Nothing but smoke and smoldering ruins…

I did not write this article. A good friend of mine wrote this many years ago (probably in 1999). He is no longer writing now. I am posting this because he can convey a message in such a way that I can never do. It was a parable of the time and it is especially pertinent now. Since this is a parable, you get out what you read into it. Please tell me your opinion in the comment section.

Nothing but smoke and smoldering ruins…nothing. So muttered the president of the once proud Pennacus College as he tramped circles in what once was his office, now reduced to ashes and soot. His faithful office manager sat outside in a kitchen chair screening all visitors just as in the old glory days.

Ring! Ring! She shook the handbell and called through the air “Reporters from Newsweek to see you Doctor Rivaney!”

“Bother, just when I was getting somewhere” he said under his breath, then more loudly “Send them in and hold all calls!”

“Yes Sir” she replied looking sadly at the charred ends of the telephone lines on the floor.

“Doctor, so good of you to see us” said the first reporter extending her hand. “ I was a graduate here 15 years ago and coming to Pennacus was the best thing I ever did. I was crushed when I heard. What happened?”

“Yeah Doc” panted the second reporter as he struggled with lights, cameras and recording equipment, “I studied Engineering technology for two years here under crusty Charlie Crabbe in the days before computers and now I do work that I love. Pennacus turned my life around too. I cried for three days. What happened?”

“Fiddle, fiddle, fiddle, fiddle,” muttered the good doctor absently as he continued pacing.

The reporters exchanged embarrassed glances, wondering if that was their answer. They waited patiently.

“It did us in.” he continued “It did us in. We had good students, we had good programs, we had good staff but we thought good wasn’t good enough and we tried to change things that didn’t need changing.

We played with the stuff that didn’t matter without putting anything of substance into our programs. We set up training programs for our faculty so they could mark our students in a more enlightened fashion. We were the first to use an evaluation system based on the square root of Pi, and were using happy faces and lightning bolt stamps when it happened.”

“When WHAT happened?” the reporters burst in together.

“We imploded.” the president replied with a dejected sigh. “So much energy went into changing systems that there was none left to go into the places it should have gone. In the end the changes accomplished nothing positive. They were transparent to the students who just wanted feedback as to where they stood in the class and in the end to receive their piece of paper. They never did understand what all the fuss was about. Our faculty, students and programs all dried up.”

“What will you do now doctor?” the reporter asked with tears and soot flowing freely down her rather messy face.”

“Ah!” He brightened and replied, “That is the one good thing that came out of all this… you see ashes… I see a mahogany desk. I am learning to live in denial.”


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