Long ago (1988) I moved to Berkeley and started sending a monthly "newsletter" to my Boston friends. When I returned to Boston (1993), I continued the tradition for about five more years (or until I had kids). Looking back, I realize that I was actually blogging. Each newsletter contained anywhere from a few to several blog posts. Having been silent for the past decade or so, I've decided to resume these activities. Don't expect anything profound -- I tend to focus on what I find entertaining or amusing and perhaps sometimes informative. We shall see!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Coffee Comes to Vancouver

Some of you may not have realized that I'd been without coffee making apparatus for quite some time. Clearly, you can't take a man's coffee machine when you move most of the house to Vancouver and equally clearly, you can't just settle for any old coffee machine. [Note, yes there are many good coffee shops around, but there is something nice about being able to get that first hit of caffeine without leaving the house.]

I thought I could take care of this relatively efficiently. I found a machine I liked, found a good deal on it (came with the grinder I liked, a set of espresso cups, etc). Their customer service was a bit confused that my shipping and billing address were different, but we resolved that and I thought I was well on my way to caffeination. Only then did they tell me it was out of stock and would be delayed two more weeks. That set it up for arrival when I was traveling (already a month after arriving), so I had to delay it yet again.

I was very excited for delivery on a Thursday they told me. Great, I'd wait at home (since it was going to require a signature). Then I got email Wednesday morning that it was going to show up that day.  Great -- only one meeting for which I had to be on campus. I wait. I wait. OK, what are the chances that it's going to arrive while I'm at the one meeting for which I need to be in my office? Yeah, you got that -- 100%. Worse yet, the people I was supposed to meet didn't show. Sad.

This meant it got taken to the post office, which is nearby for many purposes, but not for the purposes of a 60 pound box. The taxi ride was the best investment ever.

Anyway, I am now happy to report that I am regularly well caffeinated -- documentary evidence on coffee machine arrival below.

The box -- a bit worse for the wear, but relatively intact. The beast in its box
All the goodies that cam with the coffee maker, from left to right
coffee, cups, spoons, milk pitcher, grinder



Unpacked

All installed and ready to go!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Charming Traditions

One of the fun things of moving to a new school is that you get to learn a whole new set of traditions. For example, while there are three things every Harvard student is supposed to do before graduating, there are ninety-nine that UBC undergrads are supposed to do.

Anyway, UBC is big. As in really big. As in 55,000 students (65,000 if you include our Okanagan campus). For comparison, Harvard has about 22,000 (according to here). Many of the big US schools aren't this big. University of Michigan and UCLA have 45,000, Berkeley has 43,000; but there are some that are even bigger. The University of Central Florida has 66,000 students, Texas A&M has about 65,000, and Ohio State has about 60,000.

Anyway, I digress (because I was kind of curious how big some of those schools were). One relatively new tradition is the Harvest Feastival -- yes, that's spelled correctly.  It's basically a fall celebration that started about three years ago and appears to be open to faculty, staff, and students. It's a seasonal dinner with some light programming and multiple performances around campus afterwards. The faculty and staff relocation office reserved a table for new arrivals, which is how I found out about this. Sounded like a good time and better food than my pre-kitchen-arrival self was likely to make.  I was glad I went.

Imagine almost 2000 people seated under a rather large tent (because Vancouver). It was roughly 40 tables of 24 each and our table was all relatively recently arrived faculty and staff -- I was seated across from two postdocs in CS, one a woman who got her PhD at CMU and joined UBC a year ago and the other a man who'd just arrived from his PhD in Korea about four weeks ago.

There were a pair of MCs who engaged the assembled crowd in various "games" and announcements. The meal was outstanding -- lines of servers approached each table alternating two different dishes for each course: salad, mains, and dessert. Everything served was relatively local, a lot of it from our very own UBC farm (located just a block or two from my apartment). I was somewhat stunned to imagine just how one prepares risotto for 2000, but indeed, the vegetarian main course was a butternut risotto, served in butternut halves -- very tasty!  (The non-vegetarian main was salmon, because Vancouver). The dessert courses were spectacular apple fritters and chocolate and pumpkin cake. (The fritters were vastly superior to the cake, but the cake was actually pretty darned good.)

