Tuesday, September 22, 2020

New President Interview  part 42

What Do You Really Want?

September 22, 2020

Question> How should we remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg (of blessed memory)?

Answer>The most powerful message is “Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof [1]  Justice, Justice shall you pursue.”  Justice and equality are part of the message that RGB stressed her entire life.  From the time she was a law student to her end of days as Supreme Court Justice. The root of tzedek (צדק) is the same tzdakah.  While tzdakah is commonly translated as “charity,” what it really means is establishing justice.  When one donates money to a food bank is it not the feed the poor, but to help create a just society so that people are able to afford their own food. One does not donate food to gain favor with God or other people.  Giving tzedakah is not an act of kindness meant to gain grace, but as a way to balance the scales of justice.

RGB passed away on the first night of Rosh Hashanah (the New Year). It is said that one who dies on that day has the special merit of a tzedeket/ tzadik a righteous person.[1] Correcting injustice, balancing the scales, evaluating the distribution of power and creating equity is tzedakah, the work of righteousness. Being a tzedeket, the feminine of Tzadik, does not mean she was a nice person.  She was a thoughtful, intellectual person who worked tirelessly to create a more just world. A world that was better for people she knew or didn’t know; those alive today and those not yet born.  A tzedeket does not do this for fame, but because it is the way we must all act.

 Q> What does this say for the needs of the college?

 A> At the end day, the faculty, students, and administration need the same goals.  The faculty want to share knowledge, teach critical thinking, the skills for learning on the next step and how to be life-long learners.  The students want to learn to get a credential for a job or the next step in the academic process. The administration wants to make sure resources are in the right place at the right time and the institution is on solid financial grounds.  However, everyone has to agree the college is in the business of education.  Education that benefits the students and the community.

 Q> Many colleges have unions and negotiate union contracts.  How does this common mission fit into union negotiations?

 A> In general the sides refuse to think of the common goals.  In the early days of unions owners thought they held all the money and they had all the power.  All the owners wanted was to make money. Unions were formed for a united voice for better wages and working conditions. When workers unionized there was labor power to match the owners’ financial power. Sometimes unions needed to lobby for laws to protect their rights.  Theoretically, they needed each other to succeed. I can’t give a history of labor unions, but you can read such history books as: A History of America in Ten Strikes by Erik Loomis. New York : The New Press, 2018; Law and the Shaping of the American Labor Movement / by William Forbath. Cambridge, Mass : Harvard University Press, 1991. If you want fiction, then read The Jungle / by Upton Sinclair, New York : Penguin Books,1985 (and many other editions).

 Education is not the same as a business process that produces a product one can hold or see.  Our product is an educated soul and a better community.

 Please do not think I’m anti-union.  I am anti-greed, anti-narcissism, and anti-stupidity. I am pro-win-win results.

 Q> I heard that some colleges take a long time to negotiate union contracts.  What advice can you give them?  Were you ever called in as an outside mediator?

 A>In business classes one is taught about financial processes. One has to account for dollars in and dollars out. Business managers make sales and product goals. In the eyes of the accountants, making a profit is a goal.  In the eyes of the shareholders, increasing the share value is succeeding. Applying financial goals to educational institutions does not work.  While the need to forecast enrollment numbers is important for making sure there are classes and sections, enough physical space and other resources, having more students this semester over last does not mean more success or increased revenue. Increasing graduation rates is one measure indicating success that can be misinterpreted because it does not take into account students who take a course or two with no intention of matriculation.  

 When the business staff sees numbers, it has a narrow vision of the institution.  As my friend, a professor at a large public university says, “It is all about the money.” When the business people cut budgets, they see money, not the effect on the students, faculty, or staff. They don’t always see the big picture such as not having the right equipment will lead to fewer students.  A common tactic by administration is to tell everyone, “We don’t have the money.”  A common answer is “But you have money for highly paid administrators and new buildings.”  How can you afford that and not better salaries? 

 I was invited to help mediate a contract at a large public institution. A first step is to try to get them to an equal place.  That is a place where the negotiations are between groups with equivalent powers.  I asked, “What do you really want?” Administrators almost always say, teach the students and balance the budget. I ask, “What is the long term plan? How will it take to be a successful institution? What do you really want?”  Mostly they give answers that come out of a book of platitudes such as:  “We want students to come to our institution and learn. We want to create life-long learners.  We want high retention rates.”

