Below is the text of an email I sent this afternoon to a local Comcast Sales Executive. Unbeknownst to him, he was getting me on a loquacious and socially responsible sort of day.
Dear Mr. X,
Today you stopped by my place on Robertson Avenue to ask why I don’t use Comcast. I was certainly honest which I feel is the best policy but can understand the difficulty of listening to someone say negative things about your employer or company. You were polite and kind and I thank you for that.
When I give feedback I usually try to come up with some positive directions for the future. And because I sense that you have some influence, at least locally, I would like to add something to my response.
First, I don’t think large companies are inherently bad. But I think that the larger the company, the greater the social responsibility to the world and community. I would be impressed and likely to consider returning to Comcast if I were to learn of:
– meaningful (large) donations to local charity or non-profits, or even other countries in need of services. We are such a rich nation and Comcast is an extremely wealthy company. Is it possible for some of their profits (or more than are currently spread around) to be distributed to those in need?
– more flexibility to personalize and customize packages. i don’t watch television – for me most programs are psychologically toxic – and don’t want to pay for it. but the best deals on internet require a TV package. this seems unfair.
– an explanation of what the costs are for in my monthly bill. to the level of detail such as, how much is going to the CEOs salary, how much is going to the servicemen and women and dedicated local staff such as yourself, how much is going to tech maintenance. I don’t want to say “internet is too expensive” without knowing for sure how much it costs. but i’m not interested in putting money in the pocket of the Comcast CEOs either.
For the record, I don’t think CenturyLink is that great, and may have a worse record in some areas than Comcast. I really haven’t done my homework. But for me, it was a choice of the lesser of two evils.
I thank you again for tolerating my candidness. I honestly hope I’ve reached you on a personal level -beyond the level that I’m a potential customer and you’re an employee of Comcast. I believe we’re here in this world to help each other and I believe honesty and generosity are important parts of that.
Bottom line is, I think large corporations, like Comcast and many others, could do more to add to the good in the world than they are currently doing. And as their representative, I entrust you with communicating this up the chain, with the hope that it reaches a CEO somewhere with a big heart.
All the best,
I’m moving out of my apartment this Father’s Day weekend, so I have no business blogging. But the events at the University of Virginia (UVa), my employer for the last 5 years, are too exciting to ignore. On Sunday, the Governor-appointed Board of Visitors announced their surprise decision to fire Theresa Sullivan after only 2 years as UVa’s first female president (not a splendid, ice-cream-truck-type “surprise” but more like a corporate takeover, coup, or nighttime dealing by a secret society, of which UVa has many).
There has been excellent journalism on the situation, though little concrete information has been offered by the Board of Visitors. I particularly liked this Slate article, by a UVa faculty member, for summarizing what seems like the main issue – I’ll give you one guess – money and how places like universities get it in a recession.
Here’s the part that’s of interest for this blog and my interest in honesty and growth: the lack of transparency in the Board’s actions. In the most concrete terms I can manage, the Board’s mistakes were 1) replacing a president who was enormously popular with virtually the entire university community, 2) for no clear reason, 3) and without informing anyone else at the university before doing so.
These layer upon other problems, which are ethical, philosophical, existential, financial and (probably, for good measure), psychological. But I’m supposed to be packing. So, just two more things:
1. Since I have been at UVa, much has been made of “The Community.” As in, what is the definition of a community, is UVa a community, and how can we help people who feel like it isn’t feel like it is? I participated in an event following Yeardley Love’s death called Day of Dialogue, which brought together staff and students from across the university to communicate honestly about sensitive issues that most people don’t talk about at work, such as racism, sexism, cronyism, hierarchies, how UVa relates to the non-UVa Charlottesville, community, mental health, communicating with one’s supervisors, and religion. (The UVa Day of Dialogue has no connection that I am aware to the Focus on the Family’s Christian-oriented Day of Dialogue).
I came away from the Sullivan-supported Day of Dialogue, which was actually several 1.5-hr sessions, with a greater optimism about UVa being a place where open communication is possible. In my group, there was impressive diversity in age, though somewhat less diversity in gender and race/ethnicity. Women especially seem to dig this sort of group activity. The point of the group was talking, and we spent the first session establishing how to listen and respond to people whose opinions and values differ from one’s own. Still, I met a UVa Groundskeeper, a head of Dining Services, undergraduate students, and non-education faculty members whom I never would have encountered otherwise. Participating helped me decide that a community is a place where people attempt to – at the risk of being redundant – communicate with one another about issues that matter to them. It was one of the UVa activities that I felt proudest to be a part of, even after three years with a research team whose work inspires and uplifts me.
2. Shame on you, Board of Visitors, for being so secretive about a decision that affects so many members of the UVa community. You have corrupted a tradition of open communication that universities and their members aspire to. You have shocked a community that, if not always succeeding, is trying to be one of those places where people talk about things that matter to them and to others. I’m sure you have your reasons and, if you were willing or able to articulate them, they may even make sense to people who are not in your privileged position. But the way you went about removing our president was shameful. The way you went about it casts doubt on your ability to serve on the Board and your ability to represent the diverse interests of an intellectual, yes, financial, yes, but ultimately social community.
As you undoubtedly know, humans are inherently social creatures. We need each other. We need to be able to tell the truth to each other, even if the news is difficult. So I recognize that you, Board members, are also human. And maybe your news was tough, maybe it was “look, folks, your beloved UVa is going under if we don’t do something drastic like offer online degrees.” Or maybe it was “Gosh, I don’t know how we’re going to be able to pay out your retirement benefits.” Maybe it was, “Faculty, we have to get you to bring in more grant money or teach more classes because the state is just not helping us out very much,” or “We need undergraduates to pay more tuition than they can afford because our funds are drying up” Or maybe it was – gasp – “Time to let go of some staff who are taking advantage of the system,” or “What if we reduce your hours?” or – God save us all – “We think the only option besides firing 20% of UVa employees is to sell millions more university brand t-shirts.”
If those are the options, let’s talk about them. While we may not be wealthy land developers or political appointees, we are adults and we can handle it. We know that our country and our state and its institutions are pressed for cash. And we can certainly handle/face/confront/resolve (or whatever business-school lingo you would like to use), the problem a lot better if you communicate about it, instead of doing urgent backroom dealings without consulting anyone with an opinion other than your own.
The way you went about removing our president suggests you have little respect for openness, honesty, or due process. And so, to use your own words, would it be too much to ask that we “mutually agree” on your collective resignation?