A Good Link on Tillerson

Finally, the hype has died down and thoughtful, intelligent pieces on the firing of Tillerson have appeared. I love this one. Not only because it explains what went wrong for Tillerson (which is a story that won’t be interesting for longer than a couple of weeks) but because it explains why my cherished dreams of at least some business practices being transplanted to academia are futile. It won’t happen. And what a pity.

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18 thoughts on “A Good Link on Tillerson”

  1. That piece explains why he wasn’t a good Secretary of State and why he was bad at his job. For it to explain why he was fired, you’d have to assume Trump wanted a good Secretary of State in the way we think a good Secretary of State operates. I’m not sure that’s a valid assumption.

    A lot of modern management seems like jumped up Taylorism in fancy language. That’s a poor fit for education which operates on timelines beyond standard management planning and evaluations, even “long term planning.” It’s pretty fucking funny for a dude whose company is just transformed trilobite, zooplankton, algae harvesting & processing to be locked into dumb paradigms about efficiencies.

    “I’m going to solve Baumol’s cost disease in the State Department !” Tillerson, probably.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “For it to explain why he was fired, you’d have to assume Trump wanted a good Secretary of State in the way we think a good Secretary of State operates. ”

      • Of course, he does. And I’m sure he wants to do a good job and be a good president.

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  2. What are the business practices you want brought to academia? 1/ It has business practices. 2/ A lot of new and destructive ones are brought in all the time, with the claim that they are good because they are “from business” (right, bankrupt businesses, but still).

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    1. This is a fashionable thing to say but it doesn’t reflect any actual reality. Whenever I’m around people who are actually in business, I’m green with envy. They don’t whine, they don’t moan, they don’t haggle over doing every tiny bit of work. They don’t take three weeks of daily chain emailing to figure out who will scan a bunch of documents into a file (true story.) They don’t think it’s ok to respond with pouting to every request even for minimal service. I would love to be around people who are happy about what they do, motivated, energized. I’m not good with this environment of constant gloom. Every initiative dies because somebody yes-buts it to death.

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      1. Whenever I’m around people who are actually in business, I’m green with envy. They don’t whine, they don’t moan, they don’t haggle over doing every tiny bit of work. They don’t take three weeks of daily chain emailing to figure out who will scan a bunch of documents into a file (true story.) They don’t think it’s ok to respond with pouting to every request even for minimal service. I would love to be around people who are happy about what they do, motivated, energized. I’m not good with this environment of constant gloom. Every initiative dies because somebody yes-buts it to death.

        Sure, because you’re dealing with people who are in successful businesses that aren’t riven by nepotism and who are well paid and pay their employees well or at least fairly. And adapting business practices makes sense…for businesses.

        You say you don’t want consumerism infecting everything but that’s what happens with businesses. You answer to shareholders and then consumers, but primarily shareholders.

        I can think of a constellation of things you don’t like that you can trace to business ideas and “efficiency” and “productivity.”

        Logrolling paying out premiums to insurance is a great trick to make it look like you’ve reduced expenses especially if the accounting doesn’t go past a year. Look how much I just reduced labor costs!

        Look at the reason they denied tenure to Fie. They pulled some bullshit numbers out. Oh, so sorry, the department isn’t producing “enough” enrollments.

        The dumbing down of classes and teaching lends itself well to business “efficiency” and “productivity” because it’s much easier to quantify and measure.

        “I taught 3 sections of 18 students each 12 irregular verbs this semester!” The MBA is thrilled; you are bored out of your mind.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. “Sure, because you’re dealing with people who are in successful businesses that aren’t riven by nepotism and who are well paid and pay their employees well or at least fairly. And adapting business practices makes sense…for businesses.”

          • We are a state university, so there is zero nepotism. We are more than well-paid for the amount of work we actually do. I have no reason to believe that if everybody in academia were a millionaire, the things I listed would get better. I actually think all these trends I listed would be even worse.

          “You say you don’t want consumerism infecting everything but that’s what happens with businesses. You answer to shareholders and then consumers, but primarily shareholders.”

          • Most businesses never go public.

          “The dumbing down of classes and teaching lends itself well to business “efficiency” and “productivity” because it’s much easier to quantify and measure.”

          • No, it doesn’t. Nobody uses these words or these concepts at my school. I would be the happiest person ever if somebody did. Because I’d much rather operate by these categories than by the only currently existing category of who pouts more convincingly.

          ““I taught 3 sections of 18 students each 12 irregular verbs this semester!” ”

          • Evan that would be an enormous improvement over what we have right now.

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          1. I am at a state school and it is full of nepotism. And bean-counting: everything is efficiency, productivity, counting, measuring. It’s the entrepreneurial model…

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        2. “Look at the reason they denied tenure to Fie. They pulled some bullshit numbers out. Oh, so sorry, the department isn’t producing “enough” enrollments.”

