Anyone who has ever spent time with an academic knows that many of them see the world differently than non-academics.
Academics are often smarter than us regular folks. They probably had better grades than we did. They are often more patient with people who are struggling to understand something. They love to dig into arcane, obscure questions that often elude the rest of us.
We non-academics often pride ourselves on our practicality, our common sense, and our ability to get a job done.
The more one spends time with academics, the more another distinction becomes clear.
Pretty much all of us have a sense of time and a sense of value—metaphorically, a clock and a cash register. Some of us listen more to the cash register, some to the clock. Some people’s senses of time are badly skewed; others struggle to properly value things.
I have found that academics have both poor clocks and quiet cash registers. When an academic tells you they’ll send you something in two weeks, you’ll be lucky to see it in three. They likely don’t hear the cash register clanging open once a week, costing money every deadline they miss.
The non-academic would likely hear the clock ticking and fear the opening of the cash register. If they failed to get their task done early, they would never miss a deadline if it could possibly be avoided.
How might it be possible to incorporate a louder cash register into academic thinking and adjust their clocks to be more in sync with real costs?
Might an institution play a role or could/should individual academics try to make changes in themselves?
It is not easy to change the habits of so many people without stimulus and incentive. Therefore the for- and non-profit worlds may be the best and most likely sources of productive change.
In a world of limited financial resources for academic institutions, perhaps academics can learn to work more efficiently in order to please funders, who want to get the most bang for their buck.
At the end of the day, it always helps for the actors themselves to grasp and understand what it is that they need to accomplish.
ADDENDUM: Recall that Princeton had to settle with the heirs to the A&P grocery fortune over a multi-million endowment they contributed to the Woodrow Wilson School for some $90 million and a black eye. Princeton never acknowledged that they mishandled the whole process. And today’s NY Times reports that two Pearson brothers are suing the University of Chicago to return a $100 million gift given to address global conflicts after the university spent $20 million irresponsibly. These are only the two biggest failures of this kind. It takes careful leadership and attention to avoid the very basic reason this happens.