Thursday, June 11, 2015

Your money where your mouth is (Day 5)

One of the early works in the canon of Russian opera is Glinka’s A life for the Tsar, set during the Time of Troubles in the early 1600’s. A Polish army is on its way to Moscow to help Polish troops already occupying the Russian capital.

They stop in a village to get someone to guide them further on their way, and Ivan Susanin, a village elder, takes the responsibility. But instead of leading them to Moscow, he leads them into the woods and intentionally gets them lost.

As a snow storm closes in around them, the Polish soldiers realize they’ve been tricked. They kill Susanin, but they themselves die, lost in the storm. Without the extra troops, the Polish army in Moscow has to give up. The city is liberated, the new Romanov dynasty is saved, the Time of Troubles is brought to an end, and on stage at the Bolshoi Opera, the new tsar rides out of the Archangel gate of the Kremlin on an honest to goodness, live, white horse.

For a Russian, anyone who leads you the wrong way is a “Susanin.” Keep that in mind.

This morning we checked out of our hotel (not before I snapped some pictures of it in the morning light) and walked a couple of blocks to where Victor was waiting for us with the bus.

2nd-floor balcony outside hotel rooms,
overlooking the hotel atrium

Sitting area outside 2nd-floor rooms

Ornament on the Writers' Union building

The Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba
Well, some of us walked a couple of blocks. As students gathered in the lobby, we explained where the bus was and told those who were ready to head over to it. When we finished up paying and walked to the bus ourselves, we were unnerved to find that many students who’d left the hotel before us had not yet arrived.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A critical review

Hartwick does what are known as "360-degree reviews" for its administrators (vice presidents, directors of offices, that sort of role).

As a faculty person who has interacted extensively with some administrators at different times, I tend to get asked for my input in these performance evaluations.

That input usually takes the form of answers to various questions on a 1-to-5 scale ("strongly disagree" to "strongly agree"). There's also a box for free-form comment on each area of questioning.

I completed one a while ago, and some of the questions just pushed my buttons.

Note that I don't mean this as a dig at our director of human resources. I've worked with her on a college committee and respect the work that she does. My sense is that in this instance she is doing a good job implementing what is "best practice." My beef is with this particular iteration of "best practice," trying to quantify things that may be better left unquantified.

Here are some of the characterizations with which I was asked to agree or disagree, followed by the free-form comments I provided. I hope they help. :)


“Embraces change quickly and easily.”
“Is positive and enthusiastic toward change.”

If I may be permitted to editorialize, part of why I dislike forms like this is that it's not always a good thing to be enthusiastic toward change. We're really interested in whether someone does their job well. Sometimes that entails being enthusiastic toward change, sometimes it requires resisting it, because the proposed change is destructive. The questions seem to embody a too-abstract view of what constitutes doing good work.


“Analyzes complex situations, breaking each into its constituent parts.”

See my previous comments on the nature of these questions. There's a role for analytical thinking, but there's a role for holistic thinking as well. I'm more interested in whether someone can craft a good solution to a problem, less in prescribing how they should reach that solution, and even less in participating in a process that has the prospect of dinging them for not approaching their work in a way that an outside observer deems appropriate.


“Is enthusiastic and positive.”

I appreciate the benefits of enthusiasm and a positive attitude, but as with some earlier questions, I feel the shadow of someone's preconceptions of what constitutes good work. Depending on the mood in which one reads the question, it could be taken as an entirely inappropriate injunction for the employee to correct their inner world, a realm which is none of the employer's damn business.


“Avoids inappropriate situations that put the organization at risk.”

I guess I could have answered "Strongly agree" on avoiding inappropriate situations. I didn't witness her have even have the opportunity to avoid any such situations, but maybe that's because she was so good at avoiding them.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Facades and interiors (Day 4)

The calm center of this day was an afternoon stroll, first to Parque Serafín Sánchez in the middle of town, then a few blocks north to Parque Maceo.

This is a comfortable, modest square, with a yellow baroque church occupying a long corner of the space. I sat myself down on a park bench with the church to my right.


Opposite the church there was a pair of houses, mismatched in style, but both porticoed, in a way that suggested a small town rather than a provincial capital.

Across the square from me was an informal traffic hub, where taxis, horse-drawn taxis, and buses traded passengers.

A group of five boys are playing soccer on the square in front of the church—only one of the group had shoes on. The goal is the side of the steps that lead up to the church. There is a shot that gets way past the goalie and up onto the platform where a group of six elders is standing, talking, perhaps waiting for the church to open.

The ball hits one woman in the head. It doesn’t look like that hard a blow, but she’s dizzied and moves closer to the doorway to support herself. One of the boys comes up to apologize. The woman turns to scold him, but can’t persist long in the face of him taking responsibility for his action. She turns away and he reaches up to pat her head where she’s holding her hand, but he doesn’t quite touch her.