managing by exceptions == anarchy

Recently, it seems like all I ever hear is how, because there is such great certainty that students or other customers will just break the rules anyway, we should plan for the exceptions, rather than modify and/or enforce actual policy.

For instance, since we know that students routinely share account information with each other, we should not trust our academic integrity policies that specifically forbid such behavior.

Or, even though “covered” data – a document or set of documents that would jeopardize one’s electronic identity, such as Social Security Numbers, addresses, etc – is not allowed to be kept anywhere for an extended period of time, since we know that some will violate this anyway, we should limit resources rather than pursue new initiatives.  We should essentially box everyone in through limitations on functionality in order to prevent those that break the rules from doing so.

Managing for exceptions rather than believing in and enforcing rules is simply a recipe for anarchy.  If we cannot believe in the sanctity of our regulations and policies, then why do we bother having them at all?  Yes, we need to make sure that penalties are levied when people violate those policies.  But when I bring that up, people often just say “but they don’t mind the penalties anyway.”  Then increase the fine!  Put people on probation!  Revoke access to needed resources!  Make the penalty hurt.  Don’t just stop innovating, stop improving others’ jobs, and lose faith in the policies themselves.

Let’s put this simply:  if we did not believe that people would follow our system’s laws, then why bother having laws?  And how do we make sure that people obey laws?  By penalizing the heck out of violators such that only a very small subset would dare take on such punishment.  Major crime?  Years and years in prison.  Park in a handicap spot?  Really big monetary fine.  Whether it’s time in jail or money out of pocket, make it so that people follow the law.  Only then will we have faith in the law, and only then do we avoid anarchy.

When it comes to provision of services, if we operate under the presumption that people will just ignore policy, then we are just making excuses not to provide new solutions.  And in some cases, to purposely limit options so that people will have fewer opportunities to violate protocol.

And the last thing we should do, in academia and in academic technology, is to focus on how to prevent people from improving their ability to get work done.

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