Happy 2nd
11 April
 Witch-Hunt in Norway  
by Glenn Campbell
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Chapter 14:
Alistair's Background

May 1-3, 2014,
Jacksonville, Florida

The only candid photo I have found of Alistair (source)
My experience with Red Cross Nordic can be thought of as a restaurant critic visiting a local restaurant without identifying himself. The critic eats only one meal at the restaurant and then reports that single meal in the local newspaper. (“The fois gras was unpalatable!”). The restaurant owner may say, “Hey, that’s not fair! You didn’t warn us you were going to write about this.” True, but an accurate review has to be unannounced. You wouldn't want the restaurant putting on a special show for the critic, because that might not reflect the everyday quality of the food.

Why do you need criticism? It keeps the restaurants honest. Without it, they will keep feeding people faulty fois gras. (Full disclosure: I am not a consumer of animal liver products.) True, an ordinary patron who has a bad meal will not return, but that does nothing to protect new patrons. The job of the critic is to clue new people in, as well as giving the restaurant an opportunity to correct its practices. The critic isn’t out to “get” the restaurant. All he wants is good food. Nothing would please him more than to return to the same restaurant some time later and write, “I’m pleasantly surprised by the improvements.”

In my RCN experience, Deputy Rektor Alistair Robertson was my waiter, serving up hospitality on behalf of the rest of the school. It may be unfair to judge the whole staff based on this one waiter, and I'm not trying to, but he was the waiter I got, so this is the one I am reviewing. Apart from serving the meal, he seemed to play a significant role in its preparation, building one student's vague “discomfort” about a college discussion into some kind of harassment complaint. He was the chief inquisitor in this witch-hunt. He was also the school’s primary public representative, presenting the school to me and, through me, to the rest of the world.

Alistair was willing to judge me remotely based on scant facts, asking me no questions, so I feel comfortable judging him based on more facts than he had about me. I am going to devote not one chapter to him, but three. In the first chapter I will talk about the general information I found about him on the always-reliable Internet. In the second I will analyze the emails I received from him, which you have already read. In the third I will identify 19 specific management errors he committed in the course his brief contact with me.

Alistair on LinkedIn

Most of my information about Alistair comes from a single source: his public LinkedIn page. In case you aren’t familiar with LinkedIn, it is the world’s most popular social media website for business contacts. People upload information about themselves there and connect to other people in their field. Alistair’s page is simple, but he himself created it, so it has to be accurate (right?). I spent a lot of time analyzing every detail of that page. While traces of Alistair can be found elsewhere on the web, especially concerning his ornithological work, LinkedIn was the place that put his whole background into perspective. In the rest of this chapter, I’m going to dissect this page and try to figure out what questions and issues it raises relevant to my experiences.

The first thing that jumps out about Alistair’s background is that he is no newcomer to UWC schools. He has almost 27 years of experience at Red Cross Nordic and its older sister school Waterford Kamhlaba in Swaziland. In other words, he has been with UWC for nearly his entire career and most of his adult life. Since Red Cross was founded only 19 years ago, it is unlikely anyone else on campus has more experience with this unique educational system (at least if you equate “experience” with the number of years served).

His only time away from UWC was one academic year spent as an Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia, the same place he earned his doctorate a few years earlier. It is unclear to me whether the year in B.C. was intended as a departure from UWC or a leave of absence. In any case, after British Columbia, he began work at Red Cross Nordic when the school was only about three years old. (It is possible he was not Deputy Rektor the whole time, but the LinkedIn entry produced by him says he was—Deputy Rektor "Sept. 1998 to present"—so I will proceed on that assumption unless corrected. See new information from July 2015 in notes below.)

One of the things he would have brought to this position was the "institutional memory" of how things are done in the UWC system, which would have been valuable when starting a new school. As one of the longest serving employees at RCH (if not the longest), he may be an arbiter of the unwritten codes by which the school historically operates. Alistair’s position at Red Cross has been unchanged in almost 16 years (at least according to LinkedIn). He must have seen many Rektors and other employees come and go during that time. I will have a lot to say momentarily about length of employment and its plusses and minuses, but first I want to review the other parts of his LinkedIn Page.

Before he was "Dr." Robertson, Alistair earned a Bachelors of Science and Masters of Science in biology and conservation science. The Masters involved two years studying vultures, and since then he has published several articles on ornithology. (Here is a research paper he wrote regarding vulture sex. [Insert your own clever quip here.]) The years immediately after graduation, from mid-1983 to mid-1986, are unaccounted for on LinkedIn (as they are on my own public record, Thank God!). In 1986, he began work at Waterford Kamhlaba teaching in biology, his credentialed field of expertise. While he was teaching at Waterford, he earned his PhD in “curriculum and instruction”, 1990-1994. (He was in Africa and the university was in Canada, but I have no idea how PhDs work. Apparently you can get them by mail order, because mail is all they had back in the early 1990s.)

