“NO? I Don’t Think So.”

A recent Chronicle of Higher Education essay offers advice on “how to accept ‘no’ for an answer” when you’re an academic adminstrator (April 9th online).  

The author’s counsel is first-rate, but it fails to include five of the most effective responses to a turndown.  Here they are:

Treat the “no” as a “yes.”  This is a venerable strategy in higher education that works remarkably well.  Simply proceed with your nixed project as if it had not been nixed.  When the provost reminds you that he/she/it said “no” to your initiative three weeks ago, counter with, “Excuse me?  I never received that email, and we’re way too deep into the project to turn back now.  Here’s the invoice for the new building.”  

(Note:  If you use this approach, make sure to keep a trustworthy IT consultant on retainer to wipe your PC clean of incriminating messages on a regular basis.) 

Deploy the “I Know What You Did Last Summer” Gambit.  Send the obstructionist CFO who blocked your proposal an email that says, “I know what you did last summer.  Approve my project or I go public.”  There’s at least a 90% chance that this individual did something last summer that is scandalous, illegal, or both.   The CFO, even if innocent, will fold faster than an origami swan at a truck stop.   

Play the Joan of Arc CardSo, the Dean has denied your request for a new faculty line in your department?  Not a problem.  Inform her that students in the Fire Science Club are going to build a massive bonfire on the campus quadrangle, with you at the center of the conflagration holding aloft a copy of your rejected proposal. 

This is a moderately high-risk strategy, but it’s a good test of how invested you are in the proposal.  You’ll find out what you’re made of and gain the respect of the notoriously hard-to-please faculty union at your institution.  

Engage in Intersectional Bingo.  Use an intersectional identity you embody to claim that the rejection is based on discrimination.  Combinations that have found success in recent months include vegetarian orphan (Vanderbilt), freckled non-swimmer (Bucknell), and chinless Klansman (University of Vermont).  This strategy is noted for how quickly it can turn a “no” into a “yes.”

Challenge the nay-sayer to a public duel.  Pistols, swords, box cutters — it doesn’t matter.  Extremely effective when dealing with college presidents, whose core competencies tend not to include activities requiring hand-eye coordination.  

MORAL OF THE STORY:  Taking “no” for an answer is a choice, not a necessity.  Become the leader that your parents and your dog would be proud of.