administration · being undone · change management

Inside a State of Emergency, the University Edition

What you were doing ten days ago? Hugging a friend? Meeting someone at a talk and shaking their hand? Teaching inside a classroom? Doing research in your lab or at the library? Going for coffee or lunch somewhere?

So much has changed so fast. And we are still living with so much uncertainty. But I want to take you inside the last ten days for me. I can hardly remember what happened and I want to remember.

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“The loneliest place in Toronto.” Ross Building, York University, 4.31pm on March 20, 2020. Huge thanks Eve Haque for permission to use this image.

I am an Associate Dean at my university.  That means that I make some decisions, but I also am in charge of seeing that the decisions that the people higher up than me in the hierarchy (and there are a lot of them — dean, associate provost, provost, vice presidents, president) are made real. I am not in the highest level rooms where decisions are made, but I am definitely at other tables and rooms where we have a little — or a lot, it depends on who is in charge and what the issue is — of influence on the big decisions.

The Province of Ontario, where my university is located, declared a State of Emergency on March 17, 2020. Let me take in you inside the last ten days of an emerging state of emergency, and its immediate aftermath. A lot of what follows has to do with international students since looking out for them is a big part of my portfolio but also because I don’t think we’ve paid enough attention to how especially hard this situation has been for these students.

March 12 — three hour meeting with the dean, two hour meeting with department chairs, two hour meeting with Faculty Council where we (the dean’s office) try to say, we have not yet moved to canceling face-to-face classes but please, please start to prepare for this possibility. One of the other assoc deans and I sit down after that meeting and write out a quick guide for “going digital” for our colleagues. Just in case.

March 13 — dean texts all assoc deans and other key folks at 7.43am to say, I’m sorry but I’m calling an emergency teleconference for 8.30am. We learn that the announcement to move courses online will be coming. We ramp up our planning work. Lots to figure out. For example, we have exactly 12 spare laptops for a Faculty that has 650 faculty members, hundreds of TAs, and three hundred staff members. How to rent laptops for everyone who will need one? We put our “going digital” guide up on a website. At least we got ahead of that. How to help our 21,000 students? What will they need?

We wait and wait for the official announcement to come from the president. It was supposed to come at 11am but doesn’t. It is agonizing to know that this is coming but not be able to do much until the official word drops.

Finally, late in the afternoon, the official word is out. We send out mass email to faculty colleagues to talk about next steps. We send out an email to all our students telling them that we are here for them. In this email, we also ask international students who have questions or issues to email me (my portfolio is global & community engagement and working with international students is a big part of it).

My email is flooded almost immediately by students who are frantically trying to leave the country because they have heard that borders are closing and flights will be grounded.

They knew. The Canadian Minister for Foreign Affairs would not advise Canadians to come home until the next day. But these students already knew that the borders were closing. That if they were going to get home, they needed to get on a flight immediately.

I immediately ask our IT genius to set up a separate email account so that I can at least track the torrent of emails by cc’ing them to that account. It’s a quick hack but proves invaluable later because I can ask others to go into that inbox and start helping me track the needs and respond to them.

Friday night and wee hours of Saturday spent trying to help hundreds of international students. I start to feel that I can’t leave my computer for even a few minutes because the students need to make decisions now.

March 14 — the emails from terrified and anxious international students keep coming. Hundreds of them. Often one every minute. I get so many that my email starts bouncing emails because of the sheer volume.

I start to hear things before they are reported on the news. Ukraine is closing its borders. India is asking its citizens to come home and will soon close the borders to them if they don’t make it. For many students, whether to stay or go is a wrenching decision.

I call the dean on Saturday night and say, we need to send a message to our students to say that we know that they that they are grappling with these decisions and a lot of uncertainty and that if they decide to get on the next flight home to be with their family during this crisis, we will absolutely support them and figure out how to help them finish their courses from wherever they are. He calls the provost for approval. I text our director of communications. We write as fast as we can. We call up a staff person who has to access the student contacts. We call our IT genius. I am ruining everyone’s Saturday night but it is worth it because we get the message out.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs tells Canadians that if they have to come home “while commercial flights are still available.” It’s not reported in Canadian or US news, but other governments are giving their citizens the same message. Come home or you will be stranded.

