Thursday, August 20, 2020

New Senior Management -- President Interview -- Part 38

New President Interview -- Part 38

New Senior Management and Team Building

August 20, 2020

Preliminary remarks

It has been four years since we last heard from our new president. He is now a veteran in the academic administration world, but for us he is still “new” because part of his philosophy is “learning never ends.”  He recently wrote an article on team building in academia and he is consulting for a university in another city concerning hiring a provost.

Q> Why does another university need to hire an outside consultant?

A> Hiring a senior administrator such as president, vice-president or provost is difficult
because there are so many stakeholders to satisfy including the senior staff that he works with every day, the faculty, the administrative staff, the students and the board of directors.  Each have their own agenda.  While the public thinks the university is in the business of educating students, not all the stakeholders buy into that idea.  A board of directors (or trustees) may think they look out for the prestige of the institution and/or community.  Faculty may want a leader who will help them balance teaching and research.  A dean or department head may want a good strategist who can balance needs and wants justly. Staff may just want someone who is a nice person, who recognizes their contribution to the organization and lets them to their jobs. The business and money people want someone who can be financially efficient and enable compliance with a budget. Students want to learn and get the diploma or credential that gets them a job.

Q> Isn’t this too simplistic for the pressures of the job?

A> Yes, I gave some examples of what people want from the new administrators.  I was chosen to help the search process because I have many years or experience helping people figure out the right questions.  Hiring in a business or non-profit is not the same as an academic hire.  The owner(s) may hire whomever they like without paying attention to any stakeholders. I was called to make sure the university does not have too many independent voices that make a good choice impossible. My job is to facilitate communication and help them listen to the voices outside their domain. Once I get them on the same path and recognize the same goal, their work is more efficient.

Q> Does part of your job involve reading resumes and evaluating credentials?

A> No.  I help them learn home to uncover a candidate’s story. I want them to find ways to say, “yes” and distinguish who has the skills to grow into the job. The skills that help improve scientific research differ from what is needs to analyze a candidate’s potential. Learning the strengths of the candidate pool should help the hiring committee differential between needs and wants.

Q> How does the university’s recent memory affect the hiring process?

A>  A committee may want someone who is  like the previous occupant because the previous occupant retired and left on good term.  Or very they may a person with a different skill set because they were disappointed with the performance.  I help them decide the best ways to figure out what is best. Sometimes old conflicts surface during a search.  At that time an outsider can help smooth the road. We don’t want a pessimist to worry about the old problems won’t be solved or an optimist who thinks the new leader will magically push aside the mishugas (craziness) and create an end to conflict.  Internal conflicts should be resolved, litigated or mediated before meeting any candidate.

Q>How does one balance the great interviewer, the person who looks great on paper, with the finding the right person for the position?

A. There are always people who have the gift of gab. They know the buttons to push to get people to think they are great candidates.  I just read a biography of a 19th century German rabbi who was a great orator, brilliant writer, yet couldn’t make friendly small talk (i.e. the opposite of the “gift of gab.”). Jobs applied to him because of his reputation and who he knew.  A consultant has to warn the committee when someone who is “too good to the true” yet hops from job to job every three years this candidate is not the right person when the university needs long term loyalty.  The University should not be so infatuated with the candidate, that the limitations are ignored. People are full packages and the committee needs to work hard to pick the right person, not the one they “love.”

Q> How does the search process fit into building a team?  What is a team approach for an organization?

A> Team building means building a culture that has a common goal or mission, but diverse intellectual backgrounds and abilities.  The president does not need a bunch of “yes-men” who always agree even when the path is not prudent. If the current team has some members who are analytical, then perhaps you need more creative and “think-out-of-the-box” thinkers.  If you have data driven people, perhaps you needs emotional or “seat-of-the pants” thinking.  If you have people who know one culture, then you need people who know other cultures.  The team needs to be aware that no one has a monopoly on the truth.  A path that is right today may be wrong tomorrow. The team needs a fair balance between listening and speaking up and continuing on the same path versus exploring the new, untested ideas. .

