Sunday, December 14, 2008

two days seems a lifetime away

We had our Leadership program graduation on Thursday. I had been selected by my peers to be one of the two student speakers. It was quite an honor. And while I had no idea what I was going to say until finishing up a little after midnight just 9 hours prior to giving the speech, it was very well received. I was stunned by the praise.

It was a whirlwind of a program that really changed the way I viewed my job at Cal. I've actually come to see it as an actual career. I never really thought I would have a career, but here I am.

The graduation was filled with several campus leaders including Chancellor Birgeneau and the two Associate Chancellors. It was my first chance to actually hear Birgeneau speak. And while I've been impressed by the stances he's taken on diversity and affirmative action, after seeing him in person, I'm even more impressed by his walking the walk. For all my years at Cal, I have never seen a Chancellor's cabinet as diverse as this one. He's created several posts that truly bring leadership in the areas he's concerned about: sustainability and diversity.

In the same way Chancellor Tien was often a robust and engaging personality that drew people to him, Chancellor Birgeneau is relatively soft spoken but look at the people around him, the ones who come to Cal because of him, and you begin to understand a man of immense integrity.

The two Associate Chancellors at the graduation were women. One, Linda Williams, who was recently hired from the Office of the President was our keynote speaker. Many people may have heard of her from the SF Chronicle reports on the compensation "scandal". What was crazy about that article is that she did nothing wrong, didn't break any laws, and followed policy. Now the policy wasn't the best thing in the world, but she wasn't in a position to change that policy but the article made her sound like she was evil for doing it. The policy has since been changed.

What's impressive about Linda Williams is that she started out as an administrative analyst and has risen through the ranks. The other impressive thing about her is her frankness and ability to hold onto the things that ground her that allow her to keep going while being attacked. I don't know about you, this is the first time I've met an Associate Chancellor at Cal who was an African American woman. She didn't speak in that austerity you would think of Associate Chancellors, since previously most cabinet positions were of faculty who had Phds. But she still spoke with the authority of experience and confidence of knowing who she is.

The "scandal" the SF Chronicle tried to point out, ironically, is common practice amongst companies that are downsizing. It came straight from the consultant playbook as the Office of the President was reducing its size and staffing. However, what that corporate playbook didn't consider, which doesn't even exist in the corporate world really, is that staff could move within the system. If a company lays off X number of people, those people are not going to find work in some other branch of the company a few months later, unlike in UC. The policy was indeed shortsighted, but it has been rectified.

The real irony of all these SF Chronicle articles, is that they talk about how much of the taxpayer's dollars are wasted, which lowers UC credibility in financial times and makes legislatures more like to cut UC. However, when there is less funding from the state, the costs get funded elsewhere and those two areas are student fees and corporate partnerships. Remember the BP partnership that so many people rallied against? Well, lack of state funding forces UC's hand to go in that direction more and more. Traditionally, endowments at UC are not as high as their private school counterparts since alumni who pay taxes in the state figure their taxes eventually go back to UC, but the reality is that less and less of that money goes back to education.

And how does one be a leader in these kinds of times? How do you keep going? How do you maintain a sense of self when every decision is scrutinized?

Now that the leadership program is done, these are the kinds of questions I ponder now. And while I now have a career, I'm not quite sure where I would like to climb. The high from Thursday seems a lifetime away, but maybe it's because I'm now living a different life.

No comments: