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Good will, trust, relationships, and rules

As I noted in some earlier musings, I am concerned about the increasing corporatization of my College. We’re paying more attention to rules and policies, and less attention to people. That troubles me. A lot. Why? This musing is my attempt to think through those issues.

Through most of my career at Grinnell, it’s felt to me like much of the success of the College stems from the trust and good will that the members of the Grinnell community bring to the table and the strong relationships that trust and good will bring. These characteristics show themselves in many ways. Our staff often do things that are not officially in their contracts because they know it helps our students. Staff whose job is officially 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. will do things at night or come in on weekends when necessary [1]. Faculty take on tasks that are not part of their official job descriptions, from serving on search committees outside their department to writing extra letters of recommendation to helping the many departments on campus who also help us. Faculty work during the summer even though we are nine-months contracts. Some of us even do tasks far outside of the work day [2]. Students do a vast array of things that help the campus, from running time-consuming clubs or activities, to serving on committees, to tutoring their colleagues informally, even though they receive no compensation for those activities.

None of that happens because of contracts, policy, or rules. It happens because we have a shared sense of mission, because we have good will to each other, and because we trust each other.

You might not think that policy and rules would affect any of this, but they do. Why? One reason is that they undermine trust. For example, the College has decided that new faculty cannot get email accounts until the first day of their contract [3]. I realize that there a variety of issues involved, but boy, does that feel unwelcoming. If you treat faculty only as contract employees, why should they treat the institution as anything other than a traditional corporation? We’ve brought consultants to campus to talk about academic issues, and haven’t had them meet with faculty. If you act like faculty opinions are not important, why should we contribute to the things outside of our core activities? I know of staff members who received a salary and were then moved to hourly with the recent shift in the law. Why move people to hourly, rather than bump their salaries? I know that it saves some money. But it also tells these people that they are not worth much to the College and may even show a lack of knowledge of their value. If I were in that situation, I would be much less inclined to do any extra work for the College: If you don’t think I do much, why should I do more than I’m supposed to?

I know that broader laws mean that we have to be more conservative in all of these issues. But I wish that we’d pay more attention to the people who are core to the success of Grinnell. Do I have solutions? I don’t know enough about all of the issues involved in most cases to develop an immediate solution, but I might be able to come up with some suggestions, if I were asked [4,5].

For now, I’ll do my best to remember that there’s still an awful lot of good will and trust and the College, and work with that. I will continue to complain when I find the College doing things that undermine our success as an institution. I may start responding to policies with policies (e.g., I’m sorry. The College has indicated that my contract is for approximately fifty hours per week. I’ve gone over that limit four of the past five weeks. I am unable to complete that task for you.) [6].

Unfortunately, I’m fighting a battle that I will likely lose. But I’ll continue to rely on the positive relationships that make Grinnell strong for as long as I can.

[1] In an odd coincidence, one of our ASA’s forwarded me an email message at 8:45 in the evening, just as I was writing that sentence.

[2] i have accompanied groups of science students to meetings, even when I had no students of my own presenting, and I have accompanied at least one student when they were summoned to a midnight meeting with the Dean. I expect that most of my colleagues would do the same, if push came to shove. Most do not answer emails as late as I do, but I think that’s better for everyone involved.

[3] Incoming students, in contrast, get an email account the day that they put in a deposit, even though we expect that about 10% of them won’t enroll.

[4] I get asked for my opinion on a surprising number of things. Unfortunately, there seems to be very little overlap between those who ask for my opinion and those who prefer to approach the world through rules and policies, rather than through relationships. But maybe they will eventually decide to ask.

[5] Since I know that the people creating these policies would not value any solutions I came up unless they came from consultants, I would, of course, charge appropriate consulting fees.

[6] Those who know me will understand that the last response is highly unlikely.

Version 1.0.1 of 2017-07-20.