Archive for the ‘Academia’ Category

Administrative wrappers

September 6, 2010

A recent study of our College of Business & Economics found that “the administrative and financial operations of the College are unduly bureaucratic and paper intensive.”

The job of university administration is to give professors the illusion that all they have to do is content – solve the mysteries of the universe, develop students, etc. When a professor has to exchange a dozen emails to be reimbursed for one trip, or several dozen to reserve multiple summer classrooms for a workshop, or literally hundreds of emails to administer his grant, the illusion is broken and the professor is not productive. He becomes part of administration and in fact a very incompetent part.

Note that the passive this-comes-from-the-University response doesn’t help (nor the University’s this-comes-from-the-State response).  Computer programmers have a concept called a wrapper: when a set of software tools has a very complicated interface, the programmer figures it out once and writes a wrapper with a very simple interface so that in his own code he is shielded from that complexity. Administrators at the College level should not be passing along (and, worse, adding to) the University’s complexity, but rather shielding faculty from the stuff that faculty are really not good at.

A simple example of the current mentality: I hired outside instructors to teach some of our workshops. They were asked to fill out several forms in order to get paid. I noticed that two of the forms were nearly identical. In fact, it was clear that one was a newer version of the other. When I asked about this, I was told “We know. But when we give both forms to Accounting it seems to work so we don’t mess with it.”

Calls for research

January 1, 2009

I read this recently in an academic paper:

“For these reasons, researchers have recently called for increased attention and investigation of … ”

It’s a standard sentence and it always trips my bullshit meter. I can’t quite put my finger on what the problem is, but it has something to do with a polite fiction about the “the field” that I’m supposed to share. The fiction is that the field is highly rational and organized. There are certain real gaps in the field out there, and an alert researcher can spot one of these and call for increased attention and investigation. Like a factory worker empowered to shut down that assembly line when he or she spots a problem. Or an emergency worker poring through the rubble from an earthquake, who spots a half-buried arm.