Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Counting

My new economics colleague at the university is going through faculty orientation. His orientation lasts for a week. Two years ago, mine lasted two days. At my last job, orientation stole two days from me. At my first job, twenty years ago, orientation lasted thirty minutes.

How much orientation does one need? The thirty minute orientation was about twenty minutes too long. A week long orientation is a heartless theft of irreplaceable time.

In my thirty minute orientation the head of the accounting department spoke for a time. He was clear that, "We wear suits. That is proper attire for business professors."

I asked my department head about that afterward, since I only owned one suit. He said, "The only person who wears a suit every day is the head of the accounting department." My department head wore a shirt, tie, and sport coat. I wore a shirt and tie for a while. Then after a year or two I started wearing whatever I wanted to, which was usually jeans and a knit shirt. I was the worst dressed professor in the college of business administration.

My unprofessional dress style rankled the accounting department head. When I grew my ponytail he nearly had a coronary. I heard that he went into the meeting with the dean and department heads and put his fist on the table and said, "John has a ponytail. We must have a dress code."

He and I are both tolerant absolutists. I am more tolerant than he is, though. He would kid me and I would kid back. He looked like a televangelist. We were both convinced, but did not spend a lot of time trying to convince each other.

When I cut the ponytail, a few years later, I put it in a baggie and left it in his mailbox. My note said, "Happy Birthday." I signed it, "John." He was perplexed. He actually went to another department head, also named John (who had very little hair), and asked if he had left the ponytail in his mailbox. The other department head made the obvious guess and sent him to me. We got a laugh out of it.

He was jovial enough, but he was, as the stereotype would suggest, opposed to any change in the way the college was administered. After I left, the new dean came in and asked him to step down. He could be a professor again, but not department head. He chose to retire, instead. He had been in the retirement system so long that he was working for nothing, so it was no sacrifice to retire when he did.

I went to a U. with a new dean--the former head of accounting at that U. Professors do not like to be managed at all. She micromanaged everyone. Her priorities were set in stone, but they ran counter to the the priorities of the market for professors. Since she had low value for professors like me, whom the market valued higher, she lost me, along with a few other productive professors. Three weeks after I found my new job the president of the old U. forced her to resign because she had caused so many faculty to leave.

I did not know there were accountants like the ones at my current job. Don't get me wrong, I have had accounting professors as friends (including the televangelist), but the accountants where I now work respect economics in ways that I have never seen.

The ringleader said it this way. "Accounting is all based on economics."

I, frankly, didn't get it. He explained, "We measure the activity of the firm. But what is important to measure? The answers all come from economics."

He was right. I never knew it was nice to be appreciated. It's not stupendously nice. But it's nice.

No comments: