Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Tasking your staff members to do what they love: American University's Green Teaching Certificate Program

Though It has been nine years since I stepped down as Director of American University’s Centre for Teaching, Research and Learning (CTRL)  and eight years since I became Emeritus Professor, I still receive announcements of Centre Programs. Yesterday, I received the following announcement from Anna Olsson, Assistant Director of Teaching and Learning Resources.

As you are getting ready for your fall courses, this is a great time to consider joining over 500 AU faculty members and become a Certified Green Teacher.  AU's Green Teaching Program, which both has won a national award and been adopted by six other universities around the country, allows faculty to choose from a list of sustainability measures to collect points towards a Green Teaching Certificate for their courses. The process only takes ten minutes, and if certified, your 2017-2018 course syllabi and Blackboard pages will be awarded a Green Teaching Certificate Seal.  Learn more, and start your Green Teaching Certificate Application

The “Award winning Green Teaching Program,” described in the CTRL message offers an example of one of my favorite management principles:  find out what colleagues in your organization most enjoy doing and create opportunities for them to do it as part of their responsibilities. 
Some years ago, Anna Olsson was Director of a CTRL facility called “The “Faculty Corner.  It was combination lounge and teaching, learning and IT support resource for faculty members.  Free amenities were available.  There was a great library of teaching and learning books and other resources.  There were always two or more of our best consultants available for face-to-face assistance.

One day, I was hanging out in the Faculty Corner;  Anna and I were speaking.  She was an environmentally conscious staff member and was bemoaning what she viewed as an excessive use of paper in our teaching activities.  “Create a program to address the problem,” I suggested; “you will have my full support and any resources you need.”  Anna’s creation was the Award Winning Green Teaching Certificate  Program. 

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore - The World's Friendliest Tax Collector

When I returned to the office after my sojourn in Florida, Cambridge Mass and Taos New Mexico, a letter from the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore awaited me.  “Your account shows tax balance of a [about] $500, the letter informed me.  The deadline for paying without an additional assessment had already expired. Thus an additional fine would have to be paid, though the amount was not large.  
I knew that my best strategy was “direct action.” The next morning I booked a Comfort-Citicab taxi and embarked for Revenue House, the headquarters of the IRAS, located at Singapore’s Novena Square.
Because Revenue House is also home to the National Population and Talent Division and the National Climate Change Secretariat, Office of the Prime Minister it is a familiar venue. It was my privilege to introduce System Dynamics modeling to staff members of the two Ministries in the spring of 2014. Once before,  I had also paid a visit to resolve a minor tax issue.
Customers with tax issues to resolve first approach a service counter where four revenue officers are on duty.  While clients are encouraged to use online services, seeking personal attention seems to carry no stigma. My wait-time before receiving personal attention was less than 5 minutes.  The revenue officer who served me was a courteous, knowledgeable, just-past-middle-aged professional.  Locating my file online, based on the correspondence I provided, he explained that the arrears was not covered by the “Automatic No Filing Service” submission for 2016, but a recalculation holdover from the previous year. On his own authority, he immediately set-aside the modest fine for late payment.  I would be able to pay by cheque and the cheque could be submitted at an adjacent office of the Singapore Post Office, he explained. The post office employee who accepted my cheque was equally courteous, helpful and efficient.   Excluding transit time, the entire transaction took less than 30 minutes, leaving me time to buy groceries an a nearby shopping centre before returning to my office.
“Comparisons are invidious” my mother taught me years ago.  The US Tax Code is far more complex. For Taxpayers with any degree of complexity in their income stream, obtaining the professional assistance of a tax accountant is mandatory. Meeting and Internal Revenue Service Officer personally, unless one is being audited is out of the question. Employees of the US Internal Revenue Service are dedicated professionals, doing their best, however their task is a daunting one.

However credit should be accorded where credit is due.  Were there an international award given for “The World’s Friendliest Tax Collector,” Singapore’s Internal Revenue Authority would win my nomination, hands down!!

Sunday, August 06, 2017

A Cornfield in the Middle of A Campus?

