- Author: Wendy Powers
Throughout the conference, we covered topics ranging from foreign influence and shadow labs to Title IX compliance to predatory journals. It is a bit alarming how all of these topics seem to intersect now. Also concerning was the number of federal agency speakers who made a point during their presentations to state "in the event of a government shutdown…" Perhaps another shutdown is imminent.
The most dynamic conference speaker talked about the 'normalization of deviation.' The speaker theorized that we ignore rules we consider burdensome, tedious, or energy-depleting when lack of conformance is not regarded as risky, unethical, or unacceptable behavior. When the deviator repeatedly and successfully 'gets it away with it' and there are no severe consequences, then the deviant behavior becomes the norm or the routine. The speaker provided examples most would consider as unethical behaviors such as the numerous violations of policy by BP employees in the Gulf who sought to save shareholders money. Also shared were less obvious examples such as NASA's knowledge of unreliable o-rings followed by misjudgment of the impact the lack of reliability would have on the unseasonably cold day that the Challenger launched. The speaker talked about organizational differences in policy interpretation. He compared Air Traffic Control where rule compliance ensures safety to NASA where risks are routine and a vital component of every mission. We need a mechanism to share new ideas and provide a thorough review and assessment. Otherwise, the innovator continues to practice their preferred way without perhaps full knowledge that the process has previously been tested and failed.
This week the Academic Assembly Council Personnel Committee (AAC-PC) met to talk about a new approach to preparing merit and promotion documents. The goal is to make the process less time consuming for candidates. Similarly, there is an approach under consideration that would do the same for the academic annual evaluation materials. Some institutions take the NASA approach and disclose evaluation criteria without any guidelines on how to assemble documents. Other institutions provide guidance documents, interpreted as rules that can be as lengthy as the candidate's review packages. I prefer the NASA approach; make explicit the criteria for success and leave it to the candidate to assemble their best case. However, I recognize that this can be uncomfortable for many who want a bit more structure and consistency between candidate packages for both merit reviews and annual evaluations. Next week the AAC-PC meets with the Peer Review Committee to pool ideas and develop a recommendation for me how best to proceed.
Lots to think about during my flight to Irvine. As one of the speakers commented in reflection on how their role has expanded over the last few years, "There is little time to be bored."