Annals of Commerce: Post-encounter surveys

Friday afternoon my wife and I stopped into our local Wells Fargo branch to figure out why her ATM card wasn’t working.  We had a ten-minute conversation with a nice staffer, solved the problem and went on our way.

Tonight the phone rang at about 9PM: it was a nice young woman from Gallup “calling for Wells Fargo” to interview me about my recent experience at the branch.  This has become a plague, and the bank’s rudeness and arrogance in doing this is so astonishing that I’m not sure about the motivation.  Just to be clear: the bank and I have a deal about services and payment that in no way includes my providing free management consulting at a time of the bank’s choosing: the survey would have taken about as long as I had already committed to the ATM card problem.

I have done survey research and taken the time of customers (in that case museum visitors) and I understand there’s some irreducible imposition;  I usually reply to political surveys if I don’t read them as push polls or tendentious.  At the museum, we were careful to make a fuss about how grateful we were for the respondents’ time, and gave them a couple of free admission passes as at least a gesture recognizing their cost.  Some of these irritating follow-up surveys enter you in a lottery with unknown odds for some sort of prize, and some are online so you can do them when convenient.  But calling a customer at home in the evening is really over the top.

Perhaps this is some idiot’s idea of making the customer think the bank cares how he feels.  If they get anything useful from these surveys, it’s profitable for the bank, and they pay their staff, Gallup, and everyone else a share of the gains: what this little exercise made me feel, as so often happens when we interact with people selling us stuff, is that the bank thinks my time is worthless to me (or, I guess, that I find it amusing or useful to respond to one of these surveys).  They are wrong, and I hope a wave of resistance to this spreading imposition develops.  I can assure anyone reading this that the result of the bank’s lame marketing idea was to turn a perfectly satisfactory commercial encounter into a disagreeable one that I will remember with distaste, and of course I didn’t answer their questions either.

It’s not a ‘women’s issue’

Ann-Marie Slaughter is on the cover of the Atlantic with an important essay about work and family. along with a stupid picture of a baby in a briefcase (which some art director stuck her with) and a stupid title/headline (which she did not write).   She starts out with a personal anecdote, which I regret as an overused  rhetorical trick, but ends up talking about the important stuff, which is bigger than her family’s work/child-rearing conflicts and bigger than the cultural habits and expectations that are especially tough on women. I’m not going to summarize it; you need to read it all.

The piece has stirred up a rousing discussion on a listserv I frequent along with thoughtful and on-target commentary, for example (and only for example; I have not trolled the web to get everything) here and here.  But I did look at the first Google page of hits and found ten articles by women, which makes twelve, and two fairly flip paragraphs by one man.  One would think the conflict between work and family is a problem women have, sort of like race being something black people have, or  work mainly in women’s inboxes .  Slaughter actually gets this right, but even among my liberal listserv colleagues, the women have had a lot more to say than the men, including the few men who weighed in (on the listserv, but not as far as I can tell in public) to take ownership of the issue.  This state of affairs is wrongheaded on the facts (men and their kids also pay heavy dues trying to be good at work and at home) but more fundamentally wrong because we’re all in this together. Men have daughters and wives and depend on the value created (or not) by women at work, not to mention retiring on the taxes to be paid by all of today’s children.

The stupidity of the title is its implication that ‘everything’ is a reasonable thing to aspire to.  Of course you can’t have everything, because there are 24 hours – not 25 or 240 -  in each day of your three score and ten, and because if you’re a world-class shot putter you will not be a winning jockey for fundamental and intractable properties of muscle energy per unit of mass. A lot of the power of the article is its irrefutable certification that the family-job problem is not solved by money or caused by poverty or stupidity or ignorance: the Moravcsik-Slaughter household has all the IQ points, social capital, advantages of birth and status, and money they could possibly use. They have as much of everything as can be hoped for; the problem is  that they can’t apportion their shopping basket optimally because of constraints that actually don’t have to bind us.

What Slaughter is about is that we could all have a lot more of two big important things if we organized life better, and her lessons are emphatically not that the way to go about that is women-centric.  It’s complicated, because there is indeed misogyny all over the place and a lot of the bad habits and rules are especially hostile to women, so it would be wrong for men to just hijack the issue. The feminism issue here is twofold: indeed, women in particular deserve a better deal, but also, and partly for that reason, women have some useful stuff to teach everyone if we will just pay attention.