Alistair speaks more languages than I do. In addition to his native English, he claims “limited working proficiency” in Norwegian and Afrikaans, one of the official languages of South Africa. (I can barely claim the same in French, and in Spanish I can only order tacos at Taco Bell.) These language credentials may seem laudable to an American, but they are not so impressive in the educational environment in which he resides. The vast majority of Red Cross students are fully fluent in at least two languages—English and their own—and have at least limited working proficiency in Norwegian because it is a required course. By his own account, Alistair has lived for 16 years in Norway and still has only “limited working proficiency” in Norwegian. (Can you imagine living for 16 years in America and not being fully fluent in English?) In fairness, however, if you live in work at RCN and live on or near the campus, it must be hard to find anyone to speak Norwegian to.

Alistair has avocational interest in birding and rock climbing, and claims talents in public speaking, education management and various curriculum-related fields. Not shown in LinkedIn is his family relations. There is a woman with the last name "Robertson" on campus, working at the Haugland Rehabilitation Center and often speaking at the same campus events he does. He has cited "family" as one of his interests, which implies he has one, and I suspect the other Robertson is his wife.

That’s just about all I have! I have hardly scratched the surface of his ornithological work, but he seems to have a relatively small footprint on the web regarding the school, even on the school’s own website. The photo at the top of this page is the only candid shot I have found of him. (True fact: There are still people on Earth with no selfies on the web!) Can I make any conclusions based on this very limited information? Not conclusions exactly, but I can raise questions. The dominant feature of Alistair's resume is his many years of service to UWC. What questions can be raised about that?

Length of Service — Good or Bad?

Read the tragic story of poor Edna.

The following discussion doesn't concern Alistair specifically but anyone in his general position—second-in-command at an educational institution after 27 years of loyal service. I'm not making conclusions here, just raising questions.

The first question is: With all of those years of dedication to UWC, including 16 years as Deputy Rektor at Red Cross Nordic (according to LinkedIn), why isn’t he Rektor? It’s not a trivial question. “Often a bridesmaid but never a bride.” With all that service and experience, why not?

One possible answer might be that he never wanted the job. He could be perfectly happy being Deputy Rektor, feeling that’s the best place for his talents. Rektor is a hot-seat position that may not appeal to everyone. Perhaps Alistair is content to provide a supporting role, not dealing with all the politics the leader has to cope with.

The other possibility is that he did desire the top job sometime during those 16 years, but for one reason or another didn’t make the cut. In the latest competitive search, the selection committee chose a much younger man than Alistair with less than one year’s experience at UWC. What gives?

The truth is, years of service are no proof of competence. They certainly count for something, but they aren’t everything that counts. “Experience = wisdom” is not a reliable equation in any walk of life. If it was, all old people would be geniuses. To claim that someone with more experience is more talented is a logical fallacy similar to the many other fallacies students should be learning in their Critical Thinking classes. Years of service prove only that an employee has shown up for work every day; they don’t prove he has learned anything.

One thing years of service may provide is a certain immunity from criticism. It can be hard to censure or control someone who has been in the organization longer than the person doing the censuring. In many educational organizations, there is also something called “tenure”, where a employee becomes nearly impossible to fire once they achieve a certain status. This protects college professors from political pressure but it also rewards inertia and protects incompetence. I have no idea whether a tenure system is in place at Red Cross or who it might apply to, but there is often an informal tenure system at educational institutions: a long-serving employee is accorded "respect" and judged by looser standards regarding the quality of their work. As long as he is loyal to the organization, a long-serving employee can get away with failings that would quickly doom a younger employee. Others in the organization simply learn to work around him.

In the tongue-in-cheek management book, The Peter Principle, author Lawrence Peter argues that, "In an organization, an employee tends to rise to the level of his incompetence." In other words, as long as an employee does his job well, he continues to be promoted until he reaches a position he cannot handle, at which point the promotions stop. He just stays in the same position indefinitely, causing moderate chaos but not doing anything bad enough to be fired. In the Dr. Peter's view, this accounts for how organizations as a whole become incompetent over time.

