Excellent point. Incompetent however may not be quite the right adjective. “Fearful” or “meh” or “Kafkaesque” is perhaps more apt.

To catch everyone up with the topic ddrt raises: in my article about form design at UCLA, I showed an example of a paper-based form that someone typed in 1984. Back then, the form’s designer (possibly an administrator) helpfully pre-typed for a year field “19____” never anticipating that it would still be in circulation 15 years later when the year started with 20____. So for the form’s final 14 years people crossed out 19____ and wrote in the full 21st century date.

I can only go by other forms to venture an educated guess at why they had gone 14 years without fixing this simple oversight. My first thought is that people don’t often communicate effectively across silos to get things done. A fair and common critique of bureaucracies.

Second thought is that few people would think it a significant imposition to cross out 19__ and write in 2004 or 2011. So, when people all across campus are overworked and feel constrained in their time, they have to weigh if it’s worth their time to go to bat to fix a minor inconvenience in an infrequently used paper form?

Third, and most important, the original form had likely been approved by several committees in a months-long or years-long process. Any change, even an obvious, simple editing fix that I could persuasively argue is in keeping with the spirit of the original (changing “19__” to “20__” or to “Date:_____”) could require months-long re-approval. Ugh! But there’s more: people might be afraid to submit this change request for fear someone within the bureaucracy would take this as an opportunity to “fix” several policies (rules) for this form. Fixing sounds good, but these fixes are time-consuming, and often lead to more bureaucracy, more workarounds, and more unanticipated loopholes.

FYI, as we began “digitizing” forms at UCLA, my team encountered these same challenges. Well-meaning administrators saw this as an opportunity to change the rules underlining all three of our most closely-studied forms.

Author of 𝘒𝘪𝘤𝘬 𝘓𝘪𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳 and co-author of 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘏𝘪𝘱𝘱𝘰𝘨𝘳𝘪𝘧𝘧 𝘊𝘰𝘰𝘬𝘣𝘰𝘰𝘬. @perredicarlo

Author of 𝘒𝘪𝘤𝘬 𝘓𝘪𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳 and co-author of 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘏𝘪𝘱𝘱𝘰𝘨𝘳𝘪𝘧𝘧 𝘊𝘰𝘰𝘬𝘣𝘰𝘰𝘬. @perredicarlo