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Models of Dignity

By       Message Robert Fuller     Permalink
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Vote ratios between various constituencies mirror their relative degree of responsibility for achieving each specific goal of the institution. Thus, students would have a decisive majority of votes on a student life committee, faculty a decisive majority on educational policy. And students, faculty, and administrators would all play minority roles in fiduciary decisions that traditionally are decided by the board of trustees.

Including voting representatives from all constituencies creates an environment in which the authorities do not merely deign to listen to those of lower rank. Rather, it behooves them to treat everyone with dignity because at the end of the day everyone will be exercising some degree of voting power over the outcome.

In addition to shared governance, a dignitarian institution is likely to possess a number of other distinctive characteristics. For example, the evaluation process would be broadened so that people from constituencies other than the one for which the person is being evaluated would be involved in hiring decisions and reviews of job performance. In the corporate world, such evaluation models are referred to as 360-degree reviews. All comments thus generated are provided as feedback to the employee. A growing practice is the appointment of an ombudsperson with broad responsibility for resolving disputes over the use and abuse of rank. Princeton University's ombudsman in 2004, Camilo Azcarate, told me that his job can largely be summed up as making the distinction between rank and rankism in a wide variety of circumstances.

Finally, institution-wide constitutional reviews would be scheduled--every five or ten years or more frequently if called for--to update the system of governance in light of changing circumstances to ensure that it remains dignitarian. As power evolves, new opportunities for abuse present themselves. No institution will remain dignitarian for long if it is not committed to co-evolving with power.

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The next chapter looks at how business organizations can be transformed into dignitarian ones.

For further background on the connection between rankism and indignity, listen to Rob Kall's interview with me here. 

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Robert W. Fuller is a physicist, a former president of Oberlin College, and author of The Rowan Tree: A Novel. He has consulted with Indira Gandhi, met with Jimmy Carter regarding the president's Commission on World Hunger, worked in the (more...)

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