Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Play! Win!

Announcing Nuts & Boalt’s first-ever “Try to Write a Worse Sentence Than Chancellor Birgeneau” Contest! Everyone can play. No skill required. In fact, it’s actively discouraged.

Here’s what we’re trying to top—a sentence from his recent email to the entire UC community about…well, I’m not sure what it’s about. Something about the diverse attainment of diverse diversity:

A five to 10-year initiative for progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion campus-wide has begun with the launch of a strategic planning phase to set specific goals, objectives and resources. This initiative…will focus on creating the sustainable, institutional change necessary to embrace the core values and practices of our University encouraged by the Regents in the UC Statement on Diversity.

The full email, in all its discordant and tortured glory, is reprinted in the comments for those alums fortunate enough to no longer receive administration communication.

The entire email is a sort of Office Space-meets-the-Federal- Register type of rhetorical disaster. I half-expected to see an accompanying award for Achievement in the Field of Excellence. I mean, what the fuck is this thing actually about? I have no clue. And that's after spending 5 minutes of my life investigating that I now desperately wish I had back.

In formulating your own entry for worst possible sentence (from a UC administrator), I encourage you to draw upon personal encounters with terrible, terrible writing—such as sitting in LRW, reading USA Today, or perusing a Souter opinion.

Here’s my entry:

The core focus of the program’s core will be promoting inclusion, discouraging exclusion, and achieving the goals set by the objectives.

There’s actually a great deal to say about the Chancellor’s email—about the gratuitous bureaucratese that paralyzes public institutions; about ‘diversity’ as the mindless panacea for all educational ills; about the totemic figurehead role played by University presidents these days; about the expenditure of taxpayer money on useless and overlapping administrators; about the decline of writing and rhetoric instruction; about the reification of feelings over knowledge as the purpose of higher education—but, honestly, that’s all pretty much said by the Chancellor's sentence itself.

PS – Dean Edley’s wonderfully styled, detailed, and slightly subversive emails—one of which is reprinted in the thread below (I mean, come on, it’s got a joke about commodities prices in the third sentence—how cool is that?)—seem to be the exception that proves the rule.


Blogger Earl Warren said...

Dear UC Berkeley Colleagues and Friends:

I am writing to you today to ask for your help over the coming months with an historic effort for the UC Berkeley campus. A five to 10-year initiative for progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion campus-wide has begun with the launch of a strategic planning phase to set specific goals, objectives and resources. This initiative, to be headed by Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Gibor Basri, will focus on creating the sustainable, institutional change necessary to embrace the core values and practices of our University encouraged by the Regents in the UC Statement on Diversity (

The institutional change envisioned by this initiative will serve the mission of the University; enrich the experience of all of our students, staff, and faculty, help to insure that UC Berkeley maintains its standard of excellence, and continues to fulfill its great public trust to the people of California far into the future.

A Data-Driven, Collective Planning Effort

Earlier this year, I was delighted to learn that the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund agreed to fund this planning phase. From the beginning, we recognized that any major effort designed to enhance equity and inclusion at Cal must 1) be shaped by an objective, data-based understanding of our campus; and 2) will require strong collaboration, and robust dialogue among all spheres of the University community - students, staff, faculty, alumni - if it is to succeed.

Addressing the first of these imperatives, the planning process includes conducting a data-driven study of programs, policies, and practices that foster diversity, equity, and inclusion both on the Berkeley campus and on other campuses across the nation.

