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Judging the Judges?

Recently a proposal was made in Northern Virginia to provide for a survey of exhibitors as to the quality of the judging at each rose show. Presumably the data would be used at some point in time to permit individual judges to reflect upon possible deficiencies in assessing the roses before them. Having worked in the academic milieu for decades, the collection of student opinion on the faculty that ministers to their needs is so unexceptional as to be considered innocuous. And most of us are familiar—or even overly familiar—with the solicitation of opinions regarding service at restaurants, department stores, termite inspections and the other accoutrements of modern living.

However, in the world of rosaria, such a proposal tends to be regarded with some degree of suspicion or reserve. After discussion the proposal was amended to provide that any society contemplating such a survey would have to inform potential judges ahead of time. Such a reaction seems odd, considering that most exhibitors conduct a survey of the judging at each and every rose show, albeit somewhat less systematically and with more creativity in the classifications. It is not for naught that some exhibitors consider the symbol of a judge to be a white cane.

The individual merits of the formal proposal are not the point of this essay. In fact, on an informal basis, such surveys are a constant in the world of roses.

If such evaluation is going on anyway, what is the animus against a systematic and overt collection of such data? Why would anyone object to bringing out into the open, that which is occurring on qui vive anyway? What is the basis of the hostility toward a rational and overt scheme of assessing the assessors?

Certainly the nature of the association of those involved in the rose world tends to militate against overt confrontations; small face-to-face societies—and the world of exhibiting tends to be a small face-to-face association—cannot handle overt confrontations without severe damage to the social network that sustains the innumerable transactions that occur on a frequent basis.

The nature of competition in rose shows tends to suppress some important home truths; a judge well known for her knowledge and fairness once told me that she could predict with great accuracy the outcomes of a rose show were she shown a list of exhibitors ahead of time. The suppression of this reality is important in the flogging of rose society members to support the local rose show.

And the fact of voluntarism makes the acceptance of change and adaptation very difficult. Volunteer organizations cannot be as abrupt in social dealings as corporate ventures. Members of rose societies are not employees to be buffeted about by the dictates of the economy or public whims. These factors not only act as constraints on the creation of programs for assessment and change, they may also dictate what kind of programs will be acceptable in any kind of self-assessment program.

For love of a rose….

The nature of the basis for belonging to a rose society or the world of roses is not at all easy to explain once you leave the confines of personal preferences. Why a rose? Why not a columbine? Or a veronica? The centuries long love of the rose is a fact in many cultures, but celebrating the rose per se is an act beyond rationality. You can do a Consumer Reports survey on the best television or computer, once you have specified the values to be served. But you cannot explain in a purely instrumental way why people prefer one object of admiration versus another. People join together because of a mutually shared appreciation for the rose rather than satisfy some other goal. Generally, people do not join rose societies in order to gain access to good food, or acquire new friends, or enhance their social standing.

The basis of this appreciation of the rose is generally beyond any kind of rational investigation. Both love of another human being and love of the rose defy rational analysis. And they may well defy the application of rational approaches to internal problems ranging from adaptation to change or innovative recruitment or retention programs. The creation of a Committee on Un-Rosarian Behavior boggles the mind because any such creation would attempt to penetrate the heart of the mystery that joins together people of otherwise disparate temperaments, cultures, and economic classes. This not to ignore the fact of dissension within the rosarian world; the skirmishes between the advocates of the classic Hybrid Tea form versus advocates of the more relaxed manifestations of older or different roses can generate a lot of heat, but it is not carried out in purely rational frameworks, because, once again, the preference is meta-rational. Nor is the resistance to purely rational considerations limited to assessing judges.

Consulting Rosarians are recruited, presented with approved materials for examination and consideration, and then certified through an open book test.

Attempts to apply evaluations of the work of consulting rosarians tend to find great resistance at both the district and local level. Given the face to face nature of the life of the active rosarian and the arcane and mysterious nature of the relationship of the rosarian to the rose, it is not unusual that rational programs of assessing Consulting Rosarians find about as much support as new programs for overtly and rationally assessing judges. One of the explicit duties of a Consulting Rosarian is to participate in the Roses in Review program; yet the figures indicating participation in the RIR indicate that the numbers of CRs participating is far below the number of CRs. (Again, there are informal assessments going on all the time; most CRs can name one or more Consulting Rosarians whose last consult took place in the Wilson Administration.)

As an aside, the usual solution to the problem of questionable Consulting Rosarians is the same as the solution to the problem of quixotic judges: letting attrition through debility or mortality solve the problem.

Oh, the horror!…..the horror!

It seems clear that perfectly rational programs of winnowing out judges whose idiosyncratic visions and Consulting Rosarians with less than proactive efforts will not be adopted anytime soon. One reason why such programs are popular or at least widespread in other contexts is because of the mechanistic, transactional nature of the relationship; Schools, businesses and governments are in a purely

Instrumental relationship with students, clients and voters. Members of a family, any close knit community, or other fundamental associations are not so situated. If you don't like the school, or restaurant or public policies, you can change courses, places to eat, or even political parties (although the latter lags way behind dislike and taking action). But you cannot exchange a reverence of roses with an admiration for asters.

But the intimate nature of the appreciation of the rose and the association with other aficionados militates against changes designed to improve communication and performance by participants in the world of exhibiting and the world of consulting. In a way, overt assessment of performances by judges and consulting rosarians seems to question the underlying love of the rose in the first place. And, in so doing, elicits violent responses way out of proportion to the intrusiveness of any particular proposal. To be acceptable under these circumstances, proposals for adaptation or change may need to be indirect, unassuming and, especially, unthreatening.

Proposals to gather information about the quality of judging, or the performance of Consulting Rosarians threaten participants in the world of rosaria because they seem unintentionally to question commitment to the rose and as such, are unacceptable. The love for a rose is non-negotiable. And its manifestations may not be examined in public. Nor judged. Not this year.

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