Monday, July 12, 2010

Strategy and Volunteers: Summer Rerun

A few days ago, I wrote a blog about volunteers. It was inspired by an incident at my school that involved a person in charge of a cushy assignment “volunteering” to do the assignment himself. Here are some other examples. At my school, because we do not hire people to teach what the students need, 5 people are now teaching two large first year sections. I think when we all agreed to do it, it could be legitimately be regarded as volunteering because it looked like it would be difficult. Now a few of us have decided it is a breeze. One prep and 6 or 8 hours of your teaching obligation is done for the year – hardly anything that should create in the School a need to “compensate” us in one way or another. But a person employing the volunteer strategy will continue "I am doing you a favor" charade. I do not know if anyone is in this case.

Here is another one. In my second year of law teaching I was on an 8 person appointments committee. At our weekly meeting it was announced that the budget allowed for 6 people to go to D.C. Now we all know that profs moan and groan about going to the meat market but they really love it – be a big shot for a few days, drink, clown around. So, at the meeting the Chair asked, “Who wants to go.” Not a single hand went up. At the next meeting the Chair announced that every person on the committee had contacted him privately to “volunteer” to go. Wanting to go created no implicit debt but a “volunteer” deserves something in return.

Where is this going? Actually I know I may be manufacturing something here that does not exist at all. But, can the volunteer schitk be part of an overall pattern of professional strategic behavior? If it is, is it a law professor thing, an upper class thing or just something everyone does.

The overall strategy has three components. First is the voluteer. Second, you are always working hard and overburdened. Even if you just finished an hour of spider solitaire, webboggle, or surfing the net, when you come of your office you are in the midst of something pressing. So many things to do! Third, there is the “show no passion” strategy. Best to appear indifferent. Basic bargaining -- no one has any leverage with you when you do not care. Be sure to use words like “Aren’t you concerned about X” as opposed to “I really do not like X.”

Am I describing my school? Actually, I can only think of a few people that consistently fit the model and you would be hard pressed to convince me that my School is different from any other. Have I used these strategies? I am sure I have from time to time.

But think about the hell of keeping all of these going all the time. Such is the strategic life and my hunch is that it is a behavior found mainly among the privileged.

1 comment:

eric said...

I'm certain that the "volunteer" gambit is not limited to law professors, nor to academics more broadly. It may very well be endemic to the privileged professional class. And I suspect that, in some variants, it goes beyond that too. If I had the energy, I imagine I could concoct a theoretically-grounded sociological account -- a little bit of Goffmanesque "facework", a little bit of Homansian social exchange, etc. I'm filing this away for my "post-tenure projects" file, when I plan to do a Bourdieuian ethnography of Homo Academicus Legalis.