Oh, Great! Another damn meeting and more jargon…

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I retired from the working world because I wanted to and I could afford to do it. I freely admit, however, that mandatory meeting attendance was a prime motivator behind the “I wanted to” part.

 

            While governmental agency meetings were the worst. Those conducted by post-secondary education administrators were the worst of worst.

 

            Over the forty-plus years of my career, it seemed like I had attended thousands of them. Admittedly, though, not all of them were a total waste. I distinctly remember two of them being not only meaningful, but also enjoyable.

 

            Unfortunately, ninety-nine-percent of the rest should never have been scheduled. As for the remaining one-percent, a short, one or two sentence memo would have covered the points nicely.

 

            Administrators seem to love expressing themselves in passive voice while employing meaningless jargon. Unnecessary passive voice—about 99% of it—requires too many words to express a few bad ideas.

 

            Personally, I think they do it in a vain attempt to project more intellect that they actually possess.

 

            Here’s an example. It’s real. I have the original, as well as a copy of the letter that precipitated its publication. The complaint was specific to two NAMED professors who, habitually, failed to show up for assigned classes. I’ve substituted fake names for the real ones because, I assume, some sort of action is pending.

 

September 28, 2007

 

To: All Faculty

 

From: T. Iccabog Furd, Ph.D.

 

It has been brought to my attention that faculty are failing to teach their assigned classes. As you are aware, faculty compensation is substantial. Teaching personnel are expected to arrive, in person, on time, and well prepared to teach their classes.

 

It is regrettable that a notice like this one must be sent to remind professionals of their obligations to the University. Additional incidents will be dealt with most severely.

 

            The point is that Dr. Furd should NOT have sent the notice at all. The complaint did not pertain to 99.75% of the faculty. He should have sent personal notes to each of the two named professors.

 

            “I’ve received a letter complaining that you fail to show up for your assigned classes. Please call me to explain. If you don’t, I’ll certainly call you. It probably won’t be pleasant.” My goodness, how direct and unambiguous! Active voice, you have to love it.

 

            Succinctness, unfortunately, often requires direct, one-on-one confrontation with offenders. Whoa! Can’t have THAT. It’s safer to, “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” And, so they do.

 

            These folks love jargon, too. As a social class, American administrators—and let’s include politicians—are the best users of jargon on the face of the planet. I mean these people are bullshitters of no less than major league caliber.

 

            It isn’t that the terms they use are not real ones with legitimate definitions. It’s just that these people have no clue as to the meanings of the terms they use. But they sound impressive, though. While I can’t list all of them; here are a couple of my favorites.

 

            STOCHASTIC is a mathematical term. It describes a purely random process but, because it has direction, it has a calculable probability.

 

            For example, postal customers arriving at a post office is certainly a random process. However, those random arrivals increase and decrease (direction), depending on the time of day and season of the year.

 

            Therefore, postal managers can use probabilistic methods to forecast queue lengths to minimize waiting times for those randomly arriving customers.

 

            Administrators, who claim helplessness at reducing long line waits at registration time because of the “STOCHASTIC” nature of the registration process, show that they have no idea what the word means. It simply becomes hyped-up jargon.

 

            Synergy is another of my favorites. Marketing managers love this one because they know that no matter how stupid an idea may be, describing its synergistic qualities will have people swooning over it.

 

            I was present at the birth of online courses. Post secondary administrators immediately began to envision technology centers with no parking lots. There would be no need for people to drive to class. The magic of synergy was going to revolutionize the way we deliver post-secondary education!

 

            College and university enrollments would increase almost exponentially through online classes thanks to synergy.

 

            Theoretically, such classes, because of the cooperative efforts of the participants, “would create an enhanced combined learning effect compared to the sum of their individual effects.”

 

            Intellectually capable, self-motivated students do well in online classes. This is a fact. Other students, many lacking intellectual self-confidence and in need of structured direction, either fail or drop out of such courses. This is ALSO a fact.

