ELEVEN LESSONS that I learned from the lies and deception from university presidents, conference organizers, and supposedly “successful” businesspeople
For most of us, when we are in our younger formative years, we are presented the idea that financial success equates with some type of spiritual purity or intellectual prowess.
In societies that praise and deify capitalism (making money) and ascensionism (“upward” social-financial progression, which eventually attains a pseudo-spiritual status), rich and positioned people are assumed to be good, pure, and truthful.
Most people would be shocked at the level of incompetence, criminality, and (self)deception displayed by supposedly “successful” people at the higher ranks of academia, education, and business.
I don’t know if I was either “triggered” (negative connotation) or “inspired” (positive connotation) by a personal email that I received yesterday morning, but I do feel and judge the need to address the topic of incompetence among conference organizers, university presidents and supposedly successful businesspeople. I’ve been thinking about these topics for a while so this appears to be the weekend to put these thoughts into some type of organized written structure.
When I was 25 years of age, I realized that the social gridiron around me was more complex and less benign than I had previously assumed; more specifically, I saw that I needed to apply my learning abilities toward understanding people and social dynamics otherwise I was going to get steamrolled. I have continued to study people, personalities, personality disorders, psychology and philosophy for most of my adult life.
For most of us, when we are in our younger formative years, we are presented the idea that financial-professional success equates with some type of spiritual purity or intellectual achievement.
When we gain life experience in the real world, we commonly see the reverse: 1) higher positioning does not indicate better ability nor trustworthiness, and 2) talent, hard work, and high standards are commonly unrewarded, if not overtly punished.
For most of us, when we are in our younger formative years, we are presented the idea that financial success equates with some type of spiritual purity or intellectual achievement. Even if the idea is mostly false, it does serve a useful positive purpose in inspiring the youth to persevere toward higher goals and achievements in academics and business, albeit typically while neglecting personal development and social contribution. As I’ve gained more experience in the real world, I’ve seen the negative side of this illusion and for that reason I’ll discuss a few examples that I’ve personally witnessed in the following three sections.
[1st of 3] Lies from University Presidents and Academic Directors (Deans and Vice-Presidents)
Having dedicated my life to Education from a young age, one of the biggest shocks and disappointments of my life has been to see the absolute incompetence and permeating corruption that typifies many academic/educational institutions.
In a fully accredited nonprofit American university where I was a professor and new administrator, a few of us eventually caught onto the fact that the University President and top three Vice-Presidents were stealing money from the school by having assigned themselves payment in the form of “performance bonuses” which in their greedy hands included stealing scholarship money directly from accounts of the students; they also gave money to their family members in the form of unearned faculty positions and free scholarships to the institution. Again: this was a fully accredited American “University” that had been in existence for more than 100 years, had tax-free status as a “nonprofit organization”, and was awarding undergraduate degrees (Bachelor of Science), graduate degrees (Master of Science in…), and Doctorate degrees (Doctor of…). The University was fully accredited by a regional accreditation nonprofit organization which was itself empowered by the US Department of Education; I know for a fact that the school lied to the regional accreditor about the quality of our program because the school reversed the quality standards and graduation requirements that I personally had set in place for the graduating students in one of the programs—I set the standards, the program was accredited based on those standards, and then the school undermined and deflated those standards so that the students would graduate without any inconveniences such as having to study and perform at a graduate level. One day I woke up to find myself fired via email from the program I had nurtured, the courses that I had designed, and from the very students and professors I had personally recruited. The University President and his pawns simply lied about the entire sequence of events and told people that they “didn’t know what had happened to [me]” and that I had personally decided to “move on to a different institution.” Obviously I would never voluntarily abandon the students and faculty, and I would’ve never been forced out of the institution had it not been for the massive corruption that was taking place and which continues to take place years later. The President of the University had earlier confided to me that he could do whatever he wanted because he had emotionally or financially bought-off all the members in the Board of Trustees, which guaranteed his unchallenged tenure. All of the upper administrators were playing shell games with money as they paid themselves and each other for “school expenses” but they sufficiently covered for each other to allow the scheme to continue. The financial/accounting audits, supposedly performed by an outside accounting agency, were completely fraudulent, as the outside agency simply rubber-stamped the false figures proffered by the Vice-President of Finance. When faculty or staff became suspicious or asked the wrong questions, they were demoted, constructively dismissed, or fired; the school disappeared 26 faculty members and middle administrators within 24 months which is an insane rate of faculty turnover, and one that should have triggered an investigation were regulators not discouraged from regulating profitable private schools.1 Regional accreditation of schools is mostly a strategic move that creates the illusion of credibility without any guarantee of quality education while it affords schools with access to public and private monies2, especially in the form of student loans which are a major source of school income.
