Thursday, August 13, 2009

More on power.

(Not to be confused with "moron power." Heh.)

Dave, you're right. I didn't think about the "takers" on the "public" side of things when I was composing my screed about the "Let them eat cake" sorts in bureaucracies and leadership positions. But it is true. I see it myself a lot of the time.

An example: Two students come in on two different days for advisement.

The first student shows up, hands me copies of his transcripts, hands me a filled-out plan-of-study, says, "I still need to take classes u, v, w, x, y, and z for my major, and I know class z is only offered in the fall, and class v is only offered in the spring." And he suggests a tentative schedule. And maybe it works, maybe it doesn't. Maybe there's a conflict of times. Or maybe he's overambitious and doesn't know the little quirks of the departments (like, you shouldn't take Techniques in Wildlife Research and Organic Chemistry the same semester, because the labs in both are super-hard-intensive and it will drive you nuts), so I can give him some pointers and some advice.

And after a few minutes of work and consultation, we hit on a schedule that will work for him, that will get him further down the road he needs to be on. And he thanks me and heads out on his way.

The second student shows up, nothing in hand. No transcripts. No plan-of-study. I ask him if he knows what he wants to take and he shrugs. I ask him what he's already taken and he can't remember. I ask him for his student ID number so I can at least look up his transcript online, and he fumbles in his wallet for several minutes before finding the card with the ID.

So then I have to either go and get a copy of the blank plan-of-study, or if I'm lucky, I have a spare one in my office. So I begin suggesting classes. Well, class a is out because it meets at 8 am, and he "doesn't do mornings." And class b, there's too much math, he doesn't want that right now. And everything I suggest is shot down, complained about, met with a blank look or shrug. After twice as much time (at least) than I took with the first student, I cobble together a schedule for the guy. Guy grabs his schedule and slumps out, no thanks, no recognition of the time put in. And then he comes back at the end of the semester to gripe at me for giving him a "hard" schedule - or he comes back and tells me he's up a creek, because he won't graduate "on time" and it turns out it's because he either dropped a couple of the classes because they were "boring" or he skipped one repeatedly and failed.

And yeah. Which person do you want to help?

I tell myself I'm "in it" for that first guy - that the people who know what they're doing and where they're going and how to get there are the ones that I'm here for, and the sad-sacks who really just want to extend adolescence by four more years before reality hits them upside they head, helping them is what I get paid for.

But I can see cynicism creeping in to the life of a public servant when they have to deal with too many people in that second category.

I once had a MERP (minority-recruitment program; I think that's the acronym the school used for it) student working with me, who had previously worked in a public-aid office as a clerk. He once told me one of the reasons he was going back to college to get a second degree (in biology) was that he never ever wanted to work in public-aid again, it was too depressing. (I think he actually wound up going to Physician Assistant school. So he might still be having to deal with sad-sacks from time to time, but at least a lot of the time he's probably dealing with decent people).

I guess the moral of the story? There's a lot of potential bad in everyone, and each one of us has to guard ourselves to try not to let it come out. I know I've stifled myself many a time when some student came unprepared to my office. Or demanded a make-up exam and then never showed at the scheduled time. Or whatever.

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