With respect to the second imperative, Vice Chancellor Basri and I will be tapping the wisdom, experience, expertise, and creativity of our students, staff, faculty, and alumni to accomplish both the above study and to develop a broad-based community engagement through various means. These means include:

* The campus's first all-staff climate survey
* Focus groups and action-based discussions
* Participatory Town Hall meetings
* Campus-wide online questionnaires

As one of the first steps in gathering needed campus community input, I invite you to attend one of the following Participatory Town Hall meetings:

1. For Staff: Tuesday, April 29 from 12:00pm to 3:00pm 2. For Undergraduate Students: Thursday, April 30 from 4:00pm to 7:00pm 3. For Graduate Students: Friday, May 1 from 1:00pm to 4:00pm

To sign-up for these meetings, please send your name, your campus department and title or your major or college/school, and your contact information to a staff member in the office of equity & inclusion, Amy Peterson, at Reservations will be required to attend as seating is limited. If you have any requests for assistance for these meetings, please also state this in your reservation email. More town hall meetings will be scheduled in the coming months.

As the strategic planning process develops, there will be additional opportunities to provide feedback on the initiative's short-term and long-term goals, proposed next steps, and key priorities, as well as on the planning process itself.

A First Step - What You Can Do to Help Now

The vice chancellor and I also invite you to visit the Equity & Inclusion website at After clicking the link "Strategic Planning & Interactive Forum", you will be able both to offer comments to the vice chancellor to assist in the strategic planning process and make suggestions for creating dialogue in your communities about these issues. This site will also contain information about the planning process in general.

I view this strategic planning effort on diversity, equity, and inclusion as a vital step towards UC Berkeley's bright future, and look forward to working with you on this challenging and groundbreaking effort.

Yours sincerely,

Robert J. Birgeneau

4/09/2008 9:45 PM  
Blogger McWho said...

That email really should have gone out last Monday.

4/09/2008 10:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't have a good sentence yet, but EW, I want you to know that your rant made me laugh out loud.

I also laughed my ass off upon reading that we have something called a "Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion." Seriously. There is nothing I can add to that.

4/09/2008 10:17 PM  
Blogger Abony Holmes said...

My guiding principle for the absorption, and subsequent synthesizing of correspondence between the often verbose and rarely succinct campus administration and the various members of the campus outside of the bureaucracy has been, both strategically and organically, to create a balance between the amount of time in which I receive such communications and the speed with which I remove such communications from my primary mail area to a more secondary receptacle, whereupon at such time that receptacle becomes too unwieldy to remain in a static state, I disperse all items contained therein to a "virtual ether."

4/09/2008 10:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Center for Promoting Discoveries will be discussing recent discoveries and promoting the discovery of future advancements in these discoveries by analyzing and consulting with similar centers around the country that promote a broad range of goals, including, among others, discoveries, maintenance of achievements, facilitation of knowledge, and progress awareness.

4/09/2008 10:30 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...


4/09/2008 11:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Always forwards, never backwards, always upwards, never forwards, always twirling, twirling, twirling to victory.

4/09/2008 11:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow. i think it's awesome that people even took the time to come up with sentences - they were good too (in a bad way). or, perhaps they were bad in a good way? lol.

4/09/2008 11:45 PM  
Blogger tj said...

I nominate a number of my prior posts...

4/10/2008 12:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hereby and thus forth do recommend for consideration and commendation, Abony Holmes, for best sentence ever in the forthright history of ever.

4/10/2008 12:33 AM  
Blogger Tom Fletcher said...

What is a "data-driven" effort? To recycle a quip, is it the plural of anecdote? Or will the Chancellor's people be sitting on Sproul with a swatch book making tally marks?

In other news, Prof. Merges helped write a brief for the en banc hearing of In re Bilski...

4/10/2008 7:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked Birgeneau's next email too:

"On April 21st, the Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Sustainability (CACS) will host a half-day event addressing sustainability and promoting a movement that includes all members of the campus community. . . . The event will take place from 8:00 am to 1:30 pm in the Martin Luther King, Jr., Student Union, including a keynote talk on social justice and climate change."

How could anyone in the city of Berkeley NOT attend an event about both climate change AND diversity? Maybe they should've thown in a keynote speech by Code Pink about the Iraq war too.

4/10/2008 10:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Abony: The phrase "strategically and organically" was particularly outstanding.

4/10/2008 12:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You guys rock.

4/10/2008 2:24 PM  

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