My main takeaway from the article is the enormous social cost of the macho workplace, created and managed by insecure men to assure their status by hazing routines and a sort of potlatch of self-abuse, and the positional arms race culture.  How much more value (net of fringes etc. and pay) is actually created by one Stakhanovite working seventy-hour weeks and a wreck for thirty of them, than two people with a life and hobbies working thirty-five each?   How many crises asking for work on Sunday are really crises?  When it snows in DC, “non-essential” workers are asked to stay home.  Raise hands, all those who are happy to signal their dispensability by sledding with the kids.  Slaughter has a lot of good ideas in the way of changes in specific rules (like a nudge that extends the tenure clock for anyone who has a child rather than allowing people to have the extension if they ask for it).  Is really good day care, the kind the French and Italians lay on and try to recruit all kids into, for employers? for women who want to work?  for kids?  or, as they think, for all of society including men and women alumni of the École Maternelles? The pervasive expectation that it’s good to be an attentive and engaged dad, but obviously parenting is mainly mom’s to assure, makes stuff like this come down on women more, or seem to, but a great deal of the myth built into top-level, competitive, workplace life (yeah, and blue-collar just-trying-to-make-the-rent life) is equal-opportunity, and sex-independent costly, jive.

I’m not a spokesperson for men, not proud to be a man (I didn’t choose to), but still, I’m ashamed that the people standing up and saying what is true about this stuff are still almost all women.  It’s going to be a lot of work, and maybe cost us some net stuff and house square feetage, to fix this, and it’s both stupid and unfair to expect half the team to do all the lifting.



More from UVA

In case people don’t get to the bottom of the long comment stream on Jon’s post, William Wulf’s resignation from the faculty at UVA has been getting a lot of attention in certain circles.   I can’t imagine a better illustration of the problem the hard-headed business types on the Board of Visitors are bravely trying to solve, which is the failure of pointyhead intellectuals to get with the Darden Program.

First, Wulf (and Jones)  are very expensive.  For what Virginia is paying them, it could hire a whole batch of adjuncts who could fill many more seats in courses, especially required courses where the students don’t complicate the marketing task by demanding to actually learn anything important.  It could also hire a roomful of hungry assistant professors and post-docs who would publish, in total, lots more pages of research.  Just as there’s no problem finding students to fill seats, there’s no constraint of journals to accept these papers; I get invitations from actual journals I’ve never heard of and no-one reads to write something – anything – all the time. Production is paid bottoms in seats (real or virtual) and word count on paper (real or virtual); they’re easy to measure and the duty of the university is to get as many of each as possible as cheap as it can. Helen Dragas understands this and for some reason Wulf and Jones don’t, and that’s just how it is.

Second, there is no evidence they are providing any service to the university’s overall reputation on core measures: it’s telling that in his letter, Wulf cannot name a single football or men’s basketball starter who was recruited to UVA by himself or Jones, not one!  If they’re not advancing the mission, self-deportation is exactly in order, and their resignation is a badge of honor for the Visitors.

The selfless and courageous behavior of the Board don’t get no respect in quarters I frequent, perhaps because they tried to let their actions speak for them, but I’m happy to say they have now overcome their natural and admirable modesty and put forth a deathless, priceless manifesto of purpose and intentions.


Proud to be American,

reason 9.b.ii:  We selflessly share our highest values with unfortunate people around the world and improve the cultures we engage with.

Today, let us reflect on two of those values, namely “more stuff cheap”  [Amen], and “business as a moral calling” “highest standards of honesty and transparency” , um, wait a minute, “if no-one’s not many people have been indicted convicted yet, nothing has actually happened; keep moving and go shopping”.

Yeah, that’s the one.

Bad news Bears

My company is having a bad week.  246 (so far) faculty members signed a petition to the chancellor asking him to try to get the Alameda DA to drop charges recently filed against protestors whose brutalization by police in last fall’s demonstrations (including a prof holding her hands out for arrest being thrown to the ground and dragged by her hair) was widely viewed in videos.  I can’t imagine what the DA expects to get out of these prosecutions, but they have put a very sorry episode back in the news, one that earned the administration a remarkable dope-slap from the faculty and another round of embarrassment last month.