March 15 — the messages asking for helping are still coming fast. I have been answering them day and night for 36 hours. I have a bleary-eyed Sunday zoom meeting with staff from my team and we figure out a way for them to share the load even though I am now ruining their Sunday and I feel terrible about that. But these students are under so much pressure and they need answers and they can’t wait for the office to open on Monday. We only decided to take courses online a day ago. The profs still don’t know what their courses will look like, whether or not there will be in-person exams etc. I tell the students, if you want to go, we will support you. Be where you feel safe. Don’t worry about the academic pieces. We can sort that out. That seems like the only humane thing to say even though I don’t have the power to make any colleague teach or give exams in any particular way.

March 16 — Canada announces the first border closures. I hear a rumour from students that flights will be grounded by Wednesday. It was only Monday but they knew. They were right.

Please, if you take nothing else from this, listen to your students. They know things.

Emergency meetings with assoc deans across the university. We keep checking texts and email because every ten minutes, things change and we have to decide again the thing we thought we had already decided.

The new normal is to write emails and official memos that begin, “Because this situation is fluid and changing very rapidly…”

March 17 — emergency meeting where we try to think about how to help international students who were supposed to start classes in summer semester now that there is a travel ban that denies them entry into Canada.

Still torrents of email from international students who have to make tough decisions. But now it’s worse because, if they leave, I don’t know when they can come back.

Ontario declares a state of emergency.

March 18 — after hours of agonizing waiting, we move to required-services-only mode which means we can finally allow staff to work from home and close libraries and services. I am happy that this is happening but so sad for the international students who will be even more alone on campus.

At 11.01pm the provost releases a memo telling everyone that university buildings will be closing and that if they want access to campus, they should email the Associate Dean for Research in their Faculty.

That’s me, too.

In addition to being Assoc Dean, Global & Community Engagement, I have also been pinch-hitting as Interim Assoc Dean, Graduate Studies &  Research since January.

I suddenly get a surprising number of requests from colleagues who don’t want to stop going to their office, don’t want to shut down their labs, don’t want to lose access to the computer room etc.

March 19 — huge fights about accessing buildings. These go for hours across many platforms — email, zoom meetings, text. Back and forth and back and forth.

I become a little hysterical. Maybe because I am tired. But I also feel an enormous responsibility for helping to break the virus’ chain of transmission [nyt link] and that means urging colleagues to stay home and telling them that accessing buildings after the official closure will jeopardize the health and safety of the person who wants to go into the building, and that of our security staff who will have to escort them in.

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Image via New York Times

March 20 — still a lot of back and forth about when and how to close the buildings. I am waiting for decisions from higher up. I tell colleagues, please, just plan on not going to campus, please.

Our IT folks have rented and set up 1500 laptops for staff and students who urgently need them. They did all this while helping hundreds of faculty colleagues put their courses on-line. There are a lot of heroes in this story, and the IT folks are definitely among them.

People across the academy are shutting down labs and research centres and losing millions of dollars of research. They are going to be without their libraries and research equipment. There are costs to the rapid shutdown that we are initiating. I feel it.

March 21 — here I am, with you.

A friend told me that you can’t write about a hurricane when you’re inside it. So what I’m sharing is just a view from a place where everything is whirling too fast.

As Erin Wunker tells us, this is not business as usual. Our lives are changing. This is changing us. We are not going to be the same and we will not go back to business as usual. I don’t know how we will change yet but I can feel it. You feel it too, right?

 

 

administration · change management

Confessions of a feminist associate dean

I’ve been an associate dean for about six months — just about enough time for me to ‘fess up about a few things.

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  1. I didn’t really know what an associate dean is when I agreed to be one.

It is an understatement to say that I was completely unprepared when the dean  called me about six months ago and asked me to serve as an associate dean. I was still figuring how to be a department chair.

My first instinct was to try to learn how to do the job by reading the entire back catalogue of posts from the ass_deans twitter account in order to figure what NOT to do.

In case you’re wondering, you should not try to figure out how to do your new job through a satirical social media account that mocks the job.

