THE ORGANIZATIONAL PROBLEM: ILLUSION AND REALITY

©2000 Edward G. Rozycki

Und er kommt zu dem Ergebniss,
Nur ein Traum war das Erlebniss,
Weil, so schliesst er, messerscharf,
Nicht sein kann, was nicht sein darf.
***** Galgenlieder - Morgenstern
Thus, he comes to the conclusion,
The whole experience was but illusion.,
Because, he argues -- razor-witted --
That cannot be which is not permitted.
***** translator - W. Kaufmann
RETURN
edited 4/20/14

Introduction

James G. March in Ambiguity and Choice (with Johan P. Olsen, Bergen: Universitetsforlaget, 1976) presents what he calls an oversimplified yet traditional model of organizational activity:

a. the cognitions and preferences held by individuals affect their behavior;

b. this behavior of individuals affects in turn organizational choices;

c. organizational choices affect environmental acts;

d. environmental acts affect individual cognitions and preferences.

This cycle is assumed closed and connected. However, argues March, there may be attitudes and beliefs which do not affect or are not allowed to affect organizational behavior, e.g. rules may prevent racism in hiring. Conversely, organizational obligations may elicit behavior that has no basis in individual preferences. March asserts that the simple model presented above predisposes us to assume that what appeared to happen, did happen; that what happened was intended to happen or had to happen. He explains that nothing happens that can be used by organizations independent of persons who interpret these happenings as relevant events. Organizational functioning, therefore, requires trust in such interpreters.

The case study to be presented demonstrates the validity of March's insights. One might add to his remark that organizational functioning requires trust in "happening-interpreters" that this trust -- better, credibility -- may be extended or withdrawn as individual circumstances require. Certain happenings fail to attain status as such within an organization because persons in positions of influence do not want to be bothered with them. So long as the costs can remain hidden, problems need never be acknowledged as existing.

The problem described in this paper persisted for more than sixteen years. Within the informal structures of the organization in which it was found it came to be recognized as severe and bizarre. Formally, the problem "did not exist." It was, perhaps, its very bizarreness that impeded its recognition; for, to acknowledge it after it had grown to such proportions would have been to acknowledge some formal inadequacies in the system.

The reader may find this paper offensive. First, because the reports involve quotations cited in all their vulgarity -- done to indicate the severity of the perceived problem. Second, because the squalor depicted in it is shocking to beliefs commonly held about the sanctity of educational organizations. Third, and most importantly, because the reader may recognize and hold in esteem some of the characters described in this report and find their reported behavior to be less than one might wish from them.

The names of the actors have been changed to prevent casual disclosure of libelous material (something may be true and still legally libelous). This report is, I believe, interesting for many reasons: it depicts exciting, often scandalous human behavior; it identifies organizational problems that much theory does not even touch on; and it documents an attempt at problem-solving that throws some light on the very process. The writer upon leaving school district employ enjoyed good working relations with some of the characters this report deals with. Much of what happened has been informally designated "past misfortune" and, for the sake of good human relations, given to be understood as "the best one could have done in the circumstances." So be it. The writer will not benefit by resurrecting this case with the persons involved in it. Let it remain an academic study for the enlightenment -- it is hoped -- of the reader who happens upon it.

The Problem Inchoate

Dr. Flowers is perplexed. The Head Secretary in the main office -- whose goodwill he has carefully cultivated over the three previous years of his appointment to James Junior High School -- is apparently, inexplicably, angry with him. She does not exchange the usual banter and turns away from him, exaggeratedly so, as he approaches. To his inquiry she replies that nothing whatever is wrong; however, a department head should look after "his people".

Later the same day a teacher from down the hall, an elderly lady, a school fixture for twenty-eight years, appears in his doorway distraught and complains that his new colleague "has no manners... has no class."

The colleague, Mary Jane Smith, enters and Flowers asks offhandedly what the problem is with Mrs. Merry. That old windbag, explains Mary Jane, doesn't know how to teach and Mary Jane offered her this gratuitous insight. And Willard in the office? Mary Jane chuckles that she told the bitch where to get off; Mary Jane wanted something done and this person, this secretary, sat there and did nothing. "It is obvious that you don't care about the children in this school!" declared Mary Jane Smith loudly, waited to enjoy the consternation of the office staff and then left.