Today the chancellor announced that he is resigning at the end of this calendar year.    Good, and not surprising: he’s a decent person with many admirable instincts who was just over his head in the job; a day late and a dollar short on one challenge or crisis after another. I wish him well back in the lab.

Most of that is old news, but this is a really disgusting revelation.  A senior campus executive, earning $188K, has given her 30-year old subordinate boyfriend raises from $58K to $110K over two years. OK, any organization can have someone fall from grace, and this couple doesn’t need their personal problems raked over in public.  The scandal here is the administration’s response.

Let’s be clear what happened here: there’s no evidence so far that the purchasing manager boyfriend demonstrated the kind of incredible on-the-job performance that would justify this treatment, so Leite spent the university’s money on personal, um, services: I estimate the total is about $58K so far (not clear if Caniezo’s pay has been cut back). This could pay for about three graduate student instructors.  [The campus has a flat rule against romances between supervisors and subordinates (including faculty and students in our classes or likely to be) with or without embezzlement.] A large fraction of this money is taken from taxpayers by force, so our responsibility to use it properly is especially grave.  Incredibly, Leite still has a job,she still has some authority over use of university resources, and the wrist-slap the campus thought appropriate was a pay cut of about 3.5% after taxes.  It will take more than seven years for her to “pay back” what she stole at this rate. If she has the good grace to quit now, she will walk away with a very nice pension, unless something is done about it.

Opponents of restoring public funding for UC have pointed to administrative bloat and overpaid managers as evidence that we don’t deserve to be trusted with public money.  I’m skeptical of a lot of this line of argument; I think management matters and generally it’s expensive and worth it.  Now I’m a lot less skeptical: this story is devastating to our political credibility and to the internal credibility of our whole administration.




One Book, Three Challenges

Good Counsel: Meeting the Legal Needs of Nonprofits
by Lesley Rosenthal
(John Wiley & Sons 2012)

As I embarked on writing Good Counsel: Meeting the Legal Needs of Nonprofits, well-meaning and concerned folks cited at least three reasons why no one had written such a book before, and (implicitly) why I shouldn’t try: it’s too dangerous, too hard, too scary.

The “too-dangerous” crowd, personified by some of the most successful leaders of nonprofit turnarounds on several continents, worried that legal information in non-lawyers’ hands would result in the unlicensed practice of law by a bunch of irresponsible, budget-strapped do-it-yourself nonprofiteers. Who knows what kinds of mission mischief non-lawyers would make with their newfound knowledge – the legal equivalent of sewing your own sutures! Fortunately my own boss, the President of Lincoln Center, and several of my other mentors before him, including a former Bar Association president and a federal judge, helped forge my conviction that the law belongs to the people. They encouraged my desire to put it into plain English for all to know.

The “too-hard” folks, also well meaning, recognized the enormous variety of laws that commonly arise in nonprofits and thought it impossible to provide a general overview in one volume. I know what they meant: the tangle of specialized state and federal laws that make our sector one of the most highly regulated in the whole economy, such as state nonprofit corporations laws, Section 501(c) of the internal revenue code, IRS rules, regulations and expectations surrounding the tax exemption and good governance, multi-level filing and disclosure requirements, pension, endowment and investment laws, lobbying restrictions, and a web of 50 different states’ fundraising laws. Many fine books have been written on each of these subjects, but rare is the legal resource that touches upon them all. Then, the skeptics continued, there are also general business laws that apply to these organizations – contract law, labor and employment laws, intellectual property laws, consumer regulatory laws, real estate laws, building codes and more. And business laws apply to the nonprofit sector in weird ways not necessarily intended by lawmakers, forcing volunteer-driven organizations, for example, to think long and hard about how to structure their activities to comply with minimum wage and hours laws. Pile on top of all of those layers the additional specialized laws that apply to the wide world of nonprofits, such as FDA regs for blood banks, student privacy laws for higher ed, permitting and accreditation for hospitals and mental health facilities and so on, and the whole enterprise of writing a book about the legal context of nonprofits threatens to die under its own weight.

