Tuesday, July 17, 2007


During the academic year, there's a pretty good degree of synchronization on campus. Most people are around frequently enough that it's not terribly hard to complete the usual bureaucratic errands, and getting in touch with folks is relatively easy. There's some stress around final exam time, when faculty are especially frazzled (and rightly so), but other than that, it isn't too bad.

In the summer, though, even the simplest bureaucratic task falls victim to syncopated calendars.

Most of the faculty are nowhere to be found. Those who are around are around on idiosyncratic schedules, so it's hard to predict. Staff usually schedule their vacations during the summer, but different people go at different times. (There's no single week during which the entire college shuts down, so there's always something going on.) Worse, the reality of delegating tasks means that sometimes a given task is only done by one person in an office – when that person is on vacation, that task goes undone. Multiply that by the number of offices on campus, and even relatively routine processes become challenging.

This is especially true for those processes that involve locally-crafted 'patches' for systems that don't quite work. It's not unusual for longtime incumbents to find ways to improvise Rube Goldberg solutions to square the various circles that come around. The catch, though, is that those patches are often the specialized knowledge of those incumbents – put a temp in there, and the same stuff can't get done.

This week I'm running from office to office to office to try to get some fairly important stuff through all the necessary hoops before some pretty unforgiving deadlines hit. It's a game of “hurry up and wait,” since some folks are around only for brief windows, some aren't here at all, and some aren't here but did some scattershot delegating before leaving. Things that would normally be relatively routine are suddenly quite challenging.

The frustrating part is that, as urgent as some of this stuff is, much of it has to sit and wait until whomever gets back from wherever. It's very much a “spinning my wheels” feeling.

In a way, I'd expect summer to be more productive, since it's relatively free of day-to-day crises and the usual stream of interruptions. As it happens, that relative calm comes at a price.