An organization needs good communications.  That means getting people the information and knowledge to do their jobs.  For example, there is an organization I’ll call ABC  Tov. Everyone from the part-time janitors to senior researchers has to have a professional development plan. ABC Tov gives everyone at least one day a month for professional development and gives everyone a budget.  Professional development may be internal or external classes, on-line classes, reading materials, etc. Everyone week each department has a lunch and share.  The time is used to share experiences, build friendships, teach each other, and learn about the best practices that other use or have discovered.  Food helps lubricate the conversation.

Communication happens on many levels. The “sage on the stage” was once the standard for education.  The professor professed and the students took notes.  In some organizations the presidents and upper management were the “sages.”  This is not the way to create a dynamic classroom or organization.  People in the university do not work in silos.  The new hire does not know everything.  For example, in the company ABC Tov, a new computer professional was hired.  He had skills that the president wanted to learn.  The president became the learner and a great relationship started. When it was time to promote, the president know whom to select.  In an organization that have good communications, people know where to turn to get answers on how to do their jobs.  When a client, a student or a customer calls, the first contact knows where to look for the answers.

Q> What makes a consultant strong? 

A> Consultants are unbiased outside voices.  They do not have to live with their advice, but you do.  You want the university to have a successful search so that your reputation is enhanced, but that is not the only goal.  If the consultant gives good strong, experience, evidence based advice then the search committee ignores it, the consultant can go home at the end and know the job is done and not be bothered.

Q> What is good communications?

A> A great communicator knows when to listen and when to talk. Teams building happens when you train yourselves to know what the other members are doing. That is know what you know and learn how to find the answers for what you do not yet know.  Comedy is funny because of the use or misuse of language.  Jokes are funny cause of a double meaning of words or phrases.  A team needs to be able to “read” other members and act accordingly.  Examples of teamwork are police or crime fighting procedurals where the characters train, learn the facts, and solve the crime. In an organization, communications are on multiple platforms.  There are rules and laws from the government, there are business procedure documents, and in-person training on a macro level.  That is, a level above the day-to-day actions.  On a daily basis one needs to know what has changed since yesterday.  Email, phone calls, message posts, meetings are all examples of communication tools. One must be careful to balance too much information with the need to know essentials for getting one’s job done.

Q> Thank you, I see that we are out of time for today.  Any final thoughts?

A> Teamwork requires members to know what to expect, when to listen, when to talk and how to ask the right questions.  They need the freedom to think, create, and build. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Saving Jewish Books

Librarian's Lobby June 1999, Daniel D. Stuhlman Saving Jewish Books

Librarian's Lobby
June 1999
Saving Jewish Books

The respect for books and their ability to transmit knowledge is a very important part of our tradition. At some point a book gets worn through use or it turns yellow and becomes fragile. When the books contains shamot, then we bury them.

During the past few weeks of the shamot, collection project I found items that have no business being buried. Some of the items are amusing; for example : a plastic coin, empty bags and a child's drawing. I found books that still smelled fresh. I found books that I immediately saved and put into the Library collections.

Benjamin of Tudela (Rabbi Benjamin ben Yonah), 1163-1173, one of the most famous Jewish travelers, describes the Jews of Cairo in approximately the year 1166, as being wealthy. Many also had the gift of learning and great minds. Jews were active in many commercial enterprises and were frequent purchasers of books. When the books and documents were no longer useful they were placed into a store room (or Geniza). These documents and books were preserved because of the dry climate. Because the shamas often thought it would bring bad luck, they preserved shamot.

The first non-residents who managed to visit the Cairo geniza were Simon van Geldern in 1752 Abraham Firkowitch, and Jacob Safire. Firkowitch, a Russian, collected and sold ancient manuscripts from his visit to Egypt in the 1840's. Some of the documents were sold to the Russian Imperial Library [1]. In 1896, with money secured from Charles Taylor, the Master of St. John's College, Solomon Schechter. sailed from Egypt with the task of securing the documents for the library in Cambridge.

