Wandering Thoughts archives


Universities and their non-employees

In an ordinary conventional company, everyone there matters to the company (at least in theory) and if someone can't do their work it's a real problem; the company is losing money for every minute they sit idle. At a minimum the company is losing their salary, and generally it will be losing more than that in forgone profit (because, again in theory, everyone is making some sort of contribution to the company's bottom line or they wouldn't be there).

(In practice you can have employees who add negative value, where having them sit idle would actually be a net win. But this is a pathology and we'll ignore it.)

Universities are not like that. In particular, universities are full of people who do not matter to it in this way (at least individually; they do collectively). A university is fundamentally indifferent to whether an individual undergraduate student or graduate student can do their work productively, or even at all; except in perhaps a vague way, the university is not losing money or forgoing profit by letting them sit idle in the way that a company would be with an employee. Indeed, a university expects a certain amount of these people to fail to do work as a matter of course.

(A university still has people that matter to it in the same way that employees matter to companies, but generally the university staff and professors are dwarfed by the undergraduate and graduate student population.)

This has important consequences for IT support (and indeed various other sorts of support and working conditions).

In a company, not providing computing support to people is ultimately cutting off your nose to spite your face; regardless of whose theoretical fault their problem is, the practical effect is that the company is losing money when they can't work. It's possible to have rational business reasons for denying support, but it is always at least a little bit destructive to the value of the company. This makes issues like the Bring Your Own Device debate very sharp, because you need to get people working almost no matter what.

In a university, not providing (much) computing support to certain people is perfectly viable because it is ultimately not the university's problem if they can't get their work done, it is their problem. Only a relatively small portion of the university population must be supported at all cost; the staff and at least some of the professors. The majority can be more or less marooned on their own, given just enough support so that enough of them can get enough work done to keep the engines of the university turning over (and to keep the students from revolting in protest at terrible working conditions).

Or in short: in a university, it's viable to not support people. In a university, but not in a company, it's perfectly workable to tell a lot of people 'tough luck, you're on your own, if you can't make it work that's your problem'.

(This is related to how universities do not have a return on investment, and is part of my slow running series on how universities are peculiar.)

tech/UniversityNonEmployees written at 00:34:55; Add Comment

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