Any Tips for My Paperless Route?

Hard-copy or online: How do you prefer reading your university, departmental, and other officialdom paperwork?

I’m a reading-on-paper-girl myself. (I was briefly a real paper girl, which is why I am fond of the phrase; I delivered newspapers for all of four days before deciding I was too afraid of the large dogs and stray adults in my neighborhood to continue.)

I was recently challenged on my preference, however, and am being asked by my colleagues and department head to reassess my position. I’m curious what others have done when facing similar situations.

Here’s what happened: All the submissions for the English Department’s annual writing awards–of which there are many, and many of which have prizes of thousand of dollars (no kidding)–are, for the first time, being made electronically.

I am a judge for two of these contests, as I have been for several years. It’s one of the committees I entirely enjoy. It’s fun to see what the students, both undergraduate and graduate, are writing, and it’s fascinating to see where my colleagues and I agree and disagree in terms of our estimations of the worth of these submissions.

My students were delighted to be able to submit their work over the computer, given that it exempted them from having to make multiple copies of their pieces and helped them avoid the annoying business of having to figure out the form-filling aspect of things (although that is a lesson I expect they’ll have to learn at some point…or will they?).

What I didn’t realize, however, was that I was also going to be expected to read all their work online. I thought that, along with the rest of the committee members, I would receive hard copies of those essays submitted for my review. My university has a process by which material can be accessed through a system whereby a faculty member provides an i.d. and logs on, gets into an account, clicks on sites, and then continues to click away.

Apart from reading blogs (ahem–you can’t get me that easily), I don’t read by clicking. I read by licking my index finger and page-turning actual pieces of actual paper.

So I asked the person running the contests if she could print out the entries. The answer was no, with apologies, and with the suggestion that if I couldn’t read online, perhaps I should ask to be assigned to other committees. I asked various other folks if there was a way to have the department print out the pages, since it was a departmental assignment, and–after a certain amount of time–received an articulate response from my department head explaining why hard copies of material are now obsolete.

Wayne Franklin, an Americanist perhaps best known for his work on James Fenimore Cooper, is an administrator I respect as well as a colleague whose company I enjoy. When I asked if I could excerpt our exchange in a post, Wayne agreed.

“The University is generally moving away from printed to online materials,” he began. “So is the profession. [Even when judging national] competitions, online submissions are now quite common.  When I was a referee for a [large grant] competition two years ago, all materials were distributed electronically.  We were instructed not to share those materials or print them out.  It worked just fine. … At the University, we now do PTR, graduate admissions, and faculty hiring online.  There are thousands of pages of materials for all these undertakings that we customarily handle at the individual level–that is, if a given person cannot or will not work with the materials online, he or she is free to use the computer and printer supplied in each of our offices to print out some or all of the materials.  I find it useful myself, when considering PTR cases, to print out individual PTR forms as well as external letters; the rest of the materials I work with online. … But of course you are free to print them all out at your office and handle them in hard copy.  I do not think it proper, however, to divert staff away from their other duties to provide printed copies for individual members of panels. … Indeed, we even tell job applicants who have difficulty with the online hiring process that they need to work it out for themselves, computer competence being part of the requirements for new hires. … It’s a small thing in my view for you to figure out how to cooperate with your colleagues and the department in this matter.”

I know Professor Franklin’s argument for taking the paperless route is a compelling one. I am certain that he is right about the future of the electronic submission and the submission to electronics. I know, too, that trees will be saved, administrative assistants will have more time for other important tasks, and that learning to adapt will benefit me as well as my students.

Is this what you did, dear readers? Or do you still go back to the office and print out the important stuff in a hard copy?

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