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Plagiarism Part 6: Larceny and Lies

This is the sixth post in a series about creative plagiarism.  Read more here:


On November 20th, 1996, I had presented my design for the Stop Form to a committee that included my former boss, who was now dean over my college’s registration department. Until she had seen my presentation, her team had come up with zero solutions for the student retention problem. Dean Joey was instantly enthusiastic about my idea because it gave her something of substance to take to the upcoming President’s Cabinet meeting.  Mine was a simple and creative solution that had appeared just in the nick of time; the Stop Form would save her rear.

After the meeting with Joey, I felt hopeful but realistic. I knew that Dean Joey had a limited supply of generous impulses. She was interested in her life, her career, and her prosperous future; she was not at all concerned with mine. Her assistant Stella was also a problem. Since I’d gone over her head to get a raise, Stella had become my implacable office enemy who wouldn’t stop trying to make me miserable until I quit the registration department. And as much as Stella could influence them, Dean Joey and my boss Ryan would never be fair managers for me. Even without Stella’s bad influence, Ryan was not of good character.  He craved power, and to his mind I stood in the way of his gaining that power; he wasn’t about to declare himself my friend on some sunshiny morning.

But, surely, I reasoned, The Stop Form had improved my position. The Stop Form had arrived at the right moment; it was exactly what the college needed. This could be my career breakthrough –now my managers would have to work with me instead of against me. And The Stop Form might force them to give me the respect they gave to other employees in my department and allow me to work in peace for the first time in years.

I comforted myself with the thought that this time, my idea couldn’t be stolen by higher-ups. Too many people had seen it and knew that the Stop Form was mine and mine alone.  This time what I had created — my work, my intellectual property — would finally, improve my job standing and my own life, instead of the life of some manager who had plagiarized my work.

After seeing the Stop Form for the first time on November 2oth, Ryan and Dean Joey presented it at the President’s Cabinet meeting on November 25th as our community college’s new method to improve student retention.

For a few brief, glorious days, I’d been hopeful. But Ryan didn’t call me or stop by after the meeting to bring me up to date on what had happened at the President’s Cabinet. I’d known for a long time  that Ryan and Dean Joey’s ethics were not to be depended on; too soon  that familiar knot in my stomach returned. I was left with my usual question: what was going on?

Before I presented the Stop Form, I’d promised myself that I would not lose any more of my ideas or designs to the college, that from now on, I was going to ask questions about how the college was using my work in order to protect my work. I was going to follow up.

When I didn’t hear from Ryan I kept that promise. The letter I wrote Ryan the day after the cabinet meeting, asked what was happening with the Stop Form. In that letter I made a statement about an authors’ ideas belonging to the authors themselves.

A day or so after receiving my letter, Ryan finally stopped by the switchboard room on his way out of the office. His usual style in dealing with me was to make an entrance by bursting through the door, making his demands, quickly hurling an insult, and then making a fast exit.

This time Ryan didn’t seem quite so confident. He didn’t meet my eyes with the usual hostile stare. He was ill at ease.

Of course, I hadn’t expected him to thank me or waste his breath with any compliments about the Stop Form. My experience with him, the Dean, and Stella had taught me to expect neither praise nor thanks for my work. They saved their praise and thanks for the higher-ups, for the friends that they employed, or for a few chosen office favorites. Their unanimous choice as the office favorite was Anise, a young Latino woman who, with the help of affirmative action, and a  job slot that was reserved for minorities, had become a classified employee before I did.  They had left me, a woman in her fifties, to work for low wages for years, and to fight each step of my way to classified status.

Finally after a few questions about the level of calls to the college, and my answers, to which Ryan barely listened, he was ready to broach the subject he’d been avoiding.

“The college may be interested in using The Stop Form,” he said, almost choking on the words, and then without any  details about the cabinet meeting he hurried on.

“As a classified employee you should be honored if they make that choice,” he said pompously.

His implication was that if something so unlikely happened and the college stooped to use my unworthy creation, that I should realize that the college had done me a favor. I was to be quietly grateful for that notice and for his, and their, condescension.