Before I said to the dean, yes, sure, sign me up, happy to serve, I wish I had the read Sheila Cote-Meek’s super-smart, “Four Questions to Ask Yourself When Considering a Move Into Senior Administration.” And also, Patricia Ann Mabrouk’s terrific “The Indispensable Associate Dean.

Instead, I said, yes, sure, sign me up, happy to serve, and then, months later, I read these excellent pieces.

2. It’s weird to be “The Man”/ “The Administration”

Even when I was chair of my department, I was still part of my faculty union. Now, I’m definitely on the other side. I am ascribed power that I don’t usually think I have. My tendency has been to throw that power back (collegial governance means that I serve my colleagues not that I boss anyone around!). And I don’t actually have much power. But a big part of learning how to do the job has been for me to actually own up to the power that I have, and to use it in ways that line up with my values (hullo, fast feminism! hullo, equity, equity, equity!). More on this in the coming months.

3. I like the gig

I know, crazy right? What kool-aid have I been drinking? But I really, genuinely, actually like the work! I am surprised as you might be. It’s intense. I have to learn a lot and learn fast. It can be scary sometimes. And lonely (I keep track of how many meetings I am in where I am the only woman or the only person of colour; it happens more than I would have thought and I’ll be blogging about this too).

Still, it’s super-interesting to see how things happen at this level, to be at the table, and to be loudly and unrelentingly advocating for faster feminism and equity, equity, equity. I get to do a lot of different things (more support for international students, working with students who are refugee claimants, etc) and I can see the difference these things are making and that is really amazing.

4. I dream about the job every night that I’ve been doing it

This is embarrassing, kinda pathetic, and true. I’ve dreamt an associate dean dream every single night since July 1, 2019. So far, they are not anxiety dreams. They are more like sorting dreams. Does this go here? What about that? I am finding places for things. And, somehow, these dreams tell me that I am also finding a place for the things that I want —  my real dreams for the academic worlds that we are in.

That’s pretty awesome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

advice · change management · community · equity · ideas for change · saving my sanity

Woman, interrupted: a guide for men

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It’s a new school year and, if you work in a college or university, that means another year of meetings. Woohoo! I’m in a lot of meetings and I think a lot about how to have a better meeting. One of the things that makes some meetings really dispiriting are unwanted interruptions from male, and male-identified, colleagues who stop women from speaking.

We already know that men often interrupt women in a meeting. It is a “universal phenomenon.” And we have a lot of good thoughts and suggestions for what women should do when men interrupt them. It’s got a hashtag, #manterruption, and there’s even an app to track it. The current global interruption rate is 1.4 times a minute.

But there is surprisingly little help for men who interrupt women. We know what women should do when they get interrupted. But men shouldn’t be left out. There should be a guide for them too.

Never fear! Hook & Eye is here to help! Here’s a friendly letter for your male colleagues and mine:

Dear Male Colleague in a Meeting,

It’s really great to see you here! Collegial process is so important and I am so grateful that you have taken the time to come to this meeting. Having your depth of experience and expertise at this table, or in this room, makes all of our work better. I know you know a LOT. It might sometimes (often?) happen that you have the urge to share your knowledge urgently even though someone else is already talking. Maybe the other person who is already talking is a woman? Especially if the other person is talking is a woman, please, I beg you, pause for a moment and consider withdrawing your desire to interrupt and ask the following questions:

  1. Do you really need to do this? Can this point wait until the speaker has finished talking?
  2. Is this an unwanted interruption? That is, does anyone else want you to interrupt?

You might ask, how can I tell if this is an unwanted interruption?

Good question! I’m so glad you asked.

Consider: will this interruption help the speaker clarify or further her point? will this interruption upset and destabilize the speaker so that she loses her train of thought and has trouble continuing to make her point? would other people at the meeting want me to interrupt?

Not sure? That’s good. I work in the liberal arts where embracing uncertainty is one of the cornerstones of intellectual inquiry.

Here’s a quick and easy way to get some answers: ask someone, preferably a woman. Pass them a note. Whisper in their ear. Send them a text or DM. If you’re really organized, before the meeting, arrange for sign that you can make to a colleague, preferably a woman, who will be in the room and she can tell you if your interruption will be welcome.

Ok, you’ve checked and this interruption really would be welcome. Great! But you still shouldn’t be the person interrupting. You still have to withdraw.

