A few nights ago, I was chatting with Robert W and he pointed out that “At the University of Florida, they wanted to pave walkways. So they built the buildings but no walkways. After a few years they paved the areas where the grass had been worn down by students walking. It made for some nice strolling walkways.”
It struck me that all too often colleges spend a fortune building the sidewalks and then doing everything they can to move traffic. Instead of just taking the time to see where the students are, chairs, deans, VPIs, and presidents start cutting down trees and pouring concrete where they think students should be. (Class schedules come to mind.)
It strikes me that the current fascination with data follows this same pattern. Administrators are looking for data where it should be rather than where the students have trodden down the grass. Like the laser straight sidewalks leading from the parking garage to academic buildings, data collected this way seems artificial and forced, telling the collectors what they expected to see rather than what they could have seen.
One of the reasons The Suburban Prof and I started this site was to garner ideas from outside the armor clad, ivory silos of academia. The irony didn’t escape me that it took someone from outside of the silo to remind me of a lesson academia had learned long ago.
(Sooner or later someone will spot the muddy path–hopefully sooner than later. I have ruined two pairs of shoes with all of the recent rain.)