Sunday, April 13, 2008

Being Careful

Close to the vest: I am not sure of the origins of this phrase but for me it means the tendency of people to disclose as little as possible and to commit to an identifiable position as infrequently as possible. These are two different types of behavior that are common to law professors and elitists generally.

Let's take the information matter. Having information others do not have is a source of power but it only works if the "others" know you have the information. The strategy here is to let people know you know but then withhold. Here is an example. At my school meetings of the appointments committee are open. Everyone can attend even someone walking by the School on the way to the grocery store. So one professor says to another who is a member of the appointments committee:

"Are we finished hiring this year?"

The reply, "Actually we are talking about bringing in one more candidate."

"Really, who is it?"

The reply, "I don't think it would be appropriate to disclose that."

Thought of person asking "You really are a complete a**hole."

Information hoarding gives rise to a great deal of gossip. In fact, the same people -- very often administrators -- who are annoyed by the gossip, create the vacuum it fills. So you get announcements about "retirements coming up" or "financial problems" but no details although there would be no downside of the disclosure of the details.

The other characteristic of the elites is not to commit to virtually anything that is not ultimately self-serving at some level. Recently at my school a staff person was fired. Been here for long enough for the firing to have retirement implications. Could be he/she deserved it meaning that after decades of work something happened that meant he/she was now out of bounds. I do not know but I was curious because staff firings can be based on some over-affirmed professor getting into a scuffle with a staff person. I asked some people who knew the soon to be former employee what was up. The answer was "I have to assume there were good reasons." Let's consider that response. First the idea of "having to assume" anything seems a way to avoid the issue. Precisely what would that assumption be based on? But what is really going on? This is the sort of mentality that leads to driving by an accident or ignoring an injured animal on the side of the road.

The elites are very careful which means hoard information like your grandmother stocked can goods and never questioning authority.


Anonymous said...

I have fought several battles during my law school career over the firing of law school staff people. I helped to win two of those battles, but I lost two of them. (I probably didn't fight hard enough.) Even at my advanced age, I remain astonished at the willingness of allegedly thoughtful and caring academics to act arbitrarily toward subordinates, who are generally economically more vulnerable than their superiors in the workplace.

Jeff Harrison, I like your gut instincts. Keep posting; keep up the good work.

A Senior Law Professor Somewhere in the U.S.

Jeff Harrison said...

Thanks. "Allegedly" is the key word here. I am puzzled by the lack of empathy.