Dr. Flowers has a problem. His effectiveness in his program depends very heavily on the support of the rest of the staff of the school. When he came three years earlier the Principal directed him to find students he could teach, find space for them and set up the program with a minimum of disturbance to the regular school activities. Flowers enjoys a great deal of autonomy because he does the interviewing, the testing, the rostering and the trouble-shooting for his program, an ESOL program which pulls out students with a minimum of disturbance to their regularly rostered classes.

The year begins his tenure as department head of an expanded program the proposal for which he wrote and obtained funding. His effectiveness and autonomy require his being able to deal with "problems" without involving the regular administration. To this point, the principal's expectations have been rather clear: the ESOL program should help to reduce absenteeism, provide a bridge into the Hispanic community and reduce the conflicts that had been occurring with children lacking the language of and acculturation to the junior high school milieu.

Thus, Flowers, as one of two Spanish speakers out of a staff of eighty-five, has for the three years preceding been an informal vice-principal, counselor, and community-relations worker, doing disciplinary and other interviewing, running informational events in the Hispanic community and serving, generally, as an interface between somewhat antipathetic Hispanic and Anglo communities. His reward for all this has been autonomy so far as the regular school program is concerned -- e.g. he is the only person who completely controls the construction of his roster -- and the recognition of his colleagues as a person important to the educational well-being of the school.

But there is also a misperception. His informal autonomy is mistaken by many as formal power. Department Head he is in title only; administrative powers he has only by abstemious delegation of the Principal. The misperception aggravates the problem: when Mary Jane Smith is seen to "misbehave", the staff -- including, strangely enough, the Principal, who should know better -- expects Flowers to "keep her in line". Her aberrances are partially attributed to his ineptitude. And as these aberrances become more and more intense in the years to come, his relations with staff deteriorate badly until there is a general perception that she is out of control.

Flowers is personally not too comfortable with Mary Jane Smith since he believes her to be a bigot and presumptuous, too. At their first meeting as a department -- at which the other two colleagues were present -- Mary Jane, with no circumspection, asked what that "faggot" principal thought he was, some Northeast Jew coming down to save Kensington? Apparently, because the background of the others in her department is Catholic, Mary Jane assumed that they harbored the same prejudices that are sadly endemic to the working class from which she and Flowers derived. Flowers knows, however, that words are not deeds and, in fact, that one of the schools most verbally virulent anti-Semites gets along famously with the Principal, who knows him to be bigoted. Thus, though put off by her bigotry, Flowers resolved to reserve judgment on the virulence of her "moral disease" until she had ample opportunity to demonstrate her competence.

The Problem Revealed: First Perceptions

In the next few weeks Mary Jane Smith has nasty verbal exchanges with Frank, who was her advisor when she attended James Junior High School ten years earlier as a student and with Ruth, Frank's wife who works as a non-teaching assistant in the school. In the lunchroom one day, where Flowers has taken his new staff to introduce them she -- uncircumspectly, again -- tells jovially how during a recent strike she pushed through a picket line and didn't let "those union monkeys" scare her off. Several of the people at the table, department heads and other persons of importance in the informal structure of the school, look at Flowers aghast. They had served on picket lines during that strike.

There is always a hiatus between the beginning of the school year and the beginning of ESOL classes. Rooms have to be found, students screened and rosters adjusted. Flowers had explained to his new staff how assuming these "administrative" responsibilities was a trade-off for autonomy little experienced by teachers in the rest of the system. Yet when work had to be done, Mary Jane Smith could not be found. Flora, the other female in the department, complained that she had to interview students without the help Mary Jane had promised her. When Flowers approached Mary Jane on this issue she replied such work wasn't her job and he had no right to tell her what to do. Flowers persisted mentioning that she had loads of free time. To his surprise, and to the amazement of the students waiting for testing, Mary Jane replied, "Kiss my ass, Jack!"