On the tables we had menus and also a bit of an advertisement for two faculty/staff singing opportunities -- drop-in choir, and a slightly more serious choir. Kind of looked like fun. I couldn't quite figure out why the words to Mamma Mia were printed on the back, but I thought that perhaps it was just supposed to give us a sense of the kinds of stuff they sang? Not exactly...they were there so we could ALL participate in the after dinner sing-along. So yeah, we got to hear 2000 sing Mamma Mia -- it was pretty awesome.

And then, of course, we were serenaded by the UBC Thunderbird Marching Band gig band. It was a small ensemble (maybe 20), but reminded me of many a similar gig played when I was a young Harvard bandie. Best of all, they introduced the "chef's parade" whereby all the chefs who'd produced dinner for 2000 paraded around the tent to a standing ovation.  It was really lovely (and well deserved).

So, that's the Harvest Feastival UBC style -- I might have to make this an annual event.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Good Chair Hunting

The name for this post is credited to my new colleague, Bruce Shepherd, who pointed out that since I was coming from Boston, it seemed most suitable.

Anyway, I had carefully planned for two weeks in Vancouver without furniture by bringing one checked bag (my dive bag) containing a nice air mattress and bedding (not to mention soccer cleats). So, I had a place to sleep. I had not, however, thought about what I would be doing when I was in my apartment but not sleeping. That is, I hadn't thought about sitting. It didn't actually take that many days here for me to realize that having a place to sit, other than the floor, would be really nice.

Everywhere I looked, I saw chairs, but none were in my apartment.
But wait, Amazon is my friend. But wait -- I also have furniture coming, so I don't want to buy more furniture. However, I had cleverly NOT shipped any counter stools and I have this nice kitchen counter, so how about buying stools for that?  Excellent. And these appear to even match the dining room table and chairs I have coming. Score!

But wait, what happens to packages that get delivered while I'm not home?  Who knows (not even my colleague, Trevor Campbell, who also moved from Cambridge, is in the stat department here, and lives in the same building)?  I'll wing it. I order said stools.

Good news!  A few days later I find two boxes outside my apartment door! Bad news: There is a nasty note on the top explaining that boxes cannot be left in the mailroom or hallway; they must be moved into my apartment or (underlined) disposed of. This is very un-Canadian!  First off, I had no idea that they had arrived (it seems that my name is not listed at the front of the building). Second, the boxes appeared during a 30-minute window during which I was in my apartment, but whoever brought them up didn't even see fit to knock. I was not amused.



But hey -- now I have chairs! It turns out that the instructions were 100% accurate, but in my attempt to figure this out, I convinced myself that I had faulty chairs. While I found it IMPOSSIBLE to get the chair to swivel, before it was attached to the base (i.e., I could not hold the two plates of the swivel and get them to rotate), once I even seated two of the four bolts, it swiveled like a champ. So, first chair took a bit to assemble; second one assembled in about a minute and a half.

So, now I can sit, stand, and lay down in my apartment -- what more could a girl want?




Sunday, September 9, 2018

Soccer, Vancouver Style

As many of you know, finding a soccer team in Vancouver was high on my list of things that needed to be done to facilitate the move. Most of the leagues I found were in the Metro area, which seems to have meant either one or two bodies of water to cross, which seemed suboptimal. Then I found an over-30's league in Burnaby, about 30 minutes from campus (when there is no traffic, like at 6:30 AM on Sunday morning, but we'll come back to that). And the Burnaby Strikers took pity on this Boston transplant and let her join their team.

However, they used some words that were only vaguely familiar to me -- things like "practice," "coach," and "45 minutes before game time for warm-up." This had me terrified.