I flushed and looked away; evidently Ryan hated the thought of too much honor being bestowed on his unworthy underling. What a nasty manner he had! But it wouldn’t do any good to follow my impulse and answer back; my only satisfaction was seeing him carefully controlling his own envy, anger, or whatever feelings were causing his eyes to burn and his face to flush.

Instead, I asked him how the college would reward me for the use of the form. Would I get a raise? Would I get a change in job classification?  Would the college administration announce that it was using my design in the Daily Highlights, the news letter that came from the college president’s office?

He scowled. Obviously, I had irritated him. How dare I feel that I had the right to ask  any questions whatsoever? For a moment he seemed on the brink of shouting “Upstart!” and stalking out. He heaved a sigh and restrained himself.

“It’s too soon to talk about any of that…” he said, to which I silently responded, “But it wouldn’t be too soon to talk about all of the details of your profiting from it if this was your Stop Form, and to your advantage, would it, Mr. Surly?”

As he spoke I was trying to figure him out. He was hostile, but he was also nervous. What was going on in his mind; what was he not telling me?

But he had had enough of me and enough of my questions. He said that he would get back to me, and with a final  scowl, he swept out of the office.

I pondered the news I’d gotten and Ryan’s behavior for the next several hours. And I spent time getting past some of my own thoughts.

“If it had been Anise who had designed the Stop Form, Ryan, Stella, and Joey would have gushed and then paved her way to success. They would have bragged about her creativity to the rest of the staff, and throughout the college. They would have rushed the college into manufacturing Stop Forms to sell to other colleges nationwide. They would have made her way forward easy.”

But I soon stepped beyond my feelings. I couldn’t do anything about their dislike of me. The office environment was unfair, and the office politics meant that they weren’t going to help me–not ever.

My business was to figure out what was really going on, and if I had to, to protect my property. Intuition told me that when managers and Deans were evasive that I should watch my back; experience had shown me that these people were capable of both lies and larceny.

Nobody else in the college was going to protect me and so I had to protect myself. There was only one way that I knew how to do this. I had to register the copyright for The Stop Form.


Plagiarism, Part Five: I Demand Answers from My Boss

This is the fifth part of our series on plagiarism. Read previous entries:

On November 2oth, 1996, I presented my design for the Stop Form to the Dean and head of the retention committee at my Colorado community college.

My presentation explained how the form I designed would help my employer improve student retention. Students filled out the Stop Form before dropping a class. It informed students of alternatives to dropping their classes; if students did drop, the Stop Form made it easy for college staff to reconnect with them.

Dean Joey had been impressed and excited when I explained the Stop Form. Her excitement wasn’t surprising. All the student retention committee had accomplished was to rehash current procedures, and she needed to meet the goal of higher student retention. She hadn’t sighed with relief when she saw the Stop Form, but she must have been feeling pretty desperate about what she would put in her report for the President’s Cabinet.

Immediately after the committee meeting, my boss, Ryan, had taken my design prototype to Chuck Herzog,  public relations manager for the college, in order to improve the appearance of the stop sign on the form. On November 25th, Chuck, Ryan, and Dean Joey attended the President’s Cabinet meeting and presented our committee’s findings on how to improve student retention — the Stop Form.

Past experience should have prepared me, but Ryan didn’t call me or stop by to see me after the President’s Cabinet meeting. I was surprised by the slight and worried about what it meant. By the time I left work that day, the deep breathing exercises and calming phrases I’d been repeating to myself weren’t easing the tension. An old familiar knot in my stomach settled in.

The last time I’d lost one of my ideas to someone who worked under Dean Joey, I had promised myself  it would never happen again. Before I presented the Stop Form, I had decided that I would follow up. No polite silence or servile holding back; I would ask questions about what was happening with my ideas and with my design.

I shouldn’t have had to ask Ryan about the Cabinet meeting; he should have told me how my idea was received. However, he lacked both courtesy and any sense of obligation, so it was my duty to myself — and to my work — to confront him. It helped that I was ticked off.

I had created the Stop Form. Anything to do with the Stop Form was my business. I had a right to know what had happened at the President’s Cabinet Meeting; there was no reason for Ryan to avoid me or withhold information about my design. I tried to be calm, telling myself that I might be wrong; perhaps he’d needed to leave work right after the meeting.

