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May 30, 2013



Editor’s note: An incorrect version of this letter was published in the May 30, 2013, issue of the University Times. The corrected version follows.

To the editor:

In his erudite and humorous articles on regulatory burden (University Times, May 2 and May 16), Vice Chancellor Randy Juhl states: “Our research enterprise is burdened with a raft of individually well-intentioned, but collectively stifling, requirements that confuse, frustrate and delay the important work of our faculty.”

Dr. Juhl has an admirable talent for understatement. An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education ( reports that academic scientists now spend 42 percent of their time on administrative work. Much of this burden arises not simply because these mandates exist, but because their implementation is so baroque. Consider the following:

1. Conflict of Interest “training”: To minimize (not eliminate) COI issues among a small subset of faculty, this “educational” activity demands an inordinate expenditure of time by all researchers, including annual disclosures and certifications repeated every few years. The content is often obscure and legalistic. No faculty member should attempt the qualifying “quizzes” without personal legal counsel right at hand.

2. Responsible Conduct of Research “training”: With Zen-like composure, we might be merely amused by the insulting requirement to repeatedly “re-train” a faculty member who has conducted responsible research for decades. The “educational” materials were obviously written by someone with an unbridled passion for legal sophistry. How is research integrity enhanced by requiring faculty and student researchers to know the titles of the enabling legislative acts?  The quiz questions often measure one’s ability to parse double and triple negatives. Every time a faculty member does this module, it diminishes the sum of human knowledge.

3. Pitt’s online “effort certification” system: In this time of painful fiscal stringency, who thinks it sensible to use highly paid faculty as clerical help? The same should be asked about approving weekly timecards on PRISM TRKS. Hence Jacobson’s Fourth Law: “If a mundane task can be made cheaper by computer technology, the task will be performed by more expensive people, so overall cost remains constant.”

I could cite more, but I have paperwork to do.

Lew Jacobson


Department of Biological Sciences


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