Now our season opener was scheduled at 8:00 AM (remember 30 minutes away), and this "coach" person wanted us there 45 minutes early. I trust you can all do the math.

Next, recall that this is Vancouver, and the greeting I received was a week of rain upon my arrival. Fortunately, rain Vancouver style seems to be periodic drizzles followed by no drizzles, followed by drizzles, lather, rinse repeat.  So, as I'm driving to the game, I'm thinking, "You know, in this weather, having some kind of tent/awning would be really helpful..."

I get to the field around 7:05 and there are 3-4 players there already. I get my cleats on and head down to the field. People are nicely friendly and don't look quite as young as the picture made them seem (the manager sent me a picture so I'd recognize the team and the person who had my shirt). That said, I'm pretty sure I have a decade on most everyone and maybe two on many of them. By 7:15, we have ten players or so and this "coach" person has not shown up.  So, we take a lap together -- very slowly. I am greatly relieved -- I can handle this.

By 7:30, this "coach" person, hereafter referred to as Byron, shows up and I start to get nervous. However, it turns out that part of the reason for the early start is to A) put up a net, B) put out the corner flags, and C) raise the tent!  Hey -- I like these women!

Better yet, this warm up thing is actually mostly another term I have almost forgotten called "stretching" (Susan Boyle, this one's for you). We take a half lap together as a team (another nice slow one) and then do a bunch of 10-yard out and back stretching and warmup and then finally some jogging and sprinting. It wasn't nearly as terrifying as I had imagined (i.e., way mellower than Bruiser warmups back in the day, and perhaps much better suited for my "well-over-30" self).

I learn that the team was basically rebooted two years ago with Byron and some of the players hadn't played before, although some are clearly quite experienced. By the time the game starts, I'm feeling pretty comfortable. We are playing a team that traditionally clobbers us, but they remind me a lot of the Breakers from EMSWL -- on the older side, but highly trained and familiar with one another's play. Nonetheless, we do well against them. I am alternating in 5-minute shifts with a wing fullback, so I'll play roughly half a game -- seems perfect for my first time out with the crew.

We play a 4-4-2 with a flat back line (as opposed to a sweeper/stopper formation).  And we play zone, instead of man to man -- this takes me awhile to fully embrace. In any case, it feels pretty good on the field, and we come away with a 1-0 win. I think I know names of perhaps over half the players -- maybe even two-thirds or three-quarters. The team is friendly and supportive, and feels almost chuck-like in some ways.

Feeling much, much better about my soccer career here. Now I just have to work out the transportation thing. Fortunately, there are multiple car-sharing services ... stay tuned for automotive adventures!

Friday, September 7, 2018

Live from Vancouver

I've now been in Vancouver just a bit over 24 hours. It seems that I've accomplished a fair bit. If only I had a chair, I'd be all set.

Flew Boston to Chicago to Vancouver, departing 7:15 AM and arriving 12:53 PM. Flights were uneventful and on time. Got to click the "Immigration" button when I came through customs. Very exciting -- never done that before.  This meant I got to talk to an extra person who pretty much asked me what I did and then told me to get my luggage and go to the door marked Immigration.

OK, that sounds pretty straight forward.

Sadly, the line for work permits and student entry was loooong and slow. It took an hour and a half to get to the guy who basically takes your paperwork and gives you a number. Then it took another half hour to get to the (incredibly friendly and helpful) guy who looks at the paperwork, asks a few questions, and tells you to sit back down while he creates your work permit. Then a half hour later you have your work permit. You go pay the cashier and voila, you are now a US Citizen who is allowed to work -- in my case, at UBC.

Next it was off to Hertz to pick up my rental car (I figured a car this week would be super handy as I bought all the necessities that I wasn't having shipped and/or couldn't live without for the next one to two weeks). That too was uneventful, and then I headed "home" (aka, the postage stamp sized apartment).

Note to self: always bring toilet paper.