Flowers stopped in to see the Principal. The Principal initiated conversation saying that Mary Jane Smith was a remarkable person. Considering her Fishtown background, her alcoholic parents, her mother's death when Mary Jane was twelve and Mary Jane's hypoglycemia, she had come a long way. Indeed she had, agreed Flowers, who thought it not to the point to recount similar histories of other members of the staff. Flowers explained to the Principal that Mary Jane's unwillingness to participate in departmental chores was greatly retarding the initiation of ESOL classes. The Principal replied that he was sure that this was a misunderstanding and that the other problems she was having with staff were due to her newness and forthright personality.

At this time, Flowers was laboring under a misapprehension. He believed he had seen the Principal ferociously pursuing the dismissal of an incompetent teacher the previous year; Flowers thought that if a certifiable problem were to show up he could count on the Principal to deal with it directly. That incompetent teacher, Mrs. Penn, it turned out was not dismissed. Mrs. Margerum, a teacher who had been at James Junior High School for many years and was the union's building representative, said that the Principal had pursued Mrs. Penn primarily at the behest of other staff members and that he had not followed procedure in doing so thereby invalidating her evaluation. (Mrs. Penn, unlike Mary Jane Smith -- it is important to note at this juncture -- was a retiring, unassertive person. Flowers was to learn that the Principal's vehemence in dealing with problems was directly related to both his distance from the confrontation and the docility of the person confronted. Flowers still believes this assessment to be accurate although he and the Principal now get along famously.)

Besides being mistaken about how hard-nosed the Principal could be, Flowers was unaware that Mary Jane had been taking special care to cultivate his sympathies. Mrs. Margerum reported to Flowers that Mary Jane often brought treats in for the Principal and that one morning Mrs. Margerum entered the Principal's office to find Mary Jane adjusting his tie and brushing off his shoulders. Mrs. Margerum and the Principal had been on friendly terms for many years so she told him that it would be to his best interests to see to it that there was always a desk between himself and Mary Jane. All the while Flowers had gotten a different feel for this relationship because Mary Jane missed no opportunity in his presence to denigrate the Principal.

The Principal ordered Mary Jane to do testing since she had as yet no classes to teach. Still, Mary Jane could not be found. For two weeks she averaged one fifteen-minute test a day then on one day handed in twenty-eight all supposedly done on the same day. Flowers was able to prove that she had faked the results and complained again to the Principal. Nothing happened.

Classes were begun. Mary Jane complained that her students were terrible. Flowers, who shared them, advised they were somewhat boisterous at worst but no problem if unprovoked. Mary Jane began sending students out of class to walk the halls or go to lunch. She asked Flowers to accommodate her with special roster changes for students she was having trouble with. After Flowers did so, she went to the Principal and complained Flowers had made unauthorized roster changes. Flowers began to feel that something was very amiss when the Principal sent him inquiries that presumed the truth of Mary Jane's complaints without checking them out with him first.

Gallos was the other male in the department, a good-looking, genteel Puerto Rican male who worked well with Flowers and the students. (Flora, female, Puerto Rican, worked well also and was very good with the kids.) Mary Jane entered Flowers's class one day and a student began to chant, "La ha chingeado. La ha chingeado." (He f*cked her). It turned out that Mary Jane Smith had told her class -- "joked" with them -- that she was pregnant and was not sure if Flowers or Gallos were the father. She had shown the students a ring and said Gallos had given it to her. Parents called to get their daughters out of an ESOL program run by lechers. A written complaint to the Principal produced his assurance that she would refrain from such jokes in the future. (Some time later, Flowers discovered that Mary Jane had written a letter making the same claims of pregnancy, enclosed pictures of herself with pillows under a blouse and sent copies to several Board of Education members and administrators. Both the Principal and Mrs. Margerum knew of this and kept it from Flowers, who might have taken legal recourse had he known.)

Two Korean students were admitted to the program. Mary Jane complained to Flowers that she didn't want to mix them with the "Spics". She complained to the Principal who allowed her to reduce her class load so she could tutor them by themselves. The fifty pupil-period overage this created was to be picked up, indicated the Principal, by the other staff.

