Question for Y’All , and a Little Manifesto

Is it just my imagination, or do administrative bureaucrats at institutions of higher education in Korea seem to be the sort of people who, through sheer incompetence, simply got shuffled from position to position until they ended up behind a desk? Sometimes the people sorting bottles in community centers, working jobs created especially for people with special needs come to min, actually.

Test For Theorem:

Step 1: Submit an abstract for a conference.

Step 2: In the process of writing the paper, realize you had it wrong in your abstract, and change the scope, content, and thrust of the paper.

Step 3: Attend conference, new paper in hand with new title and so on. Do the normal thing (like two other people on my panel did, for example) and simply announce a title change at the conference itself.

Step 4: Return home, and apply for the funding reimbursement (which apparently was reduced by the equivalent of $100 for no reason). Submit full packet of receipts, the paper, the conference program, and so on.

Step 5: Get the packet back saying, “This paper has the wrong title.” Explain that you changed the title, like many other people at the conference. Get told, “But you can’t.”

Step 6: Re-print the first page of the paper with the old, completely inappropriate title swapped in for the old one.

Step 7: Wonder how these people ever learned to tie their own shoes. Mutter darkly about how it’s like dealing with little kids.

Step 8: Visit the office processing this paperwork. Bring large assortment of different bottles and cans from your recycling bin. See whether they have an unusual skill at sorting them.

I swear, seriously. The amount of time wasted getting things letter-perfect for silly bureaucrats (who are themselves probably doing it just in case they’re audited by other, higher-up government bureaucrats with similar special needs) is breathtaking.

In other, completely unrelated (okay, maybe not competely, but it started elsewhere) news, I’ve been thinking about an old expression… which has birthed a kind of manifesto of sorts:

Wait. I’ll post that later.

5 thoughts on “Question for Y’All , and a Little Manifesto

  1. I think this is a universal constant, actually. Somewhat more so in academia than in corporate management, but universal nonetheless.

    It seems to be a corollary of people doing jobs that deal with things of which they have no fundamental understanding, and protect their own interests by rigorously enforcing their own often arbitrary rules, with no ability to differentiate “wrong” from “right but outside the box” ..

  2. Bruce,

    I’ve only ever worked in small company offices, so I wouldn’t know about the corporate world.

    And your diagnosis seems to be right, in terms of that corollary.

    I wonder, though, how much more tight that box is in Korea. Lots of Koreans have emphasized how so many people conflate “different in any way” with “wrong” here.

  3. There is something called the Peter Principle: “In a Hierarchy, Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence.”

    One of my “research areas” is regulation and regulatory reform. I’ve worked with a lot of government officials (bureaucrats) and my impression is that university bureaucrats are much much worse than most government bureaucrats (since the government at least recognizes the problem.) I’ve had better experiences with bureaucrats in the Tax Service! (Though it is really hard to get them on the phone).

    However, there are government ministries which still are notorious for rigid, illogical and inflexible bureaucrats (who often do not even know their own regulations!) The Ministry of Education (whatever they are named nowadays – they’ve merged with the Ministry of Science and Technology, so say goodbye to technological growth…), The Small and Medium Business Administration (whose job supposedly is to help small and medium sized businesses deal with regulations….) and the regional (city and provincial) governments.

    Go figure.

    And also, believe it or not, the people at the university’s research administration team are more flexible than most of the other administrative teams. (I found the library team to be also relatively flexible and intelligent). Try dealing with student and academic affairs or the budget team sometime.

  4. … and concerning the trouble you had over the title. I had a similar problem with a published paper I had a couple of years ago, where I changed the title following the advice from a referee, (no content was changed, and new title was still roughly similar to the old one) and I had to fill out a “change of title” form to qualify for a publication incentive (bonus) pay. You should, by now, be familiar that, in Korean academia, numbers and titles are more important than content… :)

  5. Junsok,

    Cool, someone who knows about both types of bureaucracy and can compare. I’m glad Unis are worse than government.

    Actually, I did have to deal with the inanity and insanity of Academic Affairs once. My first semester here, I had to leave for the Clarion West Workshop in the USA only a few days before the end of semester. All my grades were submitted, all my exams finished, and so on. I’d gone to great pains to make sure I’d done my job and everything was in order — I’d even shown my students their grades in the first few days of exam week, or the last day of class for those who had submitted essays early in Week 15.

    Academic Affairs, though, was only halfway through the process of having me fill out paperwork… concerning what? Concerning the “make-up classes” I held for every holiday, missed class, and so on. I ended up spending so much time on one-on-one meetings and make-up classes that it was no problem to list random make-up classes even for the few national holidays they insisted I make up for. But the killer was, after being asked to submit an exhaustive list of make-up classes for everything, they complained that I’d submitted too much information, and made me rewrite everything so that their butts would be covered if the Ministry of Education harassed them.

    It was, by the end, bordering on Kafkaesque, really, or at least that’s how I remember it. Though reading the main post I wrote about it, I’m amazed at how all of that stuff seems obvious to me now.

    (I also wonder whether attendance forms are really so widely used to track absences. Now that I’m used to it, it’s fine, and I like assuming attendance and seeing absence as an anomaly, though, really, I don’t much care about attendance and feel ever so slightly like a middle school teacher when taking it.)

    As for combining Ministries of Science & Tech and Education, what the hell? That sounds like such a bad idea.

    And yeah, I know quite well titles and numbers matter more than content. Form, not content. I was also warned about having to fill out forms if I published something other than what my research funding application form claimed I was going to publish. Though I was also told such forms are really filled out routinely and that it doesn’t matter what you write on the original.

    I was tempted to write something obviously maniacal or deranged but decided against6 it, just in case, on the tiny (0.0001%) chance that someone actually looked at the paper concept as written in English.

    (This past semester, they made the secretaries write translations, and I shudder to think what became of my careful, nuanced argument that a topological mode of reading is the most appropriate mode for the concept of the Singularity.)

    As for budget — oh, Lord, the turf wars, I can only imagine…

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