Slip & Slide

We feel the need to get things done, and quickly. Time may not be the enemy, but it is of the essence, and we’re running out.

And yet our working meetings, always launched with the best intentions, keep morphing into strategy sessions required  to fend off the latest volley from downtown. Their goal, as always, is to stave off even the smallest accomplishment, so our work gets swallowed up, disappearing down the maw of institutional inertia.

I guess operational momentum requires that kind of constant slippage — the slow slide (drain) from one day into the next, never really getting anywhere, but always giving the appearance of making enormous strides.

Hence the need on their end to coordinate lots of EVENTS, RETREATS, DISCUSSIONS, and of course never-ending MEETINGS to keep the slide nice and slippery.

And I can’t help but return always to the language. To an emerging glossary of the critically undead, let’s add:

  • educational coherence
  • streamlined requirements (and program streams)
  • reduced redundancy
  • predictable schedules
  • smart offerings

Words in bold are the fuel cells for their off-world battlestar.

There’s nothing like a rhetoric of smart coherence to mask the incoherent short-sightedness of a broad-based dumbing down — because ultimately that’s the goal, to make life easier by reducing and narrowing choices, meanwhile marketing the whole thing as a shift toward ever-greater abundance, as a streamlined path to getting exactly what you want, when you want it.

The Walmartification of higher ed, wherein “Save money. Live better” translates to “Save time. Learn better.”

Slip sliding away.

Re Treats

The first thing we notice are the food offerings. We’re confident the donuts and coffee have not been laced with truth serum or something else to coax a resigned complicity, but who knows.

No doubt this horseshoe arrangement in the meeting chamber, the assigned seating, all these individually-wrapped peppermint Life Savers gathered in clusters on tables–let’s just say someone has invested some serious thought into keeping us both separated and oriented in a particular way, breath perpetually fresh and other-directed. We’ve been instructed not to speak to ourselves, meaning a deliberate attempt to divide us now underwrites all subsequent interactions.

Getting started we talk initially about how to plan to get along today, once we begin. On the whiteboard to my left is the PARKING LOT reserved, we’re told, for really great ideas, should any alight. The ice breaker challenges us to reflect on our own pasts in the interest (we presume) of anticipating some radically new and potentially communal, streamlined futures. There’s talk of confidence vs. uncertainty, of cultural stigmas, of anxiety and expectation.

By now we’re waking to the notion that either they have no concrete plan for today or the plan is just that — to have no concrete plan. There’s an odd tumbling sensation that presents when you spend a little time in a room with people whose plan is to have no plan. Still there appears to be a driving force, an over-arching master will or uber-momentum. I sense this by 11:30am as a new pressure builds behind the eyeballs that could be caused, my neighbor from downtown proposes, by the bright neon lights overhead. I don’t think so.

For my own part I’ve decided that trying to second guess their intentions is a fool’s errand. We’re dealing here with a headless monster whose multiple arms flail uncontrollably. Which is not to say this monster attacks without purpose. We just don’t know enough yet to understand what that purpose is–beyond, of course, the slow churning force of institutional change whose justification, as always, is the need for institutional change. A big monster at that scale seems to move at a very slow pace. On the ground, though, the mood is acceleration, speed at any cost and the removal of all obstacles, impediments to speedy progress. The monster’s food is time-the-enemy, and we know if the monster had eyes it would see in us a bunch of plump tasty slowpokes.

Time, then, is the threshold, the edge along which we must wage our opposition. Time as constructive illusion, not the stuff of programmatic efficiency. We’ll see how it goes.