Frankly, I don't see this as much of a problem at Red Cross Nordic. Why? Because Flekke is a hard assignment: three hours from the nearest city in the sub-Arctic. The scenic beauty of rural Norway might be appealing for a while, but it gets tired quickly. (Five days were enough for me.) Although I have no statistics, I assume there is a lot of staff turnover. Most faculty and staff probably see this as a temporary assignment, not a lifetime gig. This is good for the school, because it means a constant stream of new faces. The school recruits young faculty while they are still fresh and enthusiastic, and when they run out of steam they tend to quit this hard environment on their own and go back to whatever home country they came from. For these employees there is little opportunity for the Peter Principle to take effect.

Someone with decades of experience has to be a departure from the norm. It takes a certain kind of personality to stick it out in Flekke, but it isn't necessarily the kind that is beneficial for the school.

The Peter Principle is just a theory and doesn't prove anything, but it does shift the burden of proof: Is an employee here because he is the best person for the job, or is he here because he has been here forever and can't be removed? You wouldn't ask this about a new employee who serves at the whims of management and must prove himself every day. You would only raise this issue for a long-standing employee who is no longer subject to evaluation for his work.

In all the mission statements I have read for UWC colleges, I have never seen mention of "providing job security and guaranteed employment for faculty and staff". Everything I've seen says that the students and their education is the central focus of the institution, which means that faculty and staff are there only in a supporting role. The school must pay a fair wage and provide a healthy working environment, but serving the needs of the faculty and staff, per se, is not a primary mission of the college. The staff is there presumably because they are "paying their rent" by performing the duties assigned to them consistent with certain objective standards. Tenure really shouldn't play any part in this. Taking into account ones years of service is almost a form of discrimination. Shouldn't all employees be judged by the same standards regardless of how long they have served?

There is really only one way to judge an employee fairly: You have to ask yourself, "If a competitive process were held today, with other candidates fairly considered, would this employee be rehired?" If the employee has years of experience under his belt and already understands his job and the institution, it certainly would give him an advantage in the competition, but experience isn't the only thing that matters. The selection committee was obviously saying this when they chose a young Rektor with only one year of experience at UWC. Experience is can be valuable, but its not the most important thing.

I have written this chapter to level the playing field, to try to make you understand that 27 years of service are not really relevant when it comes to evaluating an employee's performance. If the first priority of the school is truly the students, not the staff, then each employee must be evaluated based solely on the exhibited quality of their work and their actual contribution to the school and its mission. All that should matter is what they do and how well they do it, not how long they have been kicking around.  

Continue to Next Chapter (But don't miss any Notes below ↓ )

↓         Notes and Feedback         ↓

Other useful links on Alistair:
May 4, 11:00 (Norway Time) — Anonymous comment received after Chapter 13...

This blog is just looking at the wrong people how dare you single out two of the best and nicest people, I have ever had the pleasure to meet in my entire life. The fact that you have compared them to the three stooges (obviously with knowing who you are after next in my mind absolutely sickens me and makes me hella-glad that you didn't come to my school!

you are only creating 200+ enemies by writing this blog and I don't see that creating ANY change no matter what change it is you are looking for.

When you have to insert "fucking" into any argument, you are already losing.

I'm not sure which two of the three people you are referring to, but I have never denied that these people are nice once you get to know them. (They were not nice to me, but I was a stranger.) Nice is not the issue. The issue is whether they are adequately performed their jobs. You can have a whole organization full of nice people, but that doesn't mean they are fulfilling the goals of the organization.

It was apparent after the Monday Night Massacre that I had no more friends at the school. That was a disappointment but also freeing in a way because it meant I could take the best journalist approach without having to negotiate with anyone. (No friends = no negotiations.) Now you are threatening me with 200+ enemies. How can that be any worse? These are enemies I will never have to deal with.

But you are wading in murky waters when you try to speak for the entire student body. Are 200 people really thinking with the same mind and coming to the same conclusions? If so, that's kind of disturbing in itself—a sort of Borg-ian hive mind. At a campus in the USA, you would expect multiple opinions. Some people would be opposed to my document but some would agree that I at least raised a few good points. On a diverse campus, which yours claims to be, you would have a diversity of opinion, not a single unified position.

I think this document will provoke changes one way or another—even if only assuring that no uncontrolled speaker will ever be scheduled again. This document will come up on Google whenever anyone does any serious research on the school. That means prospective students, future staff, members of the press and outside sponsors will inevitably ask about it. That has to create some sort of pressure for change.

May 4, 11:20 — Anonymous comment submitted after Chapter 14....

I have been following you for a long time now and don't really know what to think here. We all know there is 3 sides to every story: Yours, theirs and the truth is usually somewhere in the middle.

Some things that popped in my head...

