Academic Technology

When computer’s arrived at the college where I was teaching, the typists were supposed to type on the computer and print onto forms. But the people designing the forms had no concept of how the printers printed—the spacing was wrong and the text was never aligned.

Typists had to type the body of the document in the computer, print it on the form, then put it in the typewriter to fill in the data at the top. This was so time consuming that it was easier to just type the whole document, ignoring the computer. The Academic VP who commanded the design of academic forms, had no understanding of typing or printing and her Assistant VP had no understanding of filling out forms so nothing happened, neither believing it was a problem. This situation went on for years, more than doubling the requirement for clerical staff.

The faculty were then given computers and expected to “keyboard” their own student evaluations but none of them had typewriters. They would do the body of the document, put it on a disk, and take it to a typist to print out and type in the top. This resulted in much confusion about which body went with which top. The typists decided to do themselves again. The faculty used their computers for their personal work and hand wrote student evaluations. This went on for years.

Then the acquisitions department in a rented warehouse on the other side of town, with no contact with academic staff and little with administrative staff, decided it was time to stop buying or repairing typewriters. Computers were cheaper and more efficient. Each department would be allowed to have one for extreme situations where one was required.

As the typewriters began to break down and the academic paper work to pile up, the problem was finally addressed, with the refusal to repair office equipment clearly in charge of the academic process.

A version of this post was written in response to a discussion on the Systems Thinking Forum at Linked-In on personal Aha! moments, 10 July 2010.

Pass the Olives

In my junior year at Abraham Lincoln High School in Des Moines, Iowa, my art teacher, Larry Hoffman, drew a caricature of me in my year book. I was dressed in the Helen of Troy costume I had worn to our Grand Beaux Arts Ball (a picnic in a city park by the Des Moines Art Center) and using a long handled brush to paint a single perfect olive in the middle of a huge canvas.

Seeing my blank expression, he said, “You are like an olive. People either like you or hate you, but your taste is distinctive and has no substitute.”

At sixteen, all I understood was that I stood out. That little olive alone on a big canvas. That is not what sixteen-year-olds want to hear. I was in my late fifties before I began to understand what it means to be an olive in a world of mostly apples with a few cherries and peaches and raisins mixed in. Living in a bowl with other olives, or mixed with lots of cream cheese, or wrapped in bacon and fried.

I was in my late fifties before I could finally say, “Pass the olives.”

The series of entries in Pass the Olives are the viewpoints that earned me my reputation as an olive. If you don’t like olives, you will probably not want to read these. They are in the Things the Way I See Them genre.