Nonsense

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Some things we do just don’t make sense.  The style shown here, for instance!

Why would anyone want to buy pants that are frayed at the bottoms and/or are too long, allowing them to drag on the ground on city sidewalks?  Although the hip-hoppy boys’ style that has pants drawn halfway down the buttocks and boxers showing is infinitely more repulsive, this common, dragging-pant-hems thing strikes me as even more stupid.

Another bit of nonsense is so-called “professional development” or “inservice” in education–including faculty retreats, one of which I am ignoring as I begin this blogpost.  In my experience of the beginnings of 9 years of college teaching, not to mention wispy memories of other beginnings, I have become convinced that such pep-talk material is the inevitable and only marginally effective result of administrative positions.

In other words:  seminars and “retreats” and pre-planning days and pep-talk lectures are largely the result of the fact that we need something for people in administrative positions to plan.  It’s not that the idea itself is bad, or that the material is all unworthy.  I learned a good deal at our Faculty Retreat.  I saw and heard things I wouldn’t have otherwise seen and heard.  That’s good and is a part of education–expanding horizons and learning frequently, if not continually.  No, it’s that the enterprise is overblown and requires too many spatial, logistic, and economic, and time resources.  Taking time for this kind of thing, just at the time when directly pertinent matters require more attention and energy, is frustrating, if not nonsensical.

Another one is creating new positions and/or hiring people into management positions when the people that do the core work — in my case, the staff and faculty workers — are being forced to take salary cuts.  I might as well proceed full-bore into immature whinings, getting even more specific, but meaning no disrespect to the people who hold or held the positions I’m about to name … the work of the Admissions office is very important, but the fact that there is no director of admissions at the moment doesn’t necessarily mean one hairy iota for the coming year.  I suppose we need a chief financial officer at whose desk the buck stops, but that person does not need to be VP-level, with a VP’s salary, reporting directly to the President.  The fact that we had a Director of Retention doesn’t mean that we still need one next year.  Creating new associate dean positions means senior faculty members are teaching less, and we are hiring more adjunct faculty, and the students aren’t getting the benefit of experience in the same way, and the new administrators have more e-mail and paperwork filling their desks instead of books and articles and lecture plans (and musical scores, which I need to get to right after finishing this post!).  There are other ways to accomplish the work without all the titles and salaries.  At my college, we simply must stop creating new administrivia that seem to call for administrative attention, or else, we’ll soon have to publish administrator-to-student ratios instead of faculty-to-student ones.

The worker bees — the secretaries, the admissions counselors, the faculty, the custodians and lawn care people — these are more important to the life of a place than the vice presidents and directors.  I can think of no positive or effectual impact that the college president’s role has had on my teaching at any of three collegiate institutions.  It’s not that a college should do without a president for any length of time (although doing without for a couple of years could save enough cash to make a real difference in programs and lives in small college communities ¹ ); it’s that the operative importance of the role of the president is far over-estimated and pedestal-ized.

In churches, the assumption of the need for official leadership and attendant salaries is also needlessly rampant, but instead of diving into that can o’ worms, I’ll mention just one minor item in this context of “things that do/don’t make sense.”  VBS (Vacation Bible School), in my early experience, was fun, and I learned the names of the judges and apostles and books of the Bible and such through VBS.  One year, I had success in inviting a few neighborhood kids to come with me.  We piled into the back end of a station wagon (horrors! no safety restraint systems!), and off we went.  To my knowledge, there was no impact on the lives of those kids, because of course I invited the ones who already went to another church, not Richie, the dirty-mouthed bully, or the Jewish kid from the other side of the neighborhood whose grandparents had the Temple Beth-El license plate frame, or Lynn, who later became a pot-head.  No, it was the already-believing, decent kids who got invited, and they went, and they had a reasonably good time, and people made cookies for us all, and we learned the names of the judges and sang some good songs (thanks to my dad, who refused to let them be all silly-kid-songs).  But lives really weren’t changed.

These days, I think VBS makes even less sense, because we’re generally more spread out.  In other words, our churches’ radial extent is likely 25 or more miles these days, whereas it was more like 10 or 15 in my day.  What this means is that more people, having moved farther away, have to travel more, which leads to more family stress to support the VBS program.  Now, in some cases, VBS may actually make some difference, and I know there are stories of people randomly coming to VBS, and whole families being brought to the Lord.  Back in the halcyon days of yore when there really were neighborhoods filled with mom-dad-kids families, and when you went to church around the corner or down the street, VBS was probably a great idea.  These days, I think there are other, more effective ways to let the (larger) “community” know we are there.

Do you really know anyone who rides by your church at random and sees the VBS sign and says to herself, “Oh–Vacation Bible School!  What an innovative program!  That sounds like something I will take initiative to take my children to, blindly and without relationship to anyone in that church”?  The sweet deal of free cookies and punch for your kids has been replaced by distrust of institutions (and homemade cookies).  By and large, VBS is outmoded and should be replaced with something that works better in our era.

Whether it’s a church program or a clothing style or a business title, some things we do just don’t make sense.

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¹ Let’s do the math–think of saving $125,000 a year in salary and benefits (est.), not to mention costs of luncheons and dinners to hear the college president speak, plus travel costs for glad-handing and presidential-oversight visits around the world, etc.  Let’s figure, conservatively, that not having a president would save a college $175,000 in a given year.  Think about 80 faculty salaries and another 95 staff salaries.  (Yup, we’ve lost about 10 faculty salaries and have gained several administrative salaries in the last two years.)  That’s $1,000 a year that could be distributed, on average, into individual paychecks.  What family’s finances wouldn’t be eased with $83/month more in gas money?  Or, what seven educational programs couldn’t improve things materially, attracting more quality students, etc., with an extra $25,000 in their budgets for the academic year?

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