Wednesday, October 03, 2018

The parable of the pies: how the sausage gets made

If you're in an academic department, and especially if you've held any kind of administrative position, you might recognize the truth of Bismarck's (or, as Wikipedia tells me, John Godfrey Saxe's) well-known apothegm, as paraphrased in one of my favorite Hamilton lyrics:
No one really knows how the game is played
The art of the trade
How the sausage gets made
We just assume that it happens
But no one else is in
The room where it happens.
 I'm not even close to the higher-up Northern Clime University "room where it happens," but at a lower level, I've had ample opportunities to see how the "art of the trade" happens in just about every set of decisions.

 But even assuming that everyone is nobly concerned with the best interests of the students and the university, differences of opinion happen while that sausage is getting made.

Let's say that your department wants ten apple pies and that the pies are not to fix something that is going horribly wrong.  You fill out the multitude of forms, talk to individuals, see the lay of the land, and then approach Admin with the request.

Admin says, "You must be joking! No pies for you."

You say, "But here are the reasons we need the pies to take better care of our students."

Admin says, " . . . "

You say, "And if you give us the pies, we can form a consortium, build partnerships, raise our standing among peer institutions, and be perceived as a local god."

Admin says, " . . . "

You say, "And we'll write a grant to get the matching funds and hope it gets funded."

Admin says,  "Well, we can see our way clear to give you five pies, four apple and one mince."

Jubilant at this success, you take this to your colleagues for the first time.

One group--let's call them the incrementalists, or Hillary voters--says, "It's a start! Let's get going on that grant. Do you think we could negotiate for two more pies?"

Another group--let's call them the ideologically pure, or Jill Stein voters--says, "You sellouts! Everyone hates mince! Why did you agree to this? We need ten apple pies, full stop.  This is untenable and ideologically impure. Ten pies or we dissolve this department! Burn it down!"

It seems to me that there can be good, sincere colleagues on both sides, but most people are probably more one than the other.

Incrementalists have some faith in change within the system--not all systems everywhere, but the specific little corner of the system that they can influence. This is sometimes true.

Ideological purists have faith that if they throw a cog in the machine or blow it up, something better will result. This is also sometimes true.

As an incrementalist who works to make things better ("bends toward justice"), I see the five pies as a glass half full. Not everyone would agree.

But I have become an ideologue in one respect: I am completely, totally, and utterly done with the loud virtue-signalling and vilification that ensues from people who haven't lifted a finger after some of us have worked our tails off to get those five pies.





2 comments:

Leslie said...

Well, my analysis is one thing (not incrementalist, to use that word) but my behavior, at least in bourgeois contexts, is another. People who want to complain and not act, or who want to refuse the five pies (assuming they aren't poisoned and none is a Trojan Pie) are just wasting my time and as far as I am concerned are foregoing the right to be heard. This also goes for people who say all is lost and they are not going to try for that reason -- they should retire, then, I vituperate. Promoting: https://www.aaup.org/article/what-be-done-or-optimism-will

Undine said...

Leslie, thanks for stopping by and thanks for this article. I agree on both counts: to people who say it's all lost and you're not going to try, why are you here?