Sunday, December 09, 2007

Names changed to protect the innocent (and guilty)

While googling about, Eli found these gems, which describes his daily travail to a T. What follows has been anonymized to avoid embarrassing the fellow sufferer who wrote them, but be assured that this is the typical way in which universities work (or don't). We start with the arrival of the young and newly recruited on campus, soon after which he discovers:

The scale of the management problems at the University has begun to become clear, but I gradually discover more ways around the more incompetent parts of the university’s bureaucracy. I am still surprised, though, about how many people dislike the system and how little they do to change it.
The only way to work around a dysfunctional system is to find a few key sensible people, and get them on your side. Newcomers tend to think that the oldtimers have not tried (and failed) to break through. Our passivity is a recognition that the administration likes the system it has and will not change it. The VP for fiscal affairs once told me why we have such a complicated and poorly functioning purchasing system: "If it worked you could spend money".
Parts of the financial administration are structurally underfunded (e.g., they cannot afford computers), not because there is not enough money but because money is misallocated. Decisions that require little interdepartmental coordination and a lot of speed and service (e.g., software, hardware purchases) are centralised while decision that require substantial coordination and occasional intervention (e.g., space allocation, curriculum) are decentralised.
Everyone at Non-Research Habituated Universities and a mess of the R1s is now nodding their heads, and wanting to drink a beer and trade war stories with this guy. The only worse thing than an understaffed administration is one that is in the process of computerization. That too happens . . . .
After a relatively smooth period, the administrative problems reached new and unprecedented levels. The retirement of the departmental administrative assistant coincided with the switch from hand-written, single-entry bookkeeping to computerized, double-entry bookkeeping. The resulting chaos was quite large, with bills going unpaid for 4 months or longer, suppliers refusing to deliver, and underpaid PhD students not getting their travel costs reimbursed.
Ours don't get their travel, their stipends AND their tuition paid, which is why I have a fairly large loan fund.
The situation was compounded by the fact that the central administration lost (!) the Director's contract, taking away the legal and financial basis of the research unit. Fortunately, the department had a copy as well. The human resources office maintained its general level of incompetence with error rates around 90%. It’s all a bit tiresome.
90% wrong is something we celebrate at my place, the problem is you never know which 5-10% they will get right. Keeps you on your toes it does. But don't think you can settle in
The move landed us in Outer Mongolia. Not only are the facilities (library access, photocopying, amenities) worse than at the main building, the distance to both colleagues and students, and the bad connection by public transport hamper productivity and cooperation. The sad thing is that the move to Outer Mongolia was perfectly avoidable if the University administration had been more active and the Department more cooperative.

Our funding agencies have inquired with me about the implementation of the contract. I cannot answer that question as the University to date has not shared this information with me, despite repeated requests. However, there seem to be notable deviations. The University has also chosen to reinterpret its contract with me. Uncertainties about his contract, invoked by sluggish behaviour in the human resources offices, have led the best person we recruited to accept a position at a foreign university.
Eli just got two contracts signed 1.5 years after the money came in. Of course the key to this is to never be allowed to know who is working on what. Administrators like to keep their faculty in dark rooms and shovel manure over them. From this tasty mushrooms grow. Still, you should always be careful about what you wish for
Another source of unrest was the reforms initiated at breakneck speed. Our department was merged with five others. Institutes will cease to exist, and schools and centers formed. Furthermore, research and education are at to be coordinated with other states. Reform is hard, needed, and strong leadership is necessary too, but the current pace is frantic and the direction not always clear.
A nice way to say that the people at the top are clueless as to the knife work going on below and the bodies that the jackals haul out each night. Watch your back.

On the whole been there. Done that. Am looking forward to retirement.

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