Friday, November 15, 2002

Nichols and Ax(iologi)es to Grind

The thing that got that response about libertarians and Reason a couple of days ago was a post by Dave Christopherson on the faculty listserv regarding the fellow who conducts the Nichols Report, an Edwin Nichols. Alan Kors, head of The FIRE and coauthor of The Shadow University reported in an article in Reason that Nichols has some rather curious views.
What does Nichols believe? He believes that culture is genetically determined, and that blacks, Hispanics, and descendants of non-Jewish Middle-Eastern tribes place their "highest value" on "interpersonal relationships." In Africa, women are the equal of men. Whites were altered permanently by the Ice Age. They value objects highly, not people. That is why white men commit suicide so frequently when they are downsized.

Nichols calls his science of value systems "axiology," and he believes that if managers and administrators understand these cultural differences, they can manage more effectively, understanding why, according to him, blacks attach no importance to being on time, while whites are compulsive about it. Whites are logical; blacks are intuitive and empathetic. Whites are frigid; blacks are warm and spontaneous. Whites are relentlessly acquisitive; nonwhites are in harmony with nature. White engineers, for example, care about their part of something; Asian engineers, managers should know, care about the whole. Whites are linear; nonwhites have a spiral conception of time. Nichols has a handout that he frequently uses. Whites, it explains, "know through counting and measuring"; Native Americans learn through "oneness"; Hispanics and Arabs "know through symbolic and imagery [sic]"; Asians "know through striving toward the transcendence [sic]." Asking nonwhites to act white in the workplace is fatal to organizational harmony. Understanding cultural axiology is essential to management for the 21st century. Now, reread his list of clients.
The list, in fact, is a cornucopia of federal agencies, law firms and school districts, Fortune 500 firms and universities. According to Kors, a cultural audit like that SCSU received costs $20,000-$35,000. We ended up paying $87,000, once again proving that when it comes to negotiating, SCSU is about as effective as the Minnesota Vikings defense. Or maybe we just said, "super-size it!"

Out of a school of nearly 15,000 students and 1,300 staff and faculty, Nichols has a web survey of about 400, plus some on-campus interviews with administrators and a few do-drop-ins for faculty and students. The web survey was fraught with difficulty. About a quarter of students, faculty and staff who wrote comments on their surveys -- about 10% of the same -- criticised it as biased or bogus. There were problems with submission over the web, so that it was taken down and put back up. Several faculty stated on the listserv last year that they were irritated with the difficulty in completing it and the questions on it. (Open the report and go to the bottom to see the survey instrument.)

Nevertheless, the authors wrote a series of recommendations including:

The local newspaper story quotes some reactions. It looks at least like some administrators are trying to run away from this thing. Provost Spitzer did post some reaction to comments on the listserv today that suggested we still have much to do, but then he does have to say that, now doesn't he?

There are some serious concerns with the Nichols firm outside of these we've reported. Kors mentions the case at Univ. of Cincinnati in 1990 where Nichols reportedly (and in fairness, disputed by others in the room) berated a young female professor as being "the perfect model" of a "privileged white elite". A second article discusses how Nichols told workers at a Bureau of Labor Statistics diversity seminar "We can't ask non-whites to maintain "white' standards. If a pair of black employees arrives late for a meeting, it's not because they don't have the company's best interests in mind. They may have been chatting in the hallway, developing those personal relationships." And Nichols is still into "cultural axiology" according to this article from a human resources journal.

For this, we paid $87,000 and we've got three other of these surveys coming. And budget cuts. Bleah!