by Deborah Knuth Klenck
Professor of English
June 16, 2014
When I returned from a scholarly conference last night, I
went through four days’ worth of mail and found my notification about proving
the eligibility of my husband to remain on my health-insurance policy. I
anticipated the tone of the document from having read posts on the Colgate AAUP
website, and the letter met the standards I expected: the word “MUST” in
all-caps; the inclusion of a non-negotiable deadline (in my case, a deadline
that gives me precisely fourteen business days to comply—though it’s not clear
whether the documents must be delivered to The Bonadio Group by that date or if
a postmark within the allotted window will suffice); and the overall sense of a
veiled—or rather not-veiled—threat.
When I first read about the new “program” to verify that we employees
were not committing fraud, I was somewhat surprised—especially because, as far
as the policy extends to dependent children, collecting the data seems
completely unnecessary. Everyone’s children’s birthdates are already on record
because of our having filled out paperwork necessary to qualify for Colgate’s
tuition benefit. How hard is it to import data from one drawer of a filing
cabinet to another? Must Colgate really employ an independent entity (at what
cost, one wonders?) to collect such duplicate information—if indeed it needs to
be collected in the first place?
Previous posters have called attention to the rushing
through of this new policy when the Benefits Committee has had inadequate time
to discuss it, much less bring it to the floor of a Faculty Meeting, and when
many faculty have left the area or even the country for the summer—quite
possibly without having taken along their children’s birth certificates and
their own marriage licenses and tax returns.
Of course, the more important objection to this hasty change
in policy is not practical, but philosophical. This is not Purdue; this is a
small place. We know each other—or we used to.
We used to have a sense of community, rather than a sense of mistrust
I have long marveled at the relative failure of Colgate’s
administration to make small gestures that could improve employee morale. When
I read in Human Resources’ “Open Gate” about a colleague’s milestone of 25 or
40 years of service, I wonder why there is no further celebration. Other professional
milestones go similarly unnoted. The
sorts of recognition I imagine would cost the University little or nothing, and
the rewards to the community in terms of simple good will could be significant.
Now I’m noticing not just errors of such omission, but
actively offensive gestures. The tone and content of the early-retirement-incentive
letter received by almost a third of the faculty earlier this year were a
rather jarring example. The “one-time” “lump-sum” offer with its inflexible
deadline (not only a date but a time as well, leading me to wonder why it would
matter if the document agreeing to the offer were signed at 5:05 PM on the
given date instead of at 4:55) had all the subtlety of a late-night commercial
for a set of revolutionary new cookware. The inappropriate language was not
mitigated by any expressions of gratitude for faculty service or any allusion
to how hard it might be for the University ever to replace us and our efforts
for the institution. There was simply a
sense that some of us needed reminding that we were somehow, by continuing to
work at the advanced age of 61, overstaying our welcome. In case we hadn’t
realized where the exit was, we were helpfully offered a
not-particularly-friendly (nor tempting, actually, the “lump-sum” offer
notwithstanding) push out the door.
Over recent years, I have ascribed some of these errors in
“people skills” to a collective tin ear on the part of the authors—and, one
must add, of the signers--of such documents. (It’s not the fault of the folks
at Human Resources: they [alone] send congratulatory notes to employees who
have reached milestones in years of service and get-well cards during
But lately it feels as if these gaffes cannot be
inadvertent: could they be designed deliberately to discourage and depress us?
I have never gone to business school, but it would seem to me that a savvy
choice on the part of an administration would be to adopt a relatively positive
tone towards its employees—but perhaps I’m naïve on that point.
At any rate, the increasing contrast between the
communications, or absence thereof, between the administration and me and the many
letters, e-mails, and social-media postings I receive from alumni, both recent
students and those who graduated as many as thirty years ago, is somewhat
I’ll xerox my mortgage bill and my marriage certificate
later today, I suppose, and mail them in, certifying that I haven’t falsified
any information, per the necessary form, but I still won’t understand how or
why life at Colgate has so drastically changed.