8 August,  2017
This Sunday is “check in day” at Residential College 4, National University of Singapore. It is a fun day for greeting arriving new students, sometimes accompanied by their parents; also for catching up with older students who are departing for international exchange adventures.
A few minutes ago I spoke with a student who soon will be departing for the University of Illinois, located in the Midwestern heartland of the US, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. I know this institution very well.  It was one research site for my doctoral dissertation and first book, Partners in Development: An Analysis of AID University Relations 1960-1966. What I remember most about about U of I Champaign Urbana is that a cornfield, rather than a grass-covered quadrangle, graces, its center-campus.
This highlights U of I Champaign Urbana’s origins as one of American’s educational innovations, the “Land-Grant” public university. These Universities are legacies of the Morrill Land-Grant Acts, enacted in 1862, which endowed higher-education institutions, devoted primarily to agriculture and engineering, with substantial grants of public lands. Among them are my own Ph.D. Alma Mater, The University of Minnesota; also the University of Michigan, the University of Indiana, Cornell University, and many more. The mission of these institutions was public service. For years, low tuitions made the opportunity tor a high quality university education available to all. As I recall, my University of Minnesota tuition was $50 per credit hour. Sadly, this is less true today.
It has always interested me that Singapore’s educational leaders seem to look more towards America’s “Ivy League” Universities rather than its Land Grant Universities for institutional models. An exciting exemplar, Yale-NUS College, is a towering neighbor of our Residential Colleges, including my own Residential College 4. I have nothing against ‘”the Ivies” of course.  After all, my undergraduate degree is from one of them, Dartmouth College in Hanover New Hampshire! 
To be sure, NUS has no cornfield gracing its mid-campus.  However Congressman Justin Morrill and his colleagues would be gratified to know that in a far distant land, there is another institution with a similar mission to the Land Grant Universities: public service to the Nation of Singapore and its people. 

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Sharing Three Management Lessons with a Gifted Colleague

Not long ago I received word that one my American University School of International Service’s most brilliant, multifaceted doctoral students, Prof. (Dr.) Christine Chin, had assumed one of my former responsibilities, Director of the University’s Center for Teaching Research and Learning - CTRL (formerly the Center for Teaching Excellence – CTE) . More recently I learned she had been named as the School’s interim Dean.  Happily she is slated to return to CTRL after a one-year term.
These appointments led me to reflect on and share three lessons that I drew from my own years as a manager.  While they might not be relevant all cultural contexts, they served me well..
Lesson #1. “Bad news” is the “news” a manager most needs to know and the hardest for her (or him) to get. Don’t only be open to “bad news” seek it out.  Edwin Catmull expresses the same truth differently in his marvelous book on effective management at Pixar, Creativity Inc.  “If there is more truth telling around the water-cooler than in the executive suite the organization is in trouble” He observes.
Lesson #2. If you want to have staff members be effective, find out what the like to do best and, no matter what is their “job description,” create opportunities for them to do it. Applying this principal transformed several mediocre performers into stars.
Lesson #3. Commitment to serve. I also shared a practice that contributed to the distinctiveness and reputation of CTE/CTRL University-wide.  At a point in our beginning-fall-term day-long welcome and orientation for more that 50 new and old staff members I would ask the assembled group – “if you receive a request from someone seeking information or assistance from (CTE/CTRL), whatever the request may be, what are the four words with which, if you respond, may result in summary dismissal?  The answer: 


Thursday, June 15, 2017

About Quality Relationships - The Spectacle Shop in Singapore's West Coast Plaza

 Soon after settling in Singapore, I realized that I needed my eyeglass lenses upgraded and, perhaps, new frames as well.  Singapore’s “West Coast Plaza,” a mid-sized multi-story emporium catering to local residents, was within easy walking distance.  Across the street was a market center populated by “Hawker’s Stands” (Chinese, Malay, and Indian prepared food shops) and small shops of all kinds  (Chinese medicines, furniture, hair salons – an unimaginably varied potpourri of small commercial enterprises).  It had become become my preferred destination for groceries, vitamin supplements, stationery supplies,  sundry clothing items and an occasional Hawker’s Stand or more upscale restaurant meal. This it seemed a natural choice for eyeglasses as well. 

