Large organizations can exploit size to create an economy of scale. It is singularly, the best argument for bigness. This may be true when making automobiles, electric coffee pots, shoes, or growing corn or wheat. In human service organizations, and that is what a university is, individually tailored attention to the distinctiveness of each and every student, big can create problems. Big can lead to bureaucracy. WT is betting its future on a performance culture. Eugene McCarthy was quoted in Time Magazine on February 12, 1979, with this thought, “The only thing that saves us from the bureaucracy is inefficiency. An efficient bureaucracy is the greatest threat to liberty.”
Intellectual liberty, student aspirations, and engaged citizenship are not created by processes, but by people relating to each other. So it should be an effective university.
Large bureaucratic organizations tend to lack agility they operate by cannon and code, rules and regulations, spread over multiple layers of management and decision-making, which can lead to slow and ineffective decision-making. “In our time … a man whose enemies are faceless bureaucrats almost never wins. It is our equivalent to the anger of the gods in ancient times. But those gods you must understand were far more imaginative than our tiny bureaucrats. They spoke from mountaintops not from tiny airless offices. They rode clouds. They were possessed of passion. They had voices and names. Six thousand years of civilization have brought us to this,” according to Chaim Potok in Davita’s Harp. And, in an organization that purposefully wants to treat each individual as unique and distinctive, in flexibility and rigidity often in fact organizations and lead to squeezing individual students, in the case of universities, to fit the organization, rather than have the organization adapt itself to meeting the needs of individual students.
Big ideas that influence actions in our lives are what makes organizations thrive. Dignified individuals working together lead to this outcome. Rules without relationships are impediments.
Add to the trappings of widegtization, brought about by the adherence to protocols, processes, and eventually, the status quo, discourage people in service to people, from trying new ideas. In addition, communication in a large organization is challenging. Hannah Arendt posited it this way: “In every bureaucratic system the shifting of responsibilities is a matter of daily routine, and if one wishes to define bureaucracy in terms of political science, that is, as a form of government–the rule of offices, as contrasted to the rule of men, of one man, or of the few, or of the many–bureaucracy unhappily is the rule of nobody and for this very reason perhaps the least human and most cruel form of rulership.
People create progress in every organization. That progress is the result of applied Ideas. This is especially the case at universities founded on their responsiveness to aspiration dreams.
Hierarchical structures can create barriers between different areas within the organization. This is true even in relatively small organizations, such as a marriage. It is the hope of leaders in large organizations, even a midsized University like West Texas A&M University, that with effort good, clear, consistent communication will create a sense of purpose and a means to achieve it. And, institutional responsibility at a place like WT is to create freedom of thought. Walter Bagehot in “Literary Studies” suggested that the process impacted the freeing of the energies of mankind. “A bureaucracy is sure to think that its duty is to augment official power, official business, or official members, rather than to leave free the energies of mankind; it overdoes the quantity of government, as well as impairs its quality.”
Freedom, and free thought, ultimately the destination of the American experiment, are enhanced in organizations that thrive on ideas shared by all: Communication.
The elixir to bureaucratic organizations, the medication that will address the pain and suffering of calcification, the remedy in a wall suffocating with rules, processes, rubrics, and various requirements, is common sense. Philip K. Howard, urban planner and political thinker, in his book, “The Death of Common Sense” reflected on the complex relationship between law and human existence: “This paradox is explained by the absence of the one indispensable ingredient of any successful human endeavor: the use of judgment. In the decades since World War II, we have constructed a system of regulatory law that basically outlaws common sense. Modern law, in an effort to be “self-executing,” has shut out our humanity.”
At WT we endeavor to treat all with dignity and respect, in response to deep principles of fairness and equanimity guided by the simple postulate that common sense applied to helping people achieve their aspirations is a high calling, the responsibility of a university, and the expectation of every student, faculty, staff, and visitor to our campus.
It is the way of West Texas.
Walter V. Wendler is the President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns, with hyperlinks, are available at https://walterwendler.com/.