Ask a colleague, definitely preferably a woman, to do it for you. This is a terrific way to triple check that the interruption really is wanted. And to make sure that you’re not another dude preventing a woman from speaking.

I know, all this takes time. The meeting is moving fast and you want to interrupt because this point is urgent. You’ve got to trust me on this. It’s not so urgent that it can’t wait a few moments so that you can be really sure that this is a good move.

Thank you. Welcome back. Let’s have a great year of meetings and let’s try for no more meetings where men interrupt women.

academic work · change management · new year new plan · Uncategorized

September is for looking forward

Twenty-two years ago my mom drove me from my summer job at the family business in Ontario to begin my first year of university in North Carolina.

Seventeen years ago I moved from the interior of British Columbia to Quebec to start my Masters at McGill.

Fifteen years ago I moved from Montreal to Calgary to start a PhD.

Ten years ago I moved across the country to start a ten-month contract as Dalhousie.

Nine years ago we began Hook & Eye: Fast Feminism, Slow Academe.

Six years ago I started a twelve-month contract at Mount Allison University.

Five years ago I was teaching sessionally and my partner was teaching on contract. We had a five month old infant and no regular child care.

Four years ago I was on an with-month contract at Acadia University.

Three years ago I started a tenure-track position.

So much of my life has been organized around the ebb and flow of an academic timeline.  At times this has felt thrilling. At others, it has been oppressive and scary. Often, it has been something in between, and much of that has been tied to the more-or-less precarious state I’ve been living.

As we enter this new school year I find myself reflecting not only on my own trajectory–warts, roses, and all the rest of it–I find myself thinking about the ways in which communities are made and re-made in the spaces around and in academia. Hook & Eye was imagined as one such possible space.

This year, as we revivify the work we do here, and as we look toward a full decade of feminist academic blogging, I find myself grateful for what has come before, and excited for what is to come.

Welcome. Welcome back. Let’s get to work, and let’s balance that work with the rest of our fulsome lives.

 

 

academic work · adjuncts · change management · emotional labour · theory and praxis · Uncategorized

Making Small New Habits

I love New Year’s resolutions.

I do. I really love them. I love them so much I write about them in fall and winter and spring. Hurrah for semesters and Solstices!

In fact, I think I have come to appreciate New Years–Eve and all–as a moment of self-inventory, though admittedly New Year’s Eve was (and is) a marker in time I like less. As a younger me New Year’s Eve was a kind of letdown for all its rush and waiting. All outfits and lines and are-the-plans-happening-where-is-the-best-place-to-be-ness of it all. And then, poof, anticlimax. Even now as an adult I can count on one hand the “magic” NYEs I have had. My frustration, I think, is common: it is the pressure put on the moment to make it something other than it is. A moment. But I digress…

I am that person who, on New Year’s Eve will ask about resolutions and memories. What was your most memorable meal of the last year? (My go-to interview dinner conversation question, by the way) What are you hoping to do this year? Yup. That’s me: earnest right up to the chime of the clock.

But it occurs to me that resolutions might be the wrong word. Maybe there’s too much baggage with that word, and as someone who is shifting from a decade working in various degrees of precarity to, well, unprecedented stability, I’m working to shed some emotional baggage. When it comes to putting work and production demands on myself I want to move from this

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Image from PinArt.com

to this

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Image from steamlineluggage.com

I started thinking about shifting my language after reading one of those ubiquitous late-December articles about developing new habits.  The gist of the argument is this: western psychology has tended to frame life change as something that is best understood through willpower. The idea here is that we make a decision to change some aspect of ourselves and then, through sweat and grit and determination, we do it. There are all sorts of obvious problems with this approach, I realize now (what if, as is often the case, “willpower” isn’t enough or even the right thing, for example). Still, when I was reading this in the trough between holidays it struck a chord for me. Rather than building all life change on the necessity of willpower there is a movement gaining more popular traction that suggests willpower is kind of bullsh*t. Okay, that’s not exactly what the article says, but that’s what I gleaned from it. More effective that willpower is repetition. Building in habits. Doing the small daily work of repeating. And if you don’t do it one day, if you “fail,” then you do it again the next day.

Gosh, I needed to be reminded of this.