The “too-scary” people are the most sympathetic people of all. They are the good-hearted lawyers who are already serving as counsel, as board members – or as both simultaneously – to nonprofit organizations. Their values may line up perfectly with the mission of the organization they serve – an elder care lawyer, for example, serving on the board of a community-based senior center, a real estate lawyer counseling a neighborhood development organization, a sports and entertainment lawyer doing board duty on her town’s local Little League or scout troop – but their legal expertise may be far afield of the legal issues facing the organization. It scares them to no end when a legal question arises in the boardroom and all eyes turn toward them. UBIT – what’s that? Conflict of interest policy pertaining to co-investment interests? Ugh. Section 501(h) election for lobbying activities? Isn’t this meeting almost over? They could have just begged off answering these questions – that’s not my area of law, you see, you wouldn’t ask a dermatologist about your chest pains, would you? – if only Good Counsel didn’t exist to connect the dots between the law they do know and the law they need to know to better serve their favorite charity.

Good Counsel is intended – charitably – to defy all three objections. In 300 pages it places the law of nonprofits in the hands of board members that oversee and executives that actually run the organizations – CEOs, CFOs, program managers and staff, fundraisers, personnel directors, communications professionals, operations and facilities managers and more. Does it answer every question? No. Does it sensitize non-lawyers to common legal issues in the highly regulated context in which they operate? I sure hope so.

Lawyers who make their living practicing in this field needn’t worry that this one volume will displace them; to the contrary, placed in the right hands, the book will generate more sophisticated questions and ultimately more and better client relationships. Corporate and transactional lawyers who have not yet found an outlet for their volunteer yearnings – because it seems that most pro bono projects are more aligned with the skills of litigators, not business lawyers – may feel empowered to see how readily they can translate what they know to the legal needs of prospective nonprofit corporate clients.

Law school deans concerned about the criticism being leveled at the entire enterprise of legal education may find a path forward in Good Counsel. With case studies, work plans and focus questions following each chapter, the book lays out a path for law students supervised by clinical professors to engage with a particular nonprofit organization and assess its legal needs – growing the students’ legal skills and stretching their capacities as counselors in ways that will serve them well even if they do end up in private practice after graduation, as most do.

And the legal profession, which despite the canon of lawyer jokes is as public-spirited as any I know, may find that Good Counsel can be used to foster and strengthen more pro bono relationships between lawyers and organizations. There is a great deal of goodwill for nonprofit organizations among public-spirited lawyers. I know, because I have been both a purveyor and voracious consumer of pro bono legal services, that there is more time and willingness to serve among the legal profession than has been fully tapped to date. A pilot program of the New York State Bar Association and the New York Attorney General’s Office Charities Bureau has adopted Good Counsel as a training resource for that very purpose: to help launch up to 50 new pro bono relationships between lawyers and charities in the initial pilot year of a program called Charity Corps: Lawyers Helping Nonprofits.

Far too many of our nation’s one million public charities lack regular access to counsel. At the same time, good-hearted lawyers are floundering in their efforts to help their favorite nonprofits, or are afraid to try because they think the field is so distant from subject matter they know. Law students graduate in debt up to their ears but lacking the practical skills they need to begin servicing clients after law school. Good Counsel is a playbook, intended for all three audiences.

And while I admit it was a little hard, scary and dangerous, ultimately there were far more supporters than skeptics for this project. I invite readers – lawyers, nonprofit leaders, and academics – to take a look and let me know if it works.

Lesley Rosenthal

Schedule of upcoming Good Counsel events in NYC, LA, Detroit, Miami, Philadelphia, Boston, DC and Buffalo, NY available on or at the book’s website,

Available for purchase at

Review copies for academics, media, upon request to

Showing and telling

The current ambassador to China, Gary Locke, is teaching the Chinese some useful stuff without a word of preaching or assertion, mainly by carrying his own bags and flying economy, and being seen to do so.  The German for ambassador is botschafter, which means message carrier, and Locke’s story nicely enlarges our idea of how a message can most effectively be embodied.

I really like this story, including the inept, hamhanded response of the Chinese élites. Locke is giving the usual speeches as well, of course; I especially like this bit:

“I’ve sometimes asked myself: ‘How did the Locke family go in just two generations from living in a small rural village in China to the governor’s mansion?’ ” Locke said in a Sept. 9 speech to students at Beijing Foreign Studies University. “The answer is American openness — building and sustaining an open economy and an open society.”