 Then I ask, “How does one become a teacher in this college?” I remind them a masters degree in the field they want to teach and probably a doctorate or second masters is required.  I ask what they think is the minimum wage for high school graduates, no college.  Amazon is hiring people with no post-secondary education at $15 /hour. The minimum wage by law is $10/hour.  That translates for a full-time job of about $20,000-30,000 per year.  At $30,000 after taxes that leaves about $1000 per month for housing. What kind of apartment can one get for $1000 per month?  I remind them that part-time faculty teach over 50% of the courses in the institution and when they keep track of time, they earn about $7.50-8.00 per hour.  Again, I ask, “What do you really want?”

By this time some of these highly paid lawyers or administrators are either demanding I shut up because I don’t understand their college and finances, or they do not believe me. I tell them that once I was a part-time faculty member for a large university system.  I didn’t get a paycheck until the end of the semester. I didn’t know if I would return the next semester.  I earned about $7.50 per hour because I was not paid for prep time.  I was not paid for any follow-up activity after the semester was over.  If this is new stuff, they didn’t believe me. If they know this was how colleges operate, they didn’t understand how far they are from understanding the mission of colleges and education in general.

 If I still had their attention, I would quietly ask which they prefer, graduates with a valuable education from reputable school or lots of graduates with worthless pieces of paper?  Of course, none of they would tell me what they really want.  Do they want to go home at the end of the day and tell their spouse or significant other, they saved the college millions of dollars or we worked with everyone and agreed to a plan that will benefit all parties and make our community a better place?  Most of the time they will lie and never say, what they really want.

Mediation required both sides to understand the needs and wants of the other.  I try to get them to reveal all aspects of the financial picture.  I try to get the faculty to tell the administrators the process of preparing and teaching.  I try to get them on the same side.  They represent different parts of the community. If they learn that teaching is an art, life-long education is a goal, and an educated community is better than a non-educated community, I succeed.  Many times, people are just set in their ways, think they are always right, and unwilling to get to “yes.”

 Q> How does this tie into the theme of justice that RBG represented?

A> The goal of the individual is act with justice.  To treat everyone with the respect and honor they deserve as human beings.  Understanding our history, culture, arts, and science makes us a better society. If everyone acts with justice, we have a just society.

Answer the question, “What do I really want?” When one can answer the question with maturity, knowledge and wisdom, the educational system can claim a victory.

Q>As always you have given me much to think about. We are out of time. Thank you.


Part forty-two of imaginary interviews with the president of the College. After more than 40 interviews the president is no longer “new,” but since we are all works in progress, I am continuing the series as if s/he were a “new president.” Please feel free to suggest new ideas for interviews and presidential comments. This article is for your information, amusement, and edification. Everything is true, but some details have not yet happened. Any connection to a real college or president is strictly coincidental.

[1] Librarian Gary Price curated a collection of videos of interviews and lectures  with RBG.  Most are available for free from C-SPAN. https://www.infodocket.com/2020/09/18/justice-ruth-bader-ginsburg-1933-2020-a-selection-of-interviews-and-lectures/

Sunday, September 20, 2020

New President Interview -- Part 41 The Big Picture in the College

 (Originally written April 14, 2019)

New President Interview -- Part 41

The Big Picture in the College

April 14, 2019

Preliminary remarks

It has been more than 8 months since we heard from the College President. The last installment concerned tacit knowledge, the non-verbal and non-recorded quiet knowledge.  This interview concerns another aspect of college administration.  What is the big picture in the operation of the college?

  Q> What is the role of tacit knowledge in the running of the College?  Are institutional stories recorded?

The accountants can’t measure tacit knowledge.  Tacit knowledge is not stored in the college files or library. Tacit knowledge is not recordable in rules, plans, or documents. Tacit knowledge includes the ability to read faces, understand emotions, and decipher how objects and processes work so that the tasks can be done. The acquisition of tacit knowledge comes with experience and that is reason veteran, experienced workers are more valuable than neophytes and recent graduates. 

Let me tell you a story that happens in highly functional organizations.  Person AB has been with the organization for many years.  AB has created many systems within his department and the organization to enable people to work more efficiently and in concert.  Today AB announces he is leaving for a new job.  Everyone is happy for him including his managers.  The manager wants to hire a replacement as soon as possible so that AB can train him.  AB agrees to stay and help hire and train a replacement.  The hiring process goes well.  The organization has a good-bye party and the company even gives him certificate of appreciation. AB leaves the company in good hands and goes on to his next organization with good connections and bridges to the old place. 

 Hold on ---   This is not how it goes.  My colleague in another college told me how his college “works.”  Person XYZ held an important administrative role and announced two months in advance a plan to retire at the end of the semester.  The college gave him a good-bye party.  The accountants say (to themselves) that this is an opportunity to save money.  We will not hire a new person until XYZ leaves. We will not even advertise the position is open.  The president of the college does nothing to start the hiring process or even figuring out the role of a potential new person.  No one even discusses, the job requirements or the needs and wants of the college.  In the end, XYZ says “good riddance” and never shares the tacit knowledge.  The college cleans out his office of all papers and the computer files are wiped clean.  Nothing is saved.  The college loses XYZ’s knowledge and the students suffer.

