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Happily Exist In The Cracks

2006-09-17

From the surface, it appears that many professors who do research are the greedy people who crave for fame and $$$. Yes, they do, to a certain extent.

But it is believed that they may receive the pressure from the administrators. In a university of a typical size, say, a student body of 10,000 students, we hardly can imagine how many non-teaching administrators there are. They hold various indignant titles, such as vice president of something, director of something, etc.

If the university is engaged in the teaching task only, these big shots really do not have much to do any more. Neither are they needed. In addition, there will not be enough funding to support their salaries.

They are the ones who therefore must send memos around often to appear busy and important. These memos usually go directly from the mailboxes of faculty members to the garbage cans. They hold meetings after meetings. They form committees after committees. They create policies and regulations. They attend conferences, invite speakers, and are then invited to be speakers. Most of them also have secretaries. And most of their salaries are shamelessly hefty.

They are the true slave drivers behind the scene. They are the parasites of the society. They are the ones who require professors to go out to seek research funding.

At the same time, unfortunately, they are the decision makers and hold power. When I hold power and you are under me, you do not dare to inquire what job duties actually keep me busy. If I act very busily, you’d better trust that I am legitimately busy.

My son’s piano teacher used to rent the studio in the back of my house to teacher her students. She single-handedly taught a student body of approximately 40, and ran the entire operation. Actually, a minor correction: she did hire a cleaning maid, who came to clean the studio and the attached bathroom once a week.

Other than that, she attracted her new students by word of mouth. She used a notebook to record, and to keep track of, students’ tuition.

Now, if we multiply her operation by 50 times, we may need 50 teachers. Then it may be also more efficient to hire a secretary, an accountant, and a janitor to help out doing chores. We may need a building and a parking lot, hence we may need a part-time maintenance technician. If we multiply her operation by 500 times, we may need a committee to evaluate which teachers are good, and a committee to evaluate which students are eligible to graduate from the school.

I mean to point out that I am not an unreasonable person. I do understand that, as the organization grows bigger, it is more efficient to hire extra personnel to assist to handle the necessary chores. And neither do I claim that I know of all the possible hidden chores.

Please be aware of the phrase, “assist to handle the necessary chores”. We rarely need extra heads to govern the operations, or to create more chores for us to handle.

Teachers come to teach; students come to learn. They assemble in the same place. The concept is simple and well defined. The whole operation can be a very simple matter. If the concept and the operation remain simple, however, then it is very difficult for these managerial people to justify their survival, not to mention justifying their hefty salaries.

For technical people, it is usually easy to justify their existence in the organization. When they have specific jobs and projects to do, they are needed, and thus they exist. When there are no jobs and projects for them to do, they receive pink slips and are gone.

For these managerial people, it is not as obvious why they are needed by the organization. So, the more complicated the operations become, the easier for them to happily exist in the cracks.

And what can be a better scheme to complicate the school’s operation than doing research (and building sports stadiums and running sports games)? None. Doing research alone complicates the otherwise simple operation many folds.

OK, enough of this grumbling about research stuff. The next tea essay will be something else. :)

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