Volume overpowers Quality

Mark A. Friesel mfriesel at beta.tricity.wsu.edu
Mon Jun 24 15:50:22 EST 1996

On Sun, 23 Jun 1996, Arthur E. Sowers wrote:

> I agree with Rays comment below, completely. I've seen exactly the same
> effect happening, tried the same arguments and it all falls on deaf ears.

> Its fairly sad that this is how the system works: reward quantity rather
> than quality. 

I don't think that it is how the system works, although clearly one part
of it works this way. Even quantity isn't really being rewarded.
Outside of grant-providing agencies what's being rewarded is any activity
that brings in money to an institution, and even these rewards are only
appreciable or permanent for the upper echelons.

> Why might this be? How did it get started? I'd like to think
> that as institutions began to see themselves in a sort of "institutional
> cold war" with each other, and competing for higher positions on the
> pecking order, administrators began serious bean counting. How many papers
> does our institution publish? How many citations do they get? And, above
> all, how much grant money do WE get (and, conversely, how much do our
> competitor institutions get?)? And all of this is considered on a numbers
> base rather than an understanding base. Institutional identities seem to
> be in comparison with other institutions rather than what they themselves
> are, what their characteristics are, and whether there are any distinct
> traditions, etc.
> Maybe we are all headed for bureaucratic melt-down. Even in the corporate
> world they don't seem to be concerned about what they are doing or making;
> rather, is it making money, and in particular is it making more this year
> than last year. "Forget quality" and instead "lets get those crates
> rolling down the conveyor belt." 

Despite the complaints, no-one is proposing an alternative.  There are no
programs to counter this trend.  There are no leaders to develop and
promote competence and quality, and there is no organized resistance.
Management, as a group, is concerned with nothing but following the rule
that the sole purpose of their job is to find ways to please their
superiors whether their immediate superiors in the company or their board 
of directors, all their statements to the contrary notwithstanding.

Department managers wander the halls measuring the distances between desks
and equipment carts making sure the mandated minimum is maintained, where
commitees churn out ten pages of line item responsibilities for scientists
and engineers and a page and a half (half of which is apology) of
'suggestions' and opportunities for management, where a manager
explicitely states that special programs will be implemented specifically 
for the advancement of minorities, a national laboratory where management
includes no reference to 'research' in their strategic plan draft except
in the name of a subcontractor, where the ratio of overhead-to-technical
personnel continually increases, where your upper level 'scientist' may
be a marketer or program manager with minimal technical training,  Where
three requests to get cost runs sent to you meet with no response and
you find out later that the program manager accused you of an over-run,
where the company representative  next to you at a marketing meeting is
making promises to clients based on his misunderstanding of a technology
he claimed to understand - promises that either you'll be responsible for
or which will take the program away from you and be given to his group,
and where you're assigned a landed program out of the clear blue sky where
the answer to a major research question in your field has been taken as
given, where proposal writing and marketing must be done on your own time
because the institution requires 100% program charge-outs, where
department discretionary funding is good for about two weeks,
where...where... Whew! Enough of that!

The worst, the unforgivable, and in fact IMO the >only< sins that make
the above behavior more than a minor irritant, are that a) the accumulated
effect is to straight-jacket any attempt to carry out research or find
research funding unless you're already on a major program, and b) you're
left holding the bag with the client, the company, and other technical
support because a perhaps well-intentioned marketer doesn't have the sense
to discuss a program with the people who will be responsible for the work
before making promises to a client. Christ, it was impossible to get an
instrument repaired without a major program. Beautiful scientific
instruments gather dust for years, you're out scraping for a $40k program
that will fund you for about three weeks of report writing while an unpaid
student does the full-time lab research - including failing to clean and
properly implement critical equipment due to lack of supervision.

There's no question that I miss the money and health benefits for my
family, and after this summer I can no longer continue my daughter's
ballet classes, but staring at wasted research equipment and lab space and
feeling that my technical expertise was atrophying through lack of use and
lack of intellectual challenge was getting me very depressed.  I even stopped 
smoking my pipe and if >that< isn't a sign of depression, I don't know
what is.

> Good luck folks.

It's more than luck we need.

> Art Sowers
> ========
> On Fri, 21 Jun 1996, W. R. Gibbons wrote:

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