Monday, October 31, 2005

A primer on faculty ranks at American University

Last night over Faculty Resident’s dinner a student asked we whether income from my books could provide me with enough money to live on. I had to say “no” but this lead to a more general discussion of the tenure process and the responsibilities of a faculty member, None of the eight students who were my guests, ranging from freshmen to seniors, knew much about the tenure process or the different categories of faculty who teach at AU. I explained that the basic categories were:

Adjunct faculty – Adjunct faculty teach one or two courses on a per-course fee basis, with relatively little support from the institution and no benefits.

Temporary faculty – Temporary faculty normally teach three courses per semester on a year to year contract, with no expectation of permanent employment. They do receive benefits. According to limits set by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) which the AU administration accepts, they their maximum term of employment is five years.

Faculty on a continuing contract, but without tenure. Faculty members who teach in the Washington Semester Program and the College Writing Program can be employed for more than five years, but are not eligible for tenure. Included in their professional obligations are teaching, research and service, but the emphasis on teaching is greater and the standard of research they are required to meet are less rigorous.

Tenure Track Faculty. A tenure track faculty member is hired with the expectation that if their professional work achieves national prominence, their teaching meets a high standard and they perform a reasonable amount of “service” they will, after a six year probationary period be promoted to Associate Professor and be guaranteed full-time employment by AU. At some institutions, there are only a limited number of tenure “slots” which makes for draconian competition among tenure track colleagues. AU’s system is demanding, but more humane. Every faculty member hired in a tenure track position can expected to be granted promotion and tenure if he or she does well. Research and/or other significant professional contributions are given the greatest weight. It is part of a faculty member’s job, both before and after having been granted tenure, to publish articles, especially in peer reviewed journals and books. The quality of a faculty member’s work is judged by outside referees who, typically, do not know the faculty member. About half of the faculty members hired as tenure track eventually win tenure (I think).

Library Faculty. Some Library staff members also have a faculty rank and are granted tenure. In granting tenure, much more weight is given to their in carrying out their day-to-day responsibilities and to participation in activities such as professional meetings. Library faculty, too, are evaluated by outside referees, normally other librarians.

Faculty ranks. The principal faculty ranks are Assistant Professor, Associate Professor and Professor. Mostly, Assistant Professors are untenured thought on rare occasions, an Assistant Professor has been given tenure but not promoted. I believe about a third of Associate Professors’ at AU are ultimately promoted to Full Professor (it might be a larger per-centage). Promotion to Full Professor is based almost entirely on scholarly productivity (the criteria of what constitutes a high standard differ from discipline to discipline). A very small number of AU faculty (three at the moment, I believe) are given the rank of University Professor.

Faculty administrator. Some positions at American University require faculty rank. These include President, Provost, Dean of Academic Affairs, Deans and a few other positions. Normally occupants of these positions will be Full Professors, though occasionally and Associate Professor may be a Dean. Some Associate Deans are Tenured Faculty members, but others are not. My own position, Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence is a Faculty Administrator position, mostly because includes major technology management responsibilities.

Department Heads are always faculty members – almost always tenured – however these are part-time positions at AU that are not normally categorized as “faculty administrator.”

This is the gist of what I described last night and probably more than enough for one blog. Don’t hesitate to contact dormgrandpop (with a comment) if you have questions about faculty ranks and related matters.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Bad News: the News a Manager Most Needs to Know

In CTE, we communicate our concerns to one another promptly and candidly. We do not harbor slights or hold onto grudges.

Earlier this evening I was preparing notes for a floor program on ‘dispute resolution.’ The floor program did not happen (this can be an occupational hazard with such events) but it got me to thinking about one of the most important attributes if a good manager: the ability to be accepting of, indeed, to encourage the communication of “bad news.” I tried to capture this principle in the quotation above, which is drawn from a document entitled: “serving the AU community and relating to one another: CTE priorities.”

Communicating concerns and being accepting of other’s concerns is an important principle of dispute resolution, as well as good management. If concerns can be communicated – and ‘completed’ - at an early stage of a dispute, the dispute is less likely to escalate and get out of hand.

