Mirjana Roksandic at the University of Winnipeg writes
I work in an incredibly small but busy four-field anthropology department. After years of crisis management induced by budget cuts, our department met in June to discuss a new course proposal: how best to prepare third year students for their honours theses in different specialized topics, while providing them with a sense of the greater picture and academic unity of the discipline. For the first time that I could remember, we were discussing something meaningful, creative and exciting, and we were having so much fun! For once, we were not trying to figure out how to replace a faculty member who left six years ago, or faculty who will retire in a year or so, or how to cover the teaching of faculty on sabbatical, or the one that got a yearlong travel grant. All of these and more are actually pending with no funding in sight to replace any of them.
Earlier in the year, while I was busy reconciling my expenses for a field trip in April and a conference session and workshop I organized at my university in May, applying for two grants due in the summer, planning my next field trip abroad to teach a course (pro bono as the university cannot pay me below certain enrolment), and considering whether I could fit in an invited lecture at an important international event, it dawned on me that I was overworked and that my enthusiasm was waning. In fact, as a tenured full professor, if I was only teaching ex-cathedra courses, if I did no research, had no grant applications, accounting, travel arrangements, or students to supervise in the lab, I would have so much more time in which to enjoy my family life, my kids, cook beautiful meals, read and think! I might be even able to enjoy learning new programs, doing analyses myself and writing a masterpiece of some kind.
Universities are certainly changing: some of it comes from substantial reductions in tenure-track faculty hires at the local level and increased competition for grants at national level. However, the greatest part of our workload comes from the steady increase in administrative positions filled by career administrators. Their goals and loyalties are not to the students, departments, or universities but to their own promotions, and consequently to the higher up administration. In order to justify their positions, they need to create administrative work. Unfortunately, they do not create this work just for themselves. With every new administrator and a new position, there is a myriad of new ideas and processes that generate more work for faculty.
So what’s the solution? Reminding university administrators, boards of governors and provincial governments that the primary goal of a university is education and that the primary value of a university is produced by its faculty: that they teach, they do research and they help educate new generations of competent and creative adults. Reminding administrators that their job description is service and not (micro)managing and that their duty is to facilitate learning and research. That they need to stop the flow of paper pushing demands so that professors have time to discuss their projects, or their new courses and their new results, so that they have time to think and be creative, competent and happy human beings.
This can only be accomplished by an overall and immediate reduction in administration, which would mean more faculty and administrative support positions at the department level; by faculty choosing deans; and by making deans responsible to faculty and not to vice-presidents and presidents. We really need to turn the tide or we will lose the essential quality of university in this society.