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Like I didn't see that coming...

I promise that these kinds of posts will decrease in frequency as the novelty does, but for the moment, you're stuck with me.

Anywho, one of the big tasks I have to manage over the next 2 months or so is graduate admissions. That is, we have a small number of slots available for incoming graduate students, and the Graduate Committee, annually, reads the applications, comes to a consensus on ranking them, and we settle on our incoming class for next year. As with any application process, we get to say "yes" to a few people, and "no" to many more, and those decisions are pretty important--we affect the lives of our applicants on both sides in significant ways. Grad school, for better or worse, plays a huge role in shaping the lives of its students--in our field, at least, you're talking a 4-5 year investment of time, an association that will follow you and inform others' perception of you for years after that, and decisions about your areas of interest and specialization that potentially affect your position in the field for your entire career. It can be a pretty big decision.

So, our deadline is this week, and yesterday, we sent out emails to all of the applicants, letting them know either (a) that their applications were complete, or (b) what we had yet to receive. My attitude here was that it's better to have information than not. There was also a disclaimer at the bottom explaining that, since they send materials to a separate office on campus, we may not have received materials already sent.

I won't quite say that this was a mistake, but apparently, we got just about as many panicked replies today as we sent out emails yesterday. Now there's a big surprise. I can't blame them, because it is a big decision and all, as discussed above. Our admissions process at SU is centralized, which makes it really hard for individual departments to set deadlines and stick by them, because a student may meet the deadline without our realizing it until a week later. But our deadline gives us less than three weeks to make some initial decisions about funding, in terms of fellowships and the like. It's a really messy system, with different people responsible for different steps, and no awareness of how the requirements of their step affects the rest of the process. And ultimately, we in individual departments are responsible for negotiating a mess not of our own creation. Ugh.

Lesson #1: What looks at the time like a blessing for your clients/constituents may quickly turn into a curse for you.

When I'm teaching, I think of this as the Transparency Principle: it rarely pays to be entirely transparent as an instructor. For instance, it was vogue for a while to engage one's students in discussions of how potentially arbitrary grading can be. I've done it plenty of times. And yet, all they remember, later on, is grades = unfair, which is an entirely different argument, but one they're willing to deploy if their 4.0 is in danger from the A- you've given them on a paper. All too willing.

And I think that each of us wants the bureaucracies we encounter to be transparent. Or rather, transparent for us, because we (and I'm no different in this regard) don't usually stop to think what a nightmare a truly transparent bureaucracy would be. Like "accountability," transparency is more a "preaching virtue" than a practice one.

Wow. I'm going on and on. Done now.