Visionary?

Reading about Nipissing University’s Students in Free Enterprise (NUSIFE), which is a group of students who undertake projects “intended to increase the public’s awareness of entrepreneurship and business-related subjects,” it occurs to me to wonder why such an endeavour is undertaken only by business students.

Consider the projects listed below – and imagine…

– “Global Crusaders” educated high school students about minimum wages and exchange rates in five different countries – why not educate them about gender issues in five different countries?

– “Team Builders” led team-building exercises during a weekend program at the YMCA – my guess is that sociology students’ take on team-building would be quite different than that of business students…

– “Junior Tycoons” were high school students presented with a basic business plan – why not present “Junior Diplomats” with a recess plan based on insights from political science, history, and psychology?

– “Budgeting for Mental Health Patients” – how about “Philosophy for Mental Health Patients”?

– “My First Bank Account” – whatever happened to “My First Library Card”?

– “Nipissing East Community Opportunities” received a marketing plan – they could have used an environmental assessment plan…

– “Show Me the Money” was about financial planning guidelines on the web – how about “Show Me the Stars”, astronomy on the web?

– “A Feasibility Study” was presented to graphic arts students – how about presenting them with an ethics study?

Such projects, both by training students to apply their knowledge outside academia and by increasing the visibility of business in the outside world, probably contribute to the strangle-hold business – business activities and business interests – has on the world; therefore, suggesting that such endeavours be undertaken by humanities and science students as well is more than an exercise in imagination – it’s an identification of responsibility.

This particular infiltration of business is so developed that there are actually competitions among universities for their SIFE teams.  Yes, there are poetry and drama competitions too, but poems and plays don’t reach out and engage the community in the same way; they just present to, perform for, the community (except for those cool workplace theatre guerrilla groups).  Perhaps science does a little better – there are, of course, the annual science fairs, but from time to time I also see students out in the field with their lab kits.

This lack of engagement is rampant throughout the humanities curriculum.  We teach our English students how to appreciate and write poetry, but not how to find a literary agent; how to appreciate and write drama, but not how to produce a play.  Philosophy students are great at clarifying concepts and values, identifying hidden assumptions, testing for consistency and coherence; psychology students know all about how our minds and emotions work; sociology students know about people in groups, small and large, in cultures and subcultures and countercultures; history students know what hasn’t worked.  Along with our students of gender studies and native studies and our other social science students, humanities students (the humanities focus on humanity – and who, what, are we talking about when all is said and done?), and of course our science students (what is humanity but one bunch of carbon-based organisms among many), would be great consultants if they had any consulting skills.[1]  But we don’t teach them how to write a proposal, how to contract for business, or how to manage a project.

Until we do these things, our humanities and science students will be dependent on business students as go-betweens and as enablers.  And since business students, by definition apparently, have profit as their motivator, their purpose, and their goal, there is bound to be a certain amount of unfulfilled potential.  Business students are not likely to set up Sociologists, Inc. or History Is Us.  Nor are they even likely to engage the services of non-business students as consultants.

OPAS is another example of the deficiency I’m trying to expose.  It’s a partnership between Ontario universities and Canadian companies, named “The Office for Partnerships for Advanced Skills” with a mandate to “foster more effective relations between universities and companies who hire and maintain a highly skilled workforce” and “respond to requests and develop initiatives that promote increased use of university-based resources including advanced skills development.”  One might be forgiven, therefore, for thinking it was pretty inclusive.  This seems indicated even by the Special Events & Programs (which includes “the Visionary Seminar Series, Industry Sector Symposia, Internship & Reciprocal Exchange Programs and the development of a National Network”) and by the Skills Development statement (which says “In knowledge industries, skills requirements advance and change, creating new needs. OPAS responds to these changing skills needs with solutions designed and delivered by leading university programs across Ontario”).

However, a close look reveals that there isn’t a whole lot of room for humanities and social science; there’s something for science and engineering (an auto parts symposium is listed, as well as a biotech sector symposium), but it seems that the university programs they’re talking about partnering with are pretty much the BBA and MBA.  Their website welcome page confirms this: “In today’s knowledge-based economy, business organizations are faced with the need to address constant changes in operating practices, human capital requirements, and technology.”  That page is pure business buzz (“human capital”?!).  (And there you do see the specification – “business organizations….”)

Indeed, had I visited the OPAS website first, I wouldn’t have been so surprised to discover that the keynote speaker (the only speaker) at the “Visionary 2000” seminar was the CEO of the Royal Bank (how much more focussed on business, profit, money, can you get?).  And the very fact that his talk, nothing more than a Royal Bank promo, was billed as visionary indicates just how much we need to correct this deficiency.

