Why bureaucracy and education don’t mix

Tyne & Wear Archives & Museum via Flickr Commons(photo)
Tyne & Wear Archives & Museum via Flickr Commons(photo)

When I transferred from college to university, I believed I would be entering a place of forward-thinking ideas and collaboration. But as I spent more time in the system, I realized that higher education was not the open intellectual haven I thought it would be. Through talking with both students and professors, I quickly learned that classes were heavily controlled by grading policies and administration that no one seemed to be happy about, yet no side felt it could change the system.

German sociologist Max Weber described the increased bureaucracy in our lives as a large aspect of the “iron cage of rationality,” confined to the capitalistic work ethic that is based on efficiency, rational calculation, and control. Weber stated that bureaucracies are used to organize

complex societies and often start out well but tend to undermine human freedom and democracy in the long run. The bureaucratic cage limits individual freedom and allows a small handful of people control the majority through rules and regulations.  As I sat in my classroom seeing everyone nod in agreement, I became extremely aware of the iron cage this university was in, and how it seemed impossible to fight.

Throughout my two year stay at this university, I was told repeatedly that I was unable to do things because of policy. Simply because my GPA was slightly low, I was denied the chance to start a mentored research project regarding student-teacher participation in classrooms; a project which I believed could have improved student-professor relations and learning in the static classroom lecture setting where many sit blankly, staring at their laptops. As the current volunteer co-ordinator for this newspaper, I now try to work with the professional writing program to allow students to write for us and receive academic credit. This would allow students to work in a fast-paced, non-academic environment, much like what they would experience after leaving university. Although a lot of professors seem interested, I have been told by many that it cannot be done due to academic grading policy, as there would be no way to grade what the students produce.

In an age where ivory tower syndrome is a concern and more and more students are anxious about the real-world relevance of their degrees, should UVic really be so concerned with procedure? If education is about bringing down boundaries and expanding our horizons, why are we bogged down by unnecessarily strict rules and regulations? I am not stating that we should do away with our grading systems and create an educational free-for-all, but it’s about time we think outside the box that we have built for ourselves.