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Cornell Launches Effort to Cut Administrative Red Tape, Starting with Shadow Work

Bagging our own groceries, printing out boarding passes, pumping our own gas — everyone’s day involves some “shadow work,” tasks that previously would have been performed by someone else paid to do them. But academics’ professional lives increasingly are subsumed by such shadow work, and the implications for their core efforts are stark. How much actual research does a researcher get to do, for example, when he or she spends hours a week on various administrative burdens?

While faculty shadow work is a widely acknowledged problem, it’s gone unaddressed at many institutions. It’s rarely, if ever, out of malice. But administrators who want some information think nothing of sending a survey to hundreds or thousands of professors and giving them a deadline. It only takes a click from a central office, but it’s one more task for professors.

Cornell University is trying stem the tide with a new initiative aimed at recentering academic work on academics.