a tale of working at yale


Liebling’s Law

“‘Liebling’s Law’ pertains to the behavior of human organizations and the behavior of human beings in them. It was discovered or formulated by the New Yorker essayist, A.J. Liebling, and is defined in a recent article in the proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (December 1995) by the notable bio-chemist, Martin Kamen, as follows:

‘If you are smart enough and work hard enough (in an organization), you can pick yourself up by the scruff of the neck and throw yourself out on the street!’

“The circumstances surrounding the sudden and contumelious dismissal of Heather Salome from her position as senior administrative assistant after a career of 23 years of work, always faithful and often inspired, at the YCIAS is a striking instance of how this ‘law’ operates, better even than the examples of notable research scientists cited by Kamen in his article. For sheer arrogance, sheer unfairness, it has only the ancient parallel of the ostracism of Aristides, the Just, whom the Athenians voted into exile because they had become wearied and embarrassed by his everlasting, shining virtue.

“Heather Salome was essentially the victim of a deep organizational flaw in the distribution of power and direction that lay at the heart of the management of the Center. She worked too hard and too intelligently, accomplished too much, and was forced to try to satisfy contradictory demands of too many supervisors. She became the victim of a vendetta carried on by the top and middle management of the Yale Center, evidently also abetted by occasional clumsy and treacherous interference from higher reaches of the Yale administrative hierarchy.”

— excerpted from Liebling’s Law, March 1996
by W.N. Parker
Professor emeritus
Economics and Economic History
Yale University

[Reproduced with permission of the author]

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Last updated 12 March 2022 (Saturday) at 22:24:51 UTC