Some of the new habits I am aiming to form in this first month of 2018 are these:

I would like to write regularly again. For all sorts of reasons I have fallen off that wagon in the last year, moving again to droughts and downpours of writing that, while effective of anxiety-inducing, have not fed me in the ways I need to be fed. In order to write regularly (which for me means 100-300 words in a session, and one session a day is plenty unless there is an impending deadline) I need to build in a regular time to do that writing. So, I’ll be getting out of bed a little earlier this month. I’m looking forward to it.

I would like to continue reading for pleasure. After my PhD and in many cycles following that I found I couldn’t read for pleasure. For whatever reason what usually was my escape, my habit that nourished me had gone. My voracious desire to read is back. To facilitate this I have shifted my reading habits the same way I have had to shift my writing habits post-bébé: I carry a book with me most all the time, and reading one or two pages (or sentences) at a swoop is enough. Is worth it.

And finally, I would like to only work on academic writing and research that nourishes me and which I really care about. I say hah to the adage that all academic work is a labour of love. It isn’t, especially if you’re a graduate student or a precarious worker or a post doc. Then it is usually a mix of love and (in my limited personal experience) a huge amount of what-will-this-do-for-my-prospects???!!!???*&!

To that I say no more, or at least, I will work towards “no more.” And if I weren’t already convinced that writing (/doing/working on/researching) something that you care about might actually make more than you feel good  (aka “staying in your lane” as I read in a recent profile of the brilliant Vivek Shraya), well, seeing this tweet from poet and scholar Billy-Ray Belcourt certainly brought it home for me

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Here is to new habits that nurture networks of care in this complicated, compromising, and often alienating and restrictive space that is academia. One of the books I am reading right now is Donna Haraway’s Staying With the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. In the introduction Haraway writes,

We — all of us on Terra — live in disturbing times, mixed-up times, troubling and turbid times. The task is to become capable, with each other in all of our bumptious kinds, of response. Mixed-up times are overflowing with both pain and joy–with vastly unjust patterns of pain and joy, with unnecessary killings of ongoingness but also with necessary resurgence. The task is to make kin in lines of inventive connection as a practice of our learning to live and die well with each other in the thick present. Our task is to make trouble, to stir up potent response to devastating events, as well as to settle the troubled waters and rebuild quiet places.

Here’s to rebuilding quiet places in our days with and alongside and against. Here’s to onward and inward. Here is to January. Here is to what is and to what is next.

 

 

change management · righteous feminist anger

The Notebook Dump

 

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Allegations are coming by the bushel, and we are in a moment of figuring out how to sort them. In journalism, there’s a term called “notebook dump,” the process of throwing together all your reporting — every note taken, interview conducted, scene observed. Some stuff won’t make the ultimate story; the notebook dump is how you see what you’ve got, and figure out how to move forward.

The women of America are currently engaged in a notebook dump of epic proportions, releasing the anecdotes they’ve been carrying since puberty.

— Monica Hesse and Dan Zak, “Who’s next? A moment of reckoning for men – and the behavior we can no longer ignore”

Every day, the whisper network roars more loudly. Women used to tell these stories to each other, but now we can start putting together documents and massive correspondence chains. Once untouchable bullies and titans are coming down and falling hard.

It’s amazing. It’s exhausting. It’s about time.

It is, as Hesse and Zak note, a notebook dump of epic proportions. Most of us are not seasoned journalists with armloads of notebooks to sort through. But I think we have all been doing our own notebook dumps. Quietly, or not so quietly, we have been sifting through all the crap that we’ve lived through and lived with, the grossness of all the stuff we saw, all the garbage behavior we have suffered through.

I don’t know what we should do with all that. But I’m becoming more and more sure that we need to do a real, no holds barred, notebook dump in the academy. Maybe you’re already doing this? As Emma Healey’s “Stories are Like Passwords” passes through our hands again and again, I know that we have been doing this, and doing it for a long time. But, even still, it’s hard to resist holding back a little. I know I have. I’m sorry. I am still trying to figure out know how to do this. Naming names feels dangerous. And this from me, a tenured academic who has much more security in the profession than most. As Jennifer Berdahl’s personal reckoning tells us,

a fancy professorship doesn’t shield a woman from being harassed or empower her to do anything about it… Ambition is the enemy of righteousness in poorly led academia. High h-indexes, editorial power, and social networks protect harassers by motivating their targets to remain silent, administrators to do nothing, and otherwise honorable colleagues to duck in the sidelines. You might end up where and what you want to be, but not who or how you wanted to be when you get there.

