Sunday, January 20, 2013

Binders Full Of Crap

You know, I've learned some of my life's most interesting lessons before and during accreditation "visits" (an awfully nice way of referring to excruciating inspections).  To wit:

  • Coffee always stays hotter in a carafe if you fill the carafe up with hot water first, then pour it out and replace it with hot coffee.
  • Visitors to Alaska prefer an Alaskan brand of bottled water.
  • Doilies matter.
  • Thickness of a folder doesn't necessarily deter an inspector from going through each page.
  • There's always something else you'll need a binder for. 
  • Corollary: you can never have too many spare binders.  Or binder tabs.

You see, with an accreditation visit they're typically looking through everything that the organization can document that it accomplishes.   The "can document" part is important.  For example, at one institution where I was Dean, I, in my inexperience at the time, had ditched an archaic form that instructors were supposed to use to request the administration's approval to have a guest speaker in class.  I wanted the faculty members to have more guest speakers to bring in valuable real world insight from the community, and I knew from first-hand experience that the paperwork just got in the way.  So I ditched it.  I told the faculty they didn't have to have my approval to have a guest speaker.  And everybody was happy. 

Next visit, though, I learned that the forms weren't really there for the faculty or for the administration's benefit.  Turned out they served as the requisite documentation for something the accreditors look for: "community involvement."  Community involvement is interpreted by those whose interpretation is important as guest speakers and field trips.  Since community involvement must be documented, that means guest speakers and field trips must in turn be documented.

In a binder.

Thus it was that the first in a long line of Stephen's Binders was born. 

Heck, my career as a Dean has been one long string of binder creation, graduation ceremony planning, academic awards presentations, and listening to student complaints.  All of which, of course, are fully documented in binders.  I have binders full of field trips.  I have binders full of graduations.  I have binders full of sign-in sheets.  Heck, in one case I even have a binder full of binders. 

They made a big deal in the last election about Romney's "binders full of women" comment.  Me, I don't have binders full of women.  I have binders full of crap.


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