In another accredited American “University” where I was a professor in a doctorate-level program, the academic Dean and Program Manager eventually informed me that my class was the only class in the entire program that actually included exams and the required memorization of facts; this was a program awarding a doctorate in clinical sciences that would eventually allow its graduates to practice within the healthcare arena directly supervising patient care. “Yes,” I said, “obviously the students needed to memorize facts.” “Yes,” I said, “obviously the students needed to display some modicum of intellectual ability and ethical behavior.” The other faculty were notably miserable and also miserably underpaid, but like many of us in academics, we stay on and struggle on for the sake of our students and this aspirational Renaissance-Enlightenment idea we have that education can actually improve people and society and the world. Again, I was relieved of my large duties and small pay by email, and I was glad it was over.
In the one European college where I worked for a short time, I didn’t have the occasion to see overt incompetence and corruption, but I could easily tell that the students were not being held to high standards so that they could all graduate without too much difficulty. This was another “doctorate” healthcare program, but unfortunately many private schools are so heavily dependent on tuition from their students that they don’t have the luxury of enforcing high academic or behavioral standards because otherwise—if the program were more difficult—their students would simply go to other programs or professions that are easier or more lucrative, respectively.
What I learned from these experiences:
Lesson 1: People and institutions cannot be trusted simply because they have impressive titles, positions, or accreditations. Corruption, incompetence, outright fraud and theft occur within the highest levels of academia.
Lesson 2: Government regulators (and their for-profit surrogates) are essentially worthless. Regional accreditors are paid by the Universities that they regulate, so in order to approve more programs and collect more fees, they rubberstamp accreditation and have no interest in the abstract concept of corruption and even less interest in the humanitarian grievance of faculty abuse. If you complain to the Department of Education about fraud and theft, they will refuse to take action and defer the problem to the Department of Justice. If you complain to the Department of Justice about educational fraud and theft, they will reply that they “don’t deal with issues in education” and will send you back to the Department of Education.
Lesson 3: Positioning trumps competence. When we are young and naive and earnest, we think that competence is necessary for gaining and holding positions of power, especially when these positions appear to be elected and supported by a group of “endorsers” such as an electing Board of Trustees. What I learned from observing the strategy of the University President mentioned above is that 1) he always presented the facade of innocence and “service” even to the point of pretending to be a Mormon devout to faith and community, and 2) he maintained the illusion of support from the Board of Trustees by stocking the fishpond with his friends and ensuring high turn-over so that by the time newbies had enough experience and growing awareness to see the patterns of fraud and theft, he would have them removed from the Board. When the President chooses the Board and the Board chooses the President, a conniving President can stack the deck in his favor by filling the Board with 1) sycophants, 2) dummies, 3) cheerleaders, and 4) the expendable so that no opposition ever arises against him. In short: Positioning trumps competence; the position does not demonstrate nor ensure competence.
Lesson 4: When things look and feel crazy, then you’re probably dealing with a high-functioning psychopath*—a person hardwired (damaged brain, lacking empathy, sees people as stepping-stones) for manipulation and abuse but who is “smart enough” to maintain the facade of normalcy most (not all) of the time. High-functioning psychopaths commonly work together because they thrive and profit in chaos and crazy-making; in fact, anytime I find one of them I expect to find another one, or at least a boss who is mentally absent.
*If this topic is new to you, see the footnoted articles on high-functioning psychopaths3 and my previous video on leadership that listed some manipulative techniques from fake leaders (also linked below).
Lesson 5: DON’T LET THE FRIENDLINESS FOOL YOU even if they invite you for dinner, let you stay in their luxurious spare bedroom, and pick you up from the airport. We can only be betrayed and manipulated by people who first appear trustworthy; for them to get what they want, they have to first pretend to be your friend, do nice things for you, tell you how great you are (ie, “love-bombing”), how loyal they are to you and your goals, and how nice and altruistic they are. From these experiences, I came to distinguish “friendly” (acts like a friend) from “nice” (actually behaves in a kind, reasonable, and dependable manner).