Mary Jane had trouble with a certain Pedro. One day she threw him out of class. She had been leaving early -- temporarily, she explained to Flowers -- to get to a job after school. When, on this same day, she asked Flowers to cover her last period for the fourth time, he refused. She stormed over to the Principal and told him she had been leaving early with Flowers's permission for three weeks. The Principal called Flowers in and demanded to know by what authority he had given Mary Jane permission to leave. Flowers, rather angrily, replied he had given no such permission, could give no such permission and felt meanly treated by the Principal's presumption.

That afternoon the tires of Mary Jane's car were slashed. The next day many of the faculty began to shun Flowers. The Principal called Flowers, who did not yet know of the incident, into his office. "What do you know about Mary Jane's tires being slashed?" demanded the Principal.

At this point Flowers began to think the problem to be bigger than he had anticipated.

The Invisible Problem

Mary Jane Smith had burst out into tears for various groups of faculty -- behavior that Mrs. Margerum believed she had well under control and used to manipulate people -- and claimed that Flowers had been abusing her and had slashed her tires. The Principal explained a week later to Flowers that through the Principal's patient counsel Mary Jane had been disabused of this misconception. Apparently, many staff had not. Relationships important to the functioning of Flowers's program took some years to reestablish. ("Where there's smoke, there's fire," was the profound speculation.)

There had been some minor racial incidents in the neighborhood and teachers were asked not to hold students for detention after school since they might be subject to gang-attack once they left the building. Mary Jane resolved to keep two students, both female, after school. She obtained special permission from the Principal for this who then had the student's parents contacted to pick them up, for the buses would have left by then. To be kept were Maria and Zoraida, who --Mary Jane remarked to Flowers -- was a "fat bitch with body odor" and was going to be kept late, very late for detention. Upon leaving the building late, Zoraida's sister and aunt remonstrated with Mary Jane who had followed them out. Mary Jane called them "loca" -- crazy, boorish -- and was punched by the sister. The whole issue was to be taken to court. When Flowers informed the Principal that he intended to go into court to help the aunt, the Principal said, "If you do that I will write it up as a deliberate interference with the educational process at James Junior High School."

Mary Jane Smith, when not fighting with him, always acted toward Flowers as though they were the best of buddies. Within a week of the Zoraida incident, Mary Jane came in to Flowers' room and chuckled that she had called Armando a "cabron": boy, that had made him pay attention! Cabron has the force of "son-of-a-bitch". The next morning Armando and parents and friends and relatives -- some fifteen people -- converged on the Principal's office. The Principal -- as he had been doing for years -- called on Flowers to handle the problem. The parents' position was that such language was not to be expected from a teacher. Mary Jane was brought in and claimed that Armando was lying and invoked the assistance of Flowers as a witness. Flowers was beside himself with outrage and refuse to corroborate her lie. Nonetheless, he managed to placate the parents by removing Armando from Mary Jane's class at the behest of the Principal, who explained that he wanted to avoid further personality conflicts.

Flowers decided to document all his difficulties and go to the union for help. Three months of the school year had passed. One month of ESOL classes had passed.

In a meeting with union representation shortly before Christmas Flowers agreed not to involve himself in the court case resulting from the punching incident. He also agreed to maintain adequate, non-antagonistic professional relations with Mary Jane. He denied allegations presented by Mary Jane that he had failed in performing his professional duties, but for the sake of future good relations chose not to challenge their specifics.

That Spring Mary Jane Smith processed her requests to move students out of her classes directly through the Principal who then told Flowers to make the changes.

Towards the end of the school year the Principal called Flowers in, privately, and said that he believed Mary Jane was prejudiced against Puerto Ricans. Thus, for the coming school year, Mary Jane would be assigned a Spanish class in the regular program and a substitute would be obtained to teach one of her ESOL classes.

The Perception of the Problem

It was quite clear to Flowers at the end of the first year that the Principal -- for whatever reason -- chose to see the problem as "merely" bigotry. The seriousness of the problem as Flowers perceived it -- behavior which destroyed ties to the Hispanic community thus undermining the ESOL program, and making his work-life miserable -- was dismissible from the Principal's point of view because the Hispanic community has never been particularly active in James' affairs. Ironically, one of the most active Hispanic members in home-and-school functions was the woman who punched Mary Jane Smith for abusing her sister. The Principal chose to overlook Mary Jane's dismissing her classes early or sending them for extra lunches. To have called her on these transgressions would have risked a painful confrontation and all who know him say he goes out of his way to avoid confrontation.