 

[1] Marc Renaud, president of SSHRC, says “many of the key questions confronting our society fall within the realm of the social sciences and the humanities and our disciplines represent a goldmine of knowledge that can help.  We need to make sure that people outside the research community know about this goldmine, so that it can be put to broader use” (quoted by David Bentley in “Humanities for humanity’s sake” University Affairs).

Mentoring

Studies show that people who have had mentors, who have had someone to provide “sponsorship, exposure, visibility, coaching, protection, and challenging assignments – activities which directly relate to the protégé’s career” do indeed experience more career advancement than people who have not had mentors [1].  In a study of 1241 American executives, 67% of all respondents said they had a mentor [2].  Which just goes to show  – it’s who you know.  That’s how, why, they are executives.

Given that it’s a 1979 statistic, presumably the respondents are referring to an informal mentorship, which arises spontaneously, as opposed to a formal mentorship, which is arranged by the organization as part of a mentoring program.  The problem in both cases, however, is that most people who are in a position to mentor, a position of power and prestige, a well-connected position, are men.  Still.  So sexism keeps women from becoming protégés – because even if the guy’s wife is fine with it, everyone will wonder whether she’s sleeping her way to the top and that’ll handicap her, essentially cancelling any advantage of the mentorship.  Furthermore, women who could be mentors avoid mentoring other women because they fear being labelled feminist troublemakers.  Why don’t men fear mentoring other men for fear they’ll be labelled – what, part of the old boys’ network?

All that aside, it seems to me that mentoring is unfair: it makes ‘it’s who you know not what you know’ true.  Merit becomes not the sole criterion for advancement.

Though perhaps mentoring counters chance.  Chance is unfair too.  With mentoring, those who do get doors opened for them are those who deserve it.  But to say ‘All A are B’ doesn’t mean ‘All B are A’: to say ‘All those who are mentored have merit’ doesn’t mean ‘All those with merit become mentored’.  And, of course, I’m not sure mentors choose their protégés according to merit.

So why do mentors choose who they choose?  Why do mentors mentor at all?  I wonder if it isn’t just some primitive lineage impulse in action.  You know… men need a son, someone to carry on the family name.  And since it’s more and more unlikely that men have actual sons in a position to be their protégés …  Do mentors tend to choose sons of friends when available?  Do they tend to choose people who are twenty to thirty years younger, in the ‘son’ age bracket?  What about women who mentor?  (More likely, their motive is social justice, not personal legacy.)

I’m not saying people shouldn’t seek, or give, advice and guidance.  That’s not what mentoring is all about.  A mentor does more than that: a mentor introduces you to influential people in the organization, facilitates your entry to meetings and activities usually attended by high-level people, publicly praises your accomplishments and abilities, recommends you for promotion, and so on.  But see here’s the thing.  Introductions should be unnecessary.  Meetings attended by high level personnel shouldn’t be open to others.  Everyone’s accomplishments and abilities should be praised publicly.  Only your immediate supervisor or some named designate should be able to recommend you for a  promotion.  And so on.

In any case, the need for mentors means the organization isn’t structured to advance based on merit.  So shouldn’t mentors’ efforts instead be directed to making sure that it is?  To making sure that mentors aren’t needed?  You shouldn’t need a mentor to open doors because the doors shouldn’t be locked.  You shouldn’t need a mentor to give you inside information because there shouldn’t be any inside information: an organization’s policies and procedures should be written out for all to read, perhaps even presented at a new employee training session (and there should be no unwritten policies, no under-the-table procedures); any preferences for application materials, be it for a job, a promotion, or a grant, should be stated on the application form itself, or perhaps explained in a separate ‘Tips for Applicants’ sheet; and knowledge of any available job, promotion, or grant should be freely accessible to all.  Influential people should use their influence only in formal channels; their authority should only be that vested in them by the terms of their job description.

Men are so proud of not mixing pleasure and business, of separating the personal from the public.  Bullshit.  Aren’t a lot of critical connections, let alone decisions, made on the golf course?  At the bar?  Between conference sessions?  It seems that by ‘personal’ and ‘pleasure’ they just mean women – wives, daughters, sexual liaisons.  They leave the women in their lives out of consideration.  But their relationships with their buddies and their sons – these are very much brought into the workplace.

 

[1] “Formal and Informal Mentorships: A Comparison on Mentoring Functions and Contrast with Non-mentored Counterparts,” Georgia T. Chao and Pat M. Walz  Personnel Psychology 45.3 (1992)

[2] “Much Ado about Mentors,”  B. Roche.  Harvard Business Review 5.7 (1979)

Another poem from chris wind – thought this one especially apt since it’s September and students are back at university…it’s from her book dreaming of kaleidoscopes

 

To My Philosophy Professors

 

Why didn’t you tell me?

