Why don’t we rise up against academic bureaucracy?

1 minute read

I was recently pointed to a 2015 article in Times Higher Education that discusses the problems of meaningless bureaucratic work in academia: “Bureaucracy: why won’t scholars break their paper chains?”. The article is by the U.K. academic Eliane Glaser, who has interesting things to contribute from her own work. But the article is most interesting for the extensive discussion of David Graeber’s recent work on bureaucracy and control in his book, The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy

Time allocation forms, research excellence framework documentation, module monitoring, and research funding applications: these Gradgrindian horrors are the subject of many a senior common room rant, and they have been extensively documented in these pages. Academics are spending less and less time thinking, reading and writing, and ever more time filling out forms. It seems clear that bureaucracy is somehow intertwined with the transformation of what were once institutions devoted to the pursuit of knowledge into commercial enterprises. Yet for me, two conundrums remain. If the “modernisation” of higher education is supposedly all about efficiency and productivity, why are managers imposing tasks that are by any common-sense measure a complete waste of time? And if academics are so demonstrably fed up with demands to fill out yet another piece of pointless paperwork, why do we continue to consent?

More in that vein. For people working in universities today, you will recognize much of this “time allocation”, “assessment”, and other bureaucratrivia.