is filled with experimentation, results, applications, and decisions.  People must learn not to make assertions without proof or evidence. The value of a scientific education even for the 'non-scientist' is in learning that way of thinking. An informed citizen knows how to be skeptical and find reliable answers.  People make decisions about their personal safety, their surroundings, the environment, and other issues based on evidence. Sometimes it's difficult to know the right response, because the evidence is contradictory, not available, inaccurate, or imprecise.
The arts are based on feelings.  When someone creates a picture, a drama, or music, there is no precision.  For example two companies can take a text of a play and the will create two interpretations with the exact same text. I love classical music and the visual arts.  Arts deal with uncertainties and fuzzy kinds of thinking. 
Science is about precision and reproducibility.  Every time an experiment is performed the results need to be the same.  My background in computer science and psychology give me a respect for experiments, experience, and results. Colleges need to nurture the logical precision of science and math, fuzzy imprecise thinking, and the beauty of the arts.
Q> How has the role of president affected the ways in which you address ethical issues?
A> In a lecture to a class on topic of ethics I showed a short clip from the TV series 24.  The main character, Jack Bower was brought before the U.S. Senate and accused of treason because of his handling of a situation.  Bower testified that sometimes one has to take extraordinary measures to protect society.  Hopefully, at the College we don’t have to deal with problems of life and death or the freedom of the citizens.
Morals and ethics are not absolute.  In talking to English classes I tell them about the practice of 19th century publishers who published novelists from other countries without paying royalties.  A British publisher could publish Mark Twain and an American publisher could publish Charles Dickens without signing an agreement with the author or paying a royalty.  This was not illegal. It is debatable if they did anything wrong.  Sometimes people need to do what is right even if the law does not tell them what is permitted or restricted. 
The president needs to be a both an example of moral and ethical behavior and advise others to the correct legal and moral path.  Commission of plagiarism, may cause you to lose a grade or your job, but it is not a criminal act.  The president has a greater responsibility for what one might call the “ethics of stewardship.”  A president may be held responsible for the actions or inactions of the people of the College.  A president must consider a very wide range of ethical issues and moral responsibilities.  With expert advice a president is able to view them from a great variety of perspectives. As the president I must be careful when and how I make commitments for the College.  I manage expectations and am more aware of the importance of balancing competing forces.
For example, we have a strong group of student, faculty, and staff advocating the issue of living wages. I have a strong moral commitment to providing a living wage including raising the salaries of those at the lower end of our salary scale. As president I also have to worry about balancing these demands on our fiscal resources. We have to plan carefully how to use our monies including efforts to address non-competitive salaries, financial aid, and physical plant maintenance and improvements.

As president I have to balance the sometimes conflicting paths we could follow.  The law is not always enough.  One must understand the history and intention of the law as part of a moral system.  I will continue to remind people of the moral path that is right for our people and the College.
Q> In the Supreme Court case Caperton v. A. T. Massey Coal Co., No. 08-22, Justice Antonin Scalia quoted the Talmud.  He studied Talmud while in Harvard Law School because he saw those seeped in the study of Talmud were better able to understand the American legal process.  Do you personally study Talmud and what does the methodology teach us? 
A> I attend a weekly Talmud class.  At one time I participated in the program to study one Talmud page per day.  We finished the entire Talmud in 7.5 years.  This type of study teaches me how to observe texts and situations from many points of view.  It teaches a respect for the letter law while trying to apply the intention of the law to a current situation.  Many of the “what if” cases discussed are so unusual that perhaps they never happened in real life.  This teaches one to think of many possibilities.  It can also lead to making a plan and back up plans.  When I was a computer programmer/analyst, this ability to think of multiple possibilities for all input was a distinct advantage over other programmers.  Even when creating questions for surveys, I learned to make choices that everyone could find an answer.  For example “none of the above” or “other” is a legitimate answer when the choices don’t cover every possible answer.
Justice Scalia in his dissenting opinion wrote:
Divinely inspired text may contain the answers to all earthly questions, but the Due Process Clause most assuredly does not. The Court today continuesits quixotic quest to right all wrongs and repair all imperfections through the Constitution. Alas, the quest cannot succeed--which is why some wrongs and imperfections have been called nonjusticiable.  (Legalize for: not appropriate or proper for judicial consideration or resolution.)

We are not going to teach Talmud at the College, but I hope some of the methodology of examining text and law can be part of the way I think and work with others.  

---- to be continued 

No comments: