Monday, September 28, 2009

Resisting Infinity

Dead Voles has nice post on the Infinity Standard.

1.) In the work of doing good, effort causes good. 2.) All possible good should be done, and 3.) all foregone effort is foregone good. 4.) In principle, there is no condition one can be in where slightly more effort is not possible. 5.) With infinite effort, infinite good can be done. 6.) Therefore, infinity is the standard. Anything short is deplorable dereliction.
Reading this sparked the post below on the need for a personal mission statement. My current academic unit has recently been remade by upper-level administrators. What this means in practice is that everything needs to be redone now. The absence of very basic things, like faculty governance, promotion and tenure documents, student degree-checks, and even computer support for faculty, are all starting to become acute. Every one of these gaps is a crisis that needs immediate attention. Part of restructuring of my unit entailed streamlining, so we are now an eighth the size we used to be. This means that all the details of running an academic program have to be recreated by a very, very small group of faculty. We are busy reinventing many wheels.

The infinity standard resonates for me right now. Like the vast majority of academics, we care about our teaching and our students and our research. They are important to us beyond simply being our jobs. This creates many problems, but right now it means that everyone sincerely wants to fix everything and they want to fix it now. It will in fact be good to fix these things, and there is nothing on our to do list that can't be accomplished by just a little extra effort. The problem is that our to do list is so long and we are so few that all those extra efforts add up to more than can possibly be done this year. Trying to prioritize and resist some things in favor of others can feel like, and be perceived as, a dereliction of duty.


  1. Good luck, man. I think it helps around here that we're so consistently close to the bone that everyone has long since figured out how to make do and set boundaries. What seems like crisis elsewhere may just seem normal to us. When I use walking around the streets like Socrates with the students tagging along as my contrast-vision I feel positively decadent to have an office and a classroom. He had less paperwork, which I envy, but his assessment regime was a killer.

    In many ways it's much worse to have and to lose than never to have in the first place. I'm not sure what lesson to draw from that, because having 'more' would certainly be nice. But in any case the missing term in these discussions tends to be the 'enough'. When does doing and having more start costing too much in relation to some satisfying standard of enough?

  2. hmmm... I'm not sure I want to embrace the hemlock standard as an alternative.

    It's not really the loss of resources that I'm lamenting, though, it's the large amount of (avoidable) work that's been created in its wake.

  3. Yuck! I hope you all manage to find a way to make it work soon, or a pot of money under the stairs, or something!

  4. Oddly, this wasn't a budget induced crisis. It was a crisis of vision and understanding. And while money would help some, it's time that's in shortest supply right now.