Friday, April 06, 2007

Confidentiality and Bureaucracy

Today, the ever informative Tenured-Radical has a post about Confidentiality in academia. The general argument is that the main role of confidentiality is to keep the tenure granting process and others like it, utterly mysterious to junior faculty and others. The argument is highly persuasive. I recommend the post.

It turns out that there is another related post over at the Life apparently blog, that discusses rejection letters in the context of an academic job search. This is not a blog I have read before, but I spotted a link to it on the InsideHigherEd site. The post makes some very sane suggestions for people making academic hires.

What these two posts have in common is a good strong dose of common sense, applied to the way things get done in academia. It is perhaps too much to hope that the people who most need to read and internalise this type of information, will actually do so. However, the fact that two bloggers are prepared to articulate and assess their experiences is in itself highly valuable. This I believe demonstrates one of the intrinsic values of blogs, especially somewhat anonymous blogs. What other medium would permit the easy dissemination of these kind of insights?

I am strongly of the belief that administrative actions in academia are almost always inherently messed up. There is too much quiet lobbying and gossiping, for things to be otherwise. Indeed, it is often the least capable and productive members of a faculty who have the time and the energy to devote to this kind of intrigue. I know of one individual of lowly rank, but who has tenure who began a campaign to get two junior faculty members denied tenure, prior to each of their third year reviews. This in part explains why bad decisions so often made. I have written about another related recent example on my own campus.

I actually have a secret theory about bad administrative decisions. It has always slightly shocked me that administrators like, or often feel the need, if they are male, to wear ties. I am against ties, for the simple reason that the knot used on most ties much too closely resembles a noose, for comfort, in my view. I also believe that a tie can easily impede the flow of blood to the brain. In fact, this is why I think that administrative decisions are so often badly made. The people making the decisions, who all too often are male, suffer from low grade, though long term mild ischemic insults to their brains.

Perhaps this theory is too generous. It could just be a special case of the age old problem that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. It could of course be some combination of these and other factors. Who knows?

Fortunately, I do know where it is possible to find a complete and comprehensive handbook to all the odd and weird strategies that a bureaucracy will give rise to. I strongly recommend the Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister Series, produced by The BBC and written by Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay. This series provides worked examples of bureaucratic strategies, in a humorous context. Although what is presented is supposed to be funny, it is the best catalogue of this kind I have ever come across. This series should be an object of serious study for anyone who has to deal with moronic and ignorant people with agendas, especially on committees. As they say, 'forewarned is forearmed'. Sometimes reality and fiction coincide. This I believe is one of these cases.

The CP


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