Was very dehydrated and hungry (hadn't realized how long the work permit was going to take and once you start, there is no where to go and by the time I finished, I just wanted to get out of the airport). So, five minute walk to the store to buy water in lots of different form factors, water bottle (since I cleverly forgot mine in Lincoln), and something I could eat with out utensils and/or plates -- I do however have a paring knife and a cutting board. I bought cheese and an avocado; haven't touched the avocado yet.  Drank a lot of water and fizzy water.

Then I did some unpacking -- also somewhat tricky since I have no where to put the things I was unpacking. However, I did put my bed together -- yes, I brought a bed with me -- a nice queen size inflatable Aerobed with bedding, but no pillows. So, the local costco (there are two Costcos within about a 25 minute drive) is open until 8:30. What better way to spend my first evening then a trip to Costco! Turns out that Thursday night at Costco is a big deal -- it was super busy, but the checkout lines were of reasonable length. I bought a bunch of other household things including pillows and a blanket and then food. Continuing in the, "What can I eat with no utensils?" game, we settled on: salmon jerky, smoked salmon (I am in Canada after all), cherries, blackberries, and raspberries, granola (which can be eaten out of the glasses I bought), almond milk, tuna snacks, and more cheese. I managed to turn that into something resembling dinner when I got back.

Rest of the evening involved trips to the car, arranging stuff and then falling to sleep reasonably quickly.

Woke up too late this morning to join my 6 am conference call with my Harvard Forest/Mt. Holyoke peeps, but I think they'll forgive me. Wandered out for coffee and Internet (I was getting sporadic Internet in the apartment from eduroam and ubcguest, but wanted something a bit more reliable). Then off to the community center for my community ID and gym membership and then my next shopping spree: Bed, Bath, and Beyond -- a store I had never set foot in until a couple of weeks ago when I took Teagan for dorm stuff. Picked up a few more apartment essentials there, came back, and then immediately headed out to a research group reading group meeting!

After that, I grabbed poke for lunch with a colleague (at the poke place in our building ;-), checked out my office (pictures next time), and dashed back to meet the Internet installer. She too was amazingly pleasant and helpful and before I knew it, I had 5G working from the comfort of my apartment.

So, it feels like it's been a rather productive 24 hours. Now it's off to Friday afternoon social with the networking and secure systems research group.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Why it's Exhausting to be a Woman in Tech/CS

Or I could have called this, "A day in the life of a senior woman in CS."

I am usually an upbeat, positive person. But, even I sometimes find myself exhausted by simple virtue of the fact that I am a member of an underrepresented group in my field.  I am a computer scientist where (according to the most recent Taulbee data) the numbers nationwide are: under 20% of our undergraduates are women; under 20% of our new PhDs are women; under 21% of our newly-hired tenure track faculty are women; just over 15% of our full professors are women; and under 25% (23.2% and 22.8%) of our assistant and associate professors are women. I belong to the systems community where the numbers are even worse.

So, what has happened in the past 24 hours:
  1. I spent an hour double and triple checking data that demonstrated clearly that several years ago, both I and another female colleague were being paid $20,000 less per year than our male peers (i.e., colleagues with pretty much identical credentials, years since degree, experience, etc). I do not know what the status is today, because salaries are a huge secret at my current institution; a practice that allows this kind of thing to happen.
  2. Talked with a junior woman about a complicated situation.
  3. Read a thoughtful blog post by someone I believe is well-meaning, attributing the lack of gender diversity to "women just don't want to do CS." (This is admittedly a gross over-simplification of his argument, but I'll come back to this later.)
  4. Read a wonderful response to said blog post.
  5. In response to my forwarding of items 3 and 4, read this post about gender and board gaming (who knew?).
  6. Continued my slog through the 350-page National Academies report on sexual harassment in Science, Engineering, and Medicine in Academia.
  7. Agreed to write a letter of recommendation for a woman Ph.D., who has been working in industry at a research lab for six years, has been promoted twice, and still hasn't been given a green card.
  8. Wrote a letter of recommendation for a female colleague, being nominated for an award by another female colleague. Why is it that men virtually never ask me to write award letters for women? Think about that: under 20% of my colleagues are women, but it is almost always the women who think to nominate women for awards.
And that's just a single day. I wish I could say that the past day was extraordinary. It is perhaps a bit on the heavy side, but it's not atypical. I have a (virtual) stack of unread papers that I've saved away as being really interesting and directly related to my research. I never get to these, because I feel like I'm constantly fighting fires: trying to help people understand what's really going on in the trenches, talking with women who've been mistreated in oh so many new and creative ways, talking to students of all races and genders who are being mistreated in equally creative ways, reading what's being written out there about gender, diversity, and inclusion, and when possible, trying to provide insight, data, and constructive action.