Most Singaporeans wear eyeglasses and optometrist outlets are plentiful in both sides of the street. How to choose among them?  One Saturday morning, in Spring 2010,  I set out to have my eyes tested and, possibly, to make a purchase.  After brief unsystematic survey I chose “The Spectacle Shop,” located on the topmost floor of the Plaza. The storefront was clean, brightly lighted and decorated with posters of handsome, smiling men and women in their mid 30s enjoying their glasses. This is how I became acquainted, in the spring of 2010 with the owner, Raymond Lau and his wife (whose name I have yet to learn).  Over the six years when I have mostly lived in Singapore, I have continued to shop at the West Coast Plaza, even after my move to University Town made less convenient. From time to time, I stopped by to exchange greetings with Raymond and see how he was doing.  Lately, his business has not been so good, because of increased competition from a renovated “Clementi Mall”, which is adjacent to a Singapore Rapid Transit (MRT) station.

Not long ago, I began to realize that my vision was not what it should be and visited Raymond for a check-up. 
After some extensive testing, he advised that he would not sell me new corrective lenses without a further examination. Guided by his recommendation, I secured an appointment at the National University of Singapore, Eye clinic. After three hours of testing and consultations with three ophthalmologists, I was advised that no surgery was required, but that periodic testing at six-month intervals was advisable. I returned to The Spectacle Shop with the more nuanced prescription I been seeking. With complete confidence in Raymond’s professionalism and integrity, I ordered new frames and two sets of progressive lenses, with a special coating designed for heavy computer users (I often log 7-10 hours each day, 7 days a week.)
 The final chapter occurred on Tuesday evening, when the second set of frames with their new lenses, arrived in Raymond’s office, somewhat later than anticipated.  Because he knew I was leaving the country shortly, and my schedule was packed, he arranged to have his son drive him to my office/apartment complex so he could deliver my new glasses personally and bid me farewell. It was after 10 PM when we met. This was more than a business transaction; it was the latest chapter in a five plus year professional face-to-face friendship.

 My goal has never been “the best price.”  It as always been a mutually beneficial professional transaction grounded in mutual warmth, mutual respect and especially mutual trust.  Our relationship has been both professional and personal, supported by authentic,  congenial face-to-face communication. I believe that such quality relationships; in every facet of my life are one of the most important ingredients of a life that is worth living.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Travails of Online Banking

How often has it happened to you?  You are need information from one of your several bank accounts. The reason you have several is, perhaps, that you arranged deposit of your monthly (US) Social allotment. Since then you have moved several times so the Social Security office with responsibility has changed. 
When you attempt to log-in on line, you are informed there are new security procedures in place.  No longer is it sufficient to have a complex password with capital letters, small letters, and symbols, plus your grandmother’s middle name and the name of your first grade teacher. The additional requirement is that you will be sent a “one time pin”.  This will be sent to your mobile phone or to your email address.  Because the mobile phone service in your office is sporadic, you select the email address.  You check your email repeatedly, but no message comes.  Eventually, reach your bank’s call center in the US and, after responding to multiple “security questions,” the call-center staff member checks on your email.  It turns out that the email you regularly use has a security “firewall” that makes it inaccessible to the server used by your bank. You propose another email address (you need three different email addresses for different relationships), This works and, for the moment you have access to that account once again.  You take deep breaths, repeat the Serenity Prayer and move on to your next task.  A procedure that once took five minutes has consumed more than an hour.
            Were Franz Kafka rewriting “The Castle” he might instead choose internet banking, rather than bureaucracy,  as his subject matter.  However it is worthwhile to step back and reflect on the cause for all of this.  The cause is immorality, plan and simple. Those who “hack” for criminal purposes and those who surreptitiously invade our privacy for commercial purposes or other machinations may not be equally complicit – there are degrees of immorality but they are all complicit in degrading the quality of our human experience.   
            To paraphrase my beloved friend, the late Dana Meadows, the world be a simpler and better place if people could only be honest and care about each other.  And I wouldn’t need to keep track of so many passwords and answers to “security questions.”