But in the back of my mind, a little voice kept saying that something funny was going on. This time I would not wait until it was too late.  The next day, November 26th, I did what I had promised that I would do. I wrote a letter to Ryan asking about the status of the Stop Form:

I was nervous about writing that letter because I was only a classified employee, and Ryan treated  me like an underling who had no rights. If I’d been a manager, he would have treated me with respect in the office. If he had any sense at all, he would have treated me much better after I had created the Stop Form, which was important to my college.

When Ryan started as Registrar, he had been even-handed, maintaining a good relationship with everyone in the department. But things had quickly deteriorated between the two of us, and now Ryan seemed determined to treat me badly.

As I got to know him better, I thought he was short on honesty and courtesy. For the last several months, his outwardly pleasant exterior had turned surly in private. He seemed to really enjoy being rude to me.

I supposed that some of his attitude and behavior had changed because he was under the thumb of both Dean Joey and her former administrative assistant, Stella. Ryan had to follow their lead, and they did not have my best interests at heart. Ryan had no inclination to be a hero in the best of times, so when he was offered a chance to play a villain, he took it.

Stella had become Ryan’s assistant after Dean Joey’s promotion. Because she knew where all of the bodies were buried at the college, Stella had more power than most administrative assistants.

If Ryan had treated me well I might have been sympathetic to his situation, because Stella was a piece of work. From the way she behaved, it was clear that behind the scenes, it was more of a case of Stella managing Ryan than the other way round.

When I had first started my job I liked Stella; she was friendly and went out of her way to make  employees comfortable. We enjoyed each other and went out socially. But Stella needed lots of attention. She had a husband whose work took him away from home, and no children or family nearby. She was at loose ends with too much time on her hands and no idea what to do with it.

Stella was focused on her job, especially maintaining her position and power in our office. She did favors for some employees, but she expected that support back in spades. She needed friendship on her terms —  and expected a great deal from her friends. She was an extrovert and needed a high level of interaction.

Soon after I started work, she began calling me at home to talk about our day at the office. She called every night and on most weekends. Stella had freedom at work; she was in and out of the office all day long. She checked in early, ate breakfast, and then visited the different departments throughout the day to see what was happening and to chat. She left early most afternoons, and she took days off that never showed up on payroll records.

I didn’t have the option of choosing my own hours; I came in, worked hard, and had to worry about getting  any breaks during the day. I was tired and Stella was high maintenance; it was exhausting to be on call for her after work.

Between being chained to my desk during the day and Stella’s after-hours calls, I was suffocating. I began to pull back. I needed my evenings and weekends in order to live my life. I needed space, but Stella looked at any space between herself and a friend as rejection. When Stella was rejected, she was angry and dangerous. After I pulled back, Stella seemed friendly, but somehow, my job became a little bit harder.

Her power existed because she was an information gatherer. She collected secrets. She knew too much about many from the top down in the college. She could not  be ignored or thwarted, so Dean Joey and Ryan flattered and appeased her.

Stella and Joey were a better team than Ryan and Stella. When they had worked together in the Registration department, Stella and Joey made sure  that everything followed their agenda. They didn’t tolerate interference with their plans.

For my first two years, I had enjoyed popularity in the Registration department and in the college. I was good at my job, and I liked most of the people that I worked with. Things were fine until I bypassed Stella and Registrar Joey’s  authority. Bypassing authority is a dangerous move in any office, but it is especially dangerous in a state agency. I knew that it was dangerous, but I felt that I had no choice.

I’d been working hard under difficult conditions for over two years. I was an hourly contract worker and was paid $6.10 an hour. Stella had often told me that it was impossible to give me a raise, that money was too tight in the Colorado government. She said that I must wait for a better time before I could become a classified employee.

I believed her and waited. Then I discovered that Stella and Registrar Joey had recently hired their friends for $10 or $12 an hour while I’d been working for $6.10. Stella and Dean Joey had lied to me. After two years of trusting her, I had learned that Stella was a  liar. I expressed my concerns to the dean who oversaw the Registration department. The dean understood, and I received a small raise. Later, I managed to become a Colorado state classified employee.

