I was therefore both surprised — and pleased — by the reactions of my colleagues at Kennesaw State University to the arctic blast of paperwork we are currently enduring. The growing volume of documentation we are expected to produce also appalled most of those with whom I have recently spoken.
This is the season of our annual reviews. As is true in most organizations, we professors are asked to report on what we have accomplished this past year and to project ahead what we hope to achieve the next. This in no way adds to our productivity, but allows administrators to keep track of what is being done.
The problem is that our reports keep expanding. Just as in bad science fiction, they continue to grow in scope — almost reaching to the heavens. This year has been made even more onerous by the introduction of a new reporting system — Digital Measures. Computer based, it was advertised as making our task easier.
But when has a new computer tracking system ever made life easier? This one not only invites us to elaborate on the details of our accomplishments, but it does so in an open-ended manner. The upshot is likely to be an arms race in which each participant tries to make sure that no one has documented more triumphs than he or she.
We have already visited this storyline with respect to the portfolios we professors must submit in applying for tenure and promotion. When I first arrived at KSU, these were limited to two volumes. Now they are unrestricted. As a consequence, an administrator recently recounted an applicant who tendered 10 huge binders.
My eyes rolled when told this story. Whose wouldn’t? Can anyone read and digest this much information, especially when there are many dozens of similar offerings to scrutinize? What initially looked like a reasonable way to ensure that no one’s successes are overlooked, guaranteed that most would never be read.
Then there is the problem that in attempting to improve reporting instruments, they are constantly revised. As a result, people spend more time learning a new system than using it. Instead of teaching or researching, they are at their computers attempting to figure out what goes where.
Over 30 years ago, when I got my first computer, I also purchased the fanciest programs I could afford. One of the latter was for desktop publishing. It enabled me to do brochures and pamphlets on my own. This ability was nearly magical — and I loved it.
That is, I loved it until I wanted to use the program a second time. In the interim, I had forgotten how to access its bells and whistles. And so, I had to relearn them. In other words, their complexities, forced me to spend more time on programming than on writing.
It is the same with these new reporting systems. Because we professors do not use them regularly, we forget what is in which pull-down menu. We must then seek out computer specialists to save us from ourselves, for without these helpers we would remain frozen in our ignorance.
All this, incidentally, is another instance of how bureaucracy is strangling our nation. Increased levels of administrators demand so much paperwork that this becomes our primary product. Forget about teaching, learning, researching, or creating. What matters more is the appearance of each.
Were we faculty members trusted, this charade would be unnecessary. As professionals, we would do our jobs because we were committed to them. Instead, we get a paperwork charade. From top to bottom, people pretend to work, rather than actually do so.
Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.