This is a reformatted version of the content of the original, which was published in the UW Opinion" web pages. The Town Hall meeting was presented by President David Johnston and Provost Feridun Hamdullahpur.

Charismatic finesse

Posted on April 9 2010 by Ray Butterworth

If there was ever any doubt about whether the members of UW's top administration deserve their inflated salaries all doubts were laid to rest at Thursday's town hall meeting. The skills and talent displayed were truly amazing. If that team were to take their act on the road in the real world they'd be making millions. Con men and their kind would follow their every word in hope of learning from the masters. Fortunately for us, they have chosen to use their powers for good.

Never have I heard people talk so much and say so little, or evade questions with such charismatic finesse, avoiding obviousness by employing a wide range of techniques.

Sometimes several questions were bundled into an omnibus question. By the time they had finished talking, perhaps only a few in the audience realized that they had actually failed to address several of those questions. This happened with the pay-freeze related issues, which included a question about how while a two year freeze with later inflation catch-up will be a short-term inconvenience for most, it will be a life-long sacrifice for those of us nearing retirement. The question was totally ignored.

Sometimes the interlocutor offered questions as teasers to be answered later, such as the issue of faculty as the University's most important asset, but somehow they never were.

Most times, there was so much talking around the question that by the time it was done most of us had forgotten what the original question was and failed to realize that it hadn't actually been answered.

Occasionally a question was answered concisely and on target but in a way that provided no real answer. One question stated that 2009's inflation rate was near 2%, provided specific references to government web pages, and asked where the Administration got their 0.3% figure from. They avoided admitting the mistake (and the implied issue of whether it was deliberately misleading or a simple lack of diligence) by brushing off that serious question with a joke reply ("from Stats Canada") and quickly moving on to the next question. Are professors now supposed to consider it acceptable if the references section of a submitted term paper contain nothing but "The Library"?

The brief Q&A session at the end was handled masterfully. Impromptu questions are typically emotional, and the responders immediately seized on the feelings behind the questions and expanded on them, entertaining us without informing us, name dropping and reminiscing, being so fully supportive that by the time they were finished, the original question was no longer remembered, much less answered.

It would be wonderful if someone could prepare a document listing all the questions, each followed by a brief summary of its answer. That would be a truly amazing feat.