Thursday, August 03, 2006

SURPLUS: Pinhead Business Part Last

How do you know when your office, plant, workplace is deemed defunct, dead, redundant, closing? When you arrive, everything that is not nailed down or painted has a Surplus label stuck on it. They are going to save the furniture, but not the workers. That must say something about business values, but I'm not sure what.

This is the latest and possibly the last episode of pinhead business. Back in early June I described the situation at my workplace. Again, I work part-time for a Major medical school attached to a Major university with a Major athletic department. (Too many Majors may be part of the problem.)

We had a meeting a few weeks ago. Some administrators showed up and tried to tell us what was happening and why. But they had no information to give us. They asked us to understand the grant-awarding cycle. Translation: no funds are available to keep us going. They asked us to understand how research works. Translation: no one had gone out and gotten new business. They praised us for our dedication and professional work.

Some of the thirty of us who were there started making suggestions on how we could get more business. Again, we had to understand the nature of research. Some others started to praise the workplace; what a great place it was, the wonderful co-workers, the wonderful supervision,blah, blah. I was going to retch if I didn't speak up. So I did.

I said I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Here we have a roomful of highly trained, highly motivated people who love their work, sophisticated computer and phone systems and you have NO PLAN to keep this center going. You have explained the grant-awarding cycle and the lack of marketing. We are out of a job. What are you doing about it? No answer. Silence.

Then I heard "I understand your disappointment." I sat quietly. I did not explode, I did not walk out.

Weeks pass. We hear that the administrators have saved the center, and we will have jobs next Jan at the latest. We keep getting extended to finish our current research project. Well and good.

Next comes the revelation that we have been deceived by management. What a shock! I cannot go into details, but suffice it to say that we have been telling our participants a big lie. Everything about this research process is totally confidential we say. We have selected you at random. Not so. By clicking one part of the screen, I have your address complete with zip code. The only random part of the big lie is the order in which the respondents are selected.

Others have said that I have over-reacted. Perhaps I have, but who likes having managers tell them the big lie?

And now we have the SURPLUS labels stuck all over everything. I put one on my forehead. I put them on co-workers. One senior staff member told me: "I guess we just have too many academics in charge." Amen.

It's a sad ending to, if not a noble experiment, at least a good idea. We will establish a survey research center at a Major medical school attached to a Major university with a Major athletic program. It turned out to be "I know, let's put on a show and raise money to save...whatever." Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland could not save this show.

And, damnit all, I enjoyed the work.

BRB in mourning

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