Friday, November 27, 2009

A Trumpet-Blast Against the Monstrous Onslaught of Admin

Friday again, and my morning has disappeared like mist. The Bright-Eyed Boy is still not properly well, having spent the past couple of days inert on the sofa and refusing food. I've just managed to get a toasted ham and cheese muffin down him without any sicky repercussions (thus far). He seems a lot brighter and, with the exception of the trace of a headache (query: dehydration), certainly on the up. The Husband managed to work from home yesterday while I went down to uni for a 'presentation skills' workshop. I'm getting those boxes on my training needs form ticked at a rapid rate
Pity they're all largely useless and extremely distracting from the job in hand: i.e. research.
I find that it takes me a good few hours to get into the swing of productive scholarly thinking, and another few hours to make any decent headway and put some writing down. Pearls of thought are hard come by and require some extremely oysterly grinding of grit. The ratio of words-read to words-writ is about 10:1 at a conservative estimate - possibly more like 20:1. So anything that distracts is an unproductive irritant.

I was talking to the Husband about this and we decided that the modern mania for monitoring progress and outcomes has meant that we largely spend our time writing about our processes rather than actually doing them. Thus, the result of our investigations tends to show that we are failing as a result of not spending as much time on them as we should. This has the unfortunate effect that, in an attempt to rectify these apparent failures, more strategies are generated. As there are only so many hours in the working day, implementation of the strategies to deal with the first set of failing strategies bites further chunks out of the time that by now is desperately needed to be spent on the original process. We become locked into a downward spiral of assured failure.

What is needed is a return to academic roots. Stop hobbling scholars (and their supervisors) with all this 'quality control', 'investors in people', feedback, outcome bolony.
Universities: say to your post-grad students "Go away, read, research and write. Then come to me occasionally for a chat." The net result will be that the dedicated will stay the course, unfettered by admin and will produce the academic goods. Those that aren't, won't. But at least we won't be in the position of propping up weak candidates who probably couldn't survive the vicious cut and thrust of academia.
Of course, universities are not run for academic or teaching excellence any more. There's no message about the joy of learning for learning's sake, of education as broadening the mind and horizon rather than lining the pocket. Universities are run like the business sector and often managed by its economic migrants. It's all about bums-on-seats and cash in the bank. The way that departments are funded encourages the churning out of publications, not investment in teaching. Departments whose staff don't publish don't get funding, no matter how superb their track record of teaching is. Esoteric courses are ended in favour of more relevant ones. You try finding somewhere that teaches Sanskrit or Syriac. Rare learning and skills are going to be lost and, as they say in supermarkets, WIGIG: when it's gone, it's gone. The same way as the passenger pigeon or the Caspian tiger. And, sadly, just as unlikely to be revived.

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