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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

More of this (usually) means less of that

Yesterday I sat in a meeting  in which student representatives  are invited to raise issues about their courses and departmental life in general. I think these occasions are very valuable. Students have a big stake in university departments and it does us all good to hear what they think. The world can look very different depending on where you sit in the organizational hierarchy and it does those nearer the top a power of good to hear what those on the receiving end think about the experience. I've often thought though that  decision making at university meetings - not just ones involving students - would be improved immeasurably if all participants agreed to a simple convention. Every time a proposal is made that implies an increase in the amount of resources devoted to one activity - say extra classes in X -  the proposer should be obliged to pair it with a recommendation to devote less resources to Y. Of course if we are not near the production frontier we could decide to have more X and the same amount (or more) of Y. But it would be good discipline for everybody if we didn't begin by simply assuming that we live in a world where we can, or want, to do more of everything. University departments, in my experience, are subject to a large amount of drift. New courses accumulate faster than old courses are pensioned off and demands on students grow without adjustment to the goals that they are supposed to reach. And all this goes on in a fantasy world in which we all connive to pretend that we can have or do more of everything without affecting the quality of the output. Sometimes we can, but, more often than not we can't and then more really does mean worse.

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