“Our family’s story is the story of America,” Locke said. And, in a subtle challenge to China to become more open, he added, “we believe these values are independent of any particular political system. They are universal, and universally beneficial to societal advance.”

What the story doesn’t say is that Locke’s attribution of his status to a whole system and not to his own personal merit is also a subtle challenge to our own 1%, who seem to think everything they own was value they created alone, and are busily sawing the rungs out of the ladder.

Something happening here

The faculty senate meeting passed all four resolutions en bloc about 10:1,  336-34. The resolutions are here, here, here, and here. This morning, specific language of no confidence in the administration was removed from one of the resolutions by its sponsors so it wouldn’t appear to be a demand for resignation.

I think the attendance, 370 recorded as voting, was a record, about a quarter of the faculty.  One could think the other two thirds would have voted no, but one would then probably also believe in the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, and be bidding for a bridge I am offering, [email me off-line on that].  It was not a good day for Chancellor Birgeneau, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Breslauer, or  Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harry Le Grande.  I recall an observation by Mark, possibly here, that more people are fired by their subordinates than by their bosses. That would be a fair characterization of the event; “no-confidence” language or not, it’s hard to imagine a more complete rejection of this team’s leadership, including their attempts to justify their decisions post facto.  They may go on doing executive things and drawing pay for a while, but they will be doing it with nothing but the trappings of formal authority. Let us hope they at least understand this no longer includes the authority to sic armored police on students.

The meeting put itself into committee of the whole for an hour, after the resolutions were moved as a group, to allow discussion without having to fuss about Robert’s Rules, with another hour afterwards for voting and amending.  The first 25 minutes of the discussion hour was granted to the three above-named to address the group; then they left. Not one clap.  I interpret not staying for the meeting as some combination of cowardice or a constructive resignation, or maybe both. It was extremely painful to watch, worse because this plan was announced by the chair with the insulting justification that it would “allow us to speak freely,” – do they think we don’t dare say what we think in front of them?  Really: they acted out, in front of everyone, their worst management habit, which is to talk instead of listening, and not ever visibly go into input mode or engage with the people who nominally work for them.  Which, I guess, explains how they could so completely misread the mood of their troops. Someone mentioned that Birgeneau has lunch with a dozen faculty every month, which would have him encounter each of us every fifteen years. I don’t know who does the talking at those lunches.

A couple of dozen speakers lined up at the microphones for two-minute remarks, each to applause, and to my real surprise, not a single person spoke against the resolutions. No-one wanted to debate them formally or offer amendments: the issue was obviously settled already in all important respects. After the vote, there was another on whether to have a mail (web) ballot, which was defeated 216-165.  Perhaps this should have gone the other way, but I have the sense that the no’s were not trying to protect the formal outcome of the meeting from being diluted or overturned (see fairy, tooth above), but just felt the message was so clear already, and the whole exercise so painful and embarrassing, that there was simply no point in bothering people who didn’t care enough to show up, or had to be in class.

Now we’re effectively rudderless.  It will be interesting to see if there’s a way for the faculty to take on some authority. (A promising ray of sunshine: mirabile dictu, I was buttonholed by the chair of the Committee on Teaching, who had come upon this post and asked if I wanted to chat with the committee about things they could do beyond choosing the annual teaching award winners.)

Or we can just wait for Zeusdof to throw a new log in our pond.  I don’t think we will sit still for a stork now, at least I hope not.

Occupy UC

On Monday, the Berkeley faculty will have a special meeting to consider several resolutions condemning the police behavior at the Nov. 9 Occupy Cal demonstration, and another resolution that says in part:

Therefore be it Resolved that the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate has lost confidence in the ability of Chancellor Birgeneau, EVC Breslauer and VC LeGrande to respond appropriately to non-violent campus protests, to secure student welfare amidst these protests, to minimize the deployment of force and to respect freedom of speech and assembly on the Berkeley campus.

