Saturday, October 22, 2005

Phucking Dumb

I know this is so overstated as to be a tautology, but, as an employee of a large university in the Northeast, it never ceases to amaze me how completely unassociated one's level of education is from one's level of intelligence. Of the three people in the "chain of command" above me, one has a master's degree and the other two have PhDs. Yet they are completely incapable of communicating with each other, and make decisions with no thought about the ramifications of what they are doing.

I generate reports that are distributed to the deans, chairpersons and administrative directors of all the colleges, departments and various little affiliated research entities in the university. Six months ago my boss's boss's boss sent me a two-line email that said, in effect, stop sub-dividing all these numbers up into such small entities. Assign everything to the larger departments. On the face of it, it sounds like a great idea. It simplifies things and it creates the impression that the departments are doing more work (because the activity that is being reported is chopped up into larger pieces.) But anyone who knows anything about universities knows how political everything is. I know my boss's boss's boss, and I know there is no arguing with him, at least at my level, but replied to his email with a copy to my boss, essentially saying I would do what I was told but they might want to have a discussion about the effects of such a decision. (I won't get into the whole side issue of how annoying it is to have someone three steps up the ladder from me send emails directly to me asking me to do things without informing my boss and his boss. I spend most of my day explaining to my immediate supervisor why I've done half the things I've done, because he has no idea what's going on.) No discussion happened.

Fast forward six months, and there is a veritable shit-storm of ill will flying around because all the directors of these various entities are no longer seeing their names listed separately in the reports. My boss starts hounding me, and I bounce his boss's boss's email (always save every email you get) to him. The offended party goes to my boss's boss's boss, raises a stink, and all of a sudden I am being told, "No, we didn't mean it like that. We meant keep doing it the way you've been doing it all along, but uhm, make it look a little different or mumble humblecoughsputterewhatever just fix it."

So not only are these people Ph.ucking D.umb, they've got no balls. Makes me want to chuck it all and go into landscaping.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Confidence Man

So, part of the reason I post so infrequently here is that I am constantly flip-flopping about how I will use this blog. The big thing taking up my life right now is graduate school, and I am not sure what kind of friendships I will develop over the next couple of years. I have plenty of things to say about school, fellow students, instructors, etc, but I don't know if I would ever have a reason to make this thing more "public." As it is, I don't think any of my schoolmates, workmates, or instructors would ever connect this with "the real me." I've read a few very interesting stories about blogging issues in academia, and in the course of Googling blogs of graduate students I even came across a published retraction of one blogging students remarks, with a complete removal of the blog. Of course, that student was using a university-provided server and web space to publish a blog that was basically accusing his PhD program of being completely full of shit. You get what you ask for.

I'm in my fourth week of classes, and as much as I lke my schoolmates, it looks like will be keeping more or less to myself. So, this brings me to what I have wanted to write about here for a few weeks (since starting graduate school). I was so nervous on my first night of classes that I almost blew it off and skipped out on the whole thing. I was convinced that I was going to get to class and sound like a complete idiot the first time I opened my mouth. I was sure that I was going to be surrounded by brilliant intellectual prodigies who were going to be speaking an entirely different language. I and my night school, discount BS-with-highest-honors would be exposed for the fraud we were.

Boy, was I let down. The first class didn't reveal too much. The instructor, a professor I knew from working here at the university, gave us a run-down of what the class would involve, what he expected for the assignments, and asked the students to sign up to lead class discussions (the class is a seminar format discussion of interest groups). The students were all young, and asked the same kinds of questions I had gotten used to hearing in undergrad classes:"So, are the readings due on the week that they are listed on in the syllabus, or the week after?" "We're doing a take home final and a paper?" "Can we email our homework?" No Sweat.

The next week, we held the first class discussion, and by the middle of the class, I had the same feeling I had when I was in many of my undergraduate classes. I was frustrated that people were focusing on each other's opinions, instead of the thought processes that were used to arrive at the opinions. Everyone was trying to upstage each other with topical knowledge of the latest political scandals, and partisan sniping, but no one really knew whether the book we had read for class used rational choice theory or game theory or pluralist concepts of influence or neo-Marxism, etc. And finally, one young woman spoke up and said the word "like" five times in one sentence: "I was, like, surprised to, like, find out that that stuff, like, still goes on in, like, Congress after all the, like laws and stuff that were passed."

Talk about mixed emotions. On one side of my brain, I cringed at the butchering of the language and the complete lack of eloquence; on the other side, I was relieved to find I was in no danger of being laughed out of class, unless it was for being the teacher's pet.