The High, The Mighty & The
The forced resignation of Diana Lam is several weeks old now,
but lessons can still be learned from the missteps of people
in power. Martha Stewart, the guru of good taste, was recently
convicted on several counts, one of which was lying to the
government about her stock transactions. On the same day, Deputy
Chancellor Diana Lam, the guru of balanced literacy, was confronted
with allegations of sidestepping city conflict of interest
rules and putting pressure on subordinates to get a job for
her husband. Three days later, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein
asked for her resignation. Martha insists she's innocent. Diana
insists she didn't pressure anyone. Alas, the jury did not
believe Martha and the investigators did not believe Diana.
Both women enjoyed the privileges of power and both showed
an arrogant disregard and disrespect for the rules, regulations
and laws governing their behavior.
In public statements, Diana Lam claims that she simply posed
questions to a number of people who work for her about how
to get him a job. Well, several things are amiss with this
statement of wide-eyed innocence. First, her questions should
have been asked of the Human Resources Department.
Second, she asked a direct subordinate who could only conclude
that her supervisor; the powerful Ms. Lam wanted a job for
her husband. The wheels were set into motion and, lo and behold,
Peter Plattes was hired as a high-ranking, well-paid administrator.
Third, after questions arose about the propriety of his administrative
position, he sought and gained employment as a teacher. The
Board of Education almost immediately cut him a check for his
first two weeks of work.
Such efficiency from a system that
has been unable to appoint hundreds of supervisors within
a legal time frame, or pay them the correct salary in a timely
fashion—no matter how
many times we go to court to force them! Ms. Lam insists she
did not mean to apply any pressure—she was just asking
questions and now is the victim of, how did her friends put
it? A witch hunt. Please. Ms. Lam must have known that in her
position she must be aware of any perceived abuse of power.
That is why there are rules to protect the people who work
for the Diana Lams from being coerced into compromising actions.
A mere suggestion by Lam is, in
effect, an "order" to
a subordinate who believes that his/her position is dependent
upon filling that request. Perhaps if she had followed the
rules at some point in this debacle, admitted she made a mistake,
and then taken appropriate corrective action, she might still
have her job.
In all of this, an inherent arrogance
pervades, the idea that rules only apply to others. Martha
Stewart was exactly that arrogant and tried to cover her
tracks. Diana Lam appears to be similarly affected by the
arrogance of her "power position."
In Ms. Stewart's case, she lied
to the government. In Ms. Lam's case, she misused her power
by self-servingly denying that she had any. For those of
us in public service and particularly as role models for
adults and children, beware the perils of "power
positions." Use that power wisely!#
Jill Levy is President, Council of School Supervisors and