This morning I attended a Board of Trustees meeting. When it was over, I concluded that I might be unduly rushing my return to the university, three months after my surgery.
But every faculty member must periodically attend such a meeting in order to have no delusions about what the “problem” is. Despite our starting out in much the same place, faculty and administrators not only speak different languages, but they also think in fundamentally different ways. It is no wonder that we have such divergent priorities.
When I was a much younger faculty member, our dean was trying to encourage me to become an associate dean. So he invited me to be his guest at an administrative retreat. As they were getting ready to serve lunch (on real china!), I glanced over at our dean, who was clearly in his element and enthusiastically “working the room.” I looked down at the place setting on the table in front of me, and I wondered if I would be excused for the afternoon if I took the knife and the fork into each of my hands and plunged them into my eyeballs. But, as I afterwards explained to my friends, it occurred to me that I might be made to sit there, my oozing eye-holes providing a testament to my aberrant mindset—like some later-day Oedipus at Colonus, who, to satisfy his perversely exaggerated sense of irony, had gouged out his eyes after discovering that he had not murdered his father and had not had sex with his mother.
But I was much younger then and possessed by a much more vicious, unforgiving, and self-indulgent sense of irony and outrage than I am now able to muster.
Or perhaps it is simply the case that what I have lost in vitriol, I have gained in understanding.
With respect to the way in which we perceive administrators, I think that Big Daddy may have gotten it wrong. In most cases, the problem may not be pervasive mendacity. Instead, the problem may be a sort of impermeable inanity—an endless succession of jargon-ridden clichés from both business and education punctuated by intermittent bursts of impenetrable acronyms and needless neologisms, all of it as ungainly as a herd of three-legged goats, but all of it delivered with the facile fluency of someone who has been trained by toastmasters and who is determined to recite every line of every part in an entire play by Shakespeare, and to do it in less than an hour and fifteen minutes.
It is not just that we speak a different language than administrators. But, as anyone knows who has been to another country where almost no one speaks English, speaking ever more loudly and relying on a few selective hand gestures can get you only so far.