 

            Since there are at least as many students in the latter category as in the former, it may not be a good idea to build learning centers without parking lots. Also, if you count yourself among the intellectually capable and motivated, but find yourself enrolled with a number of enrollees not so gifted, you’ll see how quickly “synergy” goes straight down the crapper!

 

            Again, a term misunderstood is term often misused. And, as a consequence, assumes its rightful place in jargonville where vast numbers of administrators fail to understand that hyped-up jargon is NEVER a substitute of brains.

 

            I’m going to finish with a real incident that happened to me about 6-years ago. I’ll admit that I started the feud with references to a person’s synaptic deficiencies. While it doesn’t deal with jargon, it certainly shows some of the depth in stupidity.

 

            In one of my published technical articles, I challenged the notion that there is a morally significant difference between addiction to “prescription” medication and addictions to illicit drugs.

 

            The article was generally well received, but a reader took exception to it. She claimed that she was a guidance counselor at a small liberal arts college.

 

            I didn’t find fault with her taking exception. I did find fault with the complete absence of scientific backup supporting her reasoning. Essentially, the email she sent me was a 5-paragraph moral tirade based on nothing more than the bible.

 

            She claimed that people make their own choices. To her, honest, innocent patients who become addicted to legitimately prescribed pain medication are helpless victims of circumstances beyond their control.

 

            Conversely, people who choose to abuse alcohol, pot, or myriad other illicit drugs are nothing but junkies who have made bad choices. Addiction is God’s punishment for doing so.

 

            I joked in my article that if your primary concern is which wine goes best with whiskey, you have a drinking problem. More seriously, I stated, “Drug addiction is drug addiction; whether you take them to help you fall asleep, to dull unbearable physical pain, or to make you perfectly happy to stay awake, is immaterial.”

 

            Circumstances tend to control poorer people most of the time. However, pain is pain and some of the most excruciating pain is mental anguish. People living in the depths of depression (rich, poor, or in-between), for whatever reason, seek help.

 

            Sometimes they receive it from physicians. If medical help is not obtainable, they buy their medicine in a liquor store, and yes, sometimes they get it from a drug dealer.

 

            I’m not justifying any crimes committed by the addicted. Society should, justifiably, punished them for their crimes according to severity. The addiction that got them there, however, is another matter.

 

            I made the point that tossing addicts into prison without some modicum of effort at helping them kick their habits, benefits only prison construction companies and all endeavors that support prisons. Also it makes the law and order absolutists happy because it makes them feel safer.

 

            This “educated” (my assumption) woman sent me an email wherein she agreed with Iran’s position on drug addicts: execute them. I questioned both her education and challenged her logic in view of her professed “Christian” principles. She didn’t like it. The last paragraph of her email is below, verbatim and in total context.

 

            “I am almost positive that I am at least as educated as you. Unlike you, I would never ever wimp out and support illicit drug addicts. Your—her word verbatim—stating a position that that presents no logic. The bible is quite clear about this.”

 

            I hit the delete key and I’ve never heard from her again. However, I did find it strange that an educated person would not understand that “positive” is an either/or position. There is no “almost” about it.

 

            Her use of “never ever” struck me as strange, too. Is “never ever” a longer period than “never?” Perhaps it’s a sentencing term used by our criminal courts. I know that inmates serving sentences of life without chance of parole sometimes misbehave.

 

            Could it be that when this happens, even though they’re already NEVER going to get out of prison, some judge will bump the sentence up to “never ever” just to be safe? I’ll bet that will straighten them out!

 

            Stay safe. I’ll be back next week. I have another report—for real—that possibly sheds some light on a possible correlation between legal liability and the effects of intentionally exposing ourselves to atmospheres consisting of combinations of too little oxygen, too much nitrogen, and way too much doobie vapor.

 

Joseph Walther is a freelance writer and publisher of The True Facts. Copyright laws apply to all material on this site. Send your comments. Just click here.

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