- why didn't you just contact the school to set up a formal invitation? You couldn't have just bought a $5 phone card in the states and made proper arrangements? You couldn't have sent an email to ther school asking for clarification about your engagement? It just seems sloppy. If I was gonna make a trip on my own time and expense, I would have done more work on my end, regardless of whether I was a guest or not.

- Regarding the "silliness" I'm not gonna make assumptions but I can see how this looks. Young woman + middle aged man might not look right. Regardless if nothing happened, we all know how modern society works. If it looks bad, it seems bad, regardless of the truth. It sucks, I know, but unfortunately that's the way the world is. People are subjective and see what they want to see.

- Let's hypothetically say you made the call from Bergen. You could have had the speech and everything would have went well? I know schools and institutions can sometimes be run by morons but let's say you jumped throught their hoops. The end result would have at least been getting your foot in the door, maybe.

A considered directly contacting the school with a phone call. I could have asked Hero who was in charge of the speaking program (which I never asked) and had him get me a phone number. But now I would be twisting arms, trying to sell myself as a speaker. I already sent them a written proposal, which they clearly received, followed up by my Jan. 4 email. How hard should I work to try to sell myself? My (misguided) assumption in all of this was that I was doing the school a favor by coming from America and speaking. I expected my proposal to be warmly received and acknowledged, not that I would have to force it upon them. Flekke was not my playing field. I was a visitor, and I had to respect their local protocol, which was apparently to deal only with the student who introduced me.

After my proposal and email, my sales pitch was over. After it was ignored for a few months, my attitude became: "Hey, I'm passing through the area. You can use me as a speaker if you want." If my value as a speaker wasn't apparent, it was useless to try to sell myself. An "invitation" isn't really authentic if you have to make calls and twist arms to get it.

"Young woman + middle aged man might not look right." — Some people are going to assume that if a middle-aged man is in contact with an 18-year-old woman it implies something improper is taking place. If they are going to think this, there is nothing I can say or do to dissuade them of their prejudice. Even after I document our entire contact, these people are still going to say, "There's something he's not telling us." At some point, you just have to leave it alone and let them think what they want.

They can think anything they want about the Silliness, too. I thought very carefully about how I would phrase it, and I am sticking with my original statement in Chapter 1: "The things I can't talk about can best be described as 'silly'. Not sinister or surprising or sexual, just silly. Picture what happens when teens are freed from adult supervision in a big city after being cooped up in a remote boarding school and you get my drift."

I also can't dissuade Americans whose only image of hostels comes from those nasty Hostel horror movies. The idea of men and women sleeping in the same bunk room would freak out most Americans and lead to pornographic fantasies. There is nothing I can say or do to dispel these troglodyte biases. (However, I have written a blog entry on staying in hostels, and here is my detailed look at a typical hostel in Lisbon.)

"I know schools and institutions can sometimes be run by morons but let's say you jumped throught their hoops. The end result would have at least been getting your foot in the door, maybe." — Sometimes if you jump through the hoops of morons, they just create more hoops for you. You have to decide at some point, "No more hoops!" If I tried too hard to sell myself it would be a complete role reversal—where they would "let" me speak if I fulfilled their ever-changing requirements. Even if I got past all the hoops, I'm not sure this is an environment where I ought to be speaking. As a speaker (or a writer), I do my best work in hostile environments, but that doesn't mean I should be there.

May 4, 12:05 — A comment from a Facebook friend after Chapter 14...
Glenn...please, man...we all get it...you are drifting off course here and heading into oblivion with this...unless you are enjoying this, then OK have fun, but I think you are compounding an irritating event into an avalanche...just sayin'
It's important to note this is coming from someone with no connection to the school, so it carries some weight.

I wouldn't say I'm "having fun". I can only say that I am pleased with my work and highly mindful of the impact it may have. Not heading into oblivion. The end is in sight. I have clear humanitarian goals in this, not just trying to start an avalanche.

I don't think this was merely an "irritating" or trivial event. I believe it was a highly significant event, reflective of the leadership and policies of the school (although not of all individuals within the school).

