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November 25, 2012

My Love Affair With Clark’s Bureaucracy

Photo by Ashley Klann ’12.

So this week in my Foreign Policy Analysis class, we’re doing quite a bit of reading about what’s known as the “bureaucratic politics model” [NB: Link is to .pdf] of Foreign Policy decision-making.  The basic idea is that, as opposed to the state being an anthropomorphic, monolithic actor, it’s composed of miniature bureaucratic “fiefdoms”, all of which are competing for resources and power.  Moreover, each bureaucracy acts in such a way to confound the expectations of its leaders by acting in ways governed almost exclusively by “standard operating procedures“.  That’s a lot of jargon to say that, instead of saying “Russia did Z,” it’s probably more accurate to say, “The Russian Defense Ministry argued X, and the Russian Foreign Ministry argued Y, causing the Russian government to take course of action Z.”

But none of that is the point.  The point is that this week I’ve been thinking about bureaucracies, and how much I like Clark’s.  I don’t know if you’ve thought about this element of your college education, but you should.  If you have to waste an entire day getting one measly little administrative task done – even when you’re on campus – that’s a problem.  I recently spent literally two days trying to get my LSE email account unblocked, when it should never have been blocked in the first place.  That’s what happens when you go to a big school.  Not so at Clark.  Let me give you an example.

Before you enter your senior year at Clark, you have to fill out what’s called a Senior Clearance Form.  It basically says, “here’s what classes I’ve taken, here’s what I’m planning to take, I’m definitely going to be graduating on time, PLEASE LET ME WALK!” It’s signed by your academic adviser(s), to make sure they’re on board too, and then you’re all good to go.  Problem for me was, I’m in freakin’ London and can’t get my academic advisers to sign the sheet as easily as I’d usually be able to.  Big problem, huh?

It would be at the LSE.  That picture right above is one of the standard hallways in the admin building.  But at Clark?  Nope!  My advisors literally offered to walk the darn thing from one office to another in order to get the thing done.  Full on PhD’s walking around with my little form!  That’s what happens if you go to a small school, and you get to know people.  Another example.  This one’s from the day after the whole clearance form thing.  I sent an email to my advisers (Profs. Miller, Butler, and Gray) asking about my honors thesis application, at 6:21 PM.  By 11:43 AM, the next morning, I had received multiple emails from each, completely answering my question.  I won’t copy the whole emails down, both in the interest of privacy and in the interest of not boring you to death with little details, but yeah.  Pretty darn good service.

There are a lot of things I love about the LSE – you can read about them in some of my previous posts.  One of the things I don’t love is the faceless bureaucracy that seems to take over any time you need to get any small piece of paperwork done.  That’s something I’d never find at Clark.  At Clark, you know the lady who works in RLH (Lisa).  You know the secretary in President Angel’s Office (Miranda).  You know, in short, the people who make up your community.  That’s something special, and something I’m really missing these days.

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