Some of the more famous documents discovered in the Cairo geniza were, the Hebrew text of Ben Sira, the Damascus covenant, teshuvot of Hai Gaon, and leaves from the Jerusalem Talmud that cleared up some difficulties in the previous standard-printed texts.

What does the Cairo Geniza have to do with Shamot today? We are too quick to produce documents and too quick to discard documents. The Hebrew Theological College Library (Skokie, IL)has even put in display cases materials that were found in discard piles.

The HTC Library collects materials for their ability to transmit knowledge from one person to another. Sometimes the value of an object is in the content or text and sometimes it the object itself as an artifact. For example a birkhon (bencher) is more valuable with a name imprinted than without. A book is more valuable with an autograph of the author than one bought new. A single Maxwell House Haggadah is less valuable than a collection that spans the 64 years they have been produced. [2]

The HTC Library has a special collection of Birkhonim (books with blessings for after meals). The collection serves as a record of thesimhas that are imprinted on the covers and gives people an idea of the variety of books people have given out. The collection has been used to find a zemer that is not in most of our Ashkanzi zemirot books. One book was used to show the continuity of the community. We displayed a picture of an early supporter alongside of birkhonim from his descendants. I have found someone who used the same birkhon for her bat mitzvah and wedding. (She did change the color and the cover inscription.) Some include special messages for the guests. Instead of collecting rebbe cards, what if we had a collection of benchers from the weddings of famous rabbis?

A modest proposal

We should educate the public to be careful and not create shamot needlessly. Photocopying of texts that will eventually need burial should be done judicially. Books and manuscripts (i.e. Sefrei Torahs, tephillen, etc.) should not be buried if someone else could use them or collect them. Even a pasul sefer Torah would be welcome in our Library collections. Let's pass books that are no longer needed to those who could still learn from them.

If you need an expert to determine if the object, document, or book has value to others, do not hesitate to call me or another librarian.

After preparing the above column I received word that three fires were set in synagogues in Sacremento, CA. One synagogue lost its library of 5000 books and 300 video tapes. Federal and local investigators were quickly on the scene, but have not come up with any suspects.


1. This is the same library that holds the Leningrad Bible Manuscript. Firkowitch is the dealer who sold the manuscript to the library, which is now called, The Russian National Library. See the Librarian's Lobby of March 1998.

2. Maxwell House Haggadot have changed over the years. In the 1920's they were a lot plainer than the ones from the 1990's. The ones from 1998 and 1999 have color covers and a crisper layout than the ones from the 1980's.

 ©2005 by Daniel D. Stuhlman. All rights reserved.
Last revised August 18, 2020

Monday, August 17, 2020

The Power of Law

The Power of Law


Every week I prepare comments on the Torah reading with connections the business or management issues.  While my Jewish friends understand the comments through the lens of Torah, non-Jewish colleagues see through the lens of corporate or organizational life.  Human nature has not really changed over the thousands of years of history.  We still have people who seek personal gain at the expense of others, and we have people who strive to make this a better world than when we entered.  The Torah is not book of perfection.  Biblical characters and groups have flaws.  The Torah contains the laws and ideas so that we can strive toward excellence that is walk humbly with God.  The concept appears three times in book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) in 10:12; 11:22 and 26:17. The Latin term Imitation Dei is more succinct than any Hebrew or English term. 

The power of law is that we are always surrendering to a higher power. Law creates order and enables justice. We give up certain freedoms so that we create a society and end up with more freedom and opportunities.  As the mayor of Chicago reminds us, we have to feel safe
The opposite of violence is justice. Justice is not something we can only look to find in law enforcement or in the courts. Justice makes a demand of all of us.[1]
Laws made by human legislators can be created, changed, interpreted or struck down.  Human nature is harder to change.  Some people will never learn from the mistakes of others.  It is our job to speak out against injustice and find ways to live in peace and prosperity with justice and wisdom[2] for all. 

