Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Life Imitates Foote

It seems fitting that I would make a comment about layers of meaningless organization on tax day. But the timing of today’s post is just as much a matter of happenstance as the coincidence that occurred last week.

On Wednesday morning, I read a passage in Shelby Foote’s history of the American Civil War in which General George McClellan became frustrated with his generals and with President Lincoln. Actually, I’ve read passages about that topic on several recent mornings, because McClellan was always frustrated with people who disagreed with him or thought him too dilatory. And since he liked unusual plans that elicited disagreement and was always dilatory, he spent all of his days of action on the stage of history in a state of frustration.

On the particular occasion I have in mind, the source of his frustration involved his twelve division commanders. In a straw vote, eight of the twelve agreed with McClellan’s tedious plan of moving the Army of the Potomac by water for an amphibious assault east of Richmond. That afternoon, after hearing about the vote, Lincoln made an executive order to organize the twelve divisions into four corps, and appointed the commanding generals himself, including three of the men who had voted against McClellan’s plan that morning. The furious McClellan could never understand that Lincoln actually intended the reorganization as a means to protect McClellan’s tenure. Some Senators, tired of waiting for the army to advance, had started calling for McClellan’s removal, and this mostly meaningless gesture of promoting a handful of generals who disagreed with a plan (but who, of course, dutifully followed it later) calmed the barking dogs for a while.

Then, at lunch on that same Wednesday, I heard that a certain director of a certain school of music in a certain university with which I have a certain relationship had created a new level of organization within the school. This unnamed school already has five levels of internal organizational structure, as well as a monthly meeting of the entire faculty. (Honestly. You can’t make this stuff up.) But some of the professors recently went together to the director’s office to complain that one of the structures (the one that mattered to them, I guess) was not sufficiently representative in that it did not proportionately reflect the constituency of the faculty. So the director concocted a new divisional scheme and declared the existence of a new committee, the members of which will be elected in a representative fashion by the faculty according to discipline or instrument type. Maybe this new (entirely powerless) body will quell hot tempers for a while. I won’t say that this director is as wise as Abraham Lincoln, but it sure seems that he took a page from Lincoln’s book – or from Foote’s.

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