We have a lot of truths to tell even though we know all too well that there are still devastating consequences for us when we tell them. And I also know that, for many, even telling in the most private of spaces is not, or not yet, possible. It will trigger too much.

But, if you have some notebooks to dump, and you want to dump them, let’s do this. We don’t have to decide in advance what we want to do with what we share and what we dump. But let’s do this and let’s be really loud about the fact that we are resolutely engaged in a notebook dump of epic proportions. And we are not going to stop.

Just letting everyone know that this is what we are doing, that we are talking to each other and doing so with names and dates, that we are tracking patterns of this crap as much as we are singular incidents, could have a behavioural modification effect going forward. Every sexual harasser should know that their high h-indexes and pals in admin can’t protect them forever. They should wake up every morning wondering if this is the day where the story of their terrible behaviour is busted wide open and their legacies will be swept away in a torrent of righteous feminist anger.

Let’s go back to our notebooks, and find some places where we can start comparing them, again. Let’s help each other figure out what we want next. Let’s do it together and let’s have each other’s backs.

 

change management · heavy-handed metaphors · structural solutions · teaching

In with the new: first-year students, where’s your parachute?

Welcome to the new semester, friends! As I’m sitting at my old desk, in my new home, contemplating the oodles of class prep I have to do for my new classes, I cannot help but feel like all this newness is wearing me down. Yes, newness is exciting; yes, it breathes all kinds of beneficial air into one’s life, making one feel refreshed, etc.; yes, I’m lucky this newness was my choice, and doubly-lucky to have found some work in my chosen newness. But all this newness grates on me, because there’s really no old to provide grounding, bearings, or whatever your favourite metaphor for routine might be. All this newness also jolts me quadruply, because there are four of us, and we all used to rely on a dance choreographed by at least of couple of years of fine-tuned repetition. So now, we’re all still up in the air, franticly grasping for outstretched hands to stabilize the quick mid-air rotation, hoping the other’s other hand holds on to the parachute.

But this is not all: the new semester brings along a host of academic newness. As I look into my students’ eyes, most of them first-year, first-semester participants in the post-secondary air ballet, I can already start perceiving more outstretched hands hoping I’m the one with the safe descent connection, that my class will hook them up, and reveal the secret to either safe landings or previously unknown air buoyancy. I tell them I’m new, too, but there’s safety in numbers. Yet the hope does not completely leave them, even though the academic integrity speeches invariably gnaws at it.

So I cannot help wondering what my role is, as an instructor of a compulsory, across-the-board course for first-year-students, and how that role fits with my position as contract academic faculty, and the bigger picture of post-secondary education in this moment. What is the extent of my responsibility to these first-year students–beyond the obvious teaching and learning that needs to happen this term–and how does it square with my role within the institution employing me on a part-time, temporary, contract-bound basis? In other words, how do I make the link to my non-existing parachute, and is part of my responsibility to reveal the cruel reality, that, really, none of us have even seen the parachute in a long time, although stories of it still endure?

Change management is a hot topic in business these days: it’s one of those competencies that emerge every few years, and takes prominence, until its currency becomes completely evacuated through overuse. Like excellence. Like leadership. Change management strikes me as particularly insidious, because it naturalizes the notion that we should no longer even hope or strive for any stable, equitable employment. Ironically, the Deleuze-Guattarian theoretical stance of my dissertation sought to debunk the deeply ingrained myth of stable, ossified subjectivity, and show the reality of a more fluid and flexible way of being-in-the-world. This reality was meant to prevent all kinds of complexes, subjugations, and discriminations, and enable becoming. Just like so many other ideas and practices (Yoga, Mindfulness, etc.), we had a nice time of it, that is, until the grossing potential was revealed to business visionaries.

What do we do, friends, at this beginning of the academic year, to equip first-year students, and maybe even ourselves with some form of parachute? Got any advice?