American University is now in the throes of a dispute that has escalated and is getting out of hand. Former President Ladner, dissident former Board members, current board members, faculty, staff and students appear to be staking out adversarial roles. Moderate voices are finding it harder and harder to be heard.

It appears that former President Ladner’s greatest – indeed fatal – shortcoming as a manager was an unwillingness to embrace bad news. By all reports he created a climate where both his own staff , senior university administrators and perhaps board members as well were fearful of challenging him. No one was willing to stand up and say “Ben this isn’t right” in a way that could be heard at a time when such words could have made a difference. All of us at AU are now paying the price, Dr. Ladner most of all. Not all be invoices have yet fallen due.

Whether the object of our concern is a roommate, friend, wife, child, other family member, faculty member, administrator, politician or university president, we must have the courage to communicate bad news. And there is a reciprocal obligation. Leaders and managers especially must, out of self interest if nothing more, create a climate of love and affirmation that empowers others to communicate bad news to them. Their survival and success depends on this. Had Dr. Ladner’s management style incorporated this principle, he might still be President of American University.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Mesage to AU's Board from a Leeds Church Parishoner: "It's not your money!"

Saturday morning, I had the rewarding experience of holding a “mock class” for about 30 parents and alumni weekend visitors. As part of the presentation, I conducted an exercise with which I begin my classes each semester. I asked each member of the group to introduce themselves to another member, nothing something of interest. Then members of the group were asked to share something about their partner. Many spoke about their professions. There was an IRS auditor, two small business owners, telecommunications consultant who had become a teacher… and the like. These were not “big money” professions.

A conversation with a friend after attending Sunday services as Leeds Church reminded of this. My friend is a very senior executive with a large international corporation, based in Virginia, clearly a “big money” profession. His income is probably seven figures and his personal fortune is substantial.

I am now resigned to the weekly conversations about the latest Dr. Ladner stories in the news at coffee hour, but this one surprised me. My friend expressed outrage at the proposed severance package that the Board was reportedly offering Dr. Ladner. When I suggested that board members – and Dr. Ladner too – simply lived in a different world than AU’s students, their parents, faculty and staff, he would have none of it. It doesn’t matter how the board members live their own lives, he said. Dr, Ladner’s reported lifestyle and the severance package being discussed are inconsistent with the purposes of a university. Frankly, I think such a severance would be immoral, he continued. AU’s Board members need to remember that “it’s not their money” they are proposing to award to Dr. Ladner. It is the tuition of University students and their parents. When students and parents wrote their checks, their intention was support education, not high living.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Gift of Grace and Dormgrandpop's Remaining Fall Dinner Schedule

Here is a note I wrote to faculty last night announcing the appoitment of a new CTE Associate director. I omitted the name of my great colleague as is my custom.

This is been an intense week and I am still getting over my bronchitis - after nearly month! - which is why I havn't been bloging more. I played tennis this morning and triumphed over Senior Pete, which is pretty rare.

Parents weekend tomorrow and sat. I will be speaking about my book on saturday morning at 11:00 in ward I.

Here is my note.

Dear Colleagues,

Those of you who read AU Today may have noted an announcement that -------- has been named the new CTE Associate Director for
Teaching and Learning Resources, replacing -----. As the
announcement says, ---- will be responsible for the more qualitative
aspects of CTE's mission, for the Ann Ferren Teaching Conference, for the
Greenberg Ph.D. Seminars and for overseeing the Blackboard Courseinfo

I subtitled this message 'a Gift of Grace' (a serendipitous blessing)
because the way --- came to be appointed is quite remarkable. I had known
him personally and he had worked with CTE for many years, but had not
applied for the position. One day, as I was mulling over other candidates,
Assistant Director Alaina Ledden came to me and said: 'what about ------
?.' She had be chatting with ----- a few minutes earlier. Further
inquiries made it clear that he was enthusiastically endorsed by every CTE
staff member. Then, for varied reasons, the other strong candidates had to
withdraw, leaving ---- as the sole choice. Rarely has a selection process
been so easy or so fortuitous.

----- had the mix of qualities I particularly sought in an Associate
Director: years of AU experience (including management experience), a
strong track record as an innovative teacher and a demonstrated commitment
to scholarship. Experience as a broadcast journalism professional - as
program host, news anchor, reporter and producer - further strengthened his
credentials. Effective communication is a theme that stands out in both
his teaching and professional work. ----- superb communication skills
have already been impressively displayed in three events that ----- has
hosted, including CTE's highly successful Pod Casting workshop.