Lesson 6: Accreditation and pre-paid audits are meaningless, because Universities can lie to the accreditors (while the accreditors don’t care because they are paid by the Universities) and the administrators can cook the books and gerrymander the numbers before handing over the information to the auditing accountants, who are always paid by the school and thus have an interest in keeping the client happy. Unless it is an independent audit or forensic accounting, then the paid accountants will simply rubber-stamp “verify” the fake numbers they received from the University administrators.
[2nd of 3] Lies from conference organizers, who are more interested in popularity (likes and shares) and profitability (money) than they are in quality education—the exchange and enrichment of ideas which are conceptual and immeasurable
As most of you know, I have delivered literally hundreds of postgraduate conferences and presentations for continuing medical education (CME) for medical physicians and various other healthcare professionals throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and the United Kingdom.
Roughly 10 or 15 years ago (coinciding with “likes”-driven Facebook and social media), I saw the emphasis in professional conferences shift away from information and move more toward entertainment.
Roughly 10 or 15 years ago (coinciding with “likes”-driven Facebook and social media), I saw the emphasis in professional conferences shift away from information and move more toward entertainment. The nonacademic people in charge of organizing the conferences simply wanted high profit and high ratings/popularity (eg, “likes”) instead of high quality (which is much more difficult to quantify) so eventually the presenters who got booked more often were the ones who told jokes instead of sharing important clinical and biomedical information. Tell people what they want to hear (eg, nothing new and challenging) and make them happy (with jokes, sweets and alcohol) for spending money and traveling away from their homes and family, and somehow infotainment and infomercializing became the new version of continuing medical education. Conferences have become much less about providing information and much more about providing sales opportunities for vendors and mini-vacations (paid as pre-tax business expense) for the attendees; if you’re happy with your life and don’t need the unnecessary travel, and if you can use the internet for learning and social/professional awareness, then conference attendance becomes superfluous and avoidable.
In the past, university professors would attend and present at these conferences as an extension of their academic duties and to represent the schools to which they were loyal and which had been loyal to them. More and more, as tenure and loyalty both collapsed, and the United States and other countries moved toward a “gig economy”4 with no security or benefits, these now-part-time professors stopped spending their own personal money and time representing schools that had betrayed them and shortchanged them with overwork-and-underpayment.
As a presenter, I’ve only “withdrawn” from three scheduled conferences, for the following reasons:
Corporate theft under a “non-profit” disguise—no thanks, I don’t agree: One very famous nonprofit “functional medicine” educational organization handsomely paid its top-tier executives with full-time salaries for their part-time work, yet refused to proportionately pay the real faculty who did the actual work of educating the audience. What made this entire situation worse and intolerable is that the contract stipulated that the working faculty actually had to assign their materials and any future profits to the organization for their one-time payment at their conference presentations; in other words, we as scholar-presenters would get paid once for doing the months of work but then the organization would resell videos of our presentations (which they vaguely referred to in the contract as “educational repurposing” which meant re-selling for profit) for along with our materials for high-profit to other groups/organizations but they wouldn’t share any of that profit with the people who had actually done the hard/creative/intellectual work. So the contracts were written in such a way that we would get paid once for a fixed amount of money but then the organization could sell and resell our work without limit and without sharing any additional money. This obviously put us speakers in competition with ourselves because every time the organization would resell our presentations, it reduced the value of our presentations in the conference marketplace (eg, value dilution, commoditization). Finally, I had enough experience, enough courage and enough frustration to refuse to sign the contract without amendments, so the organization fired me via Facebook. I had worked with them for 11 years starting from a time when the organization didn’t have enough funding to even pay us as volunteers and my ultimate reward was to get replaced by a guy who told better jokes. So obviously in this situation I didn’t voluntarily withdraw so much as I was unceremoniously replaced and was willing to let the situation unfold due to the bad taste it had acquired. Also noted is that this particular organization (like many others) aggrandized itself based on its promotion of the image that it was a “community” and at times even a “family” especially of like-minded professionals, thought-leaders, and want-to-be-intellectuals that considered themselves the elite of healthcare. Remember this: When the group has a goal outside of itself, it is a NETWORK. Only when the group’s goal is the maintenance, continuity, enhancement, and well-being of the people within the group is it a COMMUNITY; typically the members want to see it as a community while the administrators advertise it as a community but then run it as a network, a goal-driven machine that spits on and spits out people as it wishes.