With respect to #3: it was a difficult read, but I forced my way through it.

Here is the paragraph that started to really get under my skin:
As Damore mentions in his essay, this issue has acquired a moral dimension, which is why the response is often anger. Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind, has described this as elevating certain ideas to a sacred status. In this case, suggesting that men and women are different either in interests or abilities is considered blasphemy. So let me commit some blasphemy.
Let me speak for myself: there is a moral dimension to this issue, but it has nothing to do with Haidt's argument. As a woman in computer science, I believe that all of us have a right to be treated with respect in our environments. There is way too much evidence demonstrating that women and members of other underrepresented groups are much less likely to be treated with respect than their majority male colleagues. Until that situation changes, we cannot even begin to evaluate the veracity of Reges' thesis that underrepresentation is a choice not the result of any problems with the culture.

Also, he introduces a bunch of data about the gender gap in certain fields, but we have new data and insight suggesting that there is way more going on here than gender.

Finally, this statement shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the issue: "We have harvested the low-hanging fruit by eliminating overt discrimination and revamping policies and procedures that favored men."

Eliminating overt discrimination?  Really?  Then please explain some of these excerpts from the recent NAS study:
  • Finding 6 in chapter 3: Sexual harassment remains a persistent problem in the workplace at large.
  • page 52: Higher education is also replete with cases where offenders are an "open secret" but are not sanctioned.
  • page 82: [Context: about reporting sexual harassment.] More often, however, managers expressed mild sympathy but neither took any action nor encouraged the target to do so. Even more commonly, however, these proximal authority figures minimized or normalized the experience, discouraged further reporting, or recommended that the target "work it out" with her harrasser (or some combination thereof).
OK, now, because I am basically an optimist, I'm going to assume that if you've read this far, then you believe there is a problem and are wondering what you can do about it. I will soon be posting a short talk I gave recently on this subject, but in the meantime, here is my TODO list for you:
  1. Speak Up: Adopt a zero tolerance policy for bad and inappropriate behavior. This does not require being a jerk. It means that if you are a member of an underrepresented group, you need to speak up when someone treats you badly. You must act like it's the most natural thing in the world to speak up, because, it is -- expecting to be treated with respect is the most natural thing in the world. If you are a bystander, you must call out bad behavior. Is this uncomfortable? You bet. But don't let that stop you; instead think about how uncomfortable it is for the person who is the target. And if someone comes to you and says, "Make it stop," do so -- if you're the manager, then manage. If you're not the manager, then either deal with it yourself, go to a manager, go to HR, or do something. In any case, see it through -- don't wash your hands of it the minute you've handed it off, because too many people will just let it drop.
  2. Understand your own biases. I don't care if you are a member of an underrepresented group or not, you are biased. Being biased does not make us bad people; it makes us human. However, failing to acknowledge our biases and taking steps to try to mitigate them, that's where we step into "bad person territory." True confession: I test biased against women in science. Yup, me. The woman in science who regularly sends readings to my colleagues on topics like this. So, what do I do? I grade blindly. I remind myself every time I meet with a student about my biases and how I need to be vigilant in not letting them cloud my judgement. I take an implicit bias test at least once a year. I ask my teaching staff to do the same. I look hard at my students who don't fit my image of "computer scientist," and say to myself, "This is an incredibly smart and competent computer scientist." I constantly question how I assess situations where identifies are unblinded. Am I perfect?  No. Do I constantly push myself to become better?  Yes.