A vice-principal who worked with Flowers for many years knows of not one case where the Principal wrote up and followed through with a disciplinary report on a teacher. (The union representative -- who evidences some personal fondness for him -- knows how to bully concessions out of him he later has recover by going back on his word publicly.) The theoretical point to be made is that the problem as sensed by Flowers at the end of the first year is not yet the concern of enough people to be dealt with organizationally. Ironically, Mary Jane is interviewed for a major newspaper which features her version of the events at James Junior High leading to the assault and which receives support from the Teacher's Union which is trying to concern the public about violence in the schools. No one bothers to ascertain the facts before printing the story. Mary Jane is depicted as a sincere, sweet, hard-working teacher brutalized by beasts under the noses of incompetent administrators.

The Next Year

Hoping for the best with Mary Jane Smith teaching fewer hours in the ESOL program, Dr. Flowers returns to begin his program. The preparatory administrative work Mary Jane might have done is spread among Flowers and the other two members of the department to expedite setting up classes. The Principal finds the information that Mary Jane spends three to four hours a day in the teacher's lounge not worthy of any action. Things appear to have quieted down. Mary Jane's complaints about students are processed immediately by the Principal who has Flowers change their classes. The substitute for Mary Jane who is covering her ESOL load is a sweet person who manages to teach Mary Jane's rejects some English. There is some altercation between Mary Jane and other staff members but the details do not reach the ears of Flower, who is beginning to be understood as unfortunate by his colleagues for having Mary Jane in his department.

Mary Jane throws students out of class, sending them illegally home or to lunch. These transgressions are duly noted by Flowers and passed on in writing to the Principal. It is quiet, or relatively so. One incident occurs where Mary Jane, attending a weekend with teachers and students at Fellowship Farm, calls a female student a whore. The staff member in charge, female, complains to the Principal that the attack was unprovoked and that Mary Jane ought to be kept away from children. Flowers and Gallos amuse themselves predicting what female students Mary Jane will find "obnoxious". The predictions are highly accurate. The criteria they use is based on physical appearance and self-possession. The greater the "amount" of these attributes, the more likely the pupil will "get into trouble" with Mary Jane. A half-joking allusion of these predictions made to the Principal elicits no response.

Mary Jane Smith has spent the summer studying karate. She confides to Flowers -- whose is always astounded by her apparent intimacy -- that she's taking no more shit off these Spics; they'd better watch out because she's no sweet ,little, stupid Kensington secretary dressed up like a whore. Mary Jane has a worry. This is the year in which she gets tenure and she's afraid Jewboy will stab her in the back. (Flowers savors the delicious image of her impalement but says nothing; he wants no fights. Soon she will tire and go away.)

A teacher complains to the Principal that Mary Jane is sending her advisory class out into the yard to smoke, and that these students enter the teacher's advisory and cause trouble. Mary Jane is told by a VP to constrain her students.

The Principal insinuates to Flowers that there is sufficient complaint against Mary Jane to keep her from getting tenure. The hope of a brighter future enables Flowers to deal with the daily problems of kids locked into classes with a teacher who not only hates them but tells them so.

Mrs. Margerum decides not to run for union representative. Johnson, whom Mary Jane is amused to call a "dumpy faggot" runs and is elected. Johnson's friend, Frank, comes to say to him -- in Flowers's presence -- that Mary Jane wants Johnson to know that she likes his body. Johnson replies that he likes Mary Jane's body. The next day Mary Jane comes into Flowers's room and says what a really "nice man" Johnson is.

Soon after, Mary Jane is appointed by the Principal to sponsor the Journal, the yearly publication in which graduate pictures appear. This sponsorship will start late in the year and Mary Jane will be compensated by having fewer rostered classes. Mrs. Margerum is protractedly ill. Thus there is no big commotion when Johnson accepts appointment by the Principal as Roster Chairman -- a position which according to contract must be advertised and competed for.