Stella and Joey didn’t show their anger over the raise, but they were steaming. How dare I object working for less than what they gave to their friends who were recent hires?  It was clear to me that they held a grudge and waited till they could get back at me.

When Joey became Dean Joey, Ryan took her place as the Registrar. Because of this tenacious trio, my job, which could have been pleasant, was never without stress.

This was my office environment; it wasn’t strange that I was afraid to inquire about the Stop Form. I was scared, and the finished letter was halting, hesitant, and badly punctuated. It showed my fear. What would happen next?


Plagiarism, Part Four: Meeting with the Thieves of Creativity?

This is the fourth post in our series about plagiarism. Read previous entries:

On November 20th 1996, I was scheduled to attend a meeting chaired by Joey, the dean of the registration department. Others attending were my manager Ryan; Chuck Herzog, the college publicist; and Darcie Martin, the manager of the student study center. (All names except mine have been changed.)

As a classified state employee, I was included on the Retention Committee because the college touted diversity and inclusion at all levels of the institution. Administration paid lip service to the idea that all college employees, not just managers, should be involved in areas of decision-making.

At first glance, my college seemed to embrace the Jeffersonian ideal of equality. On closer examination, however, it was apparent that this notion was mostly fabricated. Most people knew that management had made its decision long before any classified employee sat in on a meeting.

The idea that classified employees took part in decision-making was a pleasant fiction, but it had its advantages. It required management to rub shoulders with employees and listen to other viewpoints. Sometimes classified staff could use those meetings as a stepping stone to a better career.

The reality was that the separation of classified employees, management and administration at my Colorado community college in the 1990s resembled the old British class system, especially at university. The attitude of management and administration at my college reminded me of how the administrators and Dons treated the servants (the “scouts”) in the 1936 Dorothy L. Sayers novel Gaudy Night, which is set in a women’s college at Oxford University.

At my college as at Sayers’ Oxford, an administrator’s sense of superiority came from their credentials and titles. At least the British had the excuse of hundreds of years reign by kings and queens. But America was based on the Declaration of Independence which stated that “all men are created equal”.  I believed in those words. I felt equal to people on all levels of society.

I was part of the American dream, but my college held to the Oxford model

Somewhere along the line elitists in the college and in the rest of the United States had lost sight of the fact that people have different types of knowledge, and that most of it is useful and necessary for the functioning of society. Elitists in America had allowed arrogance to blind them to the fact that America flourished not just on the accomplishments of the highly educated, but also on the knowledge and gifts of ordinary people.

America had always honored a wide variety of talents, including common sense and natural abilities. It was a country that had grown and progressed because it needed and valued both well-educated and self-made men.

Americans of legend — Lincoln, Twain, Edison, and Henry Ford — were some of the geniuses that helped create a great country. The respect given to the geniuses without degrees was based on the recognition of their talent and innate gifts. It was a belief that each person you met might be extraordinary; each person was someone that you could learn from.  America recognized that the ordinary was often extraordinary. That was the basis for the American dream; a dream that envisioned that all gifted, and hard working citizens, if they persevered, could become successful in America.

Untried ideas are scary

Before I worked at the college, my dream had been to become a successful author. My imagination fired on new ideas and possibilities for plots and new creations; I longed for success. In the Myers Briggs test, I identified as an INTP. An advantage of that personality type is the ability to understand systems, to see patterns, and to see how they connect. INTPs delight in new ideas and they want to see how those ideas can create new stories, or new systems and procedures.

My job classification was low on the college classified employee scale, but I had shown creativity in my job. I had the ability to conceive and present new ideas even in an environment that talked about thinking outside of the box, but seldom did it. I was an idea person, and that reputation had gained me admission to the committee.

The November 20th meeting was one of several held after the statewide retention conference. My colleges’ committee members understood the problem: instead of continually recruiting new students, colleges also must work harder to retain students. What solution could we discover and implement at our college? What solution would the college present in our report at the next statewide meeting?

After so many weeks, it was obvious that if anyone had come up with a retention idea, they were too chicken to mention it. Evidently, untried ideas were pretty scary items at state agency meetings. We were still discussing the status quo; it was safer that way.

