January 18th, 2007

Dr. Brent Faber candidate day, an unsafe ride home on the Wolfline bus...

I worked at home today for IBM, taking a late lunch hour to attend a presentation on his research by Dr. Brent Faber of Clarkson University, who is the second (of three) candidates coming to campus this month to interview for an associate professor job opening in the Department of English.

He "read" the first 20 minutes or so of his presentation, which I found really off-putting, yet appreciated the organization of thought and succinctness that reading well-written material mediates.  Ambivalence.

The bottom line of his research is that he studied the progress of an organization dealing with a change event, by analyzing seven key e-mails sent out during the change.  He counted the ration of sentences to clauses in the communiques, and then hypothesized that where that ratio was at its highest (or lowest—one of those) was where things were most stable, and where it was at its lowest (or highest, if I have it backwards), things were the least stable. You get the gist.

He then went back and interviewed several people in the organization, and asked them at the time, that you read this e-mail, what was going on in the project.  What he found was the direct correlation he hypothesized: that when the ratio suggested stability, it was a time in the project when everyone thought it was going smoothly, progress was moving along nicely, and everyone was gung-ho. Likewise, when the ratio suggested instability, it was a time when the sh*t hit the fan on the project due to an unanticipated glitch. Interesting stuff.

I believe he talks about this research in his forthcoming book, Discourse, Technology, and Change.

During the Q&A part of his presentation, I asked him about a line in his introduction by Dr. Katz, "Dr. Faber is in the Communication & Media department, formerly the Department of Technical Communication, at Clarkson University." I asked him if he'd explain the context and purpose surrounding the name change, which he expounded on beautifully covering both the context and purpose elements of my question.

I attended a happy hour with him from 5-6 at Mitch's, where I, of course, asked him several questions, which are summarized behind the cut, along with my overall impression of this candidate, which I sent to the hiring committee.

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I rode the bus Wolfline bus home tonight, which resulted in my using the Wolfline Feedback Form to provide this "feedback":

Dear Sir or Madam:

I just rode the "Wolfline A" bus from the stop at Hillsborough St and Enterprise to the stop at the corners of Gorman and Avent Ferry (approximately 20 minutes, from about 8:40 until 9:00PM), and that entire ride the bus driver was speaking on the phone. I believe he had a Bluetooth device in his ear, as he was just "talking into the air."

He was an "animated" speaker, and several times he raised at least one hand in the air to gesture as he spoke, and one time, I believe he actually raised both hands to "make a point to his caller."

I realize there aren't laws against being on the cell phone while driving, but I can't help but think that NCSU would have some of its own guidelines, particularly when a driver is responsible for multiple lives on a bus. There were approximately 30 riders on the bus this evening.

I just didn't feel safe on that ride. I questioned the driver's attention to his main task at hand, and I questioned his ability to respond quickly should an emergency situation had arisen.

I'd be interested in your thoughts on this observation.

John Martin