----- has been on the job less that two months, but he has fit in so well
that I have to remind myself he has not been a CTE family member for two
years or more. You should seek him out (ext 2065) for help with teaching
or for innovative ideas that blend teaching and technology. But if you
don't, you will probably soon discover that he is seeking you out, both to
learn from you and to find out how CTE can serve you better. John's
serendipitous arrival in our midst is indeed, as I have said, a Gift of

A WORD ABOUT ANDERSON HALL DINNERS: Most of you know that I serve dinner
in my Anderson Hall Apartment, more or less on alternate Sunday nights.
Faculty members are always welcome, the food is good and it is a great
opportunity to mingle with AU students in their native habitat. If you
would like to join us give me or Mave Reed a call (X2117 ; X2346; 316
4682). We gather at about 8 PM Or, if it is a last minute thing, just
come.. Here is the schedule and remaining fall menus.

Sunday October 30. Moroccan Lamb and Vegetables with Cous Cous.
Sunday November 13. Paella, Philippine Style.
Sunday December 4. Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding

I hope the fall is going well for all of you.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Life and death decisions - how long does it take to understand a high context culture?

The other morning, I listened to an interview with Lt. General David Petraeus. The General had recently completed an eighteen month assignment as head of training for the new Iraqi army. He previously served for a year in Iraq as commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division.

What struck me about the interview was the brevity of General Petraeus tours and those of other military officers. ‘How long is long enough?’ is the question these tours of short duration raise in my mind.

Developing or transitional societies, like Iraq, Afghanistan, and the country I know best, Sri Lanka, are what anthropologists sometimes call ‘high context’ societies. Interpersonal relations and a sensitivity to subtle cultural cues play a far more role that in the United States (though American University, too, is a high context culture). Understanding what is going on and getting things done depends on whom you know and especially whom you can trust. Trust is essential because formal institutions and social safety nets are so much more fragile. In many circumstances your life can depend, quite literally, on whom you can trust.

As some readers will know, I have been studying about, writing about and visiting Sri Lanka for eighteen years. I have lived in the country for extended periods of time. I have friends I can trust and who trust me. These trusting relationships reflect shared confidences and mutual understandings that have grown up over years. Every time I visit Sri Lanka I ‘peel another layer off the onion.’ I see something that was previously invisible. I understand something that was previously opaque.

I wonder how much General Petraeus and his colleagues can possibly know about Iraq after being there for such a short period of time under such artificial circumstances. How well equipped are they – really – to be making the life and death decisions for which they are responsible?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Reflections on the Controversy Surrounding Dr. Ladner

Many AU student friends say they look to me for straight talk on matters relating to University life – especially things affecting their lives.. Probably they wonder why I did not speak out more publicly – and sooner – regarding the circumstances surrounding Dr. Ladner’s status. Last week I did go on record supporting a ‘no confidence’ motion passed by my faculty colleagues in the School of International Service. Subsequently, I spoke in behalf of a similar motion at the University Senate meeting and voted with other Senators to communicate a resolution of no confidence to the board. I have participated in two candid and lengthy discussions over home cooked dinners with Anderson Hall residents.

But as someone who writes about conflict escalation, what concerns me most is the question with which I introduce my book on conflict escalation in Sri Lanka: “How did it come to this? ; How did we let it come to this?

Dr. Ladner’s ‘imperial’ tendencies, along his strong leadership qualities and feel for AU’s distinctiveness were known and discussed by many on campus, including me. Was the fact that this ‘imperialism,’ and an abrasive style appeared to be sanctioned by the Board of Trustees and were coincident with real progress AU was making sufficient justification for keeping silent publicly? Should I not at least, have communicated my concerns privately to Dr. Ladner, as I might have done. AU friends whose disinterested judgment I respect advised me that silence was the wisest course and silence was the course I chose. Whether speaking out or in private, some months or years ago, would have made a difference and whether the difference would have been for good or ill, I will never know, for sure. But I am conflicted about my decision to keep silent, when I could have spoken and might have made a difference.

