Thursday, March 8, 2007

One More Reader Kicks the Shit Out of Chuff Charlie

Ok, I want to know where your latest outraged poster works, because his/her claims do not reflect my 17 years in the supposed "real world." (Yeah, the assumption this person brings to the post is that we've all been academics our whole lives. Many of us, like me have had careers in the "real world" and have been recruited back to academia.)

In the real world, companies don't have policies demanding you bring physical PROOF that you attended a funeral to prove you weren't lying about grandma's death.

Baloney. After a certain point, we in the real world of work would simply conclude, after too many Monday/Friday and early morning absences and emergencies, that you are a whiner, a loser, or both. And we'd find a way to get rid of you. Maybe not by firing you. But perhaps by a lavish 1 percent raise and no promotions, year after year, and marginalizing you from the projects we're working on, farming you out to some job where your incompetence/laziness won't affect anything.

Not so in the university, where I’m marked "absent" and perhaps even marked down a grade for having the TEMERITY to go get a vomiting child who needs to see the doctor, NOW.

Again, where do you work? Because where I worked in the real world, you bet you could be gone to take care of a sick kid....but if it happened too often, you got to informally join the "mommy track" even if you never left the company to raise your kids. You want to know how this happens? Well, people start to figure out that you don't show and you don't deliver--for whatever reasons--and if you have a good reason like kids, we'd still stop giving you crucial, time-sensitive stuff to do--which is usually the stuff that gets your performance the most attention, and those things yield the bonuses and promotion opportunities. We all liked mommies, and we paid lip service to wanting to support mommies and daddies in the workplace, but we didn't, not really, if they let their personal lives impinge on their professional lives too much.

Horrible, I agree, but there you go. Alas.

In the real world, important meetings can be and are routinely changed because of scheduling problems or family disasters.

Sometimes, if you are integral to the meeting and there aren't that many participants. But if you are one of many participants (as is the case with classes), most meetings will roll on without you and you'll miss out on stuff, and if you constantly have to be brought up to speed by your colleagues because you always have something better to do than get your ass to meetings, we'll conclude you are a waste of time and stop telling you important stuff.

And meetings I personally could care less about as a professor. I don't grade attendance. I grade products or deliverables, which have to be on time both for my class and the real world. Maybe you have worked in that magic part of the real world where contracts do not have to meet and you can turn things in sloppy and past deadlines, but I never did. Bids, design competitions, grant proposals--all have to be done on time to be considered. It doesn't matter if you were sick, if your grandma died, or anything else.

There was once a young professional in my firm who was responsible for delivering a proposal to a government office by 10 am. He screwed around, got there at 10:10, and they wouldn't accept it. I fired him, because that portfolio had cost us roughly $15,000 in labor costs to put together. He had one job to do, and he couldn't get up early enough to do it.

Read that? *I* fired him. That real-world enough for you? The habits my students develop when they are in my classes will affect how well they manage time later. I am convinced of that. I'm not some petty pinhead with a God complex. I'm trying to help students learn to budget their time and resources, learn to differentiate what is important from what can wait, and make difficult choices. I hope to help them do this in my class--when the stakes are low, over a grade--so they can avoid something like what happened to my young professional friend.

In the real world, I do not work for five or six different bosses who all insist their work is the most important I should be doing.

In the real world of my work, I ROUTINELY answered to five to ten different project managers or clients demanding that their project was the most important thing on my plate. Generally, their deadlines piled up just like my midterms used to.

And when 6 do? I share that work out with my colleagues and my boss and we all pull together to get it done. In academia, that’s called "cheating.”

No, in academia and everywhere, that's called teamwork, and I let my students work in teams all the times. But I don't let them hand in other people's work as their own, take credit other people's work, or free-ride on those teams--all behavior that would not make you popular on real world teams either. Sure, on some projects when you have an established team of people you trust, you contribute more sometimes and less other times. But only after you have proven your worth to your colleagues and supervisors do you get slack, and only after you have established that you can be counted on.

At work, if I get a bad performance review, I work with my supervisor to fix those problems and improve my performance before my next review (rather like high school). At university, it's one and done. I get a C in the class, and I have no opportunity to improve it, ever. "In the real world, you won't get graded -you'll get fired." Hogwash

See above. I have, indeed, fired people before their probationary period ended with the company because while they may have been trainable, they just weren't working hard enough, or there were a few too many sick days and a few too many excuses made, and a few too many unnecessary requests for deadline extensions. I hate to see that type of behavior from somebody fresh out. While I was generally considered to be a pretty good mentor when I was in the "real world," it wasn't my job to raise somebody's kid for them, and it's only generally worth my time to mentor somebody who has a fire in their belly.

The company didn't have to train anybody. Why not? Because there were at the time (this is the less the case now) fresh-out students for a dime a dozen. We did train people, don't get me wrong, but only once they proved they were worth the investment.

(I'll accept your $30,000 figure, but it sounds like BS to me, because the secretaries hereabouts don't make that in a year and such transition costs have to be related to lost personnel and training time and paperwork costs. However, even $30,000 can be cheap compared to keeping a lazy screw-up around, if they cost you contracts or cause team strife.)

There’s a reason C students do better in "the real world." Those kids who are driving you bat-shit and socializing and schmoozing and trying to wheel and deal you are going to grow up to be CEOs and top executives and bishops and PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.

Are there actual statistics that C students do better than A students? Even with grade inflation? Or are you pulling this out of your butt because you want it to be true? I'm having trouble believing it. Because our last president of the United States was an excellent and accomplished student whose family, unlike our current president's, couldn't buy him new opportunity after new opportunity. Whatever you can say about Clinton, he didn't squander his education or the opportunities it raised for him.

I suspect that people succeed from all points of the grade spectrum, for reasons related (as in the case of our current president) to social class, talent, hard work, luck--the right idea, the right place, the right time. But my C students are seldom the ambitious wheeler dealers you seem imagine. Most are just rather stupid and think I can't see through their idiotic excuses. Most think because they've gotten away with doing lousy work in the past, this will continue forever. Maybe it will, if they are lucky and have enough family wealth to ensure an easy life. But that was not my experience in the "real world."