Administrators – a parable after Kafka

by Emrys Westacott

ImagesIn the beginning, there were only professors and students, and relations between them were very simple. A student would give the professor half of the fee for a course at the first class, and the remainder after the last class. A few poorer students, who could not pay the full amount in cash, would sometimes bring vegetables they had grown, or a fish they had caught, and the professors accepted these graciously. The widow of a former mathematics professor pickled the vegetables and salted the fish before distributing them among the faculty.

As the college grew, so did its reputation, and as more classes were needed, more professors came to teach. To make things easier for the professors, the widow began collecting the fees and depositing them at the local bank. She also began keeping simple records. At some point, no-one could remember exactly when, the professors agreed among themselves to pay her a stipend for the services she provided.

When the widow died, the professors decided to replace her with an experienced bookkeeper who was given a contract and a salary. This person also took on and standardized a few small administrative tasks that the professors, in an ad hoc sort of way, had previously performed for themselves. The college continued to flourish, student numbers increased, and in time the need for additional administrative assistance became pressing. To simplify things, the professors now agreed to become salaried employees of the college, and the larger decisions about the direction and operation of the institution were put into the hands of individuals who were good at that sort of thing.

The college continued to grow, and so did the administrative work required. More's Law states that in any institution, the closer an employee is to the power center where salaries are determined, the higher the remuneration they receive. True to this principle, the higher-level administrators began to be paid quite a lot more than the professors. As their work became more complicated, they found it necessary to increase the administrative tiers within the college, bring in more specialists and employ more assistants. They also found that they needed bigger, more elegant offices.

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