Reinventing Administration

For months-and-months I’ve been sitting on a slowly-changing monster of an essay draft titled Reinventing Administration, borne out of my experiences in the last couple of years working with and fighting against the people in charge of Cooper Union. Inspired by Heather Marsh’s awesome serialized blog posts on collaboration, today I’m going to start noodling-in-public on different thoughts until this topic is out of my system and my drafts folder. While Cooper is the subject of these writings, it’s kind of interchangeable: an object through which I hope to address the challenge of reforming institutions who seem to have…gotten away from themselves. The problems here are not unique, and the questions we (the community of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and neighbors) have had to ask form a kind of rubric against which to check out-of-whack leadership at schools everywhere.

Here are some topics that come to mind, which I’ll link up like a table of contents if they come into existence, and add to as I go:

  • How did Cooper Union get into a death spiral?
  • Is all money dirty? Or, how can anybody sleep at night knowing that an egalitarian institution is funded by businessmen who’re widening inequalities elsewhere?
  • Legacy, as in cobwebs.
  • Preservation vs. building a new city.
  • Transparency, accountability, and other cans of worms.
  • Asynchronous collaboration walks into a meeting an falls over laughing.
  • Community theater (as in appeasement and “fake consensus” not showtunes. Okay, well, maybe showtunes.)
  • Bottlenecks. (Hierarchies vs. networks)
  • Who are administrators? Where did they come from? And could we do this without them?
  • Who does a bland Public Relations department serve?
  • A look at work by others on “Open Government” and “Open Society”
  • Git and Github as a metaphor and possibly a working toolkit for Open Government
  • Where to stop the technological steamroller
  • Pushing the right leverage point — growth — in the wrong direction. Or, growing down and replicating as an alternative to fattening up.
  • Does everything inevitably get away from you in the worst possible way, Peter Cooper? Or can you design a non-stifling system that supports its original intention.
  • Do we need classroom teaching? An imagined debate between John Taylor Gatto, who learned everything he needed to know smoking cigarettes by the river, and Margaret Edson, whose experiences with schooling are heartwarming rather than traumatic.
  • Can classroom teaching be saved? (Picking IRL education up where Clay Shirky left off…and kicked it while it’s down.)

‘til tomorrow.