I liked ideas. I loved the excitement as new thoughts and possibilities occurred to me. And I liked solving problems, but I liked solving them on my own. Creative ideas seldom flourished in a group. Co-workers found it safer to shoot down others ideas rather than to take a chance and offer one of their own.

I began to think about student retention on my own. Like the others on the committee, I’d watched students come to the registration window, fill out the drop form, and then walk out the door. As I thought through the drop process, I’d come up with a simple idea. I had worked out the design for a form and a plan of how it would work. I’d done this on my own, at home, completing the work the night before the meeting.

What I had created was a good and a creative design, but the next morning as I gathered my presentation materials, a wave of nausea washed over me. I stood holding on to the entryway table. My knees were shaking.

A community college couldn’t have that many thieves, could it?

“I’ve got to go to work, and I’ve got to attend that meeting. This is a good design. I need it to be successful if I’m ever going to get anywhere at the college,” I said to myself.

Finally, I gathered my purse, the presentation, my nerve, and my keys and headed to work. My mind raced as I drove. It was one of those scary trips where I arrived safely, but had been so intent on my hopes and my fears that I didn’t remember making the trip.

My fear for the Stop Form I’d designed was a rational fear. I had lost other ideas during my years at the college — most recently, an idea for a new degree program. Those department managers had used my idea to boost their own careers without giving me any credit. One day, there it was in the college newsletter: a new degree program, MY program, the one that I had presented in detail. It was attributed to one of the instructors on the committee I’d presented to. There was no mention of me as the program’s originator.

I felt sick to my stomach at the thought of my stupidity. That couldn’t happen again, could it?  A suburban community college couldn’t have that many thieves.

This time, I presented the Stop Form to a different committee and different managers. Darcie Martin and Chuck Herzog had both served on the other committee. Darcie, as far as I could tell, was honest.

In fact, I suspected that Darcie had placed the newsletter with the article about my stolen idea into my college mail. I was glad she would be at the meeting, but my confidence in college management was not high.

Don’t let them take my work

I stopped in the restroom on my way to the meeting, and locked myself into a stall. I tried to calm my racing heart while surrounded by the noise of running water, the roar of hand dryers, and students slamming stall doors.

“Dear God, don’t let them take my work,” I prayed.

No magic calm descended. The noise in the restroom forced the prayer out of my mind. I walked out into the hall, and on to the meeting.

The meeting began and dragged on. I listened to what the others had to say. I was afraid to look at anyone, afraid that someone had finally come up with a new idea and that their presentation would ruin my chance.  But there still weren’t new ideas, and finally the meeting was ended.

This was my moment. As people began to shift away from the table, I found my voice.

“Dean Joey, do you remember the question I asked you at our last meeting?”

“No, Linda, I don’t,” she said.

The dean was busy gathering her notes. She was ready to leave and didn’t bother to look up.

“When I met with you and Ryan, I asked what we can do to stop students from dropping classes, and what can we do while the student is still standing at the registration counter.”

The dean sighed. I flushed. Darcie Martin looked embarrassed.

For a moment my confidence failed me.

“Well? What can we do?” Dean Joey asked impatiently.

Condescension and arrogance always get my Irish up.

“I decided that we needed to stop the student right before he filled out the drop form. I have designed a prototype. It’s called the Stop Form.”

I passed the design for the Stop Form down the table to her.

I explained that the Stop Form was intended to help the college get the student to think about what he was doing by dropping a class or by dropping out of college. I explained that the student was to fill out the Stop Form before they filled out the drop form. The Stop Form gave the student other options and ways to get help to continue his education, instead of dropping his classes. If the student did drop the class, the Stop Form would make it easier for college advisors or the registration department to reconnect with the student about returning to school.

The dean wasn’t looking at me, but she was listening. Finally, she looked at the Stop Form and froze in place.  For a few minutes she studied the form, and then she said quietly, “This is good. This is very, very good.”

Dean Joey turned and gave me her full attention. She handed the form around the table. It traveled from manager to manager, until they had all seen it.

“Linda, you deserve a raise,” Darcie Martin said, glancing up from the form.

“I think so too, Darcie,” I said.

The tight knot in my stomach relaxed and hope began to replace fear. Things were going as I planned. I could receive recognition; maybe a change in job classification or a raise. If the Stop Form was sold as a product, I might earn an extra income.

