Monday, March 25, 2013

Durable Goods

On Dec 5, 2010 I wrote about my old mixer.  Today I write about my new blender. A few days ago I bought a sleek Black and Decker blender.  My old blender (pictured on the left) was more than 30 years old.  The motor still worked, the bowl was just fine, but the rubber gasket that prevented liquids from leaking out of the bowl worn out.  This is a 30 cent piece of rubber that is impossible to replace.  No online store even lists my old blender’s name or parts.  The company, owned by SCM, when I bought the machine is now owned by Hamilton Beach.  The old machine was made in the USA; the new one in China.

I spent a long time trying to decide which blender to purchase because I seem to have a hard time purchasing durable goods.  I’m driving a 19 year old car because I dread the process of making a new car purchase.  New blenders cost any where from $25 to $500.  The more expensive ones are for heavy institutional use.  I ended up buying one that cost less that my weekly grocery bill and less than a dinner out.

I tired to new blender today and it works.  It performs much better than the old, but I did not try the ultimate test—ice cubes, because I don’t have any in the freezer at the moment.  So far the machine works.  I wonder if this one will last 30 years?


Sunday, March 17, 2013

New President Interview -- Part 17

Customer Service*

Q: How do you foster the idea of respect in the College?

We believe in the concept that everyone deserves respect.  That includes everyone from a potential student to a veteran employee who started here before I was born. It also includes vendors and contractors.  Some people forget the reason we are here is to provide an education and everyone is part of that team.  It is the job of a manager to make sure everyone has the tools they need to succeed.  We have financial aide and a wellness center to help students with paying for college and creating a balance between life and college work.

In 1906 Upton Sinclair’s book, The Jungle, exposed the corporate greed that created unsanitary and dangerous situations in the food industry.  To fight for better sanitary conditions for our food, the pure food and drug act was passed that the FDA was created.  Hopefully, the country and the industry improved.

We still have not learned how to eliminate greed, waste, lust for power and theft.  In an ideal organization controls would be created to improve and expand the organization and its goals not waste time preventing progress. People need the tools and the authority to do their jobs.

We are all descended from the same source and if you destroy one human being it is as if you have destroyed the entire world.  This is the conceptual basis for finding holiness within every human being. Their role in the College does not matter. No one has a right to disrespect the tenure status, rank, or, practices of another member of the College community.

Proper respect can be very hard to practice.  Some aspects of interpersonal relations are learned as a maturing process.  Other aspects are learned in the academic preparation and training for the job.  Because not everyone is on the same level, the more mature people have to deal with the less mature and less knowledgeable.  People in the helping professions have to be particularly careful about what they say in speech and writing.  Four important aspects of respect include: respect for one’s self, respect for others, respect for the forms of life and the environment that sustains them, and respect for principles, rules and traditions.    The key is respect for one’s self.  If you don’t believe in yourself, it is hard to get others to believe in you.

While this may sound like a faith based argument it is grounded in the psychology of how people feel and the sociology of groups.  Groups can become teams when the goals are clear and there is respect for people and ideas.  One must be very careful with how words are used because they are difficult to recall. One academic process is textual analysis.  People will read into the words of others what they think is the intention.  Even when the speaker had another intention, a lack of respect and mis-understanding can lead to confusion.  One could say something absolutely true, but not answer the question.

Respect is a way of honoring others and appreciating their role in our team.  It costs no money to do it right, but lack of respect can lead to economic difficulties.

Q: What is the role customer service in your college?

In the hospitality, travel and food industries customer service is their prime way to win and keep loyal customers. There is an ample supply of outlets and someone could easily go to the next place, rather than spend money in your place.  Their workers are trained to be nice even when on the inside they feel lousy and want to yell, “You stupid X#@%!”

My colleague who teaches students to be librarians has components to the reference classes concerning how to deal with patrons. Librarians have to look upon themselves as if they are playing a role.  The role is to be nice, try to help everyone, and be aware that no one knows everything.  The librarian has to answer with a smile even when it is the tenth person this hour who needs help with computer printers.  10% of the students at the College pass through the library doors every day.  The librarians meet more students in a day than any other department except during registration week.   When in the library, the librarians and their staff are providers and the students and faculty are the customers.

Internal departments are the providers for other departments.  For example human resources has to keep track of all people, make sure they are oriented to the College, inform them of the benefits, etc.  It was a long struggle for my predecessor to teach them good customer service.  For a long time they had this snobby attitude that seems to say, “Where else are you going to go for help?”  In learning about my predecessor, I came across many complaints concerning how HR did not treat faculty and staff with respect.  They addressed people disrespectfully.  They addressed full professors as “Mr. XYZ” instead of “Dr. XYZ.”  In the classroom we do not tolerate disrespect, but HR did not have a culture of common courtesy.  HR was quick to shift blame instead of trying to solve problems. In the retail trade, staff are taught to apologize and figure out solutions.  In our classrooms we teach students how to solve problems not make them. 

