Helvetica Stone

artsy soul in a scientific world

Helvetica Stone

Helvetica Stone
November 26
Helvetica Stone wants art and science to hold hands and look up in wonder at the miracle of existence. See more on my website: http://www.helveticastone.com


Helvetica Stone's Links

Visit my website
MAY 13, 2011 9:10AM

Institutions and the Individual

Rate: 4 Flag

Even though I am trained as an artist (an actor and a creative writer, if you fancy those things art) and highly value individual expression; I’ve always felt a responsibility to contribute to the greater good for my fellow humankind – maybe to a fault. I take satisfaction when I’m able to help a group make a significant impact beyond my own self-expression.  I like to learn, and help others learn, too.  To me, learning equals creativity.

For the past few years, I’ve worked in administration for a large public research university.  Before that, I worked in administration and production in small non-profit arts and cultural organizations.  I’m culturally academic and pale pink in terms of my politics:  so it seemed like a comfortable and logical fit. 

If you’ve been watching the economics and politics around higher education, you’ll understand why my job has changed a great deal in the past few years.  The missions of research institutions are being questioned.  They are talking at the Federal level about implementing a kind of “No Child Left Behind” accountability program for higher education.  The obsession with efficiency and productivity is outweighing a culture of creativity and innovation—the idealistic parts that are perhaps the backbone of higher education. 

I believed that my arts-honed ability to problem-solve innovative solutions would be an asset to the team I was in.  And it was until very recently.  Suddenly I’m getting stonewalled.  And we’re all getting bogged down in circular conversations about where to put our increasingly limited time and energy and resources.  I left the arts because I felt that industry was in irreparable disrepair.  And now, I’m afraid that higher education is in the same sinking boat.  As is, I increasingly fear, our United States government. 

My institution has been laying off droves of people: some people who really were quality performers, too. Dedicated staff and caring untenured teachers.  And in my state, like many other states, there is legislation afoot that would fundamentally change the way public education operates.  Faculty would be judged by student evaluations and the number of ‘A’s and ‘B’s they give out, not to mention their external fundraising skills.

So I admit, I’ve been looking at jobs.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for what I have.  But I’m scared, you know.  I seem to be performing well according to others, but it’s still possible I could be in the next round of cuts.

Maybe this time is different.  Maybe I’m supposed to stay put.  Maybe instead of my usual flight response when my environment is threatened, I need to stay and fight. Maybe I have to be more innovative with less.  Like everyone in these strange times. 

Putting my personal job security issues aside, I ask you, what is the perfect relationship between individuals and institutions?  Including Government, Education, Medicine and Religion?

What’s the perfect balance of power between the individual and the group?

I have to remind myself that all institutions are made of individuals, making individual, fallible decisions, all the time.  Which ones do we stay committed to?  And which ones, if any, is it time to throw away?  Can they be changed, and forgiven, and move forward, even for their faults?  If so, how do we act and work and live compassionately and responsibly, together?  For we have to work together to solve these frighteningly dehumanizing issues.  No individual can do it alone. We must have the courage to overcome our fear and fight the battles to sustain, grow, and even change the institutions that we participate in from our own conscious, as unique individuals.  So that these institutions can help the individuals thrive, and vice-versa.

Maybe there isn’t a perfect institution, or a perfect individual.   Just like there isn’t the perfect relationship. But we can all try to do better.  And I mean ME.

"They sentenced me to 20 years of boredom
By trying to change the system from within..."

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
I come from a family of artists, (I am one as well), and have watched the struggle for recognition and respect. Great post.
The obsession with efficiency and productivity is outweighing a culture of creativity and innovation—the idealistic parts that are perhaps the backbone of higher education"

Fundamentally, this country is NOT about excellence it is about INCLUSION. All else follows from that.
ASH...I'm confused...are you saying creativity and innovation are somehow exclusive? (i.e., higher ed is exclusive?)
"What’s the perfect balance of power between the individual and the group?"

We are a nation of institutions. No one achieves without being part of an organization (even artists need publicity and galleries, or at least a website).

An organization can be ideal in that all diverse members of the group work toward a stated goal. When they don't, when they look only inward and not outward to their customers, clients, constituents, pick one, the organization is ineffective.

Government as instituted (and funded) is becoming paralyzed. Our nation is now too complicated for a bureaucratic sausage machine. And all of Bill Gate's money will only turn the crank for a couple of days.

