Saturday, April 28, 2007

Do as I say, not as I do

High school and university students, in my observation, are particularly sensitive to hypocrisy. Two of this week’s news stories must be scoring high on their hypocrisy detectors. World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, a principal architect of Bush Administration Iraq policies, has made corruption fighting the centerpiece of his program at the Bank. Now, it transpires that he used his influence to arrange a new position for his girl friend, with an inappropriately inflated salary. Dr. Wolfowitz did issue a a carefully worded apology, but has also hired a leading trial lawyer to mount a defense as he seeks to cling to his position.

Randall Tobias, named by President Bush to head the Agency for International Development in January 2006, intended to make fighting sexual trafficking the centerpiece of his administration. But his administration proved to be short-lived. This 65 year old gentleman, former corporate chief executive and Duke University Trustee was apparently linked to at least one – and possibly two – female escort services. He has resigned, for unspecified “personal reasons.”

What sort of message do these two men, imagine they are communicating to America’s high school and university students? What image of America do they imagine they are communicating to young people throughout the world.

Have they no ethical standards? Have they no sense of responsibility? Have they no shame? These two stories, and our government’s official response to them, nauseate me.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Negative Synergy

As some readers know, I receive a briefing at about 6:15 AM each morning on all AU events requiring audio and visual support. Virtually all events do require such support. As the end of spring semester the number of events swells. There are the ‘normal’ films, meetings, religious services, and club events. The campus is thronged with prospects (and their parents) who are visiting AU to consider enrolling and recently admitted students (often with their parents, too) who are making up their minds whether or not to attend.

Many organizations are having events of one sort or another to bid farewell to seniors and graduate students who have completed their degrees. Organizations (including the Center for Teaching Excellence) have end of year celebrations. This year, AU is also conducting major searches for a new President, University Librarian, and Executive Director of Housing and Dining Services. Candidates are on campus for a day or more meeting with different constituencies.

This is also the time in the semester when academic work is most intense. The typical undergraduate is completing five classes, each with a final paper or project and, most typically, final examinations. Honors students have “capstone” projects and a day-long event to present them. MA students are defending their theses, doctoral students, their dissertations.

For undergraduate students especially, end-of-spring-semester time-management challenges are daunting. Each year, I am amazed at how well they manage. But I wonder if there might not be a better way. There are so many events, scheduled by different constituencies – academic, social, campus life, etc. that, especially for seniors, the period culminating in commencement is often more stressful than joyful. There is little no time to fully celebrate – and savor - completing one of life’s most important threshold experiences.

Synergy is a process where the whole is somehow than the sum of interacting parts. Dictionaries list “antagonism” as the opposite of synergy, but I prefer “negative synergy:” a process where the whole is somehow less that the sum of interacting parts.

I like to think that American University’s leaders (of whom I am one) could craft a pre-commencement process not characterized by negative synergy. We did this when we reduced the duration of our commencement event from three and a half to about two hours. Five years ago, I performed similar surgery on our pre-fall semester orientation for new faculty colleagues. But I am not optimistic about pre-commencement. There are simply too many stakeholders, each with laudable\ legitimate claims on students’ time, who want a piece of the action.

Thus it is students, themselves, who must choose, previewing other important life choices (between work and family, for example) that will soon await them. They must decide, for themselves, what is most important and what is less so and focus their energies on what is most important.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

One of many overfull days

One of the reasons I have been blogging so little, of late, is that each day seems so incredibly full. Each morning I being the day by preparing a list that comprises tasks to be accomplished and meetings to be attended. Today began with tennis at 6:45. The days are getting longer, which means that the Dean and I can start our games earlier, for the second week in a row, I won and arduous extra-game set. But I know that my holding first place in our league of two is only temporary. Neither of us wins consistently for very long.

