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Column: Bureaucracy, red tape stymie opportunities for learning

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The Daily Journal recently published an article about basketball coaching legend Bobby Knight.

The story was about coach Knight selling sports memorabilia to help fund his grandchildren’s education (which is a noble gesture).

The General’s recent visit reminded me of a story about Knight. This story inspired me to write this column and to reflect on the good old days that I spent at Franklin College.

I remember sitting in my office in the spring of 1987 just after Indiana University had won the college basketball national championship. One of my good friends from IU called me to share some recent events concerning Knight and Taiwan. Obviously, I was very interested, so he shared the story with me.

After Knight won the NCAA Championship in 1987, he was considered one of the greatest college basketball coaches ever to walk the court. My friend who called was good friends with coach Knight and also had many connections with the Chinese basketball association in Taiwan. He explained to me that the association was hoping to bring Knight to Taiwan to have a basketball and coaching clinic for its national team.

When the details of the visit were finalized, Taiwan’s basketball association asked Knight to fill out the required forms for his visit. The association thought that request was reasonable, as every guest of the government must fill out these forms. This is an example of bureaucratic red tape.

Please keep in mind, coach Knight was on top of the world, he had just won his third national championship and the filling out of the forms wasn’t high on his priority list. As a result, the trip did not take place. Fortunately, another coach volunteered to attend and obviously filled out the needed forms.

Throughout the years I have arranged for educational exchanges for three college presidents, two deans and many faculty and students of the college to visit Taiwan.

I told the Taiwan government I was opposed to filling out forms. I simply hate forms. Somehow, they understood the importance of the exchange and the forms were taken care of (but not by me). This shows the level of respect Taiwan has for personal relations.

Not only did they understand the importance of this exchange, but they also understood the importance of maintaining good relations. Like I have mentioned many times in my columns, preserving human relations is very important in my old culture.

Just a few years before my decision to retire, I received a phone call from the Cultural Exchange Foundation in Beijing. I have served as the foundation’s adviser for the past 15 years. When the foundation discovered I had organized groups of faculty from the college and other associations to visit Taiwan, the director of the foundation asked if I could also organize a group to visit China. Understanding my philosophy, I was promised that no forms would need to be filled out.

In any event, I was forced to tell them that I would not organize the trip, not because of the time and effort it takes to organize this type of trip but because of the internal approval process at the college. I didn’t think I could get through all of the red tape.

I understand the adage that knowledge is power, but in this case, power became the knowledge. Once they are elected or selected, the committee seemed to know what’s best.

Many years ago I organized several trips to Taiwan and with very little bureaucratic red tape. Because of the rapid growth of the college, the bureaucracy has grown with it.

Once upon a time, the beauty of working at a small college was that there was a high level of trust and respect between the administration and faculty. Now faculty members are at the mercy of various forms and committees.

As a professor of political science, I understand the importance of bureaucracy. It is a term used to refer to any large, complex organization in which employees have specified responsibilities and obligations within the hierarchy of authority. In almost every organization, whether it is a nonprofit organization or a fortune 500 company, bureaucracy exists.

However, I remember the day when bureaucracy at the college was kept to a minimum, and the professors worked together to achieve a common goal with an administration that was more than willing to work with each of us on a personal basis.

I now have a greater appreciation for those colleagues who trusted us to give students, faculty, and administration greater opportunities. Unfortunately, red-tape kills opportunity.

Professor Yu-long Ling, a Franklin resident, is an expert in foreign policy.

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