“When…” my boss Ryan began. He stopped to think, cleared his throat, and began again.

“Where did you do this work?” he asked.

“I know you don’t want me to do work for other college events in the office. I did this last night at home,” I replied.

Ryan worked hard at not looking belligerent, but it was difficult. He frowned and lapsed into silence.

There were a few more comments, and after question or two, the Stop Form was passed back to me and the meeting ended.

I went back to my office. I had handled that meeting so that no one else could claim that they had any part in designing the form. Whatever happened next, at least the form couldn’t be stolen.

Within five minutes, Ryan was standing at my desk.

“Could I see the form? Chuck Herzog thinks that he can improve the artwork for the stop sign.”

Was his manner less hostile? I handed him the form and he left without another word. My first hope was to transfer away from his aggressive management style.

Everything was going as planned.

“I’ve had some heavy losses here, but I think that this time I have a winner,” I thought.

Plagiarism, part III: The thieves of creativity

This is the third in a series of posts about plagiarism. Here are Part 1 and Part 2

The Courage to Create

Rollo May copyrighted his book The Courage to Create in 1975. May wrote about the courage that each creative person, whether they were a writer, artist, a designer, or a scientist, must find if they are to create a new thing.

But it wasn’t just the courage to work at their art or in their field in order to bring their new creation into being; they also needed the courage to go against that which already existed. The creator had to reject the current solution to a problem. The creator must find his own solution and then complete the process by creating something new.

In 1996 and 1997 I learned some hard truths about the courage and risk that creativity requires.  I had created a form for use in colleges — the Stop Form – for my employer, a state college. I’d created something innovative and useful; a product that filled a need.

But because my managers wanted to use the Stop Form without giving me any payment, benefit, or even the credit for having designed it, my world turned upside down.

For me, the problem began on November 20, 1996 when I presented my preliminary design for the Stop Form at a college staff meeting chaired by someone I’ll call Dean Joey.

Dean Joey had previously been the college registrar and my manager before her promotion to dean. She now headed the committee that included “Ryan” — the new registrar and my current boss — along with several other college staff and faculty members. The committee’s purpose was to find a new way to retain students. Our community college had a high dropout rate. We needed to keep students on their educational track instead of having them register, receive financial aid, take classes for a few months, and then drop out without having completed their degree program.

The challenge to Colorado community colleges: Improve student retention

Improving student retention at the community college where I’d worked as the Information Operator for several years had recently become high-priority.

The challenge to find new methods to improve student retention had been extended to all Colorado community colleges in a state-wide meeting several weeks before. Each college was to create a solution for student retention and present it at a follow-up conference in a few months.

From that first statewide meeting there was an atmosphere of competition among the colleges. Each institution wanted to be THE team to present an effective student retention solution.

Thinking outside the box didn’t come naturally to my peers

After our team returned to campus, we broke out into small subcommittees to begin work on our college’s solution. We were urged to think outside the box and take inspiration from the student retention challenge.

However, when it came time for our subcommittees to propose ideas to each other, it became apparent that there weren’t many out-of-the-box ideas from these people, most of whom were long-time college faculty and staff.

We heard restatements of current procedures and then the sound of silence. The nagging question loomed over the staff:  what in the world were we going to present at the statewide meeting? No one wanted to look bad.

More rounds of meetings were held at my school. Although my boss and the dean seemed unenthusiastic about my attendance; I continued to attend the meetings because I was intrigued with the problem of retaining students.

In 1996, before online college registration was the norm, the majority of students enrolled, added, or dropped classes in person at the admissions office.

It seemed to me that people who had spent years registering and dropping students from classes should be able to see the obvious: what the college needed was an easy step to actually STOP a student from dropping his classes.

We needed to intercede and help the student reconsider before dropping the class.  Before a student filled out the drop form, we had a chance to change his mind. In order to do this we could add a step to the procedure for dropping a class.

If he paused before dropping his class and talked to an advisor, he might decide to transfer to another class or find another way to continue his education. If he did drop, at least he had made a more thoughtful decision about his future.