When I was all set to achieve Eudamonia

through the exercise of Right Reason,

When I was eager to fulfil my part

of the Social Contract,

When I was willing, as my moral duty,

to abide by the Categorical Imperative

When I was focussed on Becoming,

through Thesis and Antithesis to Synthesis–

 

Why didn’t you correct me?

Tell me that Aristotle didn’t think I had any reason,

That according to Rousseau,

I couldn’t be party to the contract,

That Kierkegaard believes I have no sense of duty

because I live by feeling alone,

That Hegel says I should spend my life

in self-sacrifice, not self-development,

That Nietzsche thinks I’m good for pregnancy

and that’s about it–

 

Why didn’t you tell me I wasn’t included?

 

(Perhaps because you too had excluded me

from serious consideration;

Or did you think I wouldn’t understand?)

 

(I do.           I do understand.)

 

1987

School Crossing Signs

You’ve seen the signs I mean – silhouette figures of two children about to cross the road: one boy, one girl.  (How do we tell?  One’s wearing a skirt.)  (That’d be the girl.)  (Really, do most girls still wear skirts to school?)

So, yes, let’s emphasize sex.  Boy and Girl.  Ms. and Mr.  Nothing else matters.

And nothing else is possible.

Note that the boy is taller. ‘Oh, but they are.’  Not at that age! Taller suggests older which suggests more mature, wiser.  And just in case you miss this not-so-subtle suggestion of male authority, look, he has his hand on the little girl’s shoulder – guiding, protecting, patronizing.  It will be there for the rest of her life.

Just to make sure of that, Read the rest of this entry »

Canada Day – Are you sure you want to celebrate?

Before you get all patriotic and fly your little Canadian flags in celebration of Canada Day and, presumably, of being Canadian, think about it. Are you really proud to be: Read the rest of this entry »

Air Bands and Power Point

I still remember the feeling I had when I saw my first air band performance. It was a sick kind of feeling.

I hadn’t known what an air band was. The announcement came over the p.a. at my school-for-the-day, and I dutifully shepherded the class to the gym. Then I watched, incredulous, as group after group of high school students came on stage and pretended to play their favourite songs. I mumbled a query to the teacher standing next to me. Apparently this air band stuff was quite big. Students spent weeks practising. They really wanted to get it right. ‘It’ being the appearance, the pretence. Read the rest of this entry »

Dr. Frankenstein, meet Dr. Spock

Thanks to genetic research, we may soon see people with the money to do so making sure their kids are born-to-succeed – parents paying to guarantee their kids have the right stuff.  I’m not talking about a straightened spine or a functional optic nerve.  I’m talking about designer kids: those made with healthy bodies, intelligent minds, and perhaps a certain specific ability to boot. Read the rest of this entry »

Poor Little Kids

So I heard on the news the other day about the poor little kids whose school backpacks are so full of books they’re developing debilitating back pain…  Oh please.

If they’d worked on their homework during the time allotted for just that purpose, instead of text messaging the person next to them, one painstaking letter at a time, to send the monumentally important query ‘hey brittiny ow r u’, they wouldn’t have so much left over to take home.

If they’d paid attention during class, engaged their minds in the mental effort required to learn something, they might have even finished it during that allotted time.

If they wore their backpacks properly with both straps over their shoulders and high up, instead of oh-so-fashionably slung low over one shoulder, they wouldn’t develop such back pain.

If mandatory physical education hadn’t’ve been cancelled, or if they actually played outside after school instead of watching tv, or walked the five blocks to and from school instead of getting chauffeured by mom or dad, they might have enough strength in their little backs  –  wait a minute  –  are these the same kids for whom pens with rubberized grips are designed because the user’s thumbs and forefingers are just too weak to hold onto them firmly otherwise?

Being There

I recently read a lament about work attitudes, about how more and more people seem to think that just being there is enough, that their paycheque is for putting in time rather than for actually doing anything, let alone for doing a good anything, that people feel no guilt about the mistakes they make, nor do they feel any desire to do better.

I’d like to offer some comments in defense, or at least in explanation, of that position.  Read the rest of this entry »

Government Grants for Grad School

So – this was quite a while ago – a colleague at work, another part-timer, who was also going to grad school, got a government grant. She’d be getting $675/month to cover her living expenses. I’d spent five years saving $10,000 to cover my living expenses (hopefully it wouldn’t take more than ten months to get my degree).

She’s ‘native’. Well, she was born in Canada same as me, actually in the same year even, but her parents’ parents’ parents’ parents’ parents’ parents were living here before the Europeans moved in.

So, the argument goes, Read the rest of this entry »