Current circumstances remind me of our legal system’s imperfections in facilitating conflict resolution. At AU, today, stakes are high – on both sides. Personal reputations, the reputation of the University and its Board and large amounts of money are involved. That is why high priced lawyers, and consultants have been engaged by all parties, escalating costs still further. Like the conflict between rival Sinhalese and Tamil protagonists the conflict now appears to have reached a stage where no amicable resolution is conceivable to anyone. There will only be “winners” and “losers”. But the victory of the ‘winners,’ whomever they are, may be hollow.

Many things impress me about AU’s students and one that impresses me most is how much they learn over the four or so years they spend with us. Much of the learning takes place outside of the classroom. Students are more alert to integrity and truth telling – and also to hypocrisy and 'spin' than those of us – like me – who have become more jaded. Many are idealistic, which is one of the most rewarding aspects of sharing students’ daily lives. For some, perhaps many, the events of the past few will weeks and the weeks to come will provide one of the most memorable – perhaps the most memorable – learning experience of their four years at American University.

As we grapple with the complex issues AU is facing and will be facing, those of us with institutional responsibilities, especially faculty and faculty administrators need to reflect on the lessons our students are learning from the Dr. Ladner controversy, take responsibility for those lessons to the degree possible and consider making them as explicit as we can. This will not only be a contribution to our students. It will be a contribution to ourselves.

A Balaton Retrospective

Here is something the late Donella Meadows wrote about the 18th Balaton Group meeting, in 1999. Comparing it who what I wrote while attending this year’s meetings provides an illustration of how members – old and new – have been able to sustain this unique professional-personal culture.

Imagine being together with 40 of your best friends; imagine that they are not only brilliant but dedicated to making the world a better place; imagine they come from Botswana and New Zealand and India, and for all these reasons have an enormous amount to teach you, on many levels. Some of those you’ve known for decades; some you’ve just met, but the newcomers magically fit in. You can watch them visibly relax, let go and realize that this is somehow both a stellar professional meeting and a gathering of friends, who bring each other love, respect and mutual support.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Is it a Platonic date or an oo-oo date?

One of the fun things about living on AU’s South side is the Letts – Anderson quad, especially at night during the warm months. On the too-rare occasions that I hang out there, I always learn something that I didn’t know.

Tonight, a well dressed couple walked up to where I was sitting with a several students, and I learned that there are at least two different types kinds of dates. When the couple said they were going on a “date”, my friend asked, “Is it a Platonic date or an oo-oo date?’ The couple didn’t exactly answer but it it was clear an oo-oo date was what they were planning.

I asked what the difference was and everyone just laughed. But the impression that oo-oo dates were seen as being more fun was clear.

Liberating good Karma

Here is the quote I chose for this week’s CTE Management Group Meeting

If a person makes no effort to cure himself of a disease or to save himself from his difficulties or to strive with diligence for his progress, his evil Karma will find a suitable opportunity to produce its due effects.

If, on the contrary he endeavors in his part to surmount his difficulties, to better his circumstances, to make the best use of the rare opportunities, to strive strenuously for his real progress, his good Karma will come to his succor.

Bikkhu Narada, The Buddha and His Teachings (1988), p. 389

Monday, October 03, 2005

Get to know the night people.

My morning routine when I follow it is to arise between 5 and 6, open the curtains of my bedroom read some spiritual text – I am studying Buddhism at the moment – and have some time for quite meditation.

At the same time, each morning, a small parade of workers, Aramark workers who earn low wages and do not have AU tuition benefits passes by my window. If it is not raining and the morning is comfortable, they often gather for a few minutes in the Centennial Hall parking lot for a chat and a smoke.

Some of these workers I know by face; I know none by name, though I know many Building and Grounds workers on campus. But AU could not function without the hard work of these night people.

I think it would be worth getting to know some of them.

Reflections on social change evoked by my recycled shopping cart

One of the least pleasant tasks of my three plus year Anderson Hall residence has been the task of lugging groceries in from the closest unloading area, in back of McKinley Hall, to my apartment. Occasionally a student would offer to help, but this has been backbreaking work, especially on dinner nights or when I had loaded up on sale items – sparkling cider, Klondike bars, cokes and Mountain Dew, etc. Often, there have been six to eight mesh recyclable bags full.