Do these organizations (institutions, businesses) now stand on the landscape like feudal castles? We are loyal to our Lord. He let's us till his property.

Enter the Internet. Over the feudal landscape there is now a cloud of individual freedom. Sometimes when I look at that cloud, I see why freedom was repressed for ages. Sometimes I see it is the only hope for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
i loved your article
as you will see tho
it hit a vein

‘public research university’:

how are budget decisions made(like the decision to cut the theatre department)?
of what influence are grants in budget decision making process?
is there transparency?

without transparency, all questions (such as yours) are vacated.

note: the Deans (who are administrative personnel but still public servants) have the power;

name some Deans who are not interested in consolidating their power;

accountability is missing;

of course, high salaries paid to athletics detours the scrutiny owed.
ASH... first, I think that there can be both excellence and inclusion. They need not be mutually exclusive. And I wish the internet were truly free...but think about the problems...who owns the servers? Who owns the data? Who lets who in?

ume: oh my. Well, it's complicated...and I can't pretend that I understand it all or am really that involved...but I'm seeing it like a social democracy. The budgets out of tuition or recurring funds are proposed by admins and reviewed committees before being approved by Deans. Grants have their own budgets, because they're dependent on deliverables required by the sponsor. (unrestricted gifts from donors are different...they get put in general funds for the following year(s).) Now...I was a specialist (the lowest academic rank, lower than a lecturer) in a theatre department for several years...and so I have special empathy for your example. I love theatre and think it's an important thing for young people to be learning about. Deans run colleges, and they can decide to cut departments. But Presidents and Provosts run universities, and they can, god forbid, cut entire colleges. In my institution, yes, sports seem insanely inequitable...but at least at our institution, they are self funding. The public will pay $50 a ticket, 20,000 people a game, 12 games a year, plus television rights...that's why they get paid more. The Ivy's don't do that, that's why no one cares about their sports teams. If they would commericalize public university live theatre or student films or student publications, then maybe fine arts and film and creative writing departments wouldn't be in such dire financial straights. But even that's easier said than done: I've seen a couple attempts at this fail already.

The bottom line is there is less money available than ever before...and that is an American, and maybe global issue. Do we really need more money? Or do we just need to learn to use the resources we have better???

I'm actually (gulp) giving a presentation to our President next week that has this basic concept as a major talking point. I worked with a small committee all year about it, it's our opinion, not just mine, and I'm nervous as sin about it. So if you don't hate me now for being part of the problem, do wish me some luck.
Well this certainly a provocative post. Now that you demolished the Internet as my savior, you have left me either divine intervention or hard work "falling forward" together. Evolution is a real bitch.

But I sincerely wish you godspeed in your presentation. I have learned that you have an awesome conscience,and experience, so I am sure it will be "the best and the brightest" hope that can be grasped.
I followed ASH. Great thoughts.
You gonna see thee president too?
I balk on commenting about school.
My son has IDES ref public education.
I read IDEAS mean a inner Light Bulb.
IDEAS are glimmers of Insight IDEAS.
If you are ever in Paris, France, Saudi Arabia, Israel, or Rome Italy`
Please ...
Ask them foreigners if they speak American knees. Ask the president to stop wars...
No profit from war.
Yes. None are perfect.
Hamartia - Just try tho.
No be servile to Evil either.
Metanoi - Exit dark cocoon.
Bow to Monarch Butterflies.
No serve Evil Principalities.
ASH ... Oh, no, not dashed your hopes! Come on, I wouldn't be here on OS if I didn't have hope for the internet as an amazing tool for communication, expression, and community which is changing everything. It's just not as free and open as it seems to be...but way more open than many, many things.

And Art, you poet sage...are you talking IDEA Act? I love the idea of individualized education plans (IEP's). What if EVERY child was in "special education?" And do you know the motto of Google? "Don't be evil." Isn't that bizarre? "Don't be evil." What is evil? A person? A people? A country? An idea? I think it's maybe a temporary state of being. It's anywhere there is an absence of hope, of love, of patience, of compassion, of safety, of care, of respect, of peace. Anyway, I'm with you on no war. It's not just no profit from it. In a modern world, there isn't any safety in it, which is what may have justified it in ancient times, before we realized the world was round and were were all connected.