Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Grey Matter - A survey of academic bureaucracy

As academics, we are spending an increasing proportion of our time filling out forms. This ‘grey’ activity prevents us from using our brains.

Bureaucracy is not always bad. What neoliberals call ‘red tape’ is designed to protect people, and many supportive state processes are branded ‘bureaucratic’, a synonym for ‘inefficient’.

Yet what we see emerging is a form of inefficient bureaucracy that is bound up with neoliberalism itself, that imposes a superfluous layer of audit, monitoring and evaluation, and that seems designed to align people with the corporate machine, even, or especially, if they are working in thoughtful or creative professions.  

The purpose of this survey is to collect and collate information about the nature of bureaucratic exercises imposed on academics, the intended purpose of these tasks, and their effect on creativity and academic production.

I plan to disseminate the results via academic and journalistic publication.

I realise that filling out yet another form is probably the last thing you want to do. However, this is intended to be a meta-form, an audit of audit, the form to end all forms. If you are concerned about the rise of bureaucratic demands on academics, this is a chance for you to contribute to a constructive critique.

Your contribution will be anonymous. Identifying your institution is optional.
Please cut and paste the form and send it to

And, importantly, please forward on to as many other academics as possible.

1. What bureaucratic activities do you perform as part of your job – eg workload allocation forms, REF documentation, grant applications, and other paperwork that you regard as superfluous to your core role as an academic?

2. How much time, or what proportion of your time, do you estimate you spend on these activities in a typical week, month or year?

3. Have you seen bureaucratic demands intensify in the last five years, and if so, how?

4. Are you able to identify the originating source of bureaucratic injunctions – eg university department or management level?

5. What is the effect of bureaucracy on your other academic work – your research, writing, thinking, and teaching?

6. Would it be more productive and expedient, in your view, for these activities to be modified (in which case please indicate how), or simply eliminated?

7. What do you interpret as the meaning or true function of these activities?

8. Should we, as academics, agree on the need for productivity and efficiency but identify how bureaucracy is unwittingly compromising this, interpret bureaucracy as deliberately undermining academic productivity, or reject ‘productivity’ as a goal?

Thank you very much for taking the time to fill out this form.
Eliane Glaser, February 2015