Saturday, February 25, 2012

A super-duper uber work world


One hundred academics at the University of Sydney, Australia, have this week been told they will lose their jobs for not publishing frequently enough. The move is part of wider cost-cutting plans designed to pay for new buildings and refurbishment to the university.

This article appeared on the Nature News Blog this past Thursday (http://blogs.nature.com/news/2012/02/university-of-sydney-sackings-trigger-academic-backlash.html) and I have to say that it was one of the wilder things I’ve read this week--as in bizarre or very odd news. But I have a feeling this is shades of things to come globally. The university was quite blatant about its motives. They want to fire academics they deem to be non-productive in order to use the money saved to refurbish the university. If it wasn’t for the fact that this story was true, I would think it was an April Fools’ Day joke.

So we’re back to the good old question that is being fired more and more at academics and scientists these days. How can you be more productive? How can you rake in money for your universities? Can you patent your ideas and your inventions? If not, why not? How can you make your research patentable? How can the universities get huge returns on their investments (their academics)? My question is—how do you define productivity for a research scientist or for an academic in general? And who gets to define productivity? Administrators? Accountants? Other academics? Research directors and deans? What is poor productivity and what is optimal productivity? The University of Sydney defines optimal productivity as ‘at least four “research outputs” over the past three years’, and informed its non-productive academics (not just scientists) that their positions were being terminated because they hadn’t published this amount of articles. It’s a bit daunting to hear about a university doing this. Why? Because it is all part of the larger global trend to make everything more productive, without defining what productive means in the first place for each respective profession. I’m waiting for the powers-that-be to start on children and babies next. How can schoolchildren and babies be made productive? How can they earn money for the schools and child care centers they attend? And what about mothering? There is no real money involved in doing it, so isn’t this a non-productive job? But I digress.

I have to say that I am glad that I am closer to leaving the work world behind rather than to starting off in it. I know I have a good number of years to go before I can take early retirement, but I won’t mind leaving behind a work world that is focused solely on money and how to make more of it. There will never be enough money. Man’s nature is greedy. He will always want more. Enough is never enough. It’s boring really. I’ve written about the different management philosophies that have taken over the business world. They’re all about productivity, cost-effectiveness, and control of employees. The joy of working is disappearing. I want to say it is disappearing slowly, but it’s not. For some professions it is happening at a rapid rate. If every profession becomes like a factory, what good will that be to society? Couldn’t society get to a point where non-vocational learning and knowledge will be deemed useless and a waste of time and money? Where the study of art, literature, and music for the pure sake of learning will be considered a waste of time? Where turning out well-rounded individuals who appreciate beautiful things for their beauty and spiritual worth and not for their economic worth alone will be considered treasonous? We are fast becoming a work world comprised of super-duper uber organizers, controllers, bureaucrats, administrators, money-pushers and money-makers. These are the only types of jobs that seem to matter. I look ahead and I see a sterile world--an organized, cost-effective world, yes, but not necessarily a productive one. At least not how I define productive. And that will be the theme of a future post.   

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