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And another thing

April 21, 2009

The Red Queen chastises Alice

Let’s talk about paternalism.

Specifically, what is the role of administration vis-a-vis faculty?

Certainly mentoring has always been a part of the collegium, and it often works well (except perhaps, as happened some years back to a friend of mine, when a “mentor” confuses their “mentee” with an unpaid personal assistant and gets them to pick up dry cleaning). But these sorts of relationships, with or without dry-cleaning, are between individuals. I am thinking more of a general attitude that one sometimes finds, an assumption of parental moral authority where none should exist.

University administrators are there, ideally, to oversee the smooth collegial governance of departments, faculties, campuses, or universities, and they are indeed frequently senior to those they are administering. But does this mean that they have the right to say, as one senior administrator said to me some time ago when I questioned him about an, um, inconsistency: “I’m very disappointed in you.” Yo, dude! You’re not my dad. Your hurt feelings are irrelevant. It’s a political question, so answer it.

Obviously, in a place this small, people develop personal relationships. We grow to know one-another, for good or for ill. But we are also, each and every one of us, standing in a particular postion on the great chessboard of life, and we forget that at our peril. Knights, castles, bishops and pawns are still who they are, no matter how the King or Queen smiles and nods.

Or frowns, for that matter.


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