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  • Writer's pictureKane Murdoch

Bureaucracy and chaos

This company is being bled like a stuck pig, Mac, and I've got a paper trail to prove it. Check this out.
[Goes to a wall covered in paper and string]

Charlie Kelly, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia

Evening all, (I'm on a whole adding quotes thing atm, it will wear off, bear with me)

As you might well imagine, universities are not the leanest or sharpest organisations going and sometimes that's a good thing. Thinking things through and acting on good decisions, rather than flopping around like a scarecrow bereft of straw, is a good thing. Good governance is a good thing. But what if that which we call governance (at any level of the uni, not just senior academic bodies) is actually impeding good decisions, timely action, and even preventing important work from happening?

Let me give you an example. The unit I lead investigates cases and manages the processes under our Student Conduct Procedure. This document (I'm sure you can find it) tells everyone how cases must be handled, who should or must be making what decisions, etc. So far, so good. As you might have heard along the grapevine, I'm not bad at running that stuff. It's been my experience that successful investigation of academic misconduct is like opening a door, and in the next room is a whole world of stuff no one was aware of.

What comes after should be contained in the dictionary next to the word 'labyrinthine.' Believe it or not, I am authorised to determine the outcome of misconduct matters, but I can't change a grade that my decision had decided must be changed.

I'm always asking reasonable questions like "why is it done that way?", and it's interesting what I hear back. It's often the case that organisations don't think much about the way they do things until there's a reason to change. When you have very low caseloads, and very simple cases, it appears all well and good to have insanely laborious processes for doing small things, with multiple sign offs at high levels. But what if neither of those prerequisites is true and you have high caseloads and complex cases? To use an Australianism, you're stuffed. A simple grade change can take months, and when you're running large and complex cases simultaneously, that's dangerous. As one of my team recently put it, it's like a dust storm around your head. That's a kind of cognitive load I can't afford my team to have. They're better than that, and higher education cannot afford to waste good people's skills and talents (of course higher ed does just that).

So, when I undertake reviews of policy and procedure (not just in misconduct) I ask myself questions like "What level of seniority does this decision require?", "Why do we need a Dean to approve a single grade change?" and "Do we need to do this thing at all?" I aim for simplicity, directness, legibility and a reflection of the actual people doing the work to shine through in the policies and procedures that I can affect. To be perfectly blunt, my work grinds to a halt if I don't do these things.

Until next time folks,


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