Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Human Nature?

Today, I started my 27th year of teaching at a State-supported US university. Compared with 1984, we have the same number of students, fewer full-time teaching faculty, and twice as many administrators. In the past 8 years alone, the non-academic budget has grown from 44% to 60% of the budget.

This week, we start discussions on increasing teaching loads (which will, of course, require more administrators to 'organize' things).

I see this trend in business, government, medicine and the military. Is it just the human condition that the non-productive take over everything?

I recall that, when the Mongols took over a city, they killed the bureaucrats, and took the scholars home with them. The Allies did much the same in Germany in 1945.

Perhaps they had the right idea?


Sackerson said...

It's all to do with the avoidance of work, or at any rate the more difficult and unpleasant types of work.

"what is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth's surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid."

Bertrand Russell: In Praise Of Idleness


Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a case conference to attend...

Sobers said...

C Northcote Parkinson wrote a very funny, but entirely accurate, book about this in the 1950s. He used as his main analysis the number of civil servants in the British Civil Service. In the Colonial Office, as the British Empire dwindled in size, the number of bureaucrats rose. The same thing happened in the Navy - less ships, more paper pushers.

My theory is that the trend continues indefinitely until the money runs out and there is a massive bust. Hopefully we in the UK are approaching that point.

Nick Drew said...

it's a cycle, not unrelated to the very rapid 'content / process' cycle seen in all creative enterprises

a new enterprise (software, record label etc) is started by some individual or small group with a bright new idea that takes off from their bedsit and grows as a cottage industry, thriving on its innovation and nimbleness

content reigns, and the founders run the show

after a while they discover the need for professional management - still under their direction, but bringing some much-needed experience and organisational know-how, to facilitate efficient expansion as well as the boring practicalities of life

imperceptibly at first, the processes these newcomers bring & impose, start to dominate in the hierarchy of control, to the point where content is relegated to 'mere content'

... and process is all

then the organisation becomes management-heavy, unable to generate creatively or respond to new developments in its sector

and small new enterprises grow up beneath their feet ...

I have lived through this cycle first-hand in the software business: I'd say it took about 6 years in that particular case for the phenomenon to be clearly established (and 10 years for the full cycle, i.e. from new product to the company effectively ceasing to exist, having become hobbled and then bought out by a predator)

Paddington said...

Thanks for all of your comments. Perhaps the Mongol solution is necessary, then?

OldSouth said...

At our house, we've had contact with scores of 'institutions of higher learning' over the years.

Your experience coincides with ours, in that the large state institutions have a true gift for generating enormous quantities of activity, but precious little progress. Our faculty friends in that world soldier on, and good things happen in spite of their situations.

Honestly, the schools that now stand out in our experience as the places where teachers teach, students learn, and both thrive--are the smaller, church-affiliated institutions. If they are committed to truly launching students to the wider world, as opposed to 'keeping them down on the farm', they do a great job. Those that are dedicated principally to sheltering young people from the outside world's evil influences do a remarkably poor job.

Great insights, as always. Keep up the good work.

Paddington said...

OldSouth - thank you for your comments. Based on my recent experience, I cannot agree with you on the smaller schools. Many have now set tuition so high (around $50,000 per year), that they cannot afford to flunk students. The perception that they were 'better' is often because they are more selective, so the average is of course higher.

James Higham said...

I see this trend in business, government, medicine and the military. Is it just the human condition that the non-productive take over everything?

Yes and the productive are ground into the dirt by people who neither understand nor care - wastes of space.