Monday, March 01, 2010

Rules or No Rules: Maybe Rawls Really Was Wrong

Recently at my school a proposal was made to alter the sabbatical policy in a minor way. A faculty member would qualify for the alternation by meeting fairly specific conditions. I liked the proposal and the conditions because it seemed to create some level of certainty. In short, you knew where you stood. Your standing might be good or bad but you probably would not know until the time for your sabbatical arrived.

I would say that half or maybe most of the faculty had the opposite reaction. They preferred less precise rules and more discretion for the decision makers. In a way the whole thing had a Rawlsian feel to it almost like creating the rules behind the veil of ignorance.

As I thought about it, you were most likely to oppose the rules -- even ones you thought were fair-- if you felt you could make a better deal without them. In the case of the sabbatical plan, it seemed clear that most people felt they could cut a better deal if there were no rules that applied to all.

So what would explain a person's believe that they could do better than a pre set rule. One possibility is they they learned this to be the case. In other words, they have been able in the past to cut a deal that was better that following the rules. Another possibility is not seeing themselves and equals with respect to other faculty. This is along the line of "Those rule are suitable for the average Joe but not for me." It's that old sense of entitlement rearing its head once again. When you combine that sense of entitlement with experiences that suggest you really are special, it creates the type of chaos and stress that is found among academics.

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