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CYA 101

“Do upper-level administrators have to take CYA classes,” my wife wondered aloud the other day, “or is it just instinctive?”

“CYA,” of course, stands for “cover your a**.” Note that the question came from someone who has been a keen observer of administrative behavior for more than a quarter century. She and I also have four kids, the youngest a ninth grader, so we’ve been dealing with school administrators for about as long. And she still hasn’t figured out whether butt-covering is a job requirement, a primal response, or an art form.

Frankly, neither have I.

For example, there’s the administrator I used to work for at another institution who had adopted “CYA” as a kind of personal motto. I’m not kidding. She used to say it all the time, constantly admonishing us to cover ours and never missing an opportunity to follow her own advice. Rather infamously on that campus, she once declined an offer from a local contractor to perform extensive renovations to one of our facilities essentially for free, because, as she put it, “What if one of his workers fell and got hurt?”

We didn’t get those much-needed repairs—too expensive—but, hey, at least that administrator’s you-know-what wasn’t exposed. Unsurprisingly, I hear she’s a vice president now.

We also had an incident this year involving our son, a high-school senior. He was accused of and disciplined for participating in a senior prank when he was demonstrably not involved. As a dual-enrollment student taking classes at the local college, he wasn’t even at the high school when the prank took place and didn’t hear about it until later.

We could prove that, but you wouldn’t believe the amount of time and effort it took for us to get school administrators to rescind his punishment. Even then, they never would admit they had made a mistake. They nearly ruined a kid’s senior year, but they seemed more interested in covering their rear ends than in apologizing.

As you can probably tell from my tone, I’ve never had much respect for people who think that way. But I do recognize that there are times when administrators probably should.

Ideally, of course, they should do the right thing just because it’s the right thing. But even if the moral compass malfunctions, a little bit of self-preservation instinct can go a long way toward preventing some really bad decisions. The pages of The Chronicle, and of our local newspapers, are replete with examples of administrators who probably wish they’d taken more care to cover themselves.

I guess they never took CYA 101—or if they did, they weren’t paying attention.

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