Monday, September 24, 2012

Berkeley Politics Again

Last week, I wrote about the criticism of the man expected to be named as Berkeley's School Superintendent. A few days ago, Edmond Heatley withdrew his application, leaving him in limbo, unless he is re-hired by the system in Georgia from which he resigned, expecting to be hired in Berkeley. The School Board announced that the two administrators who have been acting jointly as the interim Superintendent will continue to function in that capacity for the near future. Our city has already spent $85,000 on consultant fees in its two failed attempts to find a new Superintendent. It occurs to me that the School Board has not felt sufficiently confident in the abilities of the Deputy Superintendent to advance the holder of that position to be the permanent Superintendent. Perhaps the Assistant Superintendent would have done an adequate job, but you do not promote an Assistant to the permanent position and expect the Deputy Superintendent, who has been passed over, to take kindly to such a decision. Nor is it practical to continue indefinitely under shared leadership. I also think that it will be difficult to persuade qualified candidates to vie for the appointment, once they learn the recent history of the position. I just hope that a qualified candidate with the courage to walk into this situation can be found. How much more can we afford to pay for a consultant? However, it is certainly worthwhile to seek out the right "headhunter" to persuade the right person to apply for the job.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Berkeley Politics

I have lived in this city for over fifty years, and hope to end my days here. Years ago, I quipped that we had two political parties here: the Left--and the Far Left. Barbara & I have always supported the Berkeley Democratic Club, a moderate group which has been out of power in recent years. We are happy to be friends of a former Mayor, Shirley Dean, who lives near us. The School Board recently conducted a search for a new Superintendent, to begin work next month. The sole candidate, who is clearly well qualified and experienced, has left his previous employment, pending hiring by Berkeley. Someone picked up the fact that, several years ago, he had assisted in the preparation of a document opposing same-sex marriage (SSM). (However, he did not express any personal views on the issue). Our local newspaper has reported that this may result in the School Board rejecting his application for the position. Several years ago, I felt that a "civil union", with all the benefits of marriage, should satisfy the proponents of SSM. My position "evolved" when I understood how marriage was so important to many same-sex couples. (The issue is still somewhat in limbo in California, after "Proposition 8" has been declared unconstitutional, but SSM has not yet been restored in our state.) However, in supporting SSM, I certainly do not feel that it is appropriate for us to refuse to hire the successful candidate on suspicion that he may hold unexpressed contrary views.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Dutch Auction

The Dutch may not have invented it, but this type of auction is usually called by that name. Instead of the bidding beginning at a low level, requiring higher bids until the bidding stops, at which time the last bid is successful, this procedure is reversed. In other words, the auctioneer starts with a high figure, and reduces this by successive small amounts until a bidder decides that the price is right. When I last heard, this system was in use in the leading flower market in the Netherlands. I was reminded of this after viewing a TV special narrated by Candice Bergen. This was about the many Nazi criminals who had successfully evaded justice. Many of these found their way to the United States. They can't be accused of genocide, or even abetting murder, because of the Statute of Limitations or insufficient evidence. However, they can be deported if it can be shown that they made false statements when applying for entry visas. Most of these criminals are now deceased, but we were shown one elderly man, long slated for deportation. We were told that no country would take him. This gave me a totally impractical (but entertaining) idea. Most of us remember the use of the phrase "extraordinary rendition", to describe the forcible removal of captured prisoners of war, to countries less scrupulous about torturing them to obtain information. In my imagination, there would be a number of impoverished countries (Haiti, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, etc) that need money. I imagined a Dutch auction, because the USA could afford to pay sums which might be attractive to these countries, to accept "rendition" of criminals subject to deportation orders. (I am not suggesting that these folk be tortured or starved). This reversal of normal practice reminds me of a childhood game. Typically, with two teams picking sides, the best players were chosen first, and then the next choice went to the other team. (In a fairer version of this, the second team chose the next two players, the original team the following two, and so on). In reverse, we imagined that we were in a sled being chased by a pack of wolves. We would choose one person as the first to be sacrificed to the wolves, and then the remaining "passengers" would select the next "victim", and so forth. The end result is that only one "survivor" remains. What happens if two or more bidders choose the same price at which to buy? Either the first one to speak is the successful bidder, or one could draw lots to determine the outcome.

Monday, September 3, 2012


I recently read that Graham Spanier, the former president of Penn State, who was terminated by the board because of his part in the cover-up of Coach Sandusky's misbehavior, will retain his tenured professorship at the college. Many people might think that his dismissal from the presidency should also result in termination of tenure, but it doesn't work that way. This news reminded me that I have often felt that "lifetime" tenure is undesirable. As our expectation of life continues to increase, we may be left with some very elderly Supreme Court justices. I do not suggest a mandatory retirement age, as there are clearly many competent minds capable of excellent work after (say) the age of 80. We can only hope that those who are in the early stages of Alzheimer's (or other forms of dementia) will be encouraged to resign. Perhaps regular medical examinations would be practical, but at present there is no way of forcing involuntary resignation. Perhaps it is more realistic to hope for a change in the tenure arrangements for schoolteachers. I have often discussed this with my wife, herself a retired teacher. Perhaps the best suggestion is a "rolling 3 year tenure". This would work by granting two further years of tenure to those worthy of it, while giving a couple of years to those not given such an extension, in order for them to find other employment. In the Episcopal Church, a Rector has unlimited tenure, unless he or she agrees contractually to a more limited arrangement. A major problem with this system is that when there is dissension between a Rector and the Lay leadership of the parish, it is often extraordinarily difficult for the Bishop to find some other suitable Church employment for the cleric. Perhaps the most practical solution is to arrange for early retirement or some employment for which the clerics skills and experience can be applied. I'm not suggesting this is easy!