May 5, 9:50am — Anonymous comment (posted after the comments above were published)...
Something about the above anonymous reply bothers me: the self-aggrandizing blanket statement that, "We all know there is 3 sides to every story: Yours, theirs and the truth is usually somewhere in the middle." We certainly DON'T ALL know this to be true - because it isn't always true. From my own experience, dealing with a severely mentally ill ex spouse (maybe I should duplicate this reply to Glenn's book about marriage!) NOTHING disturbs and upsets me more than the often parroted platitude of, "Well, there's two sides to every story..." (and here, the above poster is calling for THREE!) - It's an easy nugget of pseudo-wisdom to toss out there without thinking it through or looking too deeply at the subject, but often it can be and is the case that - when dealing with mental illness, there truly is one side to the story. And I would make the logical leap and apply this to the topic at hand: when dealing with an 'institutional illness', it can very well be the case that, yes, there is just one (legitimate, truthful, fact-based) side to the story...
I agree. "Two sides to every story" suggests that truth is democratic, that you just add up the two sides and come up with the real truth somewhere in the middle. In real disputes, truth usually resides with one side or the other, not in the middle.

For example, if there has been a murder and a suspect is charged, he either did it or he didn't. There are "two sides of the story" as presented in court, but only one side is right.

May 5, 10:20 am — Anonymous comment...
I am following this narrative from the perspective that someone (Glenn) is holding a group of people accountable who are placed high enough in a hierarchy that their behavior and actions are probably beyond reproach most of the time. In organizations there always seem to be those who can act without consequence or justification. It can be debated how much the administrators were at fault, but Glenn has every right to voice his displeasure and bring the issue to light. It's healthy to have someone pushing back against those who can usually act with impunity.
Bravo! These may be "nice" people, but they hold power within their environment and must be held accountable for how well they use it.
May 6, 10:50 — Anonymous comment after Chapter 14...
I see what the person saying 200+ enemies is saying I know a lot of these students and in general there is a bad atmosphere towards your blog that do no like what you are writing about their school because you don't what it is like to actually live there and study there and you most certainly do not understand the community feeling there is at RCN.
I propose that the number of students who like me or don't like me is not relevant. Truth is not democratic. Community feeling is nice, but it's not the most important thing. Every remote island has a community feeling. The main question is what the goals of the organization are and whether they are being fulfilled.
May 6, 18:00 — @BadDalaiLama Just tweeted....
I think we need a word to describe the discrimination and stereotypes regularly suffered by persons like myself. Antiwhitemiddleagemaleism?

All we ask is the opportunity to prove ourselves as individuals, not to be lumped together as a stereotype. #antiwhitemiddleagemaleism

July 15, 2015 (1+ year after release of this chapter) - Alistair has NOT been Deputy Rektor for 17 years.

I have been reviewing the ZoomInfo entry for Alistair. It appears the ZoomInfo is some kind of aggregator, pulling in info about people from other websites and displaying it on a single page. It appears they have preserved cached copies of Alistair's profile on Ibicus. Ibicus, in turn, is an organizer of teacher workshops on the IB program (as described here). Alistair is or has been one of their workshop presenters. His current profile on Ibicus, but the earlier ones say different things.

Alistair's Ibicus profile cached on April 29, 2014 says: "Alistair has been IB Coordinator / Academic Director at the Red Cross Nordic UWC since 2001." This information must have been out of date, because in April 2014 he was Deputy Rektor. This suggests, at least, that he hasn't been Deputy Rektor for very long, maybe only starting in the 2013/14 school year.

In his current profile on Ibicus, it says he "joined UWC Red Cross Nordic as teacher of Biology."

Putting this all together, I get this approximate timeline for his time at RCN....

    1998-2001 - Biology Teacher
    2001-around 2013 - IB Coordinator/Academic Director
    Starting around 2013 - Deputy Rektor
    Note: I can't say for certain he is still Deputy Rektor, since I can't find a staff list on the school's website.
I suspected from the beginning that he had not been Deputy Rektor for his whole time at RCN, but I had only his own LinkedIn page to go on.

July 19, 2015 — A former RCN student, Joseph Kaifala, mentions Alistair as his academic adviser in an 2013 article on Policy.Mic. Kaifala, a survivor of the Liberian and Sierra Leonean civil wars, Kaifala says he obtained a scholarship to the school in 2002.
July 19, 2015 — Here is a
new photo from the School's website posted in June (last month). I need your help identifying these people. Is that Alistair speaking, and is that Dr. Pedersen in the beard facing the camera? The caption includes the phrase "teacher Alistair Robertson". Does that mean Alistair is no longer Deputy Rektor, or is he a teacher just for this event? (Or is Deputy Rektor only a part-time position, held simultaneously with being a teacher?) I have private info that he was still Deputy Rektor as of Spring 2015.

Happy 2nd
11 April
 Witch-Hunt in Norway  
by Glenn Campbell
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 Next Chapter Facebook Anonymous Feedback
Videos: Leadership Crisis | Finnmark | Tiny Little War | Assault Summary | College Choices | Introduction
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I need your help!

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