Sunday, December 12, 2010
A year or two ago I blogged quite a bit about collegiality and invoking collegiality as a way of silencing others. For example, if you do not like what someone was said and have no reasoned response, you play the collegiality card. I also attempted to draw a parallel between the tragedy of the commons and faculty collegiality and describe why the commons are destroyed by shifting standards and rules as well as gossip exaggeration and lies.
After a recent experience at my School, I am now wondering if law faculties are afflicted by a different problem in that there are so few core values. I am aware that what may be shared is that there are no core values when one wants something enough. In other words the one core value is that the ends justify the means.
The internalization of three core values could help faculties.
1. Tell the truth.
That is pretty easy, you would think but I am not sure. It may be that people are so driven by what they want to be true that the cannot see the difference between what is true and what is false. I've seen appointments meetings in which input given by faculty has been "misstated" -- the collegial way of saying what it actually is. People in meetings say they had no idea of a fact when they had been told. And then there is the usual B.S. -- this program meets many needs, this candidate is famous, etc. Finally, there are the weasels slipping from office to office with innuendo and lies. When zealots are so blinded that the they lose track of what is true, it's pretty much the end for faculty cohesion. A dean can remove people from key committees but he or she cannot bar them from their office to office rounds to serve up their little bit of poison.
2. Cause no welfare loss.
This one draws from economics and requires understanding the difference between a redistribution and a welfare loss. Sometimes decisions are made that mean a person or persons are worse off and someone else on the faculty or the students are better off. This could mean that a redistribution has occurred. On the other hand, some activities have no upside except perhaps the pleasure derive from harming others. For example, at recent tenure and promotion meeting, faculty at my school discussed candidates. Many positive things were said and a few negative ones. The Dean cautioned the faculty not to talk about the substance of the meeting. Within a few minutes of the end of the meeting it appears people had talked and named names. So think about it. The candidates may be tenured and become life time "colleagues" of the people who had reservations. The substance of the negativity could be communicated without revealing names. What was the upside of naming name? If you lack core values there could be two. The enjoyment of seeing people become enemies. The pleasure of chilling future discussion. It's a pure loss unless one views these as legitimate goals.
This has more to do with committees and administrators than it does with individual faculty. Nevertheless, faculty are administrators and committee members and are tempted to keep things secret. Secrecy leads to uncertainty. Uncertainty caused by an information vacuum sucks in substitute information that may or may not be accurate. In effect, those who keep secret what they know that could reassure people -- that rules are accurately stated and consistently enforced, that their concerns have been heard, that there are no favorites, etc,-- are generally 1) not sure they can defend what they are doing or 2) feel they can but do not have the courage to deal with the fallout. In either case, it means a willingness to allow others to suffer. Of course, if it were for an honorable end, they could say that -- "I do not think it is in the best interest of the Law School to comment further."
I have seen these standards observed by different committees and administrators. What strikes me is how quickly they come to be trusted and how the stress level is instantly lowered. It is refreshing.
But the problem is this: it only takes a few who lack core values to screw it up for the community. I cannot help but wonder what their parents taught them.