Tuesday, July 27, 2010


The tendency to get entangled marked the donkey Lucky’s entire life. He never even considered that disentanglement was possible. He never learned to avoid his problems. On the contrary, when he was in the vines, he seemed to figure out ways to make the tangles worse as he moved around in mindless, purposeless ways, with a benign acceptance of his fate. I regularly found him and cut him loose, but he was only mildly grateful, and forgot my act of kindness within seconds, treating me like the untrustworthy omnivore he was convinced I was. There was no way to make him understand that I would never eat a donkey.

We named him Lucky because he was born on Friday the 13th. My big brother flew his 50th mission over enemy territory in a B-17 on Friday the 13th and came back from his long entanglement in World War II unscathed, so, in my family at least, Friday the 13th is known as a good luck day. But Lucky the donkey seemed marked out for trouble from his early days. He was the unluckiest donkey I have ever known.

Lucky recently got shot in the back leg. I gave him antibiotic crumbles in his feed and started him on a regimen of penicillin. But early last week, when I went to give him some feed and a shot, he was down, once again the victim of entanglement. He had his good back foot in some vines and he couldn’t get up. His wounded leg, I discerned, was definitely broken. The bullet had made its irremediable mess of cartilage and bone. I had to do what cowboys do when equines have broken legs. It was the hardest trigger I ever pulled.

I have pulled the trigger on my own entanglements more than once in my career as a college administrator. Several times the trigger I pulled was that of taking a new job, getting a fresh start. The changes were not without risk, but the grass was indeed greener on the other side of the brambles, for awhile anyway.

But in higher education administration, it was my experience that people invariably got hung up in process and began to serve the structure instead of the student. These treacherous vines of process grew strong and held tight. And annual evaluations did little good. I used to advocate an evaluation system for college administrators based on outcome rather than process. I recommended that we hand out a form to evaluate administrators to students and faculty that asked two questions: Does the administrator do a good job? Why do you say so? You know, keep it simple. How could you get entangled in process with that streamlined approach? No one paid much attention to the recommendation. It was more fun to darken bubbles and run Scan-tron machines.

Of course, my old recommendation would require some thoughtful writing and no one wants to get entangled in that kind of thing.

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