The very word makes me shudder.
Why? Because it holds a lot of negative connotations: red tape; a lack of responsibility; hiding behind ‘rules’ that some shadowy committee created; poor service; and a lack of personal attention or care.
Obviously, I’m not the only one who thinks this way. My Oxford Reference Dictionary defines it thus: “government by the officials of a central administration; such officials, often regarded as inflexible or unimaginative; excessive official routine.”
But it hasn’t always been this way. Max Weber, a social scientist writing in the early 1900’s, described and defined bureaucracy in very scientific, rational terms. Weber had philosophical and practical reasons for why bureaucracy is needed.
- There should be a clear division of labour. This makes the organization efficient by eliminating duplication.
- It should be impersonal which keeps you from getting better service than me just because you know, or are related to the staff.
- There should be a clear hierarchy and chain-of-command so that you only have one boss who can tell you what to do (I once had two bosses. What a gong-show!).
- The officers do not own their office: it can’t be bequeathed to their family members and it can’t be inherited (it is not a monarchy).
- Official business must be conducted in writing. This holds me accountable, and it prevents you from getting what you want just because you can yell louder than another customer.
Really, bureaucracy is about being rational, logical, and fair. So why do we have such a visceral response to the word? In a word: Dilbert!
Students have come to despise bureaucracy because we sometimes take its principles too far:
- Impersonal becomes a lack of care and attention to student needs.
- Centralized decision-making means too much distance from, and not enough knowledge of the student or the problem.
- Official business only in writing means long delays in response.
- What should be simple becomes ridiculously complex. The rules become excessive and prevent action or solutions.
In short, they don’t feel the love. To be fair to Max Weber, he anticipated all these issues. The Dilbert-like Registrar’s Office has just ignored his warnings.
What’s the solution? Three words:
- Goodness (or fairness)
Watch for future posts on these three topics. In the meantime, share your personal stories of Dilbert-like bureaumania with us. Post your story as a comment.