Same pay-scale and zero benefits for 18 years shows that the company is not maturing: I’ve also worked in private the private sector for private owners, a situation which started out okay in the early and inexperienced fledgling years of my career, but later became simply boring and eventually uninspiring and thereafter unacceptable. What dumb owners and managers fail to appreciate is of course what should be obvious, and that is this: If your faculty continue to learn and advance themselves but you as the owner fail to keep up with commensurate salary and benefits (in this case, an embarrassing salary with zero benefits), then eventually those faculty members will get recruited by other companies and/or form their own companies. And so it goes.
Unauthorized distribution ain’t happening: Another conference in London insisted on unauthorized digital distribution of my presentation materials even though I told them that my materials were copyrighted and were actually published in a book which was at that time a helpful source of income. The two young women who were at the front lines of this conversation with me insisted that everything would go according to their plan, which included digital distribution of my protected materials. When their boss the conference organizer found out he was outraged and apologetic, but the indifference had already overtaken me. So I decided to spend the weekend at home in beautiful Barcelona (very easy decision) instead of traveling for their conference (hassle), and I encouraged them to replace me with a colleague of mine who can’t say no to having an audience.
What I learned and enacted from these experiences is:
Lesson 7: Refusing to participate in mistreatment, underpayment, exploitation is at times the only way to end one’s personal experience of ongoing mistreatment, underpayment, or exploitation. Expecting people to be kind, reasonable, and honest has to have a limit, after which we have to force ourselves to get out and move on.
Lesson 8: When the group has a goal outside of itself, it is a NETWORK. Only when the group’s goal is the maintenance, continuity, enhancement, and well-being of the people within the group is it a COMMUNITY; typically the members want to see it as a community while the administrators advertise it as a community but then run it as a network, a goal-driven machine that spits on and spits out people as it wishes.
[3rd of 3] Incompetence and self-deception from supposedly “successful” businesspeople
I suppose that before anyone can lie to us, they have to first lie to themselves. They either have to lie to themselves about the facts or they have to lie to themselves about the importance of reality itself. Once they have determined that the facts don’t matter or that reality itself doesn’t matter then of course they are free to say whatever they want and to lie in whatever way serves them, consciously or unconsciously.
Over the last few years I came to realize that a particular man who I had regarded as successful and who was highly regarded by others and himself (ie, cult of personality) was simply swimming in a cesspool of self-deception. He had deceived himself so thoroughly that his self-deception radiated outward to affect the impression held by other people. But this didn’t change the fact that he hated his employees and held them in contempt, while they also feared and hated him as well. His high opinion of himself didn’t change the fact that his business had lost half of its value over the previous 10 years, culminating in a loss in value of approximately US$6 million per year for each of those 10 years. You don’t have to have a Masters in Business Administration or Accounting to know that losing $6 million per year for 10 years disqualifies one from the ego gratification that would otherwise accompany the title of successful entrepreneur; creating an office environment of bidirectional contempt is nothing to be proud of, either.
Likewise, I noticed that a different business with which I had been intimately familiar was also collapsing on the inside even though it was apparently successful on the outside: they had glossy brochures and a website filled with fake airbrushed images and photoshopped modelesque strangers. The owners appeared inebriated with their cocktail of profitability and retirement plans, while the company itself was on the verge of either a food fight, riot, or mutiny. They were losing key infrastructure and productivity engineers, and they were fomenting their own competition as employees left to join other companies or form their own companies. Reality would withstand the owners’ self-deception, while they continued to make excuses for the changes and profess that they “didn’t know about” the calamity in their business and as they spouted empty promises about how “we’re going to make things better.” The owners were taking home $300,000 per year while writing-off many of their big-ticket life expenses (eg, new cars, frequent travel, phone, internet, education for their kids) as business expenses; meanwhile the employees’ wages documented only stagnation and exploitation.
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