  3. When someone is courageous enough to tell you that you did something that was hurtful, denigrating, or discriminatory, do three things.
    1. Understand that this is an act of courage and trust; we are telling you, because we believe that you care enough to want to do better in the future.
    2. Listen. Listen hard. Parrot back what you heard, "OK, let me make sure I understand how my action harmed you. I did xxx, and you felt yyy, because zzz."
    3. Respond:
      • Good response: I'm sorry.
      • Better response: I'm sorry and I will try to do better in the future.
      • Best response: I'm sorry; I will try to do better in the future; in the meantime, is there anything I can do for you now?
  4. Learn what to do in public when colleagues or students say in appropriate things. For example, let's say that you're a professor and a student says, "Startups are like fraternities."
    • Use facts: Actually fraternities are all-male organizations. Data suggests that more gender-balanced companies perform better.
    • Ask the person to rephrase the sentiment in a way that is more inclusive: "Hmmm, fraternities are all male. Can you think of  way to convey the sentiment you're trying to express that is more inclusive?"
    • Help the person understand why the statement was somewhat misguided, "Are you sure they aren't more like sororities?  How would you know?"
    • Bottom line: you don't have to be a jerk, but you can open a dialogue about how we sometimes send messages we might not mean to send.
  5. Learn what it feels like. I regularly attend conferences where roughly 90% of the attendees are male. If you are not in an underrepresented group, when is the last time you spent time in an environment where you were not part of the majority?
    • If you are male, attend Grace Hopper.
    • If you are white, attend the Tapia Conference.
    • If you are straight, attend pride (if my LBGTQ friends have other suggestions, please comment).
    • If you are non-disabled, volunteer with some differently abled people. There is nothing like a morning spent at Children's Hospital to make you aware of how fortunate you are and the effort and courage it takes for some to just get through the day.
  6. Please banish the following responses.
    • I'm sure s/he didn't mean that.
    • Oh, but we know s/he means well.
    • That's a different group/department, we can't do anything.
    • Ah yes, we know so and so is a problem, but will retire soon.
    • You shouldn't be so sensitive.
    • Just avoid him/her.
    • Oh everyone knows that so-and-so is just like that.
These things will not solve our challenges overnight, but they will certainly get us headed in the right direction.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Memo I Didn't Get


As I prepare to leave Harvard, where I have spent most of my adult life, I have had time to reflect on some of the lessons I've learned here as well as those I've perhaps not learned so well. Today's post builds on some remarks I made on May 7 at the (wonderful) SEAS retirement party.

It seems that when you become a Junior Faculty member, you get a memo telling you how to be successful. It says something like, "Keep your head down; ignore everything except your research and maybe your teaching; and whatever you do, don't question anything. And certainly don't ever disagree with anyone who might be involved in your tenure decision."

Well, it seems that I never got that memo, or perhaps, as my clever colleague Jay Harris suggested, I got the memo, but tore it up.

I started violating that memo before I even knew it! One of the first research projects I undertook at Harvard resulted in what I believe to be one of the first web-based flamewars (yes, there really had to be a first one of those). Now, engaging in a flamewar might not be seen as particularly problematic, but this was: A) a flamewar between a brand new junior faculty member (me) and a rather senior and well respected member of my community, that is, someone who would, undoubtedly be called upon to write letters in my future, B) very public (and those of you who have ever written with me know that I abhor the use of 'very'), and C) is still sometimes used in graduate OS classes as an example of, um, something.


