Friday, February 04, 2005

Truer words have never been spoken 

Michael Munger is my homie.

There are two kinds of people in universities.

1. People whose idea of work is going to meetings.

2. People whose idea of work is what we do BETWEEN meetings. You know, stuff like thinking, reading books and articles, writing new research.

Here's the problem: American universities are being absolutely taken over by by people of type 1. As a department chair, I can protect my faculty against some of this, but only some.

I have been buried of late getting departmental schedules ready for next year, three (3!) searches for new faculty, an external review and so forth. After months hiding, President Roy Saigo all of a sudden has shown up on campus again, like a baseball player the year before he becomes a free agent, to spend a "positive budget balance" -- none dare call it a "surplus" since some have taken to calling it "blood money", with our blood -- and I have had meetings with him yesterday and today. The university has also decided to put in schedules for a whole year at a time, but didn't bother to tell the Registrar's office until yesterday I'm told ... and their due next Friday.
Whole floors of academic buildings are being converted from faculty office space (ie, place where work is actively done) to administrative office space (ie, places where work is actively prevented).

Last year here it was the old library, where whole floors that were thought to be for classroom space or department offices for the college of business became offices for BLT-Hold-The-Mayo Student Services or some such.
I have to deal with faculty, and graduate students, every day who can't believe the ridiculous, counterproductive, and petty edicts from above. They assume that I am the source.

Today a student comes into my office from a school in Bangladesh (I think, maybe Pakistan). He has courses to transfer but needs them to count from the various departments. He must go to each department to get each course approved. He is the fourth students from this particular school -- I've read that syllabus before -- yet I have to write him a letter saying the course transfers as our ECON yyy. (I'd use the previous letter but you know how Google works.) He will have to go to six departments to get this done. Reminds me of registering a car in Ukraine. Under Stalin.
The problem is not top level administrators, who (at Duke, at least right now) are the best I have ever seen. The problem is mid-level administrators who, knowing nothing about research, decide it is a "product" that needs to be managed and measured. And of course, we need to meet about it, a lot. Because that is what work is.

If only I worked at Duke. President Saigo handed down his edict on the "positive budget balance" -- our college got scant equipment money. But do they just send us the $58k and have us spend it where it is most needed? No: the Provost sits and tells the dean which projects, out of the over $1 million we proposed, will be funded. It would be nice if they even tried to measure research. They don't. They have no clue. They give it to instructional items because all they know how to count are fannies in the seats.
I can always just lay low. But what will happen to the new generation? A lot of the time faculty spend doing "nothing" is the most productive time they spend.

The SCSU Corrolary: No faculty member is safe when the Faculty Senate and Academic Affairs Council are in session. Send 'em back to their offices, let them read and write, if they can. And keep the provost out of deciding which labs get funded and which do not. You'd think he had better things to do.

And you wonder why I don't come on Hewitt's show? You're better off listening to Mitch's cough than my bile.

Off to write my piatiletka schedule.