          • One of the central problems of all white-collar companies right now is attracting and, much more crucially, retaining talent. The biggest gurus of business, the leading books on the business bestseller lists, the TED talks, the motivational speeches – they are all about how to make people like Fie stick around. If this were a functioning company in today’s world, they’d be huddled together, devising perks to keep her around.

          It’s the job seeker’s market everywhere but in academia, so.

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          1. Also, when people hear “business”, they often imagine a Fordist factory where robotically looking workers are exhorted to make every move more and more productive. But the economy that needed that is gone. There are now robots to do all that. Now it’s all about quirky individuals having fun together.

            At my husband’s company, first day of work, he was told that the company culture is nobody works more than 40 hours a week, please don’t stay after 6 pm at the latest, we are all about work-life balance.

            The most buzzy expression right now is “company culture.” People put up ping-pong tables, go to spas to have brainstorming meetings, go to resorts, meet with shamans, go fly-fishing together. The most interesting, profound discussion I had on why Humanities matter was last week with two business people who are starting an initiative to promote the hiring of humanities grads.

            This is what I want. I don’t mean the spas or the shamans, necessarily, although I’d do them instead of microaggression workshops in a flash. But treating work like something fun, something enjoyable, a great experience.

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      2. The business practices I don’t like include, but are hardly limited to the ever-increasing bureaucracy that is alleged to make us more “accountable” but just wastes time and funnels more money into administration.

        I think you’re talking about professors being cagey on service so as to protect research time & also one-up each other. It’s irritating, I know, but I find that if I’m efficient they get mad at me, they think I am trying to show them up when really, I just want the thing done so I can go home.
        Oh, that’s true, individuals who can’t come through, that’s very irritating. I do, and the others find it threatening

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        1. Most of the businesses on this continent are small businesses. Do you think they can afford bureaucracy?

          And man, gosh, if people did all that to protect their research time, I’d do their service for them and make their coffee every morning. But no, I’m talking about 1-lifetime-article folks. I’m talking about begging for a document that’s a page long for 10 months from somebody who hasn’t published this century (true story).

          Yes, you are crazy efficient. I’d love to work with you.

          I’m not a happy camper today because people are getting on my nerves by slowing me down.

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          1. But the university is not adopting practices from small business — it adopts procedures that correspond to I don’t know what, global banks maybe, or that imitate the NSF (which is of course not a business). They just created a new one, competitive funding for travel. It used to be that the travel money was just divided up but now we all have to compete for a share. So you write a proposal defending your conference paper, the conference, your reasons for presenting this piece of your work now, and you get letters of recommendation. Then a panel judges you and decides whether or not you can have partial funding for travel to this conference. This is billed as new support for research and it is allegedly designed to improve faculty work.

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            1. I want this system you describe. Because the system we have right now, a colleague – a wonderful person and I love them to death but somebody who does zero research on principle – got full funding to go to a resort conference in the same year that I got zero dollars zero cents to go speak at Oxford, which talk I later turned into a chapter for an edited volume. The reason is that the colleague had the time and the energy to go ask, cajole and bug everybody in sight at the dean’s office. And I didn’t. Plus, they got seniority.

              I’d much rather there were a competition. Because I do real research and I need it to be recognized.

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              1. You would lose because your department does not grant the Ph.D. and you are not doing R&D-style “innovation.” If you did research on how to bring Silicon Valley businesses to your region, or some form of Louisiana cultural exceptionalism, it would be recognized as important and as aligned with the mission of the university, ergo deserving of funding.

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  3. “Whenever I’m around people who are actually in business, I’m green with envy”

    I think this is your Soviet past, the university (while not communist or Soviet) is full of the same kind of aggrieved and infuriating attitudes that made life under communism such a tedious ordeal (when expanded to every sector of society)

    A constant stream of people avoiding responsibility or initiative or blaming everything on ‘the system’ has got to be terribly wearying for a person who’s glad to be free of Soviet style stagnation and muddle.

    People that do their jobs without complaint or drama seem like superhero magicians

    Americans who don’t understand East European communism will never get it (I know more than 99 % of Americans and I only partly get it)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I never thought about it this way but yeah, totally. It’s the Soviet-style cynicism, exactly. I knew it felt strangely familiar. 🙂

      I’m so desperate that I’ve started to watch videos by the business guru Gary Vaynerchuk (not surprisingly, a fellow with Soviet origins). He’s never going to win any awards for being a mega intellectual but I like the aura of enthusiasm and assuredness.

      Yeah, I have a very bad reaction to anything that smells of my Soviet past. 🙂

      Like

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