I’ve written several times about nonsense in Higher Education. Administrators in Higher Education love bureaucracy like zombies love brains. Some bureaucracy has to exist. We want to make sure people are treated fairly. We want to ensure people have access to appropriate amounts of financial aid. We need to document course work and hours. We need to ensure federal and state laws are followed. I get all of that. Over my 18+ years of higher education experience I’ve learned a number of things about the inner workings of higher education. No doubt I have many more things to learn.
I’ve run up against a new, nearly insurmountable form of bureaucracy. I think they are called, “Accountants.” Under normal circumstances, I would be “Pro Accountants.” I have a lot of respect for numbers, and decimals points, especially numbers including a $ or €. I like ∏, and while I was never good at ∫ or ƒ I still appreciate them for the mathematics each represents. In fact, I like a lot of the Greek alphabet.
But, my beef has little to do with the math or numbers falling within the wheelhouse of accountancy. My beef has more to do with what appears to be nonsense policies contrived with what I can only surmise is either an excruciatingly myopic interpretation of some obscure IRS guideline, or is simply a means not to do any work.
A colleague of mine and I are conducting two workshops. The first workshop is in April, the second workshop is in June. We are going to train people on geomentoring. A geomentor is a person who has received instruction or who works in a geospatial field and can help transfer geospatial knowledge to young people. Participants in our first workshop are mostly students with a couple of staff. Participants in our second workshop will be teachers, middle and high school educators.
We hope. Hoped. I’m not sure at this point.
We received a small NASA grant to develop and host a workshop to communicate and demonstrate NASA educational materials to two local populations. When news came our proposal was accepted, we were really excited. Finally!
And then my university accountants got involved.
Our workshop had an Achille’s Heel we did not see coming. See, we wrote into our grant the capacity to reward, e.g. compensate participants with $50 each in the first workshop, and teachers in the second workshop with $150. I’ve been in workshops where I have received materials, or an Amazon gift card as a means of saying, “Thanks!” I know of faculty who have gone to other universities for workshop who have received similar expressions of gratitude for attending and participating.
However, at my uni, if you attend a workshop and could potentially receive some form of gratitude that has a monetary value, you must become an employee in order to receive it.
For the last two weeks I and my colleague have been waging a Logic War against accountants. The accountants want to treat our workshop attendees as employees. The attendees will be assigned employee numbers. The attendees will have background checks performed by Human Resources. The attendees will have to provide Social Security Numbers and fill out an IRS I-9 form.
On our side, on the side of workshop facilitating, we also have a number of ludicrous chores. We have to distribute our workshop flyers next week for our June workshop. Not a bad idea, really; people need a chance to plan. However, we have to do this so that anyone interested in the workshop can begin the process of becoming a university employee, so the individual can file their I-9, submit a copy of their Social Security Number, and fill out their background check paperwork.
♣”How many participants do you have?
“Nine or ten.
♣”So, you’ll need ten I-9 form so we can do withholding. And, we need their social so we can begin their background check.
“Background check? What? Why?
♣”Well, they are receiving compensation for their work. Being so, we need to enter them into our HR system so they can get paid. Background check is part of the process.
“What work? This is a workshop for educating people about geomentoring.
♣”It is a “work” shop, correct? They will be doing work. If they are doing work, and are working for you, then they are employees, and we have to do withholding on their pay.
“Yes, it is a workshop. We are educating them and training them on some NASA educational materials. But, we aren’t hiring them. Workshops don’t hire people? Are you high…maybe just a teensy-weensy stoned?
♣”Do you control the time of the workshop? When it starts and ends? Do you control the hours they work? Do you tell them what to do?
“Well, of course. It is a workshop, after all. That’s the point. We train them over a given time period. We show them how to do stuff.
♣”So, we are in agreement, then. They show up when you tell them to. They sign in to computers. They follow your instruction. They are then working for you. The gift card is their compensation.
“What? No! They don’t work for me. I have not hired them. I am giving them a $50 gift card to thank them for their participation.
♣”Yes, I know; just like the uni “thanks” you for your work, you get a paycheck.
“Huh? No…wait, I do real work. I teach, I consult, I manage. These people are guests who have signed up to learn how to integrate GIS and remote sensing and NASA educational materials into their classroom.
♣”Who else do they work for? If they are working for us, are the workshop hours going to increase their work week hours into over-time?
“Oh, for shit’s sake, I’m refuse to entertain any more questions because none of this is rooted in Reason or Logic. I refuse to be infected by your crazy-conflation of workshop participants into university employees. By engaging with you, I am complicit in making this Pratchettian situation a reality. I’m not going to play the Copenhagen Interpretation with you, as I fear by humoring you, I bring this absurdity into existence.
While this dialogue is contrived, about 80% is real. The part I concocted is the very last comment. Seriously.
Additionally, we have been saddled with answering the following questions for each workshop participant:
1. Has the individual provided the same or similar services to other unrelated entities or to the general public as a trade or business during the last 12 months?2. Will the department provide the individual with specific instructions regarding performance of the required work rather than rely on the individual’s expertise?3. Can the university set the number of hours and/or days of the week that the individual is required to work, as opposed to allowing the individual to set his/her own work schedule?