Parashat Re’eh  Shabbat shalom   
August 14, 2020

I have to depart from direct comments on the Torah reading. This week had some very sharp contrasts.  On Monday we awoke to hear of destruction, burglary and looting in downtown Chicago and other neighborhoods. The whole idea of laws is to create a just society.  There is no excuse for the taking someone else’s property or the destruction homes and businesses.  On Tuesday about 4 PM a rare tornado ripped through the neighborhood. I had already told my daughter that we don’t get tornados in the City of Chicago.  That is because the last one was in 1983 and I didn’t remember it. Friday morning, I heard that one of members had his car tires stolen off their two cars while parked outside his home.  

The block I live in and the one north of us was without power for 36 hours.  We were among the 600,000 customers who lost electric power.  Thankfully, the neighbors helped each other. My shul (synagogue) was also without power and we had to davan  (pray) in the parking lot. One shul a few blocks away had roof damage and no minyan.  It was strangely quiet in the house without any motors or fans running.  I felt like a Karaite on Shabbat who could only eat cold food. The first estimates for repair time were uncertain and then ComEd couldn’t promise electricity until Saturday.  The neighbors were concerned as to how to have food for Shabbat without refrigeration and ways to make hot food.  It all worked out, except the air conditioning in shul didn’t work.  It hard to davan without air conditioning or any openable windows, but thankfully no one melted. 

Thursday afternoon (August 14), we heard of the deal between the United Arab Republic and Israel.  I am so elated to hear of positive deals as a result of negotiations, not force or war. In the short time since this agreement, progress has been made.  As of August 16, phone calls can be directly made between the countries and Israeli websites are no longer blocked.  Several companies have already signed agreements and plans for direct airline services are being planned.

Parashat Re’eh is always read near Rosh Hodesh Elul.  This year Elul starts next Friday. Elul is the month we start to prepare for the high holiday season. We turn our thoughts to the process of teshuva.  We can think of teshuva with the simple meaning of repentance or the more complex concept of learning from the past and thinking of how we can improve both our actions and thoughts.  The Teshuva season mandates us, Jew and non-Jew to have serious introspection, honest evaluation and fundamental change, both personally and communally. Rosh Hashana is the birthday of the world and it is time we all start to practice as world citizens every day.

Devarim chapter 16 reminds us of the Exodus and holiday of Pesah.  This happened in the month of spring, Aviv. Remembering the mistakes of the past is only meaningful if it causes one to work on a better future. The future is one reason for Moshe's long speech to the people. Review of laws in Devarim is a type instruction book for the foundations of a functioning and prosperous state dedicated to the service of God.  

The business lesson is that negotiating and deal making that creates a win-win situation is always better than win-lose deals. We are warned in Devarim 13 not to pursue other gods.  In the business world we have to make sure that money is not a “god.” Money is a tool and a symbol of power.  People need money as a symbol of the value they have in the organization. Money and imagined injustice can make people bitter, but bitterness is not an excuse for crime.
One of the goals of the law is to acknowledge a higher power in our success.  No matter how hard we work, there are factors beyond our control.  During this time of pandemic and other unseen forces we still must work hard, share with our communities, use our creativity and intelligence to overcome what we can’t control to make our organization and our communities better places.


I try every week to post my thoughts on the Torah reading on Friday afternoons to my Facebook friends.  For a select group I include flowers sent via e-mail.  If you would like to receive the davar Torah and flowers, send me your e-mail address with a note to add you to the list.


[1]  Lightfoot, Lori. ‘Stand for Peace': Retrieved from :  Published June 2, 2020 on NBC5 Chicago.   

[1] I purposely did not write “liberty.” The liberty to swing your arms stops at my face.

Last revised August 17, 2020