There is no doubt that universities and research institutions are becoming more bureaucratic. This is arguably from the increased demand for accountability and from the rise of the managerial class. This means more paperwork, more boring meetings, and more rules and regulations. How do we cope?
Let me first give two extreme responses and suggest an alternative.
John and Joan could be faculty, postdocs, or graduate students.
1. John is focussed on research and teaching. Afterall that is the mission of the university not all this bureacractic nonsense. Any emails from administrators are deleted. In fact he has placed a “block sender” on some. He never responds to requests to complete on line surveys, fire safety training, or annual reports. He does not attend departmental meetings. If forced to attend meetings he brings his laptop and catches up on email.
Deadlines for reports, drafts of grant applications, and exam papers are missed. The only way he will complete an administrative task, even after several email requests, is if someone comes and knocks on his door. Sometimes he tells secretaries, administrators, or colleagues if they want the task done they should do it for him. The only tasks he does actually complete are done at the last minute.
John is not “well liked” either by colleagues or local administrators.
2. Joan is the opposite of John. She is a very conscientiousness member of the community. She reads all the admin emails (including the attachments) carefully, actively participates in all the meetings, updates all the databases, and writes carefully crafted reports. She completes all the tasks in a timely manner. Sometimes she agonises about the content and wording of her reports and gets colleagues to give her feedback on drafts. She gives managers detailed and constructive feedback about a range of their iniatives and issues.
Both extremes present problems.
Basically, John is selfish because he leaves others to cover for him, on some tasks that one just cannot avoid doing.
On the other hand, Joan is wasting a lot of her time, that could arguably be better spent on teaching or research (or on non-work pursuits!). She is also “enabling” the propogators of bureacratic nonsense.
Somehow we need to find a balance between John and Joan. Let me suggest a simple question to decide what to do and what not to do.
If I don’t complete this task (or at least complete it in a timely manner) is it going to inconvenience someone else (because they will have to do it or keep bugging me to do it)?
Fulfilling this bureacratic minimum leaves significant room for tuning out a lot of the noise, deleting a lot of email, skipping some meetings, and quickly completing reports by "box ticking" and cutting and pasting.