On administrative bloat 

(possibly the first item of a potentially endless series)

(may contain rants)

The issue of what in Ireland (IRCHSS) was referred to as “top-slicing” has a different name here in Canada, but it’s the same wolf under the sanctimonious plain clerical robes.

This is not something that affects me directly, as I am not (currently) eligible to apply for grants from the kinds of bodies involved here. So I don’t have to lie in a budget so as to add 25% (or more) to feed a parasite, so that my actual bona fide research-project expenses do not have 25% (or more) removed from them, thus putting me, personally, 25% (or more) out of pocket.

It does affect me though, in the same way that it affects everyone in this university, because that 25% (or more) could be distributed differently, to the benefit of the university as a whole or, better still, redistributed to its core mission–teaching and research–thus making up for the shortfall in centrally-allocated government funding. Remember, this is a public university we are talking about. Our main source of funding is national and provincial governments. That comes from tax-payers, to whom we–as public servants–owe a responsibility for the careful and appropriate spending of their money. Over to you, gentle reader and probable tax-payer, on how that key term “appropriate” ought to be interpreted; as an ethical and political “ought.”

The information that follows is from publicly-accessible online sources, which may be found again through a websearch for “indirect costs recovery sparc ubc”, and the screenshots themselves are from the following websites:


The obvious comments first:

  1. It might look like someone made money from someone else’s work.
  2. This might look like injustice.
  3. This might look like theft.

Top-slicing is a matter of public interest. Especially at a time when activities that are central to a university–teaching, research, the preservation of knowledge in libraries and archives–are reduced, threatened, and cut; under the guise of efficiency, economy, and the reduction of administrative bloat.

This post is dedicated to undergraduates at UBC who cope as best they can with ever-increasing fees, ever fewer actual merit-based scholarships (and I mean academic excellence, I don’t mean any of the “leadership” bollocks, if I see that on another Referee Instruction Form I shall swear even more volubly and verbosely than usual), and ever-worsening learning conditions. Languages in classes of 35, 3 F2F a.k.a. “human” contact hours per week (we fight to retain a 4th “lab” hour every other week), and an expectation to hit CEFR targets. Five courses per term as a norm. When they should have three, five contact hours a week each, in classes of maximum twenty. OK, I’ll give you one of these hours as a Grand Lecture Show for hundreds, but grant me–and our students–the other hours in decent circumstances. Can of worms not to be opened at this point: the reason for much of that course overload is to make up for lacunae at the school (K-12 / up to seconday) level. Some of that is related to budget cuts from On High. Plus dubious pseudo-pedagogical fashions, the slavish following of fashion for fashion’s sake, progress for progress’ sake, et puerilia caetera.

What do students want more of and beg and plead for? In my experience, more human contact, interaction, care, attention. They’re not all (or entirely) pampered selfie-centred ignorant-but-opinionated parachute-parented millennial e-zombies. Not by far. I’m writing this as a break in the middle of marking; and the work I am marking is good, thoughtful, imaginative; well worth reading, the product of good minds of worthwhile people (hello FREN123-202!)

And even if students were universally appalling, these are still all individual human persons we’re talking about, with brains to be developed (sorry for sounding zombie-ish myself), minds to be expanded, appetites for knowledge to whet, selves to explore, and so on. Let’s not forget either that our students are adults, many of them with jobs, most of them paying taxes and with votes. They are citizens too. We public servants also owe them an obligation (I nearly said fealty and obeissance, close shave there), as we do to all our fellow-citizens in our shared res publica; or that is (this being Canada) “commonwealth.” If I may be so pedantically philological, we should also bear in mind the shared political ground with other, loosely anarchist, communitarian collectivities.

Image: “Wealth is shared,” in
Chad McCail’s food shelter clothing fuel series (2007)

What does UBC need to do next in its Next Phase/Incarnation of the Grand Master Plan to Rule the World? Invest in people at the front line, in teaching and research and learning. Go for stability and sustainability, put its money where its mouth is, and stop the macho quest for Top Ten Status and other foolish pursuits of the Viagra Paradigm and its blind belief in growth. Put together patriarchal religion and phallogocentricity, what do you get? Fatal overextension (if lucky), Octavia Butler / Paolo Bacigalupi dystopias, and Boko Haram. To use another biological metaphor: stop feeding and “growing” the seemingly-uncontrollable parasitic colonies, fungal infestations, and viral contagions that cut off supplies to vital organs. Save them. Burn out the rot. Invest in health and in cheaper long-term preventative healthcare; it’s often low-tech but always smart-adaptive-tech; applying the imagination, creativity, and thought that are the vital tissue of the arts and humanities.

Image at top: c/o Got Medieval. Festal Missal, Garnerus de Morolio (scribe), Petrus de Raimbaucourt (illuminator); Amiens: c. 1323. Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Den Haag: Ms. KB 78 D 40, Fol. 33rb: margin. The image is wittier still in its visual context: 
Got Medieval provides a fine analysis at Mmm… Marginalia: Wheel of Reynard.


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