[CAFR-L] Some more laughs from the new reappointment process

O'Donnell, Dan daniel.odonnell at uleth.ca
Sun Jan 15 16:23:17 MST 2012

I'd like to stress Tom that I don't believe these screw ups are the result of ill will. In fact I'm relatively convinced that the administration continue down this extremely dangerous path believing that they are doing the best they can with the hand they've been dealt. That's another reason why my theory is behavioural rather than conspiracy: conspiracy theories assume intention. I am basing my predictions on extrapolations from behaviour, even though I am relatively sure that the actors are not actually formulating their intentions the way they can be best explained. I.e. I'm talking about ultimate rather than proximate motivations.

What's really going on here is a cultural sickness. The U of L has never in my experience had a management or governance culture that valued "doing the right thing" as an end in itself or saw procedural predictability, transparency, and administrative accountability as major guiding principles.

This is why the revelations from the Wildrose party, or the terrible story of that poor student maimed by the falling light, or your case, or Tony's, and so on keep happening. Because there is no culture that says "being transparent, predictable, and collegial is our highest value, even if it sometimes means placing voluntary limits on our actions," individual administrators, with all the best intentions in the world, try to game the system, bend the rules, take advantage of people not paying attention, and the like, in order to carry out policy they truly believe is in the best interests of the University. And then when that has unexpected negative consequences, they bend more rules, try more games, and so on, in order, again with the best intentions in the world, to fix the new problems they've created. And meanwhile they think that people who object are malcontents and whiners rather than people who are interested in working with them but are pointing out serious legitimate issues. This is why the university's response to Wildrose was so revealing: they argued that it stopped when it became illegal, and seem to have no sense that the optics might be poor for any other reason.

In this particular case, we are seeing the result of a chain of such decisions. The problems with the bylaw revisions are there because the senior administration, with all the best intentions in the world, earlier thought it would be a good idea to solve the "problem" (really the "result") of the last reappointment process by bending the rules that were in existence at the time. Having reaped the short term gain from that, they are now faced with the long term consequences: a revision process that they have had to completely rewrite (with all the problems that causes) in an institution that (with reason) doesn't trust their ability to do so in a way that will withstand scrutiny. Since there is no tradition here of taking your lumps when the rules run against you, they will almost certainly solve this by grabbing some other short term advantage, and then the cycle repeats itself.

This will not change here until somebody with real structural authority decides that accountability and transparency are actually /foundational/ values: sine qua nons from which all authority ultimately derives and our only route to true institutional excellence. Values that need to be observed even if it means foregoing short term gain, sharing power, or losing on something you thought was important. And more importantly, values that need to be voluntarily imposed on yourself by yourself, even if the board doesn't seem to care. Things will change when the administration /voluntarily/ addresses this problem by proposing accountability measures to govern itself and address the mistrust they have created. And they won't otherwise, unless some scandal forces the board to act.

On the positive side, there is some evidence the culture is changing: Research Services and the Graduate School in particular seem to be really trying out a new approach: it is still early days yet and there are still some issues occasionally, but in both cases we are seeing an emphasis on transparency, openness, procedural predictability, and, I'm assuming, accountability that certainly I've never seen before at the U of L. That is how great institutions operate and perhaps if we are lucky, their successes might convince the ones using the older model that things really can improve if you adopt better management practices.

But until that happens, what you are seeing is exactly the point of the adage that power corrupts--not in the sense that it leads to intentionally corrupt thoughts or activities, but in the sense that if you have power and you don't feel that your number one duty is to ensure that you are always accountable and seen to be accountable, you will end up, with all the best of intentions, making decisions that, in hindsight, are embarrassing, foolish, or counter-productive. And that the reason you are making these mistakes is because you know you have the best of intentions and you feel that excuses you from some controls. In other words, the moment you feel that oversight and accountability can occasionally be overridden in the interests of achieving important ends, you are on the wrong path. We've been on it for many years.
From: cafr-l-bounces at uleth.ca [cafr-l-bounces at uleth.ca] on behalf of Robinson, Thomas [robinson at uleth.ca]
Sent: January-15-12 2:35 PM
To: cafr-l, MailList
Subject: Re: [CAFR-L] Some more laughs from the new reappointment process

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