Mary Jane goes around telling certain teachers -- Flowers among them -- that their pictures will never appear in the Journal. One teacher writes a letter of complaint to the Principal about this. The Principal assures the staff that contrary to "rumor" all staff will appear in the Journal. They do not.

In early June ratings are given. Mary Jane receives a satisfactory rating. She is ecstatic. She has been tenured. The Principal, very agitated, comes privately to Flowers to recount the following: Mary Jane entered his office and shut the door behind her. Out of hearing by all but the Principal she said, "You big-nosed schmuck. You gave me tenure! Now I'll have to walk around naked before you can get rid of me!" There's got to be some way to get rid of her, pleads the Principal to Flowers. Flowers is hardly amused. But anger gives way to calculation: at last the problem is recognized and recognized on his terms. The problem is Mary Jane's being a teacher at James Junior High School. This is the selfish view. But it is the view which offers some hope for remedy.

With the heat of Summer comes temporary relief. School is out.

The Last Year:effecting a "solution"

September returns and a minor strike occurs. Mary Jane is vigilant on the picket lines. School opens. Mary Jane will, thank deities various and sundry, teach even fewer ESOL students this year. She has a regular Spanish class and is Journal Sponsor. But her affair with Johnson is going badly. "The bounder", she tells Mrs. Margerum, refuses to dump that junkie wife of his. He will not commit himself to marrying her. She buys a pistol, a thirty-eight caliber Smith and Wesson revolver. Look out, various staff josh Dr. Flowers, she'll come and shoot you. Mary Jane has been bragging in the lunchroom that she'll make Johnson marry her or else. Mrs. Margerum confides to Flowers that Mary Jane has told her she plans to shoot Johnson's wife. That, thinks Flowers, might bring about a more, permanent solution to the problem. He is beginning to worry that it might not be addressed. In recent private conversations with the Principal, the topic of Mary Jane has been carefully avoided by the Principal. He seems to be getting cold feet. (Within six months, Johnson's wife is dead: a suicide.)

Mary Jane sees a girl going into her locker between class periods; an infraction of school rules. She yanks the girl's pony tail. The girl turns, swinging, and slaps Mary Jane's face. Mary Jane gives her a karate punch in the face. The girl is carried to the nurse's office.

Mary Jane comes in hobbling. Her car wouldn't start. She gave it a karate kick to the bumper.

Mary Jane has problems. She can't work with the Anglo pupils in her regular classes. She takes two weeks sick leave leaving no lesson plans.

The Principal asks Flowers to take her Spanish class. He goes in to find no one doing anything. We don't do work here -- says a member of this academic group -- because she promised us all A's if we didn't bother her. You'll work now, Flowers informs them. And very begrudgingly they do.

Mary Jane returns. Flowers is teaching. She enters his room at the end of the period with another teacher, a female friend, and tells him he doesn't know how to teach, he's messed up her Spanish class, he is crazy and she's told her class that if he ever covers for her again not to listen to him. This situation is written up and presented to the principal with written confirmation by student witnesses. The Principal makes no response.

The next day Flowers passes Mary Jane's room going to the men's room. A student shouts, "There he is. There's that stinky teacher." Mary Jane looks out at Flowers and raises her hands, booing, to lead the class in a boo. Flowers asks a teacher who happens to be within earshot to listen as he passes Mary Jane's room on leaving. The same thing happens. Again the booing happens the next day but Flowers has prepared for it by stationing adult witnesses.

A group of students from Mary Jane's class met Flowers as he left his room and proceeded to follow closely on his heels down the hall chanting, "Bum teacher, bum teacher." Flowers wrote up the last few incidents and handed them in to the Principal. No response. Nearing the end of his rope, he tracked down the students individually and suggested that it was both unwise and unhealthy to continue bothering him, no matter who put them up to it. They got the idea.

The booing continued. Flowers got it on tape. A student of Mary Jane's, not realizing she was talking into a tape recorder called him a stinky teacher to his face and said that Mary Jane had told the class to behave that way. Flowers insisted on a general meeting with representation with the Principal. One month later, the Principal arranged for a meeting.

