Democracy: such a hassle

Today we were visited by the deanery, in their annual survey of their little kingdom. They spent an hour and a half updating us on the happenings in the higher echelons of the academic hierarchy, and patiently listening to our complaints before promptly dismissing them.

Anyway, a lot of time was spent on the current discussion at the university about how to appoint management: through elections or board appointments? A lot of fuzz has been created over whether the different levels of the university system should keep on holding election over the administrative offices, or whether they are better served by having a professional commission do the job.

To me, the whole debate seems strange. I think it’s obvious that even with all the problems surrounding elected leadership, especially when leadership positions tend to rotate among a small collegiate, voting is an actual participatory action. Even if the participation is small, and the effect too, it is still some sign of what employees want. It would require some major benefits of the alternative to take that away from the process.

However, what we are hearing is that in effect, nothing is going to change. People will still be appointed from the same pool of people, and both elected and appointed people are likely to be qualified for the job. Actually, everyone is saying, it has almost no practical consequence whether people are elected or appointed.

The question for me is then why it is so important to start appointing management. The only reason to consider changing the practice would have to be because a committee might choose other people than the collective. If this were true, we could have a discussion about whether the positive effect of professional commissions (unbiased judgment being the most important one) outweigh the negative effect of losing employee influence. But if nothing changes, then we just end up losing influence.

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3 Responses

  1. Agreed. And the logic is absurd. I mean, how large a pool of people would you need before you can say that voting/not voting actually makes a difference in practice? 100? 1000? would it make a difference in the smallest municipalities of Norway? I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure we’d face headlines and protests if we were to shut down local democracy and appoint people in positions there.

    Scaling their argument up you can make a pretty strong point about democracy as such simply being useless.

  2. I agree about your last point, although I’m generally skeptical of scaling up from local instance to general principle (a favorite of economic libertarians). I would agree, too, that democracy is riddled with uncertainty and inefficiency, and that it sometimes leads to unwanted outcomes (think Hamas in Palestine). But at least we bring these things on ourselves…

  3. The part about this debate that gets me all raged up, is how the model of appointed rather then elected principal is seen as beeing “progressive, innovative and in the now”. Appointing a principal is seen as the university beeing more in tune with “the real world” and how it works.

    Did I miss a memo where democracy went out of fashion?

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