Thursday, July 2, 2015

Ode to Bureaucracy

At this point, I have been at a fair number of universities over the course of my career. Small ones, large ones, rural ones, urban ones. If there is one thing that unites them all, it is bureaucracy. I have come across a variety of types of bureaucracy in my travels.

Slow bureaucracies: oh, yes, I have that piece of paper you submitted. I’ll get right to it, as soon as I reach level 100 on Bejeweled. Twice. 

Lying bureaucracies: You forgot to submit that form. Oh, you have photographic evidence of you handing it to me with a dated newspaper in your hand? Oh, looky there. I just found it. I must have mistaken you for someone else. 

Misguided bureaucracies: Let’s be honest, I have no idea what you do or what the mission of this university even is, so I’m going to make you do a bunch of random things because I think they seem reasonable given my made up definition of your job. 

Inefficient bureaucracies: I know all you want is a ream of paper, but you need to see Susan in accounting to get an account number, then take that account number to Mike up in supplies, he’ll fill out a form so you can run to the bookstore to buy the paper. Hand the form to Bob at the departmental orders counter and he’ll phone Susan to get the account number. 

Honestly, I thought I’d seen it all. I’d actually become a little jaded about university bureaucracies. Surely I had seen all the university bureaucracy diversity this world had to offer. However, with my move to a new university, I have suddenly seen something I’d never seen before.

The Godzilla of Bureaucracies.

My new university bureaucracy sizing up its next challenge: how to design a process that requires everyone at the university to approve everything, in alphabetical order, except on Wednesdays (Image from Wikimedia: Godzilla King of the Monsters (1956) Profile" by Jewell Enterprises Inc.Toho - Trailer for the film. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

What is the Godzilla of Bureaucracies? I’m still figuring out what makes this beast so different. Clearly, it’s larger. Larger than anything I’ve seen before. It’s a place where you can imagine someone read this:

Well, the bee-watcher-watcher watched the bee-watcher. He didn't watch well so another Hawtch-Hawtcher had to come in as a watch-watcher-watcher! And now all the Hawtchers who live in Hawtch-Hawtch are watching on watch watcher watchering watch, watch watching the watcher who's watching that bee – Dr. Seuss Did I ever tell you how lucky you are?

And thought, “That’s a great idea!” and went about designing exactly that bureaucracy.

It also seems to have trouble communicating to the wee mortals scurrying around its toes. Every bureaucracy has a unique way of doing things, but this one has created its own language to go along with it. To an uneducated outsider it seems to be roaring incoherently, but the bureaucracy thinks it makes perfect sense. Let the hilarity ensue.

Like Godzilla, the bureaucracy is also slightly scary. They like to use phrases like “disciplinary action” and “can result in termination”. A lot. Some of it is obvious (if I buy myself a diamond ring on my pcard I will have some serious explaining to do…to my lawyer). Others less so: what does it mean that I could be disciplined if I behave on social media in a manner that negatively reflects on the university? Are we talking illegal activities? Public raging jackass? Posting selfies of myself in bad fashion choices? Bad mouthing the university in public? My inquiring mind wants to know but is slightly worried about the answer.

One big difference between Godzilla and my bureaucracy however is heartening: People here seem to have figured out how to live peacefully with this incoherent behemoth, living bemused but productive lives as it lumbers around. As with most bureaucracies, I just need to figure out its patterns, how to stay out of its way, and what parts of the bureaucracy are really rigid rules as opposed to something akin to the Pirate Code

How I will now envision my fellow faculty members in my head as I walk around campus.

("Comic-Con 2006 - Cannibal Jack Sparrow (4798575954)" by The Conmunity - Pop Culture Geek from Los Angeles, CA, USA. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons )
 After all, I love everything else about my new university. It’s just that figuring out how to get things done is driving me a little mad. Thus, General Disarray’s advice to me last night after I raved incoherently at him about the incoherent rules in the training video on employment I had just watched: “Maybe you should start blogging again. It’s cheaper than therapy.” 

I feel better already.