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Nov 5, 2018

University is a kibbutz

I like when people come to me with an idea or a solution to a problem: here is what’s wrong and here is what we should do. I like it less when people come with the first part of the pair: here is what is really wrong, end of sentence. The implied second part is – “and it is your job to figure out a solution.” This second approach makes some sense where the problem might be new, and I may not be aware of it. At least they are giving me some new information. That is totally fine and welcome. Sometimes though folks bring to me the same issue repeatedly, and we both know a good solution escapes us. The reluctance to engage in the next step – into finding solutions – always strikes me as childish and egocentric, especially in the university setting.

Universities embrace shared governance, where faculty and staff will have a say in most decision-making. It is very difficult to draw a line between those who lead and those led. One has to learn to be in both positions. It is not like in business, where material interests of top managers and employees might be vastly different. On campuses, managers do not really get stock options, and there are no dividends. When people disagree, it is most likely because they have different opinions about reaching the same goal. It is really, really difficult to operate here without some level of trust in the other side’s benevolence and competence.

Do you get these obsessive thoughts about someone else around you doing the wrong thing, doing it all wrong, wrong, wrong, and the need to tell everyone how wrong, wrong, wrong these people are? Well, perhaps less coffee and a little more meditation can put the restless mind to ease. If you really want to help run this place, see the complexity, consider all sides, and start working on some practical solutions. Be ready to pull your weight implementing them. Get obsessed about solutions; this is a good kind of obsession. Because any university is a collective enterprise, like a kibbutz or a collective farm. There is no one omnipotent up there, who just does not want to listen. It is just us, and limits of our own imagination.

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