Advice to Students
The Manager's Eye
It is characteristic of academe that even its newest members exercise some authority. Don't overestimate how much, but do practice within what limits are available to you, such as the department graduate admissions committee. Also, academe is competitive, as are all structures where authority is not absolutely held. On this page, we begin with a few vignettes of responsibility and conflict as they might be encountered by someone moving up the ladder of responsibility and entering the zone of conflict. You will need to imagine the other vignettes all by yourself. We end with a glimpse of the intellectual terrain as seen by someone who has reached the point of being its manager.
- 97. Have something in mind. Don't do things just because they are there.
- 98. Don't accept responsibilities for which you don't have the resources. Don't accept responsibilities for which you are the resources.
- 99. Of all skills, literary skill is the most treacherous. Don't do something just to make a nice tableau (Jarry). Don't publish a cruel review merely because you have those phrases on tap (Shaw). Don't resign out of pride in your ability to write an anthologizable letter of resignation (Millay).
- 100. Every event will change the chances for the things you want to happen. Get the habit of routinely asking how. Every person you meet will either offer you something for that outcome, or not. Get the habit of automatically deciding which. Then go on with normal friendly conversation. And why? Because friendship is another of the things you want to happen.
- 101. Don't grudge. If you contribute cookies to the department party, don't ask to take the leftovers home for your children. If you go to hear a visiting lecturer, don't grade papers in the back row.
- 102. Don't contend. Don't get involved in other people's rancor. But if you do quarrel, pick your spot. And if the spot instead picks you, be ready. Don't go into a confrontation without being prepared to lose it. Don't go into it expecting to lose it.
- 103. Don't snarl. Have what enemies you must, but keep a routine smile for everybody. It's easier. And even if it weren't, why put somebody else in charge of your face?
- 104. Don't agonize. You are finite. What you don't catch, the next person will (Analects 13:2).
- 105. In voting for admissions, prizes, grants, or appointments, don't play past favorites. Don't pay old scores. Don't look for yourself among the candidates. The only thing your past life should contribute to your present decision is to have sharpened your eye for the next good thing.
- 106. The first time, you will need to read everything in all the files. It will take a lot of time. That time is well spent once. It gives you the moral confidence to do it faster the next time.
- 107. The temptation in awarding support is to reward past successes. The opportunity in awarding support is to enable future successes. The past is the best guide to the future, but it is not itself the future. Learn to distinguish.
- 108. Be alert for equivalents; not everybody has your advantages. The motto for selection committees as for registrars is "Our standards are inflexible, but the way individuals meet our standards is open to discussion." Still, in the end, standards must somehow be met. The heart-rendingly underprepared applicants are indeed heart-rending, but heart-rending doesn't make up for other qualities. It's an abuse of emotion to use it where other perceptions are more appropriate.
- 109. So now you have tenure, and can with less risk speak in faculty meeting. Before doing so, note that debate on first principles is invariably futile. Discuss How, not Whether.
- 110. The one successful argument is, "We're already doing it." The other is, "Stanford is already doing it, and they haven't had any problems." Nothing petrifies people like the unfamiliar.
- 111. If you can't get all the signatures you want, on a statement or petition, get what you can. Revolutions are made with found materials. And while we are on the subject, bear in mind that most revolutions cause trouble chiefly for their makers.
- 112. Most academic victories are procedural. Don't let dubious procedures go by default. Contest them. Don't rely on getting a later ruling that they were invalid. Don't rely on later vindication of any sort. All comfort is cold comfort.
- 113. Committees are the death of thought, but the beginning of administrative savvy. Avoid most, but let the ones you do serve on not be simply those you can't avoid. Pick your few. Pick them not for what you can contribute to them, but for what you can learn from them.
- 114. If you accept a nomination to some deliberative body, attend its meetings. Simply turning up is the most elementary form of institutional honesty. At the meetings, remember that there is a difference between expressing your opinion and representing your constituency. You can forego the former, and your life will be simpler if you do, but the latter is a duty.
- 115. Be alert to logistics. Get a sense of how much ice supports the tip of any given iceberg, and don't mistake a floe for a berg. Learn to eyeball. Learn to count.
- 116. Rumor propagates spontaneously; reputation is something that exists one person at a time. Build reputation before you have to cope with rumor.
- 117. Doers make bad managers; they meddle. Non-doers make bad managers; they can't judge results. There is a certain tact in knowing how to do it yourself, and yet being willing to see others succeed by doing it. Managers need to possess this tact. There is such a thing as pleasure in other people's success. Managers need to be available to this pleasure. If you felt envious rather than proud, the last time one of your colleagues got a rave book review, decline the deanship.
- 118. Speed is good. If, as Dean, you know you are going to take some step 14 months from now, take it now. Deliberation is good. People are not just points on the flow chart; they won't perform well if their emotional continuities are continually jangled. Make haste deliberately enough that others can see where you (and therefore they) are going.
- 119. If things must be reduced, arrange to have a little advance somewhere else on the perimeter. It creates a sense of growth rather than deprivation. Don't follow events; lead them. A general sense of onward morale is very helpful in leading an institution over a bad period.
- 120. Administration consists in doing things that everybody knows need doing, but nobody wants to take responsibility for. Don't expect thanks. Administration is bringing about the conditions where things can happen by spontaneous combination. Don't expect acknowledgement. The highest management is where people think they have done it themselves (Dau/Dv Jing 17). As in fact they will have.
- 121. If you're going to say No, say it at the beginning. If you say Yes at the beginning, keep your word. Have a margin of resources for the unexpected proposal that needs a Yes. Chance favors the prepared mind. And at this level, the prepared mind implies an equally prepared budget.
- 122. Hear disputes on their merits. Don't automatically reward the first party to reach you; don't invariably penalize lower rank. The lower-ranking party may be a failed experiment in hiring, or the future trying to happen. You need to know which. The present is your concern, but the future is your job.
- 123. Get out on the factory floor. Visit turf; it's yours too. Keep an eye out for what's wrong, but also for what's right. Don't have expectations about where you will find what's right; be open to it. When you find it, encourage it. The best stick is a carrot, and the best carrot is personal recognition. Be aware that personal recognition attenuates in transmission. Call them in, and have the photographer on hand.
- 124. Be alert to encourage good beginnings, but don't always wait for things to originate elsewhere. There are some ideas which it is now your province to have.
- 125. Departments that do their own hiring either spiral up or spiral down. Only the best spiral up. The others need your attention. In a pattern, over time.
- 126. Don't hire the same person over and over. Contrive to get a mix of theoreticians and experimentalists; to conjoin the learned and the insightful. If you can't do it within departments, do it across the board. It is a mix of talents that makes a research team. It is not the state, but the multi-state system, that engenders an intellectual renaissance. Create a system.
- 127. Left on its own, academe grows randomly. Feel free to take a hand in the process. Avoid mere neatness, but be sure that the conditions for intellectual cooperation and fertilization don't become casualties of departmental turf wars, or departmental shortsightedness.
- 128. Are the hiring structures appropriate to the activity structures? Do all activity structures need hiring structures? What is in place, to balance the the tendency of weak departments to build higher walls around themselves, and of provincial fields to further provincialize themselves?
Such questions eventually get us into areas that are more authoritatively treated in The President's File:
12 Aug 2002 / Contact The Project / Exit to Advice Page