University democracy -- and the end of the Reporter
I have been away and only just caught up with the fact that the excellent University Reporter (the weekly magazine which carries reports of discussions, proposals for change, Tripos regulation, job vacancies, appointments and obituaries etc etc) is going to stop publishing a print edition and go entirely online.
OK, it's no doubt an obvious up front saving, and the info it contains (more than almost any other university in the world shares with its staff) will still be in the public domain online. All the same, it is still the case that in medium sized institutions like Cambridge, print disseminates some forms of information much more quickly and more effectively than electronic media. The combo of an electronic and print edition (as we currently have) has the greatest reach of all.
So what 's the matter with electronic only?
For a start, I already have email overload, at an average of more than 100 a day (I'm sure there are many people with many more), and the temptation to ignore the messages that come from 'the management' is almost irresistible. In my Faculty we get too efficiently circulated with a range of worthy irrelevancies (the message from the central admin that BA may be going on strike, the announcement of a conference on gender politics in ancient sub-Saharan Africa . . . in which I might have been interested unless it had been tagged with that awful by-line "Apologies for Cross Posting" .. ie DELETE).
The point about the Reporter in paper form was that you might just pick it up when a student was late for an appointment and so you might read what your colleagues had to say about some topic that you didnt really realise was interesting. If you ever had time for a cup of coffee, you might take those five minutes to see what was going on. A simple, subtle and clever form of information exchange.
Now it will come into the inbox...and we will have to remember not to delete. But of course we will.
OK, if we want the info, it will still be there. But one of the virtues of a canny democracy is that it puts info in the hands of people when they have a few free moments to take it in, and when they least expect it. And they try to educate those who do not actively seek the information out. That means spending more money up front than seems necessary, but it SAVES money in the long run in an educated and well informed citizenry.
And what universities need right now is the best informed workforce they have ever had.
I shall certainly be less well informed. I've been missing the print edition of the Reporter in Washington DC. It wasnt until I got back home that I was told that the change was taking place, though it had been published in the current 'online Reporter' weeks ago...
Let me say that I am sure (well, I hope I'm sure) that the drive behind this was not a cunning plan to keep the info from us. But I am pretty confident that a less well infomed work force will be the result. And that it will cost more money than it appears to save.