A simple test for university bureaucracy

vogonsUniversities are actually fairly simple things. They are organizations where knowledge is uncovered and transmitted. Theres a certification element to show that yep, the certificate holder has uncovered or received and understood the transmission, but thats a byproduct.  One of the bedevilling things about universities is they breed bureaucratic folderol like a rotten apple in summer breeds fruit flies. Modern universities are infested with vogons. Note that this is not managerialism – thats applying good management principles to running complex organizations. What this is is bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy. Much of this is alas in response to external requirements and thus cant be avoided. But my 20 plus years experience is that vastly more is generated internally, as a way of people covering their asses, as a way of seeming to be doing something to address a problem (usually because addressing the problem is too hard), as a way to make people feel good that they have “a system”. 99% of this is useless.

Here’s my simple test : does the bureaucratic paper chase de jour aid the core mission of uncovering and disseminating knowledge? If it doesn’t, and assuming that its not a legal requirement, don’t engage with it. This has resulted in my being able to cut out vast quantities of bs. Try it. Ask the question : and if the answer is it doesnt, then act accordingly.  Most times the vogons will fold in the face of calm determined opposition. No, I wont fill in that dumb form because its not needed. You want to expel the student/crash the grant/leave the visitor swinging in the breeze, go ahead. Ill hold yer coat.  Most of the rest then they will grump off and fill in the form or whatever themselves.

Its liberating. And you dont even need a towel

3 thoughts on “A simple test for university bureaucracy

  1. Greg Foley

    In fairness, a lot of the form-filling happens because someone – often an academic – has screwed up somewhere along the line and the response is to change the system, thus imposing on everyone. Rather than demanding accountability from individuals (and what would that actually mean?), the response is, not unreasonably, to try to make the system bullet-proof. That in itself is not really a problem but what is annoying is the way the actual physical process of filling out the forms can be a pain because of inadequate IT systems or because of a dependence on antiquated methods like having to physically deliver signed hard copies to some office across campus.

  2. Pingback: Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » A simple test for university bureaucracy

  3. Pete

    I agree with Greg – much of our bureaucratic load (similar to a load of something else) seems to be living examples of deadweight losses from agency costs. But the slackers find ways around the agency control mechanisms anyways.


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