Friday, August 29, 2014

Academic bureaucracies

There was a story in the New York Times yesterday about course shopping tools created by students. We have a terrific tool at Harvard, created by the CS50 team, but it's only available to authorized viewers because it relies on private data. Students at Yale last year got into trouble for creating a similar tool and skipping that crucial step.

The reporter called me a long time ago and I had forgotten about it until I read the story. But my quote is pretty good, as it speaks to a larger change I have witnessed in university culture. The administrative bureaucracy has so many protocols and policies to follow and so many messages to cater to, that the entire educational enterprise becomes more and more dissociated from the daily lives of students and faculty. The bureaucrats look to compliance with policy and protocol, and to consistency with institutional messaging, as their first duty, and to education and service only secondarily. Here is what I said in the article:
“Students are always more entrepreneurial and understand needs better than bureaucracies can,” said Harry R. Lewis, the director of undergraduate studies for Harvard’s computer science department, “since bureaucracies tend to have messages they want to spin, and priorities they have to set, and students just want stuff that is useful. I know this well, since students were talking to me about moving the Harvard face books online seven years before Zuckerberg just went and did it without asking permission.”
That statement really resonated with a couple of colleagues, who came up with other examples. It's part of the reason faculty don't feel ownership of the university nearly as much as they did a couple of decades ago--and why they are, to a greater degree than before, prone to looking out for themselves first and only as an afterthought to the institution. Getting real faculty buy-in to any long range planning process can be difficult as a result; a sense that the real power rests with the bureaucracy tends to breed myopia.

No comments:

Post a Comment