Gas station without pumps

2020 April 15

Bureaucracy at its best

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:57
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My pessimism about University bureaucracy in times of crisis has been dealt a serious blow!

Our department had been asked by the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) to create a new bachelor’s program, with a fairly short timeline—in February they asked us to create the new program and have the proposal to them before the end of Spring quarter.  Later they moved the deadline up to April 22, which is only the 4th week of the quarter.

My fellow undergrad director and I worked hard to get a program designed, approved by the faculty, and with approval from all the departments offering courses that we were planning to require.  The hardest part was convincing the biology department to let students take the first biology course, even though it is currently required of every bio-related major on campus and has no restrictions on who can take it.

Because I knew we were on a tight timeline, I entered the proposal directly into the database that CEP uses for evaluating programs and which the Registrar’s office uses for preparing catalog copy.  After I had done all that, I attached a cover letter and all the stakeholder approvals, and I sent the proposal up the pipeline to the next level of approval.

At that point I ran into the sort of petty bureaucracy I’ve come to associate with the University:  the proposal was not permitted to go forward, because it was in the database format and not in the format expected of a new-program proposal.  The usual process (brand-new since I last created a new program a couple of years ago) requires a proposal in PDF format with standardized headings. After the proposal is approved, then it all is expected to be redone in the format that I had already done it in.  Why the administrators can’t use the same format as the Academic Senate Committee and the Registrar is one of those mysteries best not thought too hard about.

I was not about waste my sabbatical time (remember, I’m on sabbatical now) running in circles rewriting and cutting-and-pasting to satisfy a bureaucratic craving for redundant effort, and I let several people know about it.  I was ready to wash my hands of the whole thing and tell CEP that I’d done my best, but the bureaucracy had thwarted our department’s attempt to comply.

Then a member of the school staff (the same one who had pointed out the “need” for a specific format) worked late hours reformatting the proposal (asking me just for a few missing pieces over the weekend), getting the proposal finished by Tuesday morning. On Wednesday, both the dean and the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs approved the proposal, freeing it to go forward to the CEP and the Committee on Planning and Budget (CPB).  This is record-breakingly fast work—the last time I needed something from the dean it took me 6 weeks just to get an appointment!

I expect that both CEP and CPB will approve the program—the chair of CEP has already seen and commented unofficially on the proposal (even helped me deal with the biology department) and there are no resources being requested, so CPB has nothing to shoot down.  All the courses in the program are ones that are already taught, and increasing capacity in the courses can be handled by the usual allocation of Temporary Academic Staffing funds for teaching assistants and lecturers, which are allocated to departments based on enrollments.

It usually takes a year or more to create a new bachelor’s program at UCSC (grad programs take much longer, because they need to be approved systemwide), so if we get this one done in 3 months  from first idea of the program to final approval, it will probably set a new record.  (I exaggerate a little—the idea for some sort of lighter-weight program has been kicking around for about a decade, but no one had given much serious thought to the details until this February.)

In any case, my pessimism about university bureaucracy has taken a serious hit—it may not recover before I retire in 14½ months.


  1. My son in law works there.

    Comment by cindy knoke — 2020 April 16 @ 22:17 | Reply

    • Where? at UCSC? in the BSoE’s dean’s office? in the VPAA’s office? in some nameless bureaucracy that I’ve not had to deal with (yet)?

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2020 April 16 @ 22:49 | Reply

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