Volume Two, Number One............January 1978

Labor Relations Prose:
Victim of Imperatives


THOSE who have studied the literary outpourings of industrial and labor relations specialists have probably come away with the notion that our "field" is in a bad way. There are reasons why this should be so, and they cannot all be attributed to the low quality of the people who publish in this subdiscipline, although that is no doubt a contributing factor. In many instances the reason for our bad reputation can be found in the requirements laid down by our chief gurus.

The first of these is that the methodology used and the accompanying data-gathering* procedure are deemed to be vastly more important than the subject under discussion. Now designing methodologies is an enervating activity. It taxes the creative urge and dulls our aesthetic sensibilities, causing us to approach the actual writing of our manuscript in a state of exhaustion.

Second, all articles and books must begin with the author pointing out the errors of commission and omission made by those who have gone before. There has, in fact, been an uninterrupted sequence of putdowns on studies dealing with the impact of technology on job satisfaction dating from Professor Joel Rugmantle's recent article in Industrial Relations Quarterly all the way back to an obscure piece by Erasmus. It is understandable, then, that we find in journal articles opening sentences such as: ‘The literature on labor turnover abounds with faulty regression analysis,' or ‘Many researchers on strike propensities have tended to neglect...' This, too, is a taxing business. There are not many good ways remaining to ridicule the competition. We come to the second paragraph, our creativity spent, just too tired to be concerned about the niceties of grammar, style, syntax, even spelling.

A third reason for a general slovenliness of style can be found in the requirement that our work be highly quantitative. The longer and more complex the mathematical equations and the fewer words a manuscript contains, the better its chance of publication. Professor Philander Cadwallader's recent article in Labor and Personnel Relations, for example, had only 11 words in its 26 pages. We prize such scholarship, but this format does not, one must admit, give authors much opportunity to sharpen their literary skills.

Finally, no editor would accept an article that did not contain certain key phrases. All arguments must have a "central thrust," if they are intended to be taken seriously, and it is required that an alternative be preceded by "viable," lest the reader think we did not really have an alternative in mind after all. Since 1975 editors have demanded a liberal sprinkling of "interface" (used both as noun and verb), and rejection is assured should an author write "at this point" or "at this time" rather than the required "at this point in time." It is good to have these words and phrases at the ready; it is easier to use them than it is to think up expressions all by ourselves. Their frequent use does produce a certain sameness in our prose, however, and I can understand why some should object.

It is for these reasons that I urge readers outside the fraternity to exercise patience and, if the spirit moves them, a modicum of charity.


Robert Doherty is Associate Dean of the New York State School of Industrial & Labor Relations at Cornell University, and what we want to know is how come other schools have literate, widely published scholars as administrators?

Chewing Blubber

DARK SUSPICIONS arise as we read more and more of the writing that comes from the teacher-training specialists. And why not? Who is teaching teaching to those teachers who can't seem to teach much reading or writing? All those jargon-besotted administrators--where did they learn how to write that stuff? Someday we'll explore such questions, but for now let's warm up on this excerpt from the works of Jan Weaver, the Dean of Professional Studies:

One of the problems in official matriculation occurs because after the Advisors and Dean have recommended admission and a letter offering the candidate admission to the program has been sent by the Office of Admissions, the candidate must pay appropriate fees and have a paid receipt before they are completely admitted. In assisting Graduate Program Advisors recently, I have discovered that the Advisors are not aware that the individual student has not, for some reason, paid the appropriate admission fee and that is the reason why the student's name is not on the list. Therefore, if you have contact with the student, you might wish to ask whether or not they have paid all fees and returned their letter of admission to the Office of Admissions.

Let's start with elementary things--stuff we used to teach in the lower grades before we learned all about life-adjustment and that we had to chew blubber in order to interrelate with the Eskimo experience. In the first sentence we find a missing comma, one failure of pronoun agreement, and one mildly amusing redundancy in "paid receipt." In the second sentence we see a curious malfunction of the perfect tense, the absurdity of "the individual student," as though to distinguish him from some collective student, and another redundancy familiar to all teachers of freshman composition, "the reason why." In the third sentence there is another failure of pronoun agreement, doubled this time in "they" and "their," and the nasty indelicacy of having "contact" with the student.