Then, a few weeks ago, my good karma was working. A resident left a large, slightly broken shopping cart – the sort my age-contemporaries sometimes pull behind them in the supermarket – by the trash. After a couple of days, I appropriated it and made the necessary repairs. Problem solved! The cart held virtually all my groceries and, last night, I was able to glide them into room 101 with no strain at all.

But this raises the following question: why did dormgrandpop, a person of reasonable intelligence make himself miserable lugging groceries for three years when all I needed to do was buy a shopping cart. I simply continued to follow the same arduous, taxing practice when a solution was readily at hand. It gives one pause. I didn’t consider – seriously – alternatives to ease my burden, though one was readily and inexpensively available.

In international development, my rule of thumb for the duration of a successful project that requires social change is twenty years. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan have ever had a functioning democracy; never had popular means for resolving differences without violence or authoritarianism. And democratic institutions are going to take hold in these settings within a couple of years? I applaud the resilience and courage of Afgan and Iraqi citizens who have participated in elections – but optimistic Administration projections of “mission accomplished” before the next US Presidential election do give one pause.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Doing My Own Laundry

I have wanted to write about doing my own laundry as a metaphor for life all week but there has been no time, anymore than there has been time to do my own laundry. When there were a few snatched minutes, doing laundry needed to take priority over writing about it. Something for a professor to think about!

Mostly, I used to take shirts and washable trousers to the cleaners. They come back so crisp and clean in their petroleum-based clear plastic bags. But after figuring out how much it cost to have shirts and cotton trousers (my usual uniform, except lately) washed and ironed at the cleaners I decided to do them myself.

Though it was not my intention, in particular, this has proved to be a useful illustration of and important life reality: there are some things that can’t be put off, no matter what. Mothers of very young children know this best, of course. The baby must be nursed, the diapers must be changed, and then washed and folded, a child’s cry cannot be ignored. Men know this least, especially busy managers like me, who are in a position to delegate many tasks (often to women), especially the more mundane ones.

When I came back from Europe last week, not only exhausted but sick, there was still that pile of laundry to be done – else I would have nothing respectable to wear as went about my various duties. High level diplomatic dinner on Wednesday night? Before putting on my ‘diplomatic suit,’ there was that shirt, which, happily, I had remembered to wash in the morning, to be ironed.

All of this provides useful lessons in inexorability and humility. No clothes washed, nothing to wear. No shirt ironed, one looks like a slob at an “important” function, which Dormgrandpop hates to do. There will be a pile of laundry to do and shirts to iron when I return to Anderson on Sunday night for the first Dormgrandpop dinner of the semester.

That I would ever become a university president seems wildly improbable. But if I did, I would continue to do my own laundry. And I might try to set up housekeeping in a dorm, as well.

Reflections on a Turbulent Week – and, on the whole, a Good Week for AU.

Some say that any publicity is good publicity, but I’m not sure it would have been my choice to have AU’s current circumstances displayed on the front page of the Washington Post, this week.

Yet the controversy over Dr. Ladner’s status has produced some good things for our institution and community. Most important, many who may view the maturity and sensitivity of AU students dismissively (I am not one of them) got an opportunity to see what they are made of. I was particularly proud of the three young women, all student friends of mine, who played such key roles in organizing Wednesday’s demonstration. The showed passion, energy, nuance, organizational skills and unflagging energy. They put themselves on the line for an institution they care about. And they played a pivotal role in shaping the board’s deliberations.

We also saw the faculty Senate at its best. The atmosphere was somber and there was little of the flatulent rhetoric that often characterizes faculty deliberations. The SIS Council meeting, comprising students as well as faculty among its members was attended by more than 60 and also exhibited both civility (one articulate, thoughtful Ladner loyalist participated) and nuance in its deliberations

And our week concluded with Board Chair Leslie Bain’s magnificent statement to the community, acknowledging our strengths and proposing fundamental reforms to broaden participation and increase the transparency of Board deliberations. How fortunate that we have been blessed with such a courageous woman of integrity, as our Board Chair, at this critical juncture.

In some ways this was a sad week for AU, but a good one on the whole.