Back from tennis before ten, I prepared for the day and took a long call from my daughter. Then there were meetings at 1:00, 2:00, 3:00 and 4:00. The 4 PM meeting lead to drafting a long note regarding AV support for a conference to be held tomorrow. Then it was time to rush to a nearby specialty grocery, to purchase supplies for tomorrow’s lunch in my apartment. My former dissertation advisor, many years ago, is visiting with his wife.

At 6:30 there was office hours in the dorm. I was getting pretty exhausted so I took a short break between eight and eight-thirty. At eight thirty was the meeting I described in another blog, about the tragic events at Virginia Tech. When I came back to my apartment, two systems analysis students were waiting and our meeting lasted until nearly 11:30. Then was the time I began writing this blog and others. It will be after 1 A.M. before my work is done.

The killings at Virginia Tech

For those of us who live and work in university residence halls, the tragic events on the Virginia Tech campus have a special significance. The first killings occurred in a University residence hall and one of the victims was a resident assistant. This evening, we has a special meeting of Resident Assistant Staff members in Letts and Anderson Halls to share, discuss and reflect on our feelings. Whenever I participate in such meetings, the range and nuance of views expressed always surprises me. Those in universities who speak about what students are thinking and feeling, without spending a lot of time actually listening to them, almost always get it wrong – or partially wrong.

Of course viewing such events from a vantage point of 20 years or so (the age of most resident assistants) or 26 years or so ( the age of the Resident Directors who lead the meetings) is different. Death is an impending reality for someone of my age, though it may happen later rather than sooner. And, working and living in Sri Lanka, sudden death is an every present reality. This was less true for the young men and women with whom I met to share reflections on the Virginia Tech killings, a few hours ago this evening.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Failing and Flying

Older readers, if any, will know Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Campanion,” to which I have listened for many years. More recently Keillor has added a daily broadcast to his repertoire, “The Writer’s Almanac,” which airs on public radio (the Washington outlet is AU’s WAMU) a little before 7AM. Each broadcast concludes with a poem (the program is sponsored by The Poetry Foundation) The Foundation is succeeding in its goal with this program, at least with me – it has raised my consciousness about poetry.

This morning’s offering was “Failing and Flying,” from a volume by National Book Award winning poet, Jack Gilbert, ‘Refusing Heaven.’ As Keillor read, the poem’s message evoked thoughts of my own failed and failing relationships – and then, as it was intended to do, of the good moments.

Nothing is forever.

Endings are inevitable and need not tarnish the reality of the good moments, unless one chooses to have that be so.

Here is Gilbert’s poem, quoted from ‘The Writer’s Almanac’ website,

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.

It's the same when love comes to an end,

or the marriage fails and people say

they knew it was a mistake, that everybody said it would never work. That she was 
old enough to know better.
But anything worth doing is worth doing badly.

Like being there by that summer ocean on the other side of the island while love was fading out of her, the stars burning so extravagantly those nights that anyone could tell you they would never last.

Every morning she was asleep in my bed like a visitation, the gentleness in her like antelope standing in the dawn mist.

Each afternoon I watched her coming back through the hot stony field after swimming, the sea light behind her and the huge sky 

on the other side of that.
Listened to her while we ate lunch.
How can they say the marriage failed?
Like the people who came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy. 

I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell, 
but just coming to the end of triumph.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Innocent hands are not used for acts of violence...the are not sullied by corruption and bribes

The following is from an Associated Press report, descibing the spritual leader of the Ruman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict's Palm Sunday Message to the world's youth

Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and is the start of the church's Holy Week, which includes the Good Friday re-enactment of Christ's crucifixion and death and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

"Benedict continued the tradition started by John Paul and dedicated Palm Sunday to the young, who were out in force in St. Peter's.

He told them that to follow God they should have "innocent hands and pure hearts."
"Innocent hands are hands that are not used for acts of violence," he told them. "They are hands that are not sullied by corruption and bribes."

Hearts are pure when they are not "stained by lies and hypocrisy," he said. "A heart is pure when it is estranged from the intoxication of pleasure; a heart for whom love is true and not just the passion of a moment," he said.