I was on Twitter last week when Mark Greenfield put out the following call:
What? Mark Greenfield is giving us license to bitch? Count me in.
To be honest, I really wanted to jump right in. However, I realized I needed more space than 140 characters and more time than a few days to collect my thoughts. So without further ado, here’s my list:
1. We are over-scheduled.
But not necessarily with actual productive work. More time is actually spent talking about what we’re going to do than what we’re actually doing. Time seems to be relative and limitless. Because time seems limitless in academia, we begin to undervalue it, disrespect it, and mismanage it in our projects.
Directors spend too much time in meetings to do true management by walking around (MBWA), so directors schedule 1-on-1 meetings to try to keep up with what they would know if they were in the office talking to people. Managers, who spent too much time in meetings with their directors and other managers, don’t have time to do their MBWA, so they schedule 1-on-1s. Web people in the trenches have committee meetings, departmental meetings and 1-on-1 meetings that interrupt real work every hour-and-a-half to two hours. This is clearly not enough time to accomplish much of anything except try to get to inbox 1563 (inbox 0 is a pipe dream), read from RSS, and send a few tweets with the #facepalm hashtag to all your #heweb pals.
2. We don’t get paid what the private sector does.
To me this in itself is not an issue, but it adds up to a number of issues below.
3. Our salaries are kept secret.
If you don’t know billable rates, it’s difficult to manage projects. When is it more feasible to do it in-house and when should you get a consultant? What jobs are more effective for two part-time students to do in two weeks and what jobs are cheaper for one full timer to do in three?
4. We “grad source” worse than the public sector outsources.
We don’t think of students as partners who can share in a learning experience on a project. We think that undergrads are an endless supply of cheap labor. We think grad students are substitute for paid professionals. The problem is that someone working for a semester or two may not be thinking in terms of how a single project could scale from one semester to the next. Or over several years. Or for reuse in other projects or other units.
5. We pad our resumes with DIY projects.
We end up building our own systems thinking we cut the consultant and implementation costs. Or we Frankenstein disparate third-party pieces together rather than doing something the way a vendor recommends. If we don’t have concept of what staff time costs, sometimes management even forgets to calculate it altogether. In the end we have no idea whether keeping these projects afloat have really saved us time or money, especially when we could be spending time consolidating our efforts and working on other projects.
These projects are unit specific and not designed to work with other departments so there is a good chance someone in another department is building another DIY system that does the same thing. These are the people who are too busy with their DIY system to fulfill other request we need for our other Web projects. Are they really worth the effort?
6. Our budgets disincentivize collaboration and efficiency.
If your budget for next year is based on what you spend for this year, what incentive do you have for collaborating with another unit to eliminate redundant systems (for example, a university-wide CMS)? In many units, when the fiscal year ends, people are encouraged to look around for what they need to purchase to ensure they get the same budget next year, especially as they compete for funds that are shrinking.
7. We try to serve everyone and end up pleasing none.
Who is our customer? Businesses have an easy time defining this. Higher ed, not so much. Do we serve the students? The faculty? Donors? Are we focused on academics or research? We change directions each time one of these stakeholders offers feedback and then wonder why the worst feedback we get is that we’re fickle.