Sunday, April 29, 2012

Oh! Those Faculty Meetings (groan)

For me, meetings are one of the burdens of the academic life. At the Chronicle of Higher Education online, Ms. Mentor responds to this inquiry:

Question: My department chair, "Zippy," is addicted to meetings. We need a new computer gizmo? Let's have a meeting. We've got a sadistic heating system in our building? Let's have a meeting. We have to do something about bathroom graffiti, accreditation, plagiarism, sexual harassment, sick leave, cyberbullying, layoffs, chalk, or new shelves and curtains for the lounge? Let's have a separate meeting for each one!

Let's meet, meet, meet!

Zippy lives alone and doesn't have a life, but we do. How can we get him to leave us alone?

In her response, Mrs. Mentor offers gripping, but amusing descriptions of interminable meetings that eat up time and patience. She concludes:

A good meeting is for decision-making. It's not for announcements or incessant frothing and ventilating. Ideally everyone leaves feeling that something's been accomplished. People know what they need to do to make this a better department and a better world. The best meetings are short and pointed, like a good stick.

Worth reading, but I wonder if there is cause for optimism. When I chair committees, I try to conduct as much business as possible by email.


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One of the worst offenses at 21st century meetings is the reading aloud word-for-word, or even in paraphrase, of previously circulated emails describing an upcoming event. It's an insult to those who read the emails, and is akin to the tailoring of a class to the two students who did not prepare at the cost of boring the 50 students who did the assigned reading and thinking. A close runner-up is the reading of information that *could* have been sent by email, and that invariably brings the "can you repeat that?" request from faculty who are desperately trying to write down the information. Again, this is akin to the class in which the problem or hypo is not shared in advance, so that the focus on getting the facts precludes full attention to analysis. But let's not blame Zippy who lives alone, as most offenders aren't the Zippys of the world.

Posted by: Jim Maule | May 1, 2012 8:10:37 AM

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