This is going to be a complicated, awkward (not that that’s a fatal flaw) exercise that will probably not clarify much for anyone.  In the first place, the “Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate” is not a representative body but a committee of the whole 2000-odd of us, and its meetings are rarely attended by more than 100. Obviously it meets in a dense cloud of selection bias that obscures its legitimacy, so its resolutions and actions don’t seem to be taken very seriously by the campus authorities, who can easily say, “well, that’s what several dozen malcontents think, end of story”.  In the second place, the motion uses very strong language. Despite having signed the call for the meeting, mainly because I think this stuff desperately needs to be discussed, I’m not sure I’ve lost confidence precisely in the leadership’s ability to protect protesters from beating and chemical assault. Admittedly, it’s hard to reconcile the chancellor’s public words from two years ago on the occasion of excessive police force at the Wheeler Hall occupation

Any tactics to exercise crowd control on campus must provide a safe platform for expression of free speech and freedom of assembly and we expect that, as a result of this review, modifications will be made. We must strive to ensure that there is no possibility in the future of the alleged actions of police brutality and that our actions are guided by non-violence.

with what happened three weeks ago, but probably the latest quite broad outrage and criticism have got their attention and they will not make that mistake (whether of omission or commission doesn’t matter too much) again.

But that’s not the big mistake, outrageous as it was. Continue reading “Occupy UC”

University of California protests and, um, leadership

When the Alameda County Sheriff’s cops suited up in their riot armor and, AFAIK with our campus officers , beat a bunch of our students and faculty with batons, my chancellor was in Shanghai setting up a branch campus; I don’t know who was nominally in charge and forgot to be in charge.  When the chancellor got back, he sent a remarkably tone-deaf and misinformed letter to everyone, regretting the injuries to police as though there were any. The similarly ham-handed episode at Wheeler Hall last spring, and its devastating PR impact, obviously had faded from everyone’s memory, so no-one bothered to give the police appropriate orders or plan an operation with a lick of sense or humanity.

I am not inclined to lambaste the police excessively, as they are mostly blue-collar workers as scared of layoffs and cutbacks as everyone else and properly in the business of controlling behavior by force when necessary. Someone on the ground completely misread the mood of the students, but cops do confront dangerous people and sometimes get hurt or dead doing it.  The violence at Berkeley was mainly a major fail at high administrative levels.

What’s genuinely astounding, however, is this, at Davis more than a week later. Notice how aggressively the students are sitting; that is one tough crowd! Pepper spray is no joke, especially if you’re asthmatic; at least one student went to the hospital.  What mystifies me is that the chancellor at Davis, and the police chief (who are having a very bad couple of days since), didn’t issue the following memo within two days of the Berkeley incident:

Occupation protests by students can be expected at Davis in the coming days and weeks.  Under no circumstances will police use weapons, including chemical weapons, against students not presenting an immediate threat of violence.  Anyone responsible for an episode such as occurred at Berkeley last week will be summarily suspended without pay, and probably dismissed permanently.  Responsible for includes failing to prevent; I will not have Davis known as a place where the police abuse non-violent members of our community.

And check to be sure she got signed copies back from everyone from her #2 to the lowliest recruit on the force.  And the City of Davis police chief, just for good measure.

The LA Times reports “the chancellor initially didn’t criticize police but later said seeing the images ‘left me with a very bad feeling.'” Uh, huh. What is the matter with these people? What have they trained their subordinates to be?  She has furthermore responded by appointing a task force to report back to her in 90 days.  Chancellor, if you need a task force to tell you what went wrong here, let alone three months of investigation, you either have a screw loose or a piece missing.

The latest, extraordinary, piece of video from Davis is here, putting a cherry and whipped cream on top of the humiliation of Katehi as she walked from a meeting past a line of her students (here’s the escort’s report), but also possibly beginning her rehabilitation.  I hope some Aggies come to Cal and infiltrate our protestors to teach their incredibly effective, dignified, disciplined tactics.  And I hope our own chancellor gets out among his students and faculty, on his feet.  A couple of spam emails don’t cut it, and neither does his bizarre public demand that legislators from Sacramento come to Berkeley to debate education funding. I don’t doubt his commitment to education for everyone, but his leadership style is a riddle to me, and it’s sure not doing him any good.

The president of the system has finally taken notice.  For some reason the chancellors have his “full trust and confidence” . But he’s “appalled”, and…calling a meeting with “full and unfettered discussion” – woah!  His board, the regents, are really out front; they cancelled their meeting last week fearing protest.  Way to keep in touch with the customers, boys.

Dammit, I work hard and earn my pay, and I deserve better leadership. I wish I could have more respect for the higherups in my company.