I played with that thought. At home the night before the next big meeting, I came up with my solution. From a flash of insight and inspiration that we call creativity, I designed The Stop Form alone and on my own time.

The “Eureka!” moment


The Stop Form was inspired by a straightforward idea: a simple form that students were required to complete before dropping a class.  My concept had a large red stop sign on the right side of the form. Below was text reading, “Before you drop or withdraw from your class, please consider your options,” followed by a short list of resources, such as tutors, advisers and instructors, students could use to resolve whatever issues made them want to drop the class.  Requiring students to fill out a Stop Form before dropping a class made it easier for the college to connect with them, provide guidance, and perhaps even stop them from leaving our college.

I thought the idea through. I edited it. And then I wrote a short explanation about the purpose of the Stop Form, how it would work, and how the registration and advising offices could use it.

Burned before by higher-ups

This was a very creative time in my life; I loved designs and systems. I loved seeing the possibilities of how things could work together. However, that night I thought long and hard about what I might be giving up by presenting my Stop Form idea to the committee. I had a good reason to do so.

I had lost ideas to my bosses before, and one of those ideas had been truly innovative: a brand new degree program my college could offer. The idea was simple at first, but it had grown in my mind until I got really excited by the possibilities.

My concept combined the college’s writing, theater and film classes, along with its television channel, into an entire program of study that complemented and interacted with itself. With the courses the college already had in place and the film classes offered on a satellite campus, my college could offer students degrees in film and television production, and our teachers could even offer some courses to distance learners via the college’s television channel.

I played with the idea, asking the creative questions: how else could we use this program? What more could we do? It was a favorite daydream of mine as I cleaned my house and got ready for work in the morning. Eventually, I decided to turn my daydream into a proposal.

I shared my exciting and complex plan in detail with a team of managers at my college. Everyone listened carefully.  Then they took my well-thought-out, carefully explained idea and presented it to their managers without saying a word about it to me. To put it bluntly, they stole my concept and presented it as their plan.

I didn’t know until weeks later, when someone (who also must have attended the meetings) placed a newsletter with an article about a new college program developed by Sally Beal (not her real name) in my letter box. Sally had attended every meeting where I proposed a film and television production program. I hadn’t noticed her taking notes because I was busy pitching my idea. She and the other managers were busy too; they were stealing everything that came out of my mouth.

The college administration liked the ideas those managers and faculty members presented so much they accepted the program. As weeks went by they moved forward and created a film production department.  When I finally read about the new degree program, it was as if I had given them my words and ideas by dictation.

No member of the committee I’d presented to ever mentioned the program, or my part in it, to me. When I read that newsletter, I was sick at heart. I knew that it was no good making accusations because everyone would deny that it was my idea and that they had stolen my plan.

The kicker? In 2012, the degree program I conceptualized is recognized as one of the top ten film programs in the United States. I am sure whoever took the credit was rewarded handsomely.

If I had been a manager or a member of the faculty who was on the committee, they probably wouldn’t have been so bold; the consequences for their actions would have been severe. But I was a lowly member of the classified staff. I hadn’t known my ideas had been stolen until the program had been claimed by others and adopted by the college. Why would anybody believe me? I knew that nothing would be done.

How could I keep unscrupulous people from stealing again?

Once again I had done good work. The Stop Form was a good design. I imagined that it could be printed and used statewide, possibly nationwide by thousands of colleges and universities. This was a product that had dollar value. The college purchased thousands of Drop Forms every year. The Stop Form was also a business form; it had the potential to be very profitable and I couldn’t afford to lose it.

I decided to wait until the very end of the next meeting of the large committee before showing and presenting the Stop Form. I knew that a roomful of people, both management and staff, would not protect the Stop Form; there had been a roomful of witnesses when I’d lost my last great idea.

This time, I would wait till the minute the meeting was breaking up so that no one could claim that the Stop Form was the work of the committee. If they liked my idea, or even if they didn’t say that they liked it, I was going to follow up. I was going to ask questions. I was going to inquire about the results of the meeting. I was going to keep asking about what solutions for student retention they were considering.

This time, I was staying involved. I wasn’t going to be quiet. I wasn’t letting anyone else have the credit, or receive the benefit for my work. Nobody was going to steal my creation.


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