 Q> Wow!  Are you exaggerating?

 Answer> Yes, a little.  Experience is a powerful teacher.  Our pay scale is designed so we can hire experienced faculty and staff and pay them more than new graduates.  Experience is valuable in the way we teach, run the organization, and influence the community. Learning to ask the right questions is as important as learning from a book or class.  If we know the right questions, seeking the answers are easier.  Training, expertise, and academic preparation are only part of what we bring to the job.  While colleges claim to teach research skills and encourage life-long learning, the organizational culture at many colleges does not practice what they teach.

 Q> Let’s return to the first question.  What tacit knowledge needs to be saved?  How does one save it?

 Answer> Our college has someone assigned the task of archivist and chief knowledge officer.  The person helps develop policies concerning what to save and how best to save it.  In the archivist role, this person supervises the saving, storage and retrieval college records and documents. College records means documenting events and processes.  The storing and retrieving of student records is part of another department’s role.  For example, if a department is undergoing a reaccreditation process we have procedures and policies to save the documents from the preparation of the self-study.  The people in charge must also write reports describing the process including what they learned that could make the next round go easier.  The lessons learned in the process are saved for the next person who may be tasked with this job.  While this report is not tacit knowledge, the narratives help others understand the tacit knowledge that was part of the process.

 Q> How does one save tacit knowledge?

Answer> Using my definition it is not possible to teach tacit knowledge with documents. Tacit knowledge cannot be recorded with words or symbols. Tacit knowledge is used when you “go with your gut” or answer, “how do you feel about the situation?”  One needs a personal connection such as a mentor or colleague.  They will point out what is going on in the organization in a way that documents do not preserve.  The mentor may be able to show the new person the people and processes that are needed to get a task done.  The mentor may be able to pass on some of the people knowledge gained over the years.  Empathy, which involves the reading of the emotional needs of others and social skills, which enable us to act artfully and professionally are skills that can be taught with words but one needs experience to use these skills effectively.   


Q> How does knowledge get transferred?  Is the transfer of knowledge one of the college’s goals?

 Answer> One theory of education is the knowledge provider has a broad overview of what the learner needs to know. Knowledge is the result of understanding and interpreting data and information.  Explicit knowledge is the written and recorded knowledge that is presented to the learner.  The provider needs ways to give the learner multiple sensual experiences to help internalize the information.  Through practice and mentoring the knowledge provider will give a path to internalize knowledge. The learner will develop a “feeling” about the knowledge that will influence behavior.  We call this influence or change in behavior education.  The mastery of knowledge is both a science dependent on rules that are always present and an art, which is situationally dependent.  The “art” is also called “a gut feeling.”  The learner who becomes an excellent student or worker is one who balances the rules with the feeling to do what is right.  Sometimes doing the “right thing” is counter to following the rules


Q> Are you confusing classroom learning for credit with learning how the organization works?

 Answer> Classroom learning is needed to give a conceptual approach to a discipline.  Without understanding the historical or scientific process, one cannot have “gut feelings” that are correct when problem solving.  The character of Jethro Gibbs on NCIS knows his agents are trained well.  He frequently says, “go with your gut” rather than telling his subordinates exactly what to do.  Creativity and solving tough problems always requires both following the rules and thinking out of the box.

 In her doctoral dissertation in 2013 Linda Guzzo[1] “Case Study: The Transfer of Tacit Knowledge from Community College Full-Time to Adjunct Faculty” says that knowledge is a valuable commodity.   She questions whether the inadequate transfer of tacit knowledge from the full-time faculty to the adjunct faculty affects student outcomes, student success and institutional effectiveness.   The answer, without even reading her conclusion, based on my experience and talking with fellow college presidents is, “yes, performance is affected.”  If there is not transfer of tacit knowledge, it is likely the whole communications process is lacking.

 If I contact an organization and no one, can tell me who is in charge to solve a particular problem that is a symptom of poor knowledge transfer.  If one of my faculty or staff members does not know how to direct a student to finding the correct person to solve the problem, that is a symptom of poor knowledge management.

 Q> We are out of time for this interview.  Thank you very much.

[1] Guzzo, Linda R. “Case Study: The Transfer of Tacit Knowledge from Community College Full-Time to Adjunct Faculty.” ProQuest LLC, ProQuest LLC, 1 Jan. 2013. Retrieved from  EBSCOhost,