The meeting was held with Johnson representing Mary Jane and Mrs. Margerum representing Flowers. The Principal sat at the head of the conference table and, as the discussion grew more acrimonious, assumed more and more of a fetal position. The tapes proved beyond a shadow of a doubt there had been harassment and booing. The Principal said he would discipline the children. From time to time, Mary Jane, not believing -- or perhaps not caring -- that anyone was watching, would stick out her tongue at Flowers, who was seated across the table from her. Her argument was to reiterate that Flowers's complaint was the delusion of a mentally ill person. Luckily, Mrs. Margerum saw her grimacing and tongue-extending. So did Johnson and the Principal, who spent much time looking down at the ground. The official verdict: Mary Jane was asked not to involve others in her personal disputes. More frustrating was that the Principal's notes on the meeting, a copy of which he gave to Flowers, had completely emasculated the substance of the complaints that Flowers had lodged against Mary Jane during the year.

The Problem had ceased to exist.

The Problem:never acknowledged but nonetheless solved

Dr. Flowers had expected too much. Johnson was the union representative and the Principal had him in his pocket, having made him Roster Chairman by illegal procedure. Mary Jane was Johnson's lover -- she had said as much to many faculty -- and perhaps the Principal expected each one to keep the other under control at his behest. What problem existed was Flowers's.

But circumstances conspired to substantially change the situation. To begin, Johnson was disciplined by the union for allowing illegal procedure. He was allowed to keep the Roster Chairmanship unchallenged provided he resign as building rep and promise never to seek further union office. Mary Jane started talking about her gun again. Even more shocking to the rather provincial staff of this inner city working class junior high school, she would enter the main office early as many faculty were signing in and graphically describe some sexual activity she had engaged in with Johnson, inevitably ending with some comments as to his impotence or inferior performance. To his chagrin, Flowers missed these dramas and had to rely on second-hand recountings of the tales.

An acting VP had taken it upon himself to "get the goods on her" and he documented various transgressions, including class-dumping, persistent lateness to class by Mary Jane and sending students on long, pointless walks. He had the unpleasant duty to be present when Mary Jane with representation was called to talk with the mother of a girl Mary Jane had called a whore in class. After some time going around, the VP got the mother calmed down and the situation resolved practically in that the girl would return to class with Mary Jane. All of a sudden Mary Jane stood up and cried out, "Goddamnit! Here I am again wasting my time with a f*ckin' Spic!" She then ran out. No disciplinary action was taken.

Mary Jane swaggered into Flowers's room one afternoon. ("Swagger" is a quite literal description here.) Like the best of friends she greeted him with, "I just gave Norm nine good shots." She explained that she had gotten into a fistfight with a Puerto Rican parent with whom she had been conferencing and when the VP in attendance tried to step between she saw her chance to get him back while pretending to have lost control. Nothing ever came of this.

In the last days before Johnson's resignation, Flowers decided to force the solution of the problem. He asked Johnson -- with a great deal of cruelty intended -- to file a grievance against the principal. Much of what has been depicted in this recounting was in the body of that grievance -- a few extra skeletons were pulled out of the closet for good measure, e.g. other illegal or reprehensible actions taken by Principal. Flowers then visited the Principal and said he was putting in for a transfer and that he would write a letter describing what had gone on at James Junior High School the last three years and send it to everyone he knew in central administration.

The next day the Principal came to Flowers privately and said he had arranged it with "downtown" that if Flowers's projected enrollments for the coming year were within certain ranges, Mary Jane's position would be cut as it was funded by Title I. This was done. Flowers's problem was solved. It had cost him the health of his program: for years, despite high numbers of serviced children, his requests for another ESOL teacher were dismissed because Mary Jane could still come back. She had the right to return because she lost her position honorably.

Postlude

Mary Jane worked as a itinerant teacher at several elementary schools from which she received an administrative transfer for dumping her classes, abusing students and telling one principal, "f*ck you!" to his face in front of assembled staff. She ended up at another junior high school. She received another unsatisfactory rating, both from the principal and the district superintendent. She went to the principal and threatened to shoot him. He had her arrested. An unloaded gun was found in her car. For some reason the case was dismissed. Despite the fact that it takes only two unsatisfactory ratings for permanent dismissal, Mary Jane is now at a large senior high school. Her behavior has not improved. When the Union sends someone to represent her in conference a second party comes along because Mary Jane lies about what she has said to her own counsel.

