01 February 2007

"I Am Entitled To My Entitlements"

No, not me. But this great line, made famous by David Dingwall's resignation and/or firing (take your pick) from the Canadian Mint came back to me twice yesterday as I sat in on two separate meetings here at the Institute, from two different professors, each of whose standpoints are diametrically opposite on the political economic spectrum. At one meeting, a professor raised the issue of having to travel four entire floors away – by elevator, no less – to retrieve their own AV equipment. “Previously, an AV staff member would deliver the equipment to us in the classroom, and return to pick it up later,” he sniffed. “When will the AV department reinstate this service, as it is not the best use of a professor’s time to retrieve their own equipment.” The response was essentially, it was not the best use of the Institute’s relatively small Information Technology headcount to have a person to play delivery boy, as opposed to deploying that person in developing new applications, or even providing support services to the thousands of students who attend. But to the professor in question, “I am entitled to my entitlements by virtue of my esteemed position as professor.”

At the other meeting, another professor (indirectly, and couched in emancipatory and equity language) complained about accommodating student representatives at Institute-wide council meetings when the students are off-campus at practicum placements. The professor’s complaint was that professors and administration staff would have to stay after hours without pay to attend the meeting. Of course, no recognition was made of the fact that students donate dozens of hours of unpaid volunteer time to contribute to policy-development, decision-making, event planning and execution, and the creation of community from which we all - professors included - benefit (and this Institute does boast a vibrant and very involved community). But to the professor in question, “I am entitled to my entitlements by virtue of the fact that such involvement is tantamount to unpaid labour from which the neo-liberal institution is benefiting.”

And I won’t even mention the student representation in the name of equity that was posed as a confrontational challenge to an administration to whom confrontation is highly allergenic. Okay, so I mentioned it.

To all of them, I say, why don’t you take some classes in human dynamics, or even organization development. (Yeah, I know, they’re professors so they don’t have to learn any longer.) Although both the Marxist dialectic and a hierarchical sense of noblesse oblige are alive and well among many at this place, the key to making progress on any issue – and especially the contentious issues – is to create an environment in which dialogue and appreciative conversation, and most certainly not debate, discussion or discourse, are fostered. This entails a willingness to loosen one’s attachment to one’s standpoint, and to appreciate the reality that the most effective way to enable big systemic change is to enable small perturbations in everyone’s world. It’s complex, but not complicated.

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