Then there were the seemingly absurd situations I found myself in. Somehow I found myself as the only Junior faculty member in attendance at a meeting where a collection of deans and Sr. faculty were debating what we might pitch to Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer for the building that is now Maxwell Dworkin. It seemed that there were two options on the table: a free standing building to replace the Aiken Computation Lab (i.e., Maxwell Dworkin) or an L-shaped connector between two existing buildings. I listened in disbelief as the assembled group seemed to seriously discuss the two options for about forty five minutes.  I finally was unable to stop myself from blurting out that, while I did not know either donor, I was pretty sure that if I were donating money for a computer science building, I'd want an actual building, not a connector. Oops, didn't read the memo. Clearly, someone important thought the connector was a good idea, because as I left, the beloved and highly-regarded Dean of FAS*, Jeremy Knowles, leaned over and quietly said, "Thank you." I will never know who set me up for this, but whoever it was had to know what was going to happen, right?


And then there was the downright terrifying -- standing up on the FAS faculty floor and arguing against the entire Harvard Central and FAS administrations. To fully understand this, you have to have some image in your head about what FAS meetings are like. The meetings are presided over by the President of the University (yes, we have a Dean, but he (and it's always been a he) does not run the meetings of his own faculty). The power (President, Provost, Dean of FAS, Dean of the College, etc) sit at a large round table in the front; the rest of us sit in the gallery. The proceedings are highly orchestrated -- the agenda is largely the same every meeting and means that you have to wade through about thirty minutes (or more) of process before you get to the actual topics for the meeting. If you want to speak, you have to tell someone days in advance (and if there is something controversial, you can be sure that they will figure out which side you're on before the meeting). Most people speak from a written script (i.e., not notes, but the entire statement fully written out). So do not confuse an FAS faculty meeting with a discussion; it is a performance. And here I am speaking against pretty much everyone who will decide my fate at Harvard.

I cannot read from a script. I frequently speak from notes; I sometimes write out my thoughts in more detail, but I do not speak publicly by reading the script. I ad lib, I rephrase, I add things, I leave things out. This is me.


This whole experience is what introduced me to the memo and the dire consequences of it. You see, unless specifically requested, votes in FAS faculty meetings are public (voice vote or hand raise). So, although I, an untenured faculty member, stood up and offered an opinion contrary to the administration (including the person who would, the next year, chair my tenure committee), I had been approached by tenured faculty who said, "I agree with you, but I can't vote against the administration."

This confused me for a long time. Is not the raison d'etre of tenure to allow one to speak one's mind without fear of retaliation? Are our administrators and colleagues not rational adults who can disagree with ideas instead of people? (Note: the aforementioned administrator who would go on to chair my tenure committee gets this as easily as he breathes.) Why do tenured faculty feel that they cannot voice their opinions? And it all comes back to the memo. If you got the memo and spent seven (or more) years following it, you internalize it. So, tenured or not, you learn to stifle your true beliefs and toe the party line.

This is a disaster in all organizations, but a particularly nasty one in an academic setting. After all, we are researchers -- we are supposed to question everything. If one were never to question the status quo, the earth would still be flat, the sun would revolve around the earth, and the earth would sit on the back of a turtle. Now one might argue that our leaders have clearly thought through all such possibilities and therefore, they will always have the right answer, so there is no need to ever disagree with them. I don't buy it. We are human and being human means that we are, in fact, fallible. If a leader or group of leaders cannot entertain the possibility that they are wrong (and create an environment where people feel free to suggest such possibilities without fear), then how can they possibly expect anyone else in the organization to do so?  If my boss is always right, how can I ever go to him/her and say, "I made a mistake."


Thus, living by the memo means that we create organizations without transparency, organizations that hide things from within and without, and maybe even from themselves. This is the hallmark of an organization that cannot move forward and cannot improve. So, unless stagnation is acceptable, we must all tear up the memo.

* FAS = Faculty of Arts and Sciences. If you aren't in academia, this basically includes Harvard College, the graduate school of Arts and Sciences, the School (or Division) of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the Harvard Extension School. In other words -- everyone except the professional schools, such as the Law School, Medical School, Business School, etc.