Friday, December 21, 2012

Institutions of higher education take a cue from government when it comes to incompetent employees.

Generally, private employers can fire someone fairly easily if that person isn't doing his or her job unless there's a contract with a clause that somehow prevents this. If private employers can dismiss incompetent and dishonest employees, why can't it be done on the state level?  I'm referring to institutions of higher education, specifically those public institutions of higher education which may or may not be run by the state government but are still affiliated with it. Much of the management practices of these institutions stems from those used at the state government level.  

It's common knowledge at many institutions of higher education that you can't fire incompetent employees. You heard me right, common knowledge. Anyone who has enough years at the institution knows this and while they don't accept it, there's nothing they can do about it.  We've all come face-to-face with people who should have been canned long ago and we ask ourselves "why are they still here?" and that's because the system in place at the institution and within the state government, allows it to happen.

At a particular institution I know well, an employee may be terminated with just cause which includes incompetence, misconduct on or off the job, and unsatisfactory attendance. Depending on the offense, disciplinary actions include oral and written reprimands, suspension and dismissal. Despite this, everyone knows it takes an Act of Congress to dismiss an employee from the institution. Just ask how hard it is to get rid of a faculty member who is incompetent or commits an act of misconduct like sexual harassment or a person of minority status who is incompetent at his or her duties and commits an act of misconduct. It takes forever to get rid of them, if you get rid of them at all. I've seen cases where units are afraid to do anything and said individuals are allowed to resign, rather than be fired, if of course they are required to leave at all. Of course I suppose some would consider it being generous to allow a longtime employee to resign rather than have to endure the stigma of being fired but really,what message does it send? It screams that because one is a tenured professor or falls within a "protected class" or because you're related to someone in a high position, you're exempt from the rules."

What perpetuates this? Government. Who doesn't know that it's hard as hell to fire a government employee? Everyone knows when you get a job with the government it's pretty much for life. This extends to state0-run institutions, even those which are not state-governed but are still affiliated with the state (for example in Florida, the state universities are now known as public corporations but their payroll, benefits, and such are still handled by the state). 

There are,  in my opinion, two things that muck up the ability to fire incompetence. First, employee evaluations. One of the reasons it's nearly impossible to fire a long-term employee for incompetence is well...because their employee evaluations are generally good. Sure, good employees go bad, but more often than not, certain supervisors on campus give good evaluations on shitty employees because A) they don't want to be the the reason someone might get laid off, B) they like said person and want to protect them, or C) they just don't give a damn. (What other excuses could there be?) Not only does the intentional inflation of employee marks on a shitty employee's evaluation devalue the entire evaluation process but it goes against one of the reasons for evaluations in the first place---to rid the establishment of incompetence.  I've had people in positions of authority at an institution tell me it's common knowledge and yet there's nothing they can do to remedy it. Without a documented history of incompetence, how do you expect to get rid of someone for incompetence?

Second, is the problem of fear of being sued. Some supervisors fear terminating an employee for just cause but then being sued for racism. I recall a department where, for years, employees complained and yet nothing was done. The scuttlebutt among employees was the department was afraid of being sued.Whether this is the real reason certain individuals weren't let go is only speculation. Now, if it were one or two employees speculating, that's one thing, but when it's common knowledge throughout the institution then it's something different, then it's just...I don't know...negligence? Stupidity? Bullshit?

In addition, employees who witness incompetence, misappropriation of resources, bad behavior or anything else they find inappropriate, there's supposed to be a system set up where they can complain about it, however most don't use it because they fear repercussion and in the end, nothing will be done.  I'm sure at the top, they'll claim that this simply isn't true, that the system is set up to reward the productive employees and get rid of the incompetents, blah blah blah. These people sit in their ivory towers and the have absolutely no clue. They'll also say that it's not true that those who report this kind of thing will face retaliation. Sure they dispute that...they're not the ones blowing the whistle and in fear of losing their jobs. I'm sure they believe that and I'm sure the system wasn't intended to protect the wrong people, but let's face it...they're wrong and it does. I mean, really, when you can't find a single employee (one with brains and common sense that is) who can dispute this behavior goes on, then what else is there to be said? 

With any luck, sometime in the future, someone in a position of power is going to just have to have the balls to say "enough is enough" and do the right thing.  Until then, the only thing we can do is continue to bitch about it until someone finally pays attention.

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