Personal and Professional Management Development in English, in France.

All is fair….. is it?

By on Sep 5, 2009 in Tonyversity View | 0 comments

Strikes me that fairness is an issue, whether we are talking about yesterday’s announcement of where, upon whom and how heavily the carbon tax (‘non tax’ according to the President?) will ‘fall’ or how a student submitting work later than colleagues may be treated.

I recall well enough a discussion with my ‘External Examiners’ at Bournemouth University (for those of a French disposition for whom the term is unknown, ‘External Examiners in the UK system are imposed upon all courses at all levels by the government paymaster: they are other academics and industry representatives who examine all areas of teaching and learning including watching classes, listening to student grievances, speaking to hard-pressed staff and sitting in no little judgment on the final examinations and certificates to be awarded [to ensure that they are ‘in line’ with other such qualifications]. If ‘Externals’ don’t like what they see, they can suggest [ie politely demand] changes to students marks or to course content….) an issue concerning students who had written well over the 10-12000 dissertation or 20,000 – 24,000 thesis word limit. One ‘External’ took a commercial view: ‘they’ve not complied with published limits – if they did that in industry it would be wholly unacceptable – so penalise them severely’, whereas the other suggested that ‘word over-run is its own worst enemy – it is there because the student cannot edit efficiently and is probably merely describing superficially and uncontrollably when he should be analysing and evaluating, so just mark what is there, it will almost certainly be poor anyway, there is no need to add a further penalty’. 1 x ‘simple’ question + 2 x experts = 2 diametrically opposed responses.

For the students, however, it is always simpler: ‘He /she had more time / more words than me. I stuck to the limits. He didn’t. He got away with it.’……

Wherever there is a limit, a margin, there is inevitably friction on the borderline. Those closest to the ‘fire’ feel it most acutely. I am not sure we have really caught hold of this in society, whether we are talking about imposition of taxes, availability of subventions and subsidies or the mark given. Perhaps we are happy to take decisions but not so comfortable with taking responsibility for our decisions.

As a Brit in France for some years, I find this distinction rather more stark. Perhaps it is a matter of being born with the typical British inclination in favour of the ‘underdog’, faced with the predeliction for imperiousness on the part of the French administrative system which seems quite content with producing oft-times indefensible and incomprehensible decisions on the basis of the facts because the administrative ‘playbook’ has no ‘page’ that covers the particular situation and the people in the system are often unwilling or unempowered to do anything rational or sensible.

Doesn’t end there, though does it? What of the coffee and milk we drink??? We pay the earth to many retailers, yet the actual producers get a pittance? Why has it taken us so long to get around to Fair Trade? Perhaps we are too busy screwing others for the extra margin because we can, because the poor nation producer can’t sell direct to the rich nation consumer. Well, that is changing with the internet and intermediaries are being by-passed and driven out of the supply chain because the add no value to the supplier or to the consumer.

Here’s a prediction. Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas’ character in the film Wall Street) and his ‘Greed is Good‘ mantra is ‘out’ and ‘fairness’ is coming in.  Politicians and even commerce is beginning to get a sense that there is a wind of change blowing in which need is superior to want and duties (to life, the planet and to each other) are again understood as the precursor to rights.

“All is fair in love and war…..” and a whole lot of other things as well………….