Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bicycle Accident Saga 2: Administration Failure

Because both instances of colliding with a car, while riding my bicycle, occurred while I was within blocks of or actually on the campus of the university that I attend, I necessarily received contact with a Dean from Student Affairs. These two interactions were both incredibly frustrating and also instances wherein I enjoyed another of the indispensable pleasures of graduate school, administrative condescension.

After discussing the accident in May with a lawyer, he determined that even if I was partially liable for the accident (which you might recall I can't remember due to a concussion I received from the experience) the University's negligence (enumerated in an e-mail I sent below) certainly contributed to the accident. I made contact with this Dean in the hopes that I might just wrangle some funds for replacing my bike. I made several allusive comments though no specific demands in hopes that the woman from Student Affairs might catch one, suggesting how much I was put out by the issue and the ways in which that is a rather dangerous intersection. I found she was either willfully blind to these appeals as should be her role as an administrator for a University that is run like a corporation or prone to being a dense person. 

She treated our interaction as if I needed my fears, about the future of my funding in the department and the problems that might ensue from delays in my work for my status in the department, to be assuaged, rather than just giving me some help with my now twice broken central means of transportation. 

Here is a letter I wrote to her about my 1st bicycle issue:

To Whom It May Concern:
It has been almost two months since my accident and I haven’t received any correspondence from you about the possibilities of helping me following the collision that occurred on ______’s campus between myself, my bicycle, and another student in a car. I have to say I am more than a little disappointed in _______’s tepid response to the collision. Students are more likely to hear about undergraduates being mugged eight miles from campus than a student being run down by a car feet from a _____ facility building.

I am also disappointed in the fact that the core problems have not been addressed. Looking at the accident scene over the past two months there has been no posted speed limit, no signs to warn drivers and cyclists about a single-lane two-way street, no mirror installed to give drivers turning onto _______ Road a view of what might be coming the opposite direction, and only the occasional patrol car monitoring the spot. This is a real problem because cyclists use that route constantly from the _____ Trail in order to head toward Squirrel Hill, South Oakland, etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if this happened again.
The drafting of my dissertation prospectus has been delayed by a month due to repercussions from the concussion I received during the collision. After consultation with a concussion specialist I was advised to take all tasks slowly, and that I would be easily fatigued by many every day activities. What I discovered that after an hour or reading, drafting, or focusing I became so tired that I needed to sleep in order to continue. This severely slowed my progress to the goal of completing my dissertation prospectus by the end of the summer. 
Moreover, my central means of transportation, my bicycle, in which I invested several hundred of dollars over the course of years is rendered unusable from the accident. As a graduate student in the humanities I will not be able to afford to replace my bicycle for some time. 
Given the lack of signs, mirrors, warnings, or posted speed limits and little correspondence from the university I don’t believe _________ has lived up to its responsibility with regard to the collision on May 26th.
The second time a car decided to break the law and hit me, just this past September, this same Dean called me on the phone, giggling, with the words, "I thought to myself, 'lighting does not strike twice!'" coming out of her mouth. I thought to myself, "It does when your incompetent campus police and the city police do not do their job and protect non-drivers, and the campus refuses to protect bicyclists properly." 

The more I think about this interaction the more it fills me with rage, particularly when I read the Washington Monthly Article "Administrators Ate My Tuition.

Being part of a department that tends to politicize academic work and simultaneously discusses the ways in which academic work is labor I was accustomed to think in these terms about the dilemmas facing universities and the various employees at the university. But I think in the state I was in reading these statistics and this assessment enraged me even more. 

Essentially the article attributes the ballooning tuition rates in the United States to the self-propagating efforts of various administrative bodies who bloat their ranks in order to garner prestige for their departments. For example:
between 1947 and 1995 (the last year for which the relevant data was published), administrative costs increased from barely 9 percent to nearly 15 percent of college and university budgets. More recent data, though not strictly comparable, follows a similar pattern. During this same time period, stated in constant dollars, overall university spending increased 148 percent. Instructional spending increased only 128 percent, 20 points less than the overall rate of spending increase. Administrative spending, though, increased by a whopping 235 percent.
Not to mention
Students of bureaucracy have frequently observed that administrators have a strong incentive to maximize the power and prestige of whatever office they hold by working to increase its staff and budget. To justify such increases, they often seek to capture functions currently performed by others or invent new functions for themselves that might or might not further the organization’s main mission.
Such behavior is common on today’s campuses. At one school, an inventive group of administrators created the “Committee on Traditions,” whose mission seemed to be the identification and restoration of forgotten university traditions or, failing that, the creation of new traditions. Another group of deans constituted themselves as the “War Zones Task Force.” This group recruited staffers, held many meetings, and prepared a number of reports whose upshot seemed to be that students should be discouraged from traveling to war zones, unless, of course, their home was in a war zone. But perhaps the expansion of university bureaucracies is best illustrated by an ad placed by a Colorado school, which sought a “Coordinator of College Liaisons.” Depending on how you read it, this is either a ridiculous example of bureaucratic layering or an intrusion into an area of student life that hardly requires administrative assistance. 
These problems would not be as galling had I not just experienced the evasive non-help of the administrator in question, who pretended to believe that I needed someone to vent to more than someone who might actually remunerate me as the result of this corporatized university's negligence to properly monitor traffic and provides signs and aid to visibility where there clearly was none.

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