That's the easy part. Next we wonder how that "official" matriculation is different from mere matriculation and the "officially admitted" student from the student who is merely admitted. What about those "appropriate" fees? Have some rascally students taken to paying inappropriate fees just to trouble their hapless Advisors?

From the garbled syntax of sentence two--this is the hard part, so pay attention--it would seem that names are missing from the list because the advisors don't know that the students haven't paid. The writer must mean that the failure to pay, of which advisors may be unaware, has kept some names off the list; but to say it clearly and smoothly in English requires a writer who can manage pronouns and conjunctions.

We can do that. First we delete the opening phrase; it's just padding, and it's because of that "recently" that the following perfect verb sounds so weird. Then we write:

I have discovered that Advisors [Why A?] don't know that some students haven't paid and that that is why their names aren't on the list.

Next we consider the most grievous faults--the failures of agreement in which a candidate becomes they and a student becomes they and returns their letter. How could such terrible things happen in an official document from a high-ranking professional? Ignorance? Impossible! Ignorance of simple grammar in a Dean of Professional Studies would trouble past bearing our habitual assumption that teacher-training is related to education. So forget ignorance--it must be something else.

Aha! How about this? What would be the correct form after a singular antecedent? He, of course. Everybody knows that. But wait! That's a rank sexist slur. How about he or she or he/she? Still sexist--he comes first. Maybe she or he or she/he? Sexist again, but the other way around. What to do? The hell with it! Stick in they. After all, who's going to read the thing? Just a bunch of graduate advisors (Advisors?), and what do they know?

Ask a Stupid Question...

GLASSBORO has so many low-ranking, junior administrators that it's hard to find them useful work. We don't even try, in fact; we just find them things to play with.

George Wildman and Robert Harris are co-chairmen of the Task Force on Recruitment, Retention, and Image. We don't know how they produce their prose--whether by one as told to the other or by taking turns word by word--but here's how it comes out:

In the first two sessions of the Task Force, the group explored the task facing them. Discussion ensued during these sessions concerning the goals and objectives to be accomplished. The Committee began the task of gathering supporting data by virtue of reports supplied by the offices of Admissions, Counseling, and the Registrar. Considerable time was spent attempting to define terminology as a basis for functioning, and much thought was given in an attempt to identify some of the major concerns which the Task Force would be facing in its work.

The first, second, and fourth sentences of that paragraph say the same thing, although the fourth does add that bit about defining "terminology [terms?] as a basis for functioning." The third sentence actually has its own thing to say, but only that they "began the task of gathering." Does that mean that they began gathering or that they began getting ready to gather? This sentence also uses "by virtue of" as though it meant "from." Never ask a junior administrator to say something straight out. He'd rather be knocked flat in an airport by O. J. Simpson. (Good idea.)

Since the combined salaries of the twenty members of the Task Force must be more than half a million dollars a year we're glad to report that their labor has had some results. As early as their second meeting, they divided themselves into three "interest-area subcommittees" (shouldn't that be sub-Task Forces or Task Forcelets?), one each for Recruitment, Retention, and Image.

They did more. Each interest-area subcommittee undertook to "define its term."

Now you would think that any fool could define recruitment, retention, and even image, although why that should be necessary is not clear. We have to guess that many members of the Task Force were unacquainted with those words and needed remediational input.

Discussion ensued by virtue of input, and tasks were explored. Thought was given in an attempt, and time was spent attempting.

By the next meeting, each "interest-area" subcommittee had defined "its term." Here's what they found--as a basis for functioning:

recruitment: the institution's philosophy and procedures by which we attempt to attract students to continue their education . . .

retention: the ability of the college to hold students who are pursuing a degree program (B.A., M.A., including certification).

image: the reflection of reality and substance.

The Underground

Post Office Box 203 Glassboro, NJ 08028
Published monthly, September to May
R. Mitchell, Assistant Circulation Manager


and a cheery grammatical
to just about Everybody!


* Nobody has talked about "facts" or "information" for at least fifty years. back

A real professional would say "emanates." Since "emanation" can correctly mean "the flowing forth of effluvia," this may well be a case in which jargon beats judgment. back

‡ Back in those dank dark ages of dismal drill and monotonous rote learning, a sixth-grader could have told you that that "that that" that that sentence contains is needed. (A new record. The previous record was held for centuries by: He said that that "that" that that dean had written was wrong.) Now that most of our mouths are gummed up with blubber, even professional deans find two thats in row just too much to manage. back

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