The head of HR did not foster team work and cooperation.  He accused part-time faculty of mistakes and short comings that were really problems with the HR computer systems.  He never acknowledged that he did not know everything.  He created more problems than he solved.  We lost some excellent teachers because of his mishandling of their paperwork.  Luckily for me the person left the College five years before I even started, but I still hear of his misdeeds. 

There is also a practical side to being nice and helpful.  I have hired former students because I respected their abilities and attitudes. Once before I learned this lesson of being nice because you never know when the other person will be on the other side of the desk, I said the wrong thing in the wrong place to someone.  I was a computer salesman.  I walked into an office and one of the people there was a parent of a student we had in school at my part-time teaching job.  I barely remembered the student, but I remembered how much grief this nasty, inconsiderate mother caused for me and the administration.  I was not even meeting with this mother, but I must have said something concerning how I knew her to the president of the company.  I did not get the sale.  I am sure that I spoke the truth, but people don’t always want the whole truth.

I did learn as a salesman to try and find where the customer is, what s/he wants, and try to find what is best.  Sometimes they still went against my advice and came back to me and asked (rhetorically), “Why didn’t I listen to you?”   When I make large, expensive purchases I want the sales staff to work with and solve my problems or I’ll take my business elsewhere.  Recently the college purchased a new class management system that helps to keep track students, faculty, grades, space and resources from one common interface.  The program saves us hours of trying to schedule people and places.  There are very few vendors of systems like this.  During the vendor presentations we all had to be very cordial even when going in we had favorites.  One vendor said that our users would not need any training because the already knew the current system and the new system is intuitive.  .  I was ready to yell “Are you that arrogant you think new users will be able to figure out all the features of the new system without training? “ I held my tongue and only talked about my opinion with the committee.  They agreed.

The second vendor said two weeks of full time training is offered for your key personnel and they will train the rest of the staff.  The second vendor offered materials, videos, and other forms of continuing support and training.  We went with the second vendor even though the purchase price was higher; the value was worth every dollar.

This returns to respect.  A person who does not respect him/herself does not know how to treat others with respect.  They have to be taught.  I insist that all my supervisors and department heads to include training in customer service for all new staff.  I never want to hear such statements as, “Ms. XYZ is not part of the College.  She only teaches part-time.”  Everyone is valuable, no matter how much or how little time is spent on campus.

Q: Thank you very much.

*Part seventeen of an imaginary interview with the president of the College.   Note this is just for your information and edification. Any connection to a real college president is strictly coincidental.  

New President Interview part 16

New President Interview -- Part 16

Intellectual Freedom*

Q: What is the role of higher education in society? I’m revering to the big picture not just the College.

A: The academy is slightly askew to the universe because it stands from the rest of the world. Because its job is to open minds it must be nonpartisan and independent is a way that business, non profit organizations, and government agencies can never be.  The product of the academy is knowledge. Faculty point the way for students to grow and search for wisdom. Knowledge is meant to enlighten and help students grow, not to indoctrinate them.

The “war policy” of the World War I era and the loyalty oaths of the McCarthy era 1950’s are dim memories. At times of political controversy such as the Vietnam War era it was tempting for groups to target the university to press their political position.   I was involved in the protests; my picture was even front page of a New York daily for my activities.  However, that protest was to encourage a change in priorities for education.  I did not approve of “strikes” against the university concerning the war.  The classroom was for opening minds, not protests and I still believe that.

I should tell you a story that happened when I was in 8th grade.  At the time I was a baseball fan.  My team was in the World Series.  I thought the teacher should let us listen to the game during the class time.  The principal allowed the radio to be piped over the public address system if the teacher wanted it.  I wanted to listen and went on strike; no one joined me and we had the regularly scheduled class.  Several years later when in college I proudly wore my team’s hat to my college classes.  The team lost the World Series then and I ceased being a sports fan.  I have never watched a professional sports team on TV or in person since then. 

The only times a college should be involved in public policy or political debates are when the issues concern education or the college directly.  Our College is not a research institution, but we live in the shadow the standards that those research universities profess.  The quest for medical or scientific knowledge in the research university trickles down to what we teach in our College.  Learning about how people, things and systems work is fundamental to becoming valued members of our society.

Public policy debates are not issues of intellectual freedom.  Professors may speak their minds are citizens. Intellectual freedom is a freedom to learn and teach what one thinks is best for the students.

Q: Thank you very much.

*Part sixteen of an imaginary interview with the president of the College.   Note this is just for your information and edification. Any connection to a real college president is strictly coincidental.