Her department head at a school she transferred to some years later brought civil suit against her for defamation of character -- she described him as a "nigger faggot" in a letter she circulated among staff. This same department head sued the school district for violations of the Fourteenth Amendment in having him suffer her abuses and taking no action. Mary Jane was briefly suspended with intent to dismiss, but pending action she came back at work, making life miserable for all around her and enjoying it fully. (This information came to me from Mrs. Margerum whom she importuned with continued contact.) A Chinese-American teacher reported that she had been accosted publicly by Mary Jane as a "yellow dog" and that Mary Jane's Asian students complained that she abused them in the classroom. For fifteen years the problem persisted. But it was clearly -- in some important sense -- no organizational problem.

Mary Jane acquired a JD by going to night school for several years, making herself an even more formidable opponent for the legal counsel of the school district. Finally, the school district, claiming to have discovered some evidence of commission of a felony, bargained with her and gave her a year-and-a half's salary in exchange for her resignation. She works today as a lawyer, self-employed.

Some Theoretical Considerations

March writes that goals are ambiguous in many kinds of organization, especially educational institutions. Organizational decision where goals are ambiguous is very often the result of a "garbage-can" process and an outcome of several relatively independent streams within an organization:

a. problems, i.e. someone's concerns; however, problems are not choices.

b. solutions, someone's product, often waiting to be applied to something.

c. participants, often whoever happens to be available.

d. choice opportunities, occasions when a decision is expected.

An organizational choice is, according to March, "a somewhat fortuitous confluence." (p.27, Ambiguity) Within a garbage can process, decisions are made either by oversight, by flight (running away from the problem) or by resolution, the only method recognized within the classical perspective. In general, only middlingly important problems will be resolved.

It seems clear that the way Mary Jane Smith was moved out of James Junior High School neatly fits the description given above. And yet we are not disposed to think it could not have been done otherwise. (This is, however, the regnant opinion at James, i.e. "We had no choice but to do it this way, even though it ruined the ESOL program.") What increase in human virtue might have solved the problem earlier and at less expense? Courage, clearheadedness? What did the actors think was at stake? Humaneness, forbearance?

Nowadays the Principal never talks to Flowers about those terrible times except allusively and with apparent regret. Mrs. Margerum maintains that the Principal could have been rid of Mary Jane early in the first year of her escapades. An ex-vice-principal thinks the Principal was just "too humanistic", an admirable, if in this case tragic, failing. Johnson is almost overbearingly grateful for Flowers' renewed goodwill toward him. He never talks about Mary Jane and blushes deeply when her name is mentioned. Mary Jane recalls her days at James with nostalgia explaining that the big problem was that she and Flowers were two "megalomaniacs" fighting over the same territory. Other people recall Mary Jane as crazy or tragic or perverse.

The crucial question seems to be this: to what extent does a functioning organizational structure depend upon certain norms of human behavior. How much virtue can it rely on and how much perversion must it guard against? The fact that the School District took so long to deal permanently with Mary Jane Smith seems to indicate that a problem such as she presents cannot be handled within the normal organizational structure; by "normal organizational structure we do not mean the "on paper" regulations, but rather the real, satisficing, muddling-through organization that consists of normal people who are neither Weberian priest-burocrats nor Selznickian heroes.

See Related article:
Combatting Educational Corruption

 

---------------

* Note: a concession to idiocy. There are three occurrences of the famous four-letter word in the above text, accurately reporting what was said by a character, or giving an accurate translation thereof. It is not my habit to mince words or employ prissy circumlocutions. However, since many of my students work in public schools, those citadels of exaggerated virtue, they have been unable to access the entire website since the public school censorship software blocks access to any document containing vocabulary that children, unless mentally impaired